The view taken by the Christian Church of women who wrote on holy matters, evangelised, preached, prophesised or in other ways acted as God’s mouthpiece has been inconstant: at times accepting, at times non-committal. Opinions have been determined by the Church’s need for messengers and by pressure exerted on the Church by various interest groups. We can identify four periods of relative latitude as regards these speaking and writing women. First, the period preceding the official establishment of an organised Church (c. second century AD); secondly, the expansion of the Church in Europe during the seventh to ninth centuries; thirdly, lay Pietism of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and fourthly, the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Pietist movements in the wake of Reformation and Counter Reformation.
Witch persecutions were institutionalised with the papal bull and the later renowned Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published in 1487 and written by Sprenger and Institoris. From then onwards, secular and ecclesiastical authorities were obliged – whether they wanted to or not – to see it as their legitimate duty to get witchcraft under control. The accused were submitted to interrogations that often resulted in physical mutilation and death. They must confess, at any price. This would last 300 years. The last official witch-burning in Europe took place at the end of the eighteenth century. It is highly unlikely that the persecutions came to an end because it was thought that the ‘offence’, which the papal bull and Malleus Maleficarum had attempted to pin down, had been eradicated. The below treats of confessions in Danish witch trials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.