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Thread: Christianity, Superstition and Witch Hunts

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    Christianity, Superstition and Witch Hunts

    Since many heathens on Skadi are particularly outraged at Christians and the Church (not always the same thing!) over the witch hunts, I decided to open a specific thread on the subject.

    As I have maintained before, belief in the existence of witches (as well as the prosecution of witches) is certainly not an exclusively Christian thing. In fact, longer has the Church taught that belief in the existence of witches is a heresy than that it taught (and acted upon) the contrary. The story is far more complicated than many apparently think. Other factors, such as political power play in an increasingly complex society, or the impact of the Plague, would just as easily have led to similarly large-scale scape-goating and prosecution in any non-Christian society. I'm not interested in white washing the history of the Church, but I believe many anti-Christians make a caricature/travesty out of this part of history.

    So, let me kick off with an interesting and annotated passage from Wikipedia:

    During the Early Middle Ages, witch trials were the direct result of Christian Church doctrine, despite Canon law, which in Canon Episcopi, followed the views of the church father Augustine of Hippo (400 CE) that belief in the existence of witchcraft was heresy, since according to Augustine "a heretic is one who either devises or follows false and new opinions, for the sake of some temporal profit".[8]

    The Council of Paderborn in 785 explicitly outlawed the very belief in witches, and Charlemagne later confirmed the law. The Council of Frankfurt in 794, called by Charlemagne, was also very explicit in condemning "the persecution of alleged witches and wizards", calling the belief in witchcraft "superstitious", and ordering the death penalty for those who presume to burn witches.[9]

    Nonetheless, Pope John XXII formalized the persecution of witchcraft in 1320 when he authorized the Inquisition to prosecute sorcerors.[10] In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, a Papal bull authorizing two inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to systemize the persecution of witches.[11]

    There were also secular laws against witchcraft, such as that promulgated by King Athelstan (924-999)

    And we have ordained respecting witch-crafts, and lybacs, and morthdaeds: if any one should be thereby killed, and he could not deny it, that he be liable in his life. But if he will deny it, and at threefold ordeal shall be guilty; that he be 120 days in prison: and after that let kindred take him out, and give to the king 120 shillings, and pay the wer to his kindred, and enter into borh for him, that he evermore desist from the like.[12]

    Although it has been proposed that the witch-hunt developed in Europe after the Cathars and the Templar Knights were exterminated, and the Inquisition had to turn to persecution of witches to remain active, this hypothesis has been rejected independently by two historians (Cohn 1975; Kieckhefer 1976). They showed that the Inquisition witch hunts originated amongst common people in Switzerland and in Croatia, who pressed the civil courts to support them. Inquisitorial courts became systematically involved in the witch-hunt only in the 15th century: in the case of the Madonna Oriente, the Inquisition of Milan was not sure what to do with two women who in 1384 and in 1390 confessed to have participated in a type of white magic.


    The specific decree at Paderborn (after the Saxons were conquered) was as follows:

    6. If any one deceived by the devil shall have believed, after the manner of the pagans, that any man or woman is a witch and eats men, and on this account shall have burned the person, or shall have given the person's flesh to others to eat, or shall have eaten it himself, let him be punished by a capital sentence.


    In closing I would like to respond to those who point to the Malleus Maleficarum, the handbook for witch-hunting. I believe the story about this book is far more nuanced than many heathens would like to believe. For example, it is questionable whether the writers of this book actually had a papal bull to systematically prosecute witches.

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    Did you forget that those early church leaders you mentioned were being ruthless and cruel to the Pagans, long before their persecution of witches?
    "Witches" and "Pagans" would have been interchangeable to them anyway.

    Rome in the Dark Ages may not have had an official hand in the witch hunts of the time, but they certainly knew what was going on.
    They did nothing to try and stop these free-lance inquisitions committed in their name.
    A rather convenient way to be absolved of guilt centuries later by a referenced wikipedia article.

    The fact that they did nothing to stop the tortures and executions in the name of jesus make them complicit, when they had the power to march whole armies into these areas gripped with witch hysteria and put an end to the suffering.
    Why didn’t they? Because the church needed torture and a reputation for being torturers in order to frighten the populace into submission.
    This also effectively prevented reluctant converts from seeking less painful and exacting alternatives, such as a return to Paganism.

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    What heathen understood about witches may not have been the same as what the church or if you like christians made out of them.

    For sure there are evil people who used/use their learned and acquired power for evil intend and for personal gain (and have somebody else pay for it)

    My understanding is, that heathen of course took action against those people as a form of self defense. This action was not institutionalized but was a 'community' action to stay out of harms way. From my heathen point of view this is completely justified.

    For christian persecution of 'witches' we have to dig a bit deeper. Generally one can separate religion into religions which worship skygods and religions which worship earthbound Gods. Generally skygods were worshipped by herders and nomads and earthgods were worshipped by farming tribes.

    Christianity belongs to the group of religions which worships a skygod. A christian God resides up in heaven/sky.

    From what I understand is that germanic heathenism had an amalgam of both. The Asir were certainly skygods, the Vanir look more like earthbound Gods. It was a religion which encompassed herders (Aryans) and farmers who were native to germanic lands therefore their religions were integrated as it should in any balanced society. for my understanding, both type of Gods do exist and work together.

    Earthbound Gods have 'Mother Earth' as she is today halfjokingly called, as their source. Here you find fertility cults, a close connection to nature and its cycles (calendars etc), as well a connection with spirits which are equally living on earth. Lets say, stone beings, plant spirits, animals spirits, human spirits (alive and deceased) and other spirits without a material body.

    The christian skygod religion tried to eradicate anything connected to earth: fertility cults, spirits not connected to the skygod, health care based on nature, anything what had to to with nature was hostile. They even juxtaposed the skygod with an evil counterspirit and claimed the realm of that spirit is what was/is Mother Earth for us heathen. Earth is feminine, dark, warm, humid, mulching, embracing, nurturing, giving.

    With the banning of the Earth Gods there was an enmity with everything feminine. The christian priests were in trouble because their protagonist propagated feminine values like forgiving, love, peacefulness (women don't like war but admire the hero). They were in direct competition with women who naturally were much better at those virtues. Therefore their fierce enmity.

    Women, who had (and still have) a closer connection to Earth were naturally better at healing and they used of course plant (spirits) to accomplish the wellbeing of their patients. That has been so since time immemorial.

    As the Earth as the realm of the devil became more and more established the point of view that women had a closer connection to the devil evolved and crystallized. The values of the skygod are more in clearness of mind, structure and organization, warfare etc became juxtaposed more and more between men and women. Hence the misogynism of the catholic church and many christian denominations.

    The medical knowledge of the heathen and their priests (and priestesses) were enorm. the plant knowledge can still be traced as it continued (impaired) through the dark christian ages to modern times. Health care in christian times was a real dark matter and laughably crude and bound to superstition (not to open the body as that would hurt the soul and was against Gods will and so on). So people looked at women who were in the tradition of heathen healthcare for real doctors who not only healed the body, but also soul and spirit. As those women were fiercely prosecuted their state of knowledge went into a decline. Naturally there were a lot of quack healers at later time into the prosecution.

    Those women may have done unintentionally harm to people but compared to the sorry state of the official medicine (which was based on what old greek people knew about medicine) they might have been way better than official doctors (who propably loathed to be outdone by women who not even had seen a University from the inside).

    So the christian priests came up with the trick to prosecute this women (and men) as 'witches' who do harm. Their intent was of course to establish a pureness for their skygod. Unknowingly they eradicated one half of the real religion, who deals with earth spirits and created a mess of epical proportion. They bound the sciences to that what was according to the bible and in later times also what was true according to Aristotle.

    The witches of heathen times were evil women and men who did harm for personal gain and power. The witches of christian times were mostly women who tried to heal in ways not approved to the worshippers of the christian skygod.

    The persecution of 'witches' by christians is based on old testamentaric points of view and has therefore nothing to do with what is the essence of germanic culture and religion.
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