History of Medieval Witchcraft

Topic- History of Medieval Witchcraft (Part I) Teacher- Weavre

IRC log started Sun Oct 22 19:59
*** Value of LOG set to ON


Weavre-- merry meet, everyone! Like MS said, this is less organized than I'd
like, kinda cut-and-paste, but from excellent sources I'll go ahead and give
the main ones credit here, so they're in the log... An article titled
"Witchcraft" by Jeffrey Burton Russell, 1987, from The Encyclopedia of
Religion, is the main one... Also important: *The Encyclopedia of Witches and
Witchcraft,* Rosemary Ellen Guiley, 1989 And *The History of Magic* a 1948
collaboration... That last is great, BTW...a suitably formidable big black
tome I inherited from my Daddy! How much better an image could ya get?
OK...Russell's article discusses 3 kinds of witchcraft, one of which is "us"
and 2 of which are his intro, he says, "The term Witchcraft embraces a
wide variety of phenomena. The word 'Witch' derives from the Old English noun
'wicca', 'sorcerer' and the verb 'wiccian, 'To cast a spell.' The original
concept of witchcraft is sorcery, a web of beliefs and practices whose purpose
is to manipulate nature for the benefit of the witch or the witch's client (He
later explains that he uses sorcery to refer to natural, traditional,
"Primitive" us..."witchcraft" will be used here for something
else... Back to Russell...) "quite different phenomena have been called
witchcraft. "
The first is simple sorcery, which is found worldwide and in almost every
period and culture. The second is the alleged diabolical witchcraft of late
medieval and early modern Europe (What we'll be discussing tonight) The third
is the pagan revival of the twentieth century. (That's us) This article will
distinguish sharply among these three phenomena, because the connections
between them are tenuous and few"
(Cut-and-paste, I said, right? ;) ) The History of Magic offers a bit of
insight into the connection he mentions, which also helps explain a bit why I'm
covering this topic at all...
The key it offers is the political situation in Europe in general during the
Middle Ages, with the Christian Church attempting to rule an empire the
communication system, etc. simply didn't allow it to control as well as it
wanted. "When the Black Death annihilated whole populations, Satan's rule
upon earth appeared unchallenged, and his power undermined the authority of the
church. Thrology wanted to rule alone, but had found a redoubtable challenger
in its own creation" (Since it had created Satan in the 1st place, and
insisted ppl believe in the idea!) Many serf perceived this, but not without
True, the Church united the higher classes with the humble ones Master and
servant together sang their pious chants in the chapel of the castle...but the
peasants were driven to despair by the increasing disorder and growing
oppression... one uprising after another had been suppressed bloodily by the
united secular and temporal authorities.
Despairing, the serf took refuge in dreams. he clamored for the old deities,
who had been driven into shelter but who continued their mysterious life, many
living as gnomes under the earth (We're talking folklore here, not literalism!)
These had grown very small and very ugly, but they were full of beneficent
activities, and they were fond of the humble man whose skin was as brown and
wrinkled as their own. Fairies lived in trees and springs-- beautiful ladies
of the supernatural, far more powerful and fairer than the haughty chatelaines,
who exploded with laughter when the lord of the castle related the cruelties
and vexations the village women had to endure from his own men (Note: That
passage was written by a Christian, before 1948---and *before* the influence of
the big be-politically-correct-to-pagans movement we've seen in the last few
"The early revolts had shown that large masses were so profoundly dissatisfied
with the Church that they were ready to sacrifice their lives in the struggle
for transformation State and Church united in the defense of established
society, and revolts were suppressed. But the desire for a thorough change
continued to haunt the humble. In fairy tales, transformation is the main
element of the marvelous...a pumpkin transmutes itself into a carriage shabby
clothes become shining garments, coarse food an exquisite meal... In the
fairy tale, the ancient faith survived. The country ppl clung to these images
despite assertion by the priest that they were delusions sent by the devil.
The old gods suited the humble ppl better than the new one, whose
representatives were his severe masters and whose symbol was that of bloodshed
and suffering. ...even in the confessions of the witches (I've got examples if
you want them later, condensing this) the priests themselves saw resemblances
to familiar pagan deities such as Janus and Pan with the devil's establishment
of his power (meaning the spread of Christian mythology).
The ancient survivals, the amusements of serfs, the most innocent stories,
and the women who knew about the old legends and magic traditions were
transformed into witches, or evil fairies, as the old stories call them. The
traditional gatherings, the Druids' Festival on the eve of May day, the
Bacchanals, the Diana feasts, became the "witches' Sabbath", and the broom,
symbol of the sacred hearth, though retaining its sexual significance, became
an evil tool. The sexual rites of old, destined to stimulate the fertility of
nature, were now the manifestations of a forbidden carnal lust...
At the sabbath [the peasant] was free to do as he pleased. he was feared,
also; and in his lifelong oppression, this gave him some dignity, some sense of
freedom. Here he could give himself to excitement without the interference of
the Church, that wanted to regulate even human emotions. If this was Satanic,
the peasant thought, I shall cling to Satan. So, the argument here is that the
Christian church created diabolical Satanism, through its dualistic teachings
and its oppression of the peasant (necessary to support the feudal system) I
generally agree with the argument, and I myself am a bit happily surprised to
see such a sympathetic explanation given in the book I described!
Anyway, that's the background, the connection between "the Old Religion" and
Medieval (sometimes diabolical) witchcraft, which leads to the connection to
us. I hope everyone's here by now, and I'll move on to the real meat of this
This from Russell's descriptions of Medieval witchcraft, with a few extras
added... First, where did the idea of demons, the Christian's Satan, etc. come
from? The sorcery (indigenous magical practices) of most cultures involved
incantations supposed to summon spirits to aid the sorcerer. In many societies
the connection between sorcery and the spirits was not explicitly formulated.
But in both Greco-Roman and Hebrew thought, the connection was defined or
elaborated. The Greeks believed that all sorcerers drew upon the aid of
spirits called "daimones" or "daimonia". A Greek "demon" could be either
malevolent or benevolent. It could be almost a god (theos) or it could be a
petty spirit. In the thought of Plotinus (205-270 CE) and other Neoplatonists,
the demons occupied an ontological rank between the gods and humanity.
The Hebrews gradually developed the idea of the mal'akh, originally a
manifestation of God's power, later an independent spirit sent down as a
messenger by God. In Greek translations of Hebrew, mal'akh became "angelos",
"messenger". Christians eventually identified "angels" with the Greek "demons"
and defined them as beings ontologically between God and humanity.
But a different element gained influence through the apocalyptic writings of
the Hellenistic period (200BCE-150 CE): the belief in evil spirits led by
Satan, lord of all evil. The idea had limited precedents in earlier Jewish
thought, but gained prominence in the Hellenistic period under the influence of
Iranian Mazdaism, or Zoroastrianism. Under such influence the Christians came
to divide the Greek "daimones" into two groups, the good angels and the evil
demons. The demons were supposed to be angels who, under Satan's leadership,
had turned against God and thereby become evil spirits. Sorcerers sought to
compel spirits to carry out their will, but angels under God's command could
not be compelled; thus it was supposed that one practicing sorcery might well
be drawing upon the aid of evil demons. This was the central idea of the
variety of witchcraft we're about to discuss, the alleged diabolism of the late
medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe. (I know that's a whole lot of
background, but I felt I should cover at least sketchy background to explain
the main topic!)
Although simple sorcery had always existed, a new kind of diabolical
witchcraft evolved in medieval and early modern Europe. The Christian concept
of the devil transformed the idea of the sorcerer into that of the witch, (not
modern Wiccan!), consorted with demons and subject of Satan. (Again, that's
the charge, not necessarily the we'll see in a minute, many
so-called witches of the time were christians!)
Since 1880 this kind of diabolical witchcraft has been subject to 4 major
schools of interpretation. The first, rooted in classical 19th century
liberalism, perceived witchcraft as an invention of superstitious and greedy
ecclesiastics eager to prosecute witches in order to augment their power and
wealth. (This school of thought, in modern version, points out the industry
created by the witch-hunts... The whole thing became big business, employing
many many ppl...ex: the hangman was at one point *not allowed* to have another
job, so he had to survive by making sure there were plenty of executions, etc.
Priests, judges, and many others depended on the trials as a vocation)
The second school, that of Margaret Murray, argued that witchcraft represented
the survival of the old pagan religion of pre-Christian Europe. This religions
(which never existed *in the coherent form she beleived*) (NOTE: Not that it
didn't survive! Murray suggested an organized religion that covered all of
Europe, not just a style of paganism characteristic of Europe)


Source for this

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of In The Dark to add comments!

Join In The Dark

Featured Blogs

Google-Translate-Chinese (Simplified) BETA Google-Translate-English to French Google-Translate-English to German Google-Translate-English to Italian Google-Translate-English to Japanese BETA Google-Translate-English to Korean BETA Google-Translate-English to Russian BETA Google-Translate-English to Spanish
Google Translation