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Part XVI: Punishing Eve—Illegal Torture to Cleanse Godly Communities of Old Useless Women

This series focuses on the region from where the roots of Western Judaic and Christian civilization of today are traced: the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern region surrounding the Mediterranean  from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine,  Jordan, Iraq, (western) Iran, and Egypt).  A similar evolution and change happened in the (farther) East that became dominated by Islam and Hinduism. Punishing Eve  traces those roots into medieval, and early modern Europe, to our Western culture of today.

To read the entire Punishing Eve series, as well as other Zeitgeist Change commentaries, and about novels (political thrillers) by Janet Wise, go to


            It is asked whether a man can be so blessed by the good Angels that he cannot be bewitched by witches.

            Answer: There are three classes of men blessed by God, whom that detestable race (witches) cannot injure with their witchcraft. And the first are those who administer public justice against them, or prosecute them in any public capacity. The second are those who, according to the tradition and holy rites of the Church, make lawful use of the power and virtue which the Church by her exorcisms furnishes in the aspersion of Holy Water, the taking of consecrated salt, the carrying of blessed candles on the Day of Purification of Our Lady, of palm leaves upon Palm Sunday, and men who thus fortify themselves are acting so that the powers of the devils are diminished.

The Malleus Maleficarum: or Hammer of Witches, Part 2, Question 1: Of those against whom the Power of Witches availeth not at all,  (1484), by Heinrich Godfrey Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, Catholic Dominican Inquisitors. (Included in case one is wondering how the Malleus assured those who conducted heinous acts of torture were assured that the witch could not counter with a hex on him!)

Who Were the Witches Being Hunted as a Form of Community Cleansing?

So who were those ‘moralist’ Christians and ‘reasoned’ judges, lawyers, and community councilmen’ hunting and exterminating as witches for the purpose of cleansing their communities, all in the pursuit of making their cities godly? Historians are in agreement that while a witch could be anyone: a child, a woman in her prime,  the elderly; many of them were, in fact, old women—hence the stereotype of the old hag riding on a broom characterized by our American celebration of Halloween. For, in a patriarchal society that only valued women for reproduction, and then only under very strict control and moralistic conditions, of what use were old women? Certainly they were not respected for their wisdom;  women, by nature were considered by the Christian patriarch to be weak in mind as well as in soul. And if they were of no use, then what do you do with them? It should be defined in early modern Europe that if a woman didn’t die in childbirth, she reached old age by menopause; e.g. old was in her fifties, really old was in her sixties.

“Reginald Scott, the English skeptic about witchcraft, began his definition of witches this way: “women which be commonly old, lame, bleare-eyed, pale, fowl, and full of wrinkles.” If Scot, who was sympathetic to the victims, promoted this stereotype, it is not surprising that witch-hunters like Boquet and Remy used such phrases as “this miserable and damnable vermin” and “(like) a bitch far more hideous to look at than all others.” Scot’s and the Frenchmen’s caricatures capture the truth about the majority of persons accused of this crime: old, unattractive, disliked, and female.[1] And as was mentioned in the last chapter, many of them were the poor and widowed women who supported themselves as medical caregivers, as midwives, and as lying-in attendants. It cannot be ignored that witchcraft beliefs linked powerfully to woman’s sexuality (which was loathed and feared, thus needed an inordinate number of laws and enforcers of those laws to control it), and to women’s role in giving birth, which the whole Christian male leadership associated with being ‘unclean’ and needed to be sanctified by ‘churching’ for women, and ‘baptism’ for infants.

On women’s reproduction and women midwives, Dr. Jean Donnison, British scholar and professor, writes, “Indeed the whole process of childbirth was the focus of a mass of ancient superstitious beliefs which played an important role in Christian thinking. The act of giving birth was believed (by Christian Fathers) to defile the mother, who could be readmitted to the Church only after a service of purification and ‘churching.’ That the Church believed that the umbilical cord, caul, afterbirth and still-born fetus played an important part in the rites of witchcraft provided additional justification for the Church’s attempts to control midwives and to punish those who in any way departed from the prescribed code.”[2] Churching required a purification of the mother within one month after childbirth, where she and her birth attendants (midwife and lying in maid) were mandated to attend a service requiring kneeling at the altar in front of a priest to be cleansed of their impurities (for the birth process) with holy water, and to give thanks for surviving giving birth. (Well, at least they didn’t have to bring two turtle doves to be sacrificed by the priest as in the Hebrew Old Testament: Leviticus.) The mother and her birth attendants were not allowed into church services (which meant back into communal society) until they had undergone churching.

And what were those “prescribed codes?” Through the practice of auricular confession, the Catholic Church knew a great deal about everyone’s personal lives, giving them an inordinate amount of information to wield great power over people’s day-to-day existence, exercising jurisdiction in a wide range of human affairs. Hence, more than the midwife’s technical skill and experience, matters of her character and religious beliefs were of vital concern to the ecclesiastical authorities. Midwives, by Church requirements, were married women of middle age or older who had borne children themselves. Most important, the midwife had to swear a lengthy and detailed loyalty to the Church, and the parson of the parish. As well, Church matrons and male Christians of good standing had to give reference – swearing the midwife was of good Christian character. She was expressly forbidden to perform any act leading to the destruction of the child or the concealment of any birth. She also had to make the mother of a bastard infant name the father in order to not escape the punishment inflicted for her offense of bearing it and his offense of fathering it. It was Christian doctrine that the soul of a baby which died unbaptized would lose its chance at salvation; therefore it was the midwife’s duty to baptize any child thought likely to die before it could be taken to the priest. Any midwife who used the wrong words, and so “lost a chylde, bothe soule and lyfe” was stripped of her role as midwife and severely punished.[3] It perhaps bears being repeated here, that the whole concept of baptism steeped in Church dogma is that being born of a woman is to be born in original sin, and therefore “unclean;” that only through baptism can a child be “cleansed” of that sin and be fit of acceptance into the company of men and of the male God.

It also should be pointed out, that in a society where the only role for woman was to be a wife—and her labor was unpaid—there were very few paid employment opportunities for females. Midwifery and medical care-giving was practically the only way a widowed or single woman could support herself. Therefore, when combining the dangers of childbirth to both mother and infant, with the cumulative beliefs of witchcraft, and with the reality that old women were delivering those babies who might perish in making their way into the early modern European world, old midwives were often the first to be accused of witchcraft.

The Malleus Maleficarum—that misogynist encyclopedia of witchcraft was printed in pocket size so the inquisitors could easily carry it. It was sanctioned by the Pope. And after the Reformation it became equally authoritative with Protestants as well as Catholics—especially in the second half of the sixteenth century. It did not lose its power for evil until the end of the eighteenth century. Martin Luther said, “I would have no compassion for a witch, I would burn them all.”[4] He looked upon those who were afflicted with blindness, lameness, or idiocy from birth, as possessed of demons. There is record of his attempt to drown an afflicted child in whom he declared no soul existed, its body being animated by the Devil alone.[5] Sprenger, the co-author of the Malleus Maleficarum, himself, was particularly diabolical. A body of men known as “Traveling Witch Inquisitors” of whom Sprenger was chief, journeyed from country to country throughout the Holy Roman Empire in search of victims for torture and death. Their entrance into a country or city was regarded with more fear than famine or pestilence, especially by women, against whom their malignity was sure to be directed. Sprenger was the great authority, declaring that her name signified evil: “the very word femina, (woman) meaning one wanting in faith, for fe means faith, and minus less.”[6] Certainly, Sprenger and the inquisitors spread terror. And, as discussed in the last chapter, they also spread opportunity, for a witch-hunt resulted in torture for confessions, and to name other witch accomplices, which meant the confiscation of property from a lot of people. Given the Church’s means for dividing the spoils, Sprenger’s love of power and money must have made him a very rich man.

Industry of Witchcraft Greatly Expanded and Enhanced by Torture

In 1252 the Church, which had taken the lead in the adoption of the inquisitorial conviction process allowed the use of torture to extract confessions for heresy. Pope Innocent IV authorized inquisitors to use torture to prosecute heresy as it was a concealed crime (difficult to prove with physical evidence), and because it was appropriate since their crime was treason against the Church. When torture was used in witch trials—a crime which was considered as a crimen exceptum— the rules on its use not only were greatly relaxed, in essence there were no rules. Levack writes, “If the courts of Europe had adhered strictly to the rules regarding the use of torture, then the adoption of this method of criminal investigation would not have led to the innumerable miscarriages of justice with which it is almost always associated.  In particular, the European witch-hunt would never have taken place.”[7] The most significant modification of the rules dealt with the requirement that the judge first establish that a crime, in fact, had been committed. As John Langbien has argued, if this rule had been strictly enforced, ‘the European witch craze would never have claimed its countless victims.’[8]

Another official relaxation of the rules regarding torture concerned its repetition, as in the initial torture to extract the ‘truth’ wasn’t supposed to be repeated. European courts dispensed with this regulation and permitted judges to repeat the torture at least once and sometimes two or more times if the prisoner proved to be recalcitrant. In some witchcraft cases torture was applied indefinitely. There is at least one recorded instance of its repetition fifty-six times,[9] and in 1631 the hangman of the town of Dreissigacker in Germany revealed in a chilling statement to an accused witch how completely the safeguard against repeating torture had been abandoned:

“I do not take you for one, two, or three, not for eight days, not for a few weeks, but for half a year or a year, for your whole life, until you confess; and if you do not confess, I shall torture you to death, and you shall be burned after all.”

This prisoner was pregnant which meant that she should never have been tortured at all.[10]

Not only was the duration of torture extended indefinitely for witches, so too was its severity. In the prosecution of Anna Spulerin of Ringingen, she was tortured so gruesomely that her limbs were mutilated and her sight and hearing lost.[11] In Scotland, Dr. Fian, one of the many witches suspected of treason against the King, ‘was put to the most severe and cruell paine in the world, called the bootes’, with the result that ‘his legges were crushte and beaten together as small as might bee, and the bones and flesh so bruised, that the blood and marrowe spouted forth in great abundance’.[12]

As referenced from Hexen and Hexenmeister, “The following scenario is adapted from a report of the first day’s torture of a woman accused of witchcraft in Prossneck, Germany in 1629. First, she was put on the “ladder,” alcohol was thrown over her head and her hair was set on fire. Strips of sulfur were placed under her arms and ignited. Then the torturer tied her hands behind her back and hoisted her to the ceiling by her bound arms, wrenching them out of joint, where she hung for hours while he went to breakfast. On his return, he threw alcohol over her back and set fire to it. Placing heavy weights on her body, he jerked her up to the ceiling again. Then he squeezed her thumbs and big toes in a vice, trussed her arms with a stick, and kept her hanging until she fainted. Then he whipped her with rawhide. Once more to the vices, and he went to lunch. After his lunch she was whipped until blood ran. The next day, it was reported, they started all over again, but without pushing things quite as far as before.”[13]

Some of these extreme tortures were sanctioned by the criminal law of particular states, but others were employed illegally, at the mere command of an overzealous and perhaps sadistic judge. In Germany, many courts used the witches’ chair, which was heated with fire from below, while in Scotland, there were reports of witch’s fingernails being pulled out with pincers. It was not uncommon to gouge out the eyes and chop off the ears. The most brutal torture was used on witches because judges feared that witches could use sorcery to help them to withstand pain, and impede getting the confession, thus the conviction.[14] It was imperative not only to get the accused to confess the “truth of their guilt” (which the inquisitor lays out for them so they know the truth they are confessing to) but to name their witch conspirators, because it was known that when you have one witch, you have many more.

Through leading questions and accusations, the confession of truth has already been told to the accused who has been stripped naked, laid out on a stone slab for the inquisitors to “examine,” all bodily hair shaved, the secret unnamed places probed and explored in the name of searching for Satan’s mark or his instruments (you guessed it, hidden in her vagina – it seems that today’s vaginal probe ultrasounds first originated into law in Malleus). After the strip, shaving, and vagina probe, the woman is tortured (naked) on the rack, stretching and twisting limbs bound with increasing pressure. The term “thumbscrews” originated with the inquisitors. The torture always dismembered joints.

Levack writes that it was the authorities’ belief that witchcraft was a conspiracy that led to their conducting large, chain-reaction witch-hunts. The torture of individual witches for their confessions could produce a high percentage of convictions, but only torture of those witches for the names of their confederates could produce witch-hunts in which scores, if not hundreds, of individuals were tried for a collective crime.[15] In some instances, nearly all women in a village would be wiped out via this accusing and torturing process.


How Written Manuals and Treatises Indoctrinated Christian Men in Misogyny

To more fully understand the incredulousness of the thinking of the male clergy and secular leadership of the countries conducting witch-hunts for three centuries, that could lead them to such heinous acts, we need only to examine more of the passages of the Catholic manual, the Malleus Maleficarum:

“Therefore a wicked woman is by her nature quicker to waver in her faith, and consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft.

And Seneca (Tragedies, VIII): No might of the flames or the swollen winds, no deadly weapon, is so much to be feared as the lust and hatred of a woman who has been divorced from the marriage bed.

This is shown too in woman who falsely accused Joseph, and caused him to be imprisoned because he would not consent to the crime of adultery with her (Genesis xxx). And truly the most powerful cause which contributes to the increase of witches is the woeful rivalry between married folk and unmarried women and men. This is so even among holy women, so what must it be among the others? For you see in Genesis xxi, how impatient and envious Sarah was of Hagar when she conceived.[16]

For the record, Hagar was Sarah’s slave brought out of Egypt, whom her husband Abraham impregnated “by going into against her will” and from whose son Ishmael came the lineage that produced the prophet Muhammad – that other prophet whom God promised a great nation in return for Hagar being raped then cast out into the desert (by Abraham and Sarah) once Sarah conceived and from whose son Isaac produced the lineage subsequently producing the prophet Jesus.[17]  Though Hagar was violated by Abraham, the rapist is not condemned by the Bible or in Malleus. The woman who is raped and forced to bear the rapist’s child, is cast out with a loaf of bread and jug of water – her entire bloodline to be vilified and punished by Christians to this day even though their own Christian God promised Muhammad a great nation as compensation for her travails. And instead, the Malleus focuses on Sarah’s jealousy as that which is evil.

After proceeding to give other examples of women’s unrighteous jealousy and wrath, Malleus concludes with more Ecclesiastics xxxvii:

“Neither consult with a woman touching her of whom she is jealous. Meaning that it is useless to consult with her, since there is always jealousy, that is, envy, in a wicked woman. And if women behave thus to each other, how much more will they do so to men.”[18]

This Catholic monstrosity is filled with page after page of insane fear and hatred of women. As mentioned earlier, since it was women learned in medicine and mid-wifery who attended the sick as well as the woman during her childbirth labors, and because they used potions and herbs from nature as medicines and anesthetics – those prescriptions handed down by the Sumerians that the Catholic fathers hadn’t managed to eradicate and burn – they were particularly targeted by the inquisitors.

In their instructions on ‘why women were witches more than men,’ and ‘how to identify witches and prosecute them’, the Malleus gives some very incredulous “truth of guilt” confessions as examples. What follows is a Malleus account given by an inquisitor, ‘that in the Duchy of Lausanne, certain witches had cooked and eaten their own children, and that the following was the method in which they became initiated into such practices.[19]

It was brought to the notice of Peter the Judge in Boltingen, that thirteen infants had been devoured in the State of Berne; the public justice exacted full vengeance on the murderers. And when Peter asked one of the captive witches in what manner they ate children, she confessed: “We set our snares chiefly for unbaptized children, and even for those that have been baptized, especially when they have not been protected by the sign of the Cross and prayers” (Reader, notice that, at the devil’s command, they take the unbaptized chiefly, in order that they may not be baptized), “and with our spells we kill them in their cradles or even when they are sleeping by their parent’s side, in such a way that they afterwards are thought to have been overlain or to have died some other natural death. Then we secretly take them from their graves, and cook them in a cauldron, until the whole flesh comes away from the bones to make a soup which may be easily drunk. Of the more solid matter we make an unguent which is of virtue to help us in our arts and pleasures and our transportations; and with the liquid we fill a flask or skin, whoever drinks from which, with the addition of a few other ceremonies, immediately acquires much knowledge and becomes a leader in our sect.”[20]

Thus crib death, or as known today as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which was quite common, and sometimes still happens in modern-day 2013, and any other death of an infant due to natural causes, was the work of witches led by the midwife; the midwife and whatever other women were handy and available became the accused. And through the aid of hideous torture, she named her accomplices, thus to accommodate the inquisitor and please the Protestant or Catholic Almighty Father in whose name this good work was being done. (Translation: Their “transportations” was the witches flying about in the night on broomsticks; an unguent is a salve that, according to the inquisitors, allowed the witch to fly on her broom when applied to the right places.

Part 2 of Malleus provides a titillating and incredulously detailed account of: Here follows the Way whereby Witches copulate with those Devils known as Incubi; the demons are the Incubi who collect sperm from unsuspecting human males – this section describes how he manages to take on bodily form via inspissated air in order to penetrate the woman, the Succubi. Note: Through copulation with devils, women – Succubi – become witches.[21]

The obsession with sex, the distortion of sex into vile abominations, and the fear of women’s ability to bewitch the male member is a constant theme throughout Malleus and indeed, the crime most heinous, even greater than devouring of killed babies.

In Part 1, Question 3: Whether Children can be Generated by Incubi and Succubi.

“At first it may truly seem that it is not in accordance with the Catholic Faith to maintain that children can be begotten by devils, that is to say, by Incubi and Succubi: For God Himself, before sin came into the world, instituted human procreation, since He created woman from the rib of man to be a helpmeet unto man: And to them He said: Increase and multiply, Genesis ii, 24.

. . . But it may be argued that devils take their part in this generation not as the essential cause, but as secondary and artificial cause, since they busy themselves by interfering with the process of normal copulation and conception, by obtaining human semen, and themselves transferring it.”[22]

And, of course, when men’s sleep is disturbed, and his male member caused to rise and spill semen, it is the work of witches – Lilith now incarnated into witches in the Middle Ages in the imagination of the Church Inquisitors – so that the Incubi can steal that semen for copulation with Succubi.

Malleus continues its instructions for inquisitors and judges:

“The reader will find also how the devil knows the thoughts of our hearts.  For this reason they are the enemies of the human race: rational in mind, but reasoning without words; subtle in wickedness, eager to hurt; ever fertile in fresh deceptions, they change the perceptions and befoul the emotions of men, they confound the watchful, and in dreams disturb the sleeping, they bring diseases, stir up tempests, disguise themselves as angels of light, bear Hell always about them; from witches they usurp to themselves the worship of God, and by this means magic spells are made; they seek to get a mastery over the good, and molest them to the most of their power; to the elect they are given as a temptation, and always they lie in wait for the destruction of men.

And although they have a thousand ways of doing harm, and have tried ever since their downfall to bring about schisms in the Church, to disable charity, to infect with the gall of envy the sweetness of the acts of Saints, and in every way to subvert and perturb the human race; yet their power remains confined to the privy parts and the navel. See Job xli. For through the wantonness of the flesh they have much power over men; and in men the source of wantonness lies in the privy parts, since it is from them that the semen falls, just as in women it falls from the navel.”[23]

Question 8 dealing with whether or not witches can hebetate (dull) the generative powers of man or obstruct the venereal act (sexual intercourse) begins with this misogynistic prose:

“Now the fact that drabs and whores are chiefly given to witchcraft is substantiated by the spells which are cast by witches upon the act of generation.”[24]

In tortured and twisted logic and language, the Malleus proceeds to make it a truth that when a male lusts after a woman other than his wife, and indeed performs better sexually with her than his wife, it is the result of witchcraft. If his male member becomes impotent and cannot perform it is the result of witchcraft. Witchcraft can through “glamour” make the male member appear to disappear. If the man lusts after woman in his dreams and spills semen it is due to witchcraft.

Witches can excite a man to that (sex) act, or freeze his desire for it; the witch can disturb a man’s perception and imagination as to make a woman appear loathsome to him, and can directly prevent the erection of that member which is adapted to fructification and prevent local motion. The witch can prevent the flow of the vital essence to the members in which lie the motive power, by closing the seminary ducts so that it does not descend to the generative channels, or fall back from them or in many ways causing it to fail to function. As to why men more than women are bewitched (in respect to the sex act) it is because obstruction generally occurs in the matter of erection which happens to men. And since witches are more often women, and they lust after men, and they act in spite against married women, they find every opportunity to cause the husband to adulterous copulation with other women but not with his own wife. As to the wives: And witches can so darken a woman’s understanding that she considers her husband so loathsome that not, for the world, would she allow him to lie with her.[25]

One more “law” whose sentiment has carried forward to the Church Fathers’ hysteria of today:

Note, moreover, that according to what is laid down by the Canons, whoever through desire of vengeance or for hatred does anything to a man or a woman to prevent them from begetting or conceiving must be considered a homicide. And note, further, that the Canon speaks of loose lovers who, to save their mistresses from shame, use contraceptives, such as potions or herbs that contravene nature, without any help from devils, that such penitents are to be punished as homicides. But witches who do such things by witchcraft are by law punishable by the extreme penalty.[26] (torture and death)

As discussed in the last chapter, while the Catholic inquisitors wrote these evil instructions that condemned a large portion of the European female population to torture and death in the most barbarous fashion in recorded history, the Protestant Reformers who arose during these same centuries, while denouncing many Catholic doctrines as unholy – charging fees for absolutions, indulgences, and hearing confessions and giving last rites and confiscating property to enrich the Church – they had no problem with the witch-hunts and the prosecuting and murdering women as witches. In other words, over-charging was a grievous sin, but brutally torturing and murdering women was  . . . ho hum . . . deserved due to her sexual depravity. It should be noted as well, that it was the Protestant (Puritan) fathers who brought the witch-hunts to the American colonies.

In only one European state was there resistance against the Church in conducting witch-hunts. In the State of Venice it caused open rebellion against church authority, the Council forbidding the sentence of the Inquisition to be carried out. It was Venice in the whole of Europe that defied the Church, protesting against the robbery of her citizens. She ultimately succeeded in establishing a treaty with the pope whereby the inheritance of the condemned was retained in the family. The rebellion of Venice against the Church on the question of property, which it held itself to be pre-eminent, radically affected a lessening in the number of accused. It made theft by the Church no longer possible, thus accusations of witchcraft soon ceased; being no longer recognized as a sin, after ceasing to bring money into the church coffers.[27]

“Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die; that is what they are there for.” (Martin Luther)












[1] Anne Llewellyn Barstow , Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts, (Pandora, a Division of Harper Collins Publishers, London, 1994),  p 16.

[2] Jean Donnison, Midwives and Medical Men: A History of Inter-Professional Rivalries and Women’s Rights, (Schocken Books: New York, 1977) p. 4.

[3] Ibid. pp. 2-13

[4] Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church, and State, Chap. 5

[5] Ibid., chap. 5

[6] Ibid., p 227, 261.

[7] Brian Levack, The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe, (Longman Goup, Essex, England, 1987) p 73

[8] Ibid., p. 74, quoting from John Langbien, Torture and the Law of Proof, Chicago, 1977, p 14

[9] Ibid., p 74, quoting from  R. H. Robbins, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology, 1959

[10] Ibid., p 74

[11] Ibid., p 74, quoting from Heiko Oberman, Masters of the Reformation, Cambridge, 1981

[12] Ibid., p 74, quoting from the Newes from Scotland, London, 1591, pp 18 and 28

[13] Jeanne Achterberg, Woman as Healer, p. 83, referenced from W. Pressel, Hexen and Hexenmeister (Stuttgart, 1860) reprinted in Robbins, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, p. 510

[14] Levack, Ibid., p 75

[15] Ibid., p 77

[16] Malleus Maleficarum, 1484, translation by Montague Summers (1927), 2001 edition, p. 54

[17] Bible, King James Version, Genesis 12:10-20

[18] Malleus Maleficarum, p. 54

[19]  Malleus Maleficarum, p. 107

[20] Ibid, p. 107

[21] Edward Peters, Witchcraft in Europe 400 – 1700, pp. 93-94

[22] Malleus Maleficarum, p. 39

[23] Ibid. pp. 41 – 42

[24] Ibid. p. 58

[25] Ibid. pp. 59 – 60

[26] Ibid. p. 60

[27] Matilda Roslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State, p 255-256.


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