Witches Allegedly Stole Penises and Kept Them as Pets in the Middle Ages

Callie Beusman

Since time immemorial, men have worried irrationally about perceived threats to their penises. Long before there was castration anxiety, there was something far more sinister: the myth of phallus-stealing witches who kept wriggling, dismembered members as pets.

The best-known description of this practice occurs in the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century witch hunting manual written by Heinrich Kramer. Historians typically regard it as a ludicrous and misogynistic text that nonetheless resulted in countless vicious murders of women accused of witchcraft; in The Salem Witch Trials Reader, Frances Hill describes it as “one of the most terrifying and obnoxious books ever written.” The Malleus is rife with obvious anxieties about female sexual desire—as folklorist Moira Smith notes in her paperPenis Theft in the Malleus Maleficarum, “Many of the crimes (maleficia) attributed to witches concerned sexuality: copulation with incubus devils, procuring abortions, causing sterility and stillbirth, and impeding sexual relations between husbands and wives.”

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