Confessions

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Confessions

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In England, during the persecutions, a confession alone carried little weight. As evidence of witchcraft guilt, the English courts sought concrete proof, such as devil's marks. But in Continental Europe, confessions were a major part of the prosecution process. Indeed, obtaining a confession was in many cases of primary importance, since there was frequently very little in the way of concrete evidence. But exactly how the confession was obtained was irrelevent.

The Malleus Maleficarum of 1486, by the two monks Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, presumed the guilt of anyone charged with witchcraft and advocated torture to obtain a confession. Part Three of their infamous work dealt with "how the trial is to be proceeded with and continued, whether the witch is to be imprisoned; what is to be done after the arrest; points to be observed by the Judge before the formal examination in the place of detention and torture; how she must be questioned; the continuing of the torture; how they are to be shaved in those parts where they use to conceal the Devil's marks and tokens; various means of overcoming their obstinacy in keeping silence and refusal to confess; the trial by red-hot iron; the manner of pronouncing sentence. . . ." Torture was a necessary part of the investigation and the "continuing of the torture" was to ensure a full confession.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Friedrich von Spee tried to slow the hysterical persecutions. A German Jesuit, he wrote Cautio Criminalis (Cologne, 1632) in which he said that even the healthiest of witches had "affirmed that no crime can be imagined which they would not at once confess to if it could bring down ever so little relief and they would welcome ten deaths to escape repetition." He further stated "a single innocent person, compelled by torture to confess guilt, is forced to denounce others of whom she knows nothing; so it fares with these, and thus there is scarcely an end to accusers and accused, and, as none dares retract, all are marked for death."

During the Salem witch trials in New England, torture was not supposed to be applied. Yet there were varying degrees of duress, such as keeping the accused awake for many days and nights without sleep, starving her, and beating her. Confession was important to the authorities. If the accused pleaded (whether guilty or not guilty was immaterial) they could lay claim to all personal property and possessions. No trial could proceed until the accused had pleaded. Giles Cory, an eighty-yearold farmer, was aware of this point and consequently, when he was charged, he refused to say a word. His wife, Martha, had been charged and found guilty. To try to make Giles talk, the court subjected him to the peine forte et dure (literally, "a penalty harsh and severe," the only time in American history that this punishment has ever been inflicted). This entailed laying him on the ground and piling rocks on his body. But Giles held out until he was finally crushed to death under the weight of the rocks.

An immediate confession to a charge of witchcraft was no guarantee against torture. The accused would be tortured anyway, to confirm the confession. Having obtained a confession, the authorities might then allow the victim to partially recover before repeating their questions. This second confession allowed them to say that it had been obtained without duress, even though it was invariably made out of fear of further torture.

Confessions

Rousseau (1712–1778) reveals details of an erratic and rebellious life. [Fr.Lit.: Benét, 218]
References in classic literature ?
John Hartwell, its editor, elaborated an ingenious theory that got around the confessions of the two criminals and went to show that Gluck was responsible, after all, for the murder of Irene Tackley.
The confession he had promised was the one painful incident of this time.
A little less than a hundred years ago, and a little more than six hundred years after the death, the confession of Pervaise was discovered in the secret archives of the Vatican.
So important did it seem to the priest, that he had the confession taken down in writing and sworn to.
But, unlike Pervaise the confession of Romaines was made public in his own time.
it was not the fear of the confession itself, or the fear of the consequences which must follow it, that still held her silent.
There was the false hope of making the inevitable atonement by some other means than by the confession of the fraud.
It is a consideration I dare hardly venture to write, and the confession of which will, I know, necessitate my changing my age back again to thirty on the instant.
The confession (as you call it) which you make in your pretty note, is the very thing that Sir Patrick spoke to me about in the dining-room before I went away.
Finally, the confession, at the very moment when the case was hopelessly muddled by the false evidence given by Nikolay through melancholy and fanaticism, and when, moreover, there were no proofs against the real criminal, no suspicions even (Porfiry Petrovitch fully kept his word) --all this did much to soften the sentence.
Dounia remembered her brother's telling her that her mother had overheard her talking in her sleep on the night after her interview with Svidrigailov and before the fatal day of the confession: had not she made out something from that?
Karake, (138) the District Court for the District of Columbia excluded the confessions of Karake and the other defendants after extensively analyzing the "horrifying stories" of the use of "physical and psychological torture" by Rwandan officials.