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.

To read the entire Punishing Eve series, posted to date, go to http://www.janetwise.net/category/zeitgeist-commentary/

 

Whether the belief that there are such beings as witches is so essential a part of the Catholic faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion manifestly savors of heresy.

To commence, the expressions of the Canon must be treated of in detail. For the divine in many places commands that witches are not only to be avoided, but also they are to be put to death, and it would not impose the extreme penalty of this kind if witches did not really and truly make a compact with devils in order to bring about real and true hurts and harms. For in the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy it is commanded that all wizards and charmers are to be destroyed. Also the 19th chapter of Leviticus says: The soul which goeth to wizards and soothsayers to commit fornication with them, I will set my face against that soul, and destroy it out of the midst of my people. And again, 20: A man, or woman, in whom there is a pythonical or divining spirit dying, let them die: they shall stone them. Those persons are said to be pythons in whom the devil works extraordinary things.

The Malleus Maleficarum: or Hammer of Witches, Part I, Question 1, Whether the Belief that there are such Beings as Witches is so Essential a Part of the Catholic Faith that Obstinacy to maintain the Opposite manifestly savours of Heresy. (1484), by Heinrich Godfrey Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, Catholic Dominican Inquisitors, 

(The Malleus was written as a text for the witch inquisitions in response to Pope Innocent VIII’s papal bull to formalize a plan of action against the Catholic Church’s paranoia of a worldwide conspiracy of witches and Satan. It became the encyclopedia for inquisitors and courts throughout Europe to identify, accuse, torture convictions from, and execute women as witches over the next three centuries. It even, for a brief time, spread to the Calvinist American colonies. The Church was never censored nor condemned for this holocaust against women.)[1]

PART XIII: PUNISHING EVE

All ancient cultures ascribed to their goddesses and gods the powers of nature of which they did not understand. And within all cultures, certain people would emerge who were believed to have powers to communicate with the goddesses and gods to control droughts, or floods, to stop a pestilence that threatened the food supply. They could read the position of the moon or the sun or the course of the stars, the new moon or the eclipse of the moon to succor, or predict advantageous times to plan marriages, or build a house. In the old cultures, these gifted people were often the priestesses who served the Goddess.

Perhaps the most well known priestesses from more recent times, who delivered prophecies, were in classical Greece at the renowned site at Delphi. According to the Homeric-hymn to the Pythian, Apollo shot his first arrow as an infant. The arrow effectively slew the serpent Pytho, the son of Gaia, the earth Goddess, who guarded the sacred site at Delphi. To atone for the murder of Gaia’s son, Apollo was forced to fly away. He was to spend eight years in menial service before he could return forgiven. A festival, the Septerla, was held every year, at which the whole story was recreated: the slaying of the serpent, and the flight, atonement, and return of the god.  The priestess(es) of the oracle, known as Pythia, exerted considerable influence throughout the Greek world, and were consulted before all major undertakings: wars, the founding of colonies, etc. Pythia was also known and respected far and wide by the semi-Hellenic countries around the Greek world, including early Rome and Egypt.

When Apollo slew Python, its body fell into the fissure (at Delphi), according to legend, and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by the vapors, the oracle (Pythia) would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. (Women who were trained to be) Pythia sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth, and in this state she prophesied. It has been speculated that a gas high in ethylene, known to produce violent trances, came out of this volcanic fissure, though this theory remains debatable.

Various scholars seem to be in disagreement over the origin of the word witch. But a logical hypothesis comes from Jeffrey Russell, who writes in his appendix in A History of Witchcraft, that the origin comes from the Indo-European word weik which had a connotation of religion and magic.[2] His theory is that from this ancient root-word came the word wikk, meaning magic and sorcery, and this eventually produced the Old English wicca, a male witch, wicce, a female witch, and the verb wiccian, to bewitch or work witchcraft.

Christina Larner writes in Enemies of God, “… most, if not all, witch-believing societies distinguish between black magic and white magic, and that this is related to the distinction between sorcery and witchcraft. Sorcery is taken to mean the use of words and actions (incantations and the manipulation of objects, substances, or livestock) to generate supernatural power. Witchcraft is the generation of supernatural power with or without particular performances and is therefore an umbrella term. White witchcraft is concerned with the healing arts, with prophecy, with finding lost objects, with the supply of love potions, and with performances and rituals designed to counter black witchcraft. White witchcraft always involves manipulative sorcery. Black witchcraft or malefic may or may not involve sorcery, but some indication, whether articulate and precise cursing, gnomic utterance, or scarcely audible mumbling, is usually necessary to establish that the mobilization of powerful ill will has been attempted.”[3]

The Devil or Satan made his first appearance in the Hebrew Old Testament. And as discussed in the last chapter (Part XII) he was described as all that is evil, a spirit in active rebellion against God. As also discussed earlier (Part IV), the story of the serpent as the tempter of Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the serpent representing Satan, was a deliberately twisted metaphor, since the serpent had always represented wisdom and was one of the embodiments of the Goddess in Neolithic societies’ Old Religion. The Christians, in their need to strongly differentiate between (their) good magic, and (pagan) evil magic would take the Satan concept and run with it—their imaginations conjuring a fictionally dark world of an evil force that threatened the very existence of their god. And they associated that evil force with all things pagan (the worshipping of a goddess) and thus associating evil with women.

By the fourth century A.D., when Latin Christian theologian Augustine bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa (354-430) further elaborated on the source and nature of evil, the notion of the Devil as the enemy of God and man was firmly enshrined in Christian belief. Augustine was to systematize this concept and place it in a meaningful context. By stressing to so great a degree the climactic effects of the fall from Eden (because a woman had listened to the serpent) and the continuing efforts of Satan to prey upon sinful human nature for the perdition of souls, Augustine heightened the Christian awareness of the Devil’s powers so that they seemed second only to God.[4]

“The Greek, Latin, and Hebrew ideas and terms designating various kinds of what may be generally called magic, whether practiced by men or women, reach back into a distant past and were all transformed by the Christianization of the Roman Empire late in the fourth century A.D., and indeed of virtually the whole of Mediterranean Hellenistic culture by the sixth century. It required Christians to come to terms with—and define themselves as different from—both Greco-Roman and Jewish religions as well as to take into Christian account the diverse Greco-Roman and Jewish ideas of magic and sorcery. Much of the energy and effort of Christian thinkers from Origen to St. Augustine and later to Isidore of Seville was expended on these problems. The solutions reached by these very influential Christian thinkers between the fourth through the seventh centuries were then applied to the next phase of the expansion of Christianity—into the world of late Iron Age Europe, with its very different cultural practices both of religion and magic.”[5]

A reminding note from Joseph Campbell and Jane Ellen Harrison: Religion is a construct of the collective intelligence and state of evolvement of language: it fills man’s need for explaining what he instinctually desires and yearns for, and as language of his time enabled him to do, to develop his perceived explanations of the perpetuity of life – its continuity after death. The Christian thinkers very aptly adopted the already existing Latin vocabulary to split hairs and twist beliefs. Appropriating (quite successfully) this existing vocabulary “to define itself and to characterize those (Greco-Roman and Hebrew) beliefs and practices that it characterized as “pagan”, Christians assumed for their own faith (based on magical beliefs and practices) the Latin term religio. This term had historically designated the proper relationship between the Romans and their gods. But the Christian thinkers (adopting religio for their own magic) switched Roman and Hebrew beliefs to superstitio—for Romans the abominable opposite of religio (and a much stronger word than the modern superstition). To both Roman religion and the various forms of magic that the Romans themselves had condemned, Christians applied the terms superstitio, maleficia and magia. This appropriation was deliberate—the second century Roman author Suetonius had termed Christianity itself as a maleficia superstitio. Thus, later Christian writers asserted religio as the true cult paid to God, superstitio as the false. To accomplish this at the end of the fourth century, when the empire had become officially and exclusively Christian, Latin Christian theologian Augustine bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa had his work cut out for him.”[6] Augustine’s skill as rhetorician, his familiarity with late antique philosophy and literature, as well as the early Latin versions of Jewish and Christian literature, his intensive and literal reading of the epistles of St. Paul in the 390s, and his voluminous and authoritative writings gave him a position of preeminence among Latin Christian theologians.”[7] His influence can be traced throughout the following centuries.

One of Augustine’s earliest discussions of magic was his consideration of the Christian understanding of the struggle between Moses and Aaron and the “magicians” of Pharaoh in Exodus 7-8 (yes–that same Exodus that archaeology and cross-referencing written history tells us likely didn’t happen!). There Augustine lays out his arguments concerning demonology and the weakness of humans when their pride and sinful curiosity leads them to worship demons instead of God. Around the same time Augustine considered the problem of whether or not the “witch” of En-dor had actually raised the spirit of Samuel for Saul (1 Samuel 28). In his extensive writings, Augustine generally laid out four arguments that continued to influence European thought throughout the period through the seventeenth century: the gods of the pagans were demons in disguise; pagan religious practices were superstitious abominations; demons and humans entered agreements (pacts), each for private glorification; the difference between demonic magic and legitimate miracle was clear and could not be mistaken by any Christian who was properly instructed—“Magicians perform wonders of one kind, good Christians of another kind, and bad Christians of yet another: those of magicians by means of a private contract (with demons), those of good Christians  by public (divine) justice (or righteousness), and those of bad Christians by the signs (or imitations) of divine righteousness.”[8]

And believe it or not, this very unscientific thinking and rationale is what guided Catholic bishops and priests though the centuries as the fear of the rise of demonology increased and erupted into witch-mania nearly a millennium later. And you guessed it: with the Catholic loathing of sex with a woman and female sexuality in general, those demons propagated in human population through copulating with women. Of course, women, being of a carnal nature, welcomed fornicating with the Devil. And through this licentious act, not only did the woman become possessed by the demon’s evil, her off-spring was demonic as well. Only Christian baptism could save it.

During the centuries from the time of Augustine to the enlightenment toward the end of the 18th century (but remains in the DNA memory of many of the Christian devout today)—Satan commanded a host or army of subordinate demons—this became the normative theological doctrine. And the Christian attack on the Old Religion of the Goddess preached from their pulpits that all pagan gods (and goddesses) were those demonic evil spirits whose role was to delude mankind. It may be important to remind that most people were illiterate during these centuries. And even if a lay person was literate, only those educated as monks and priests by the church were allowed to read the Bible’s scriptures. Therefore, the Church’s interpretation to the lay people came through verbal sermons to congregations, and through pictorial imagery of which proliferate depictions were created, remain as a record today of the thinking propagandized to the people.

Caesarius of Arles (469-542 A.D.) was born into a noble Gallo-Roman family. He became bishop of Arles in 501/2 where he remained until his death. Well instructed in the writings of Augustine, Caesarius was directed to bring the provincial and localized Gallo-Roman religious culture into line with earlier Christian traditions and practices of ‘respected’ churches. During Caesarius’s pastoralism, the “secular” was marginalized, and many of its aspects were now denounced as “pagan,” that is, as falling outside the new code of ideal Christian conduct, but always threatening to reappear in the minds of weak Christians. In one of Caesarius’ recorded sermons: An Admonition to Those Who Not Only Pay Attention to Omens, but What Is Worse, Consult Seers, Soothsayers and Fortune-Tellers in the Manner of Pagans, we read:

  1. “You know well, dearly beloved, that I have frequently exhorted you with paternal solicitude, advising and proclaiming that you should by no means observe those wicked practices of pagans. However, as I hear reported of many, our admonition has not profited some individuals. If I do not speak about it, I will have to render an evil account on judgment day for both of us, and I, together with you, will have to endure eternal punishments. Therefore, I acquit myself before God if I admonish you repeatedly and assert that none of you should consult sorcerers, seers, or soothsayers, questioning them for any reason of infirmity. No one should summon charmers, for if a man does this evil he immediately loses the sacrament of baptism, becoming at once impious and pagan…………….
  2. Perhaps someone says: What are we to do, for the magicians and seers often announce true omens to us? Concerning this the Scriptures warn and advise us: Even if they tell you the truth, do not believe them, “For the Lord your God trieth you, whether you fear him, or not. Again you say: Sometimes many would run the risk even of death from the bite of a snake or some infirmity if there were no magicians. It is true, dearly beloved, that God permits this to the Devil, as I already mentioned above, to try Christian people. Thus, when they sometimes are able to recover from sickness by these impious remedies, men see some truth in them and afterwards more readily believe the Devil……………….therefore, avoid the Devil’s tricks as much as you can.”[9]

The “magicians” were often medical men and women who had not forgotten the old remedies passed down through the ages from the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, the Philistines (via the Minoan Crete/Mycenean Greeks) and then the Greco-Romans. But this would be the propaganda administered with the threat of hell and damnation throughout eternity, should they be administered by a pagan doctor (the Devil). To die righteously following God’s will was the preferred alternative. Suppressing the pagan practices (and women who dispensed pagan remedies as midwives and medical caregivers) as well as women in general was the great focus administered via the heavy hand of the Catholic hierarchy throughout the ages—indeed from the fourth through the seventeenth centuries, and into part of the eighteenth century.

By the ninth century we find a diocesan statue issued by Gerbald, bishop of Liège: “Those who perform sortilegium (sorcery or magic) should be inquired about, as should aruspices (use of an augur, e.g. observing the flight of birds to source out omens) and those who observe months and seasons, who interpret dreams and wear certain phylacteries around their necks, with (strange) words written on them. Women should be inquired about who give out potions to other women in order to kill a fetus and who perform other divinations so that their husbands may have more love for them. All malefic who are denounced for any of these things are to be brought before us so that their cases may be discussed before us.”[10]

Here it should be noted that the church did not yet put these practitioners to death, rather they designed penitentials for their punishment. Example: “If anyone commits sacrilege—(that is, those who are called augurs, who pay respect to omens), if he has taken auguries or does it by any evil device, he shall do penance for three years on bread and water.”[11]

But the propaganda had firmly taken hold of the former Roman Empire: the Mediterranean region and all of Europe now controlled by the Catholic Church: there was an evil force lurking in every village, just down the road, in the house next door, or behind a tree in your neighbor’s glen. That evil force was the Devil, and it sent it’s demons to copulate with women—perhaps your own wife or daughter. And once those demons copulated with a woman, she was herself a witch, possessed by that evil. Anyone who dispensed healing potions, using herbs and incantations were those possessed by evil. And because witches always tried to claim infants for the Devil, midwives who attended births were especially suspect.

***

 


[1] Note: Because court records were incomplete and then not accurately maintained and preserved over time, the actual number of women murdered as witches has been difficult to impossible to verify. Historians yet recklessly do so with some estimating the figure to be as low as 60,000, and others as high as 9,000,000. In Germany alone, 100,000 witch burnings have been carefully documented. There were very likely many more. At the same time, there has been a concerted effort to downplay the numbers by those either sympathetic to, or aligned with, the Church. It is interesting to note that in reading historical accounts written closer to the time in history that this heinous crime was being perpetrated onto the masses of women in Western society by the Church, that the estimated numbers were greater, with factual accounts provided, and that they have lessened in later writer’s estimations. This indicates that over time those sympathetic to the Church have lessened the numbers by methods common to those who create deceptions; scoffing the credulousness of the numbers, disguising in Church-sympathizer pseudo-studies which are biased, and simply by repeating the premise of the lie often enough that it becomes the standard-bearer of truth. No matter what the true numbers were – and this writer is inclined to believe the older historical accounts which studied it closer to the time in which the crime occurred – the victims’ crime was being women; and it invariably had to do with the loathing of her sex and sexuality.

[2] Jeffrey Russell, A History of Witchcraft, Sorcerers, Heretics, and Pagans (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980) Appendix

[3] Christina Larner, Enemies of God: The Witch-hunt in Scotland, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1981) pp 8-9

[4] Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (First Vintage Books Edition, New York) 1988

[5] Edward Peters (revised edition), Witchcraft in Europe: 400 – 1700, A Documentary History (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2001) p 41

[6] Ibid. p 41-42

[7] Ibid. p 43

[8] Ibid. p 44

[9] Ibid., p 48-49

[10] Carlo De Clercq, La legislation religieuse franque, 2 vol. (Louvain-Paris, Antwerp, 1936, 1958), I:360

[11] Ibid., I:360