Although this anecdote is ridiculous, it comes from the late 16th century witch hunt period so it has a predictably brutal ending. John Fian was a young schoolmaster from Tranent, near Edinburgh. He was one of a number of unfortunate people tortured over accusations of witchcraft. Godwin writes that Fian was “tortured by means of a rope strongly twisted around his head, and by the boots.” The boots were actually cruder than they sound, usually just a kind of vice designed to crush the feet and lower legs. Even people who survived the torture were usually crippled.
“He told of a young girl, the sister of one of his scholars, with whom he had been deeply enamoured. He had proposed to the boy to bring him three hairs from the most secret part of his sister’s body, possessing which he should be enabled by certain incantations to procure himself the love of the girl. The boy at his mother’s instigation brought to Fian three hairs from a virgin heifer instead; and, applying his conjuration to them, the consequence had been that the heifer forced her way into his school, leaped upon him in amorous fashion, and would not be restrained from following him about the neighbourhood.”
The night after delivering his stupid cow sex story, and confessing to other things such as being the Devil’s clerk and playing a part in trying to sink King James’ ship with magic, Fian escaped from prison. By the time he was recaptured he had apparently resolved never to have another false word coerced from him. Although he was tortured again, he continued to deny all his former confessions until the king ordered him to be strangled and his body burned. As Godwin notes, “multitudes of unhappy men and women perished in this cruel persecution,” which is one of the most shameful episodes of mass hysteria in British history.