Sunday, July 25, 2010

Witch Hunting Multitude Of Myths

Witch Hunting Multitude Of Myths Cover Historians have now realized that witch-hunting was not primarily a medieval phenomenon. It peaked in the 17th century, during the rationalist age of Descartes, Newton, and St. Vincent de Paul. Persecuting suspected witches was not an elite plot against the poor; not was practicing witchcraft a mode of peasant resistance. Catholics and Protestants hunted witches with comparable vigor. Church and state alike tried and executed them. It took more than pure Reason to end the witch craze.

Nor were witches secret pagans serving an ancient Triple Goddess and Horned God, as the neopagans claim. In fact, no witch was ever executed for worshipping a pagan deity. Matilda Gage's estimate of nine million women burned is more than 200 times the best current estimate of 30,000 to 50,000 killed during the 400 years from 1400 to 1800 -- a large number but no Holocaust. And it wasn't all a burning time. Witches were hanged, strangled, and beheaded as well. Witch-hunting was not woman-hunting: At least 20 percent of all suspected witches were male. Midwives were not especially targeted; nor were witches liquidated as obstacles to professionalized medicine and mechanistic science.

This revised set of facts should not entirely comfort Catholics, however. Catholics have been misled -- at times deliberately misled -- about the Church's role in the witch-hunts by apologists eager to present the Church as innocent of witches' blood so as to refute the Enlightenment theory that witch-burning was almost entirely a Catholic phenomenon. Catholics should know that the thinking that set the great witch-hunt in motion was developed by Catholic clerics before the Reformation.

But the great witch-hunt was nonetheless remarkably slow in coming. Many cultures around the world believed for millennia -- and still believe -- in witches. In typical folklore, past and present, witches are night-flying evildoers who inflict harm on others by supernatural means, such as curses, the evil eye, and magic substances. Witchcraft is usually thought of as an innate power, unlike sorcery, whose magical spells must be learned. What Christianity uniquely added to those traditional beliefs was Satan. God's enemies were said to join Satan's band of demons through a pact and worship him at monstrous bacchanals called "sabbats," where they parodied the liturgy.

The Church inherited Roman and Germanic laws regarding maleficent magic, laws that treated witchcraft as a crime. But to St. Augustine, concrete witchcraft consisted of idolatry and illusion rather than harm to others. Following Augustine, an Anonymous ninth-century text, Canon Episcopi, became part of the Church's canon law, declaring that belief in the reality of night-flying witches was heresy because there was no such thing as an actual witch. Although the idolatry and heresy associated with witchcraft resided only in the will, not in actual deeds, they were nevertheless sinful, Augustine wrote. Punishment was in order -- but not burning.

The High Middle Ages of the twelfth and 13th centuries saw the bloody suppression of heretics, notably the Cathars in Provence. Measures against Jews, magicians, and sexual deviants also grew harsher. These groups were associated with a stereotyped set of blasphemies, orgies, and outrages, including infanticide and cannibalism. Starting in 1232, the papal Inquisition dispatched roving specialists to detect and punish heretics outside existing legal systems.

Then, the idea that witchcraft was a reality rather than a heretical illusion suddenly made a comeback. The inquisitors who had cut their teeth on heretics were devouring accused witches as well by the end of the Middle Ages. This was not simply a matter of shifting scapegoats to suit market demand. In a society that feared supernatural menaces working through human conspiracies, the sinister folk figure of the esoterically schooled magician apparently fused with that of the petty village wise-woman or cunning man to create the new phenomenon of the diabolical witch.

After the first wisps of this change in the late 14th century, the flames burst forth around 1425 in the Savoy region, in what is now southeast France, and in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, near the borders of France and Italy. About 500 more witch trials followed before the Reformation began in 1517.

Books You Might Enjoy:

Richard Alan Miller - The Magical And Ritual Use Of Herbs
Edna Kenton - The Book Of Earths
Michael Johnstone - The Ultimate Encyclopedia Of Spells

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