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Friedrich von Spee (1591-1635)



Written and compiled by George Knowles


During the early 17th century at the height of some of the worst atrocities being perpetrated against witches in Germany, Friedrich von Spee a German Jesuit theologian and poet, was one of the first people in that country to effectively speak out against the witchcraft delusion.  A trained and respected theologian, Spee’s book Cautio Criminalis (Precautions for Prosecutors), published anonymously in 1631, was one of the first major attempts by a German to call a halt the tidal wave of terror being unleashed against witches.


Spee was born on the 25th February 1591 in Kaiserswerth near Dusseldorf on the Rhine in Germany.  He was educated at the Jesuit Collage in nearby Cologne where he entered the novitiate in 1611.  To complete his education he studied philosophy at Würzburg (a centre of the witchcraft persecutions) and theology at Mainz (another hot bed location for witchcraft) before being ordained a priest in 1621.  By this time Germany had entered into the turbulent times of the Thirty Years War, a series of conflicts lasting from 1618 to 1648 caused mainly by Protestant and Roman Catholic factions during the Reformation.


Religious hatreds though out Europe and most particularly in Germany and France had been smouldering for a long time, as evidenced by the horrific witch-hunts conducted by the Inquisition.  By the start of the Thirty Years War in Germany, these witch-hunts were still climaxing.  Following two bad harvests in 1626 and 1628 the population of Germany sought to release their frustrations with increased persecutions against witches.  In the following years 600 witches were condemned in nearby Bamberg and a further 900 witches burn alive in Würzburg, places where the Prince Bishops of both were particularly zealous about hunting down and burning witches.


It was into such an arena that Spee spent much of his early priesthood working as a missionary teacher and preacher, during which time he visited some of the worst hot spot areas affected by the witch hunts, including:  Trier (Eng. Treves), Fulda, Speyer (Eng. Spires), Worms, Mainz, Paderborn, Cologne and Hildesheim.  As a priest it was part of his main duties to act as “witch confessor” for those condemned.  In 1627 he was sent to Würzburg as professor of theology, and there witnessed some of the worst atrocities of the witch trials.


Asked by a young Johann Philipp von Schönborn, a later Archbishop of Mainz, why had his hair turned prematurely grey?  Spee replied:  “Grief has turned my hair white, grief on account of the witches whom I have accompanied to the stake”.  Spee goes on to explain:  “Not only grief at such inhuman punishments, but grief at the malice and stupidity of the whole procedure of the witch hunts raging throughout Franconia and Westphalia.  He had personally and diligently investigated many prosecutions, and after considering the charges and confessions, never once had he found anything about the accused that would make them guilty of witchcraft”.


While working in Peine on the 20th April 1629, Spee was a target of an attempted assassination and was seriously wounded.  During his months of convalescences and rehabilitation, he penned his most famous work Caution Criminalis (Precautions for Prosecutors 1631).  Having recovered sufficiently to resume his duties, in 1630 he returned to Paderborn as professor for moral theology, and later in 1633 he took up the same position at Trier.  Two years later in March 1635 during the storming of Trier by the imperial forces, Spee devoted himself to the care of the soldiers in hospital, many of whom were suffering with a plague like illness.  As a result Spee himself became infected, and soon after died on the 7th August 1635.  He was just 44 years of age.


Spee was later buried in the crypt of the Jesuit Church in Trier, the common burial chamber for Jesuit priests in those times, and where after him more than one hundred others found their last resting-place.  In 1980 Dr. Anton Arens, rector of the old Jesuit Church in Trier, allowed archaeologists to excavate the old crypt.  There they found the remains of Spee, which the Institute of Anatomy in Frankfurt confirmed by comparing his jawbone with known living descendants of the Spee family.




During the last few years of his life Friedrich von Spee wrote and published two books of lyric poetry, both when published posthumously gave him a minor place in German literature.  The first “Goldenes Tugendbuch” (Golden Book of Virtues), was a book of devotion highly praised by Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, a leading German philosopher, mathematician and Statesman.  His second book Trutznachtigall” (In Disregard of Nightingales) is a collection of fifty to sixty sacred songs that gained a prominent place among 17th century religious lyrics.


His most famous work, for which he obtained a well-deserved and worldwide reputation, remains his Cautio Criminalis (Precautions for Prosecutors 1631).  This was a stinging indictment against the German Princes, Judges and legal profession in general, who encouraged the atrocities perpetrated against witches.  In his fifty-one “Doubts” and “Questions” into which he divided the book, he exposes the methods by which convictions were obtained:  “Once a whisper of witchcraft was heard against any man or woman, the foregone result was death by burning”.


Written in Latin during his convalescence after an assassination attempt, it was first printed and published anonymously and without his permission, although he was widely known to have been its author.  Among the members of his own Jesuit order “secretly” his book seemed to have received a favourable reception.  However, because it was published without official sanction, and since many of the Princes and Judges he attacked were benefactors of the Jesuits, its not surprising he would be called to task.  One member of his order a Father Roestius, even tried to have him put on the Index of Prohibited books.


His worst critic was an anti-Jesuit Judge called Dr. Heinrich von Schultheis, who in an attack on the Cautio complained of “the horrible abuse he poured out regarding the Inquisition and authorities who were taking action against the witches”.  The General of the Provincial Jesuits of the Lower Rhine, Father Mutius Vitelleschi, offered him only a mild rebuke, and expressed his suspicion that while Spee himself did not have his name on the book, he at least allowed it to be published and “must earnestly guard his manuscripts better in the future”.


That Spee’s book had an effect can be seen in the preface of the second edition written by Johannes Gronäus, where it is noted that after the first publication of the Cautio, Johann Philipp von Schönborn the Archbishop of Mainz, and the Bishop of Brunswick both abandoned all further persecutions.  While the atrocities continued for many years after Spee’s death, the popularity of the Cautio among both Protestants and Catholics certainly helped to diminish the delusion.  By 1731 one hundred years after its first publication, over 16 editions had been printed and translated from Latin into German, French, Dutch and Polish.  Disseminated throughout all Europe, its message of reason and humanity continued to light a way out of a dark age.







The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology - by Rossell Hope Robbins

The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft  - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.


Website Sources:


To be Added.


First published on the 23rd March 2007, 12:46:38 © George Knowles



Best wishes and Blessed Be



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Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /   


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras





Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /  Amber KAnna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman Spare /  Biddy Early /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /  Charles Henry Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda Metteyya /  Charles WaltonChristina Oakley Harrington Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Isaac Bonewits Israel RegardieJack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” /  Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJoseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /   Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceMargaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip HeseltonRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Robert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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