Did you know that it was slightly heretical to actually believe in witches?
We still don’t fully know what caused the brutal killing of as many as 60,000 women and millions of cats, during the witch hunts of the early modern era, but we do know that the early church DID NOT condone the execution or torture of a human being for the crime of sorcery.
In 789 C.E, a council in Cologne determined that a reduction to serfdom was certainly in order, but they strictly forbade the killing of any suspects. Actually, there aren’t any recorded “church ordered” torture sessions for witches (or black cats) in the first 1,300 years of Christianity. If there was an occassion for torture, then the civil authorities would render judgement and offer the punishment. Pope Nicholas I (866 C.E.) actually forbade the use of torture on suspected sorcerers and witches!
In 906 C.E, Regino of Prum asserted that the actual sinners were the people who believed in the existence of witches. He referred to it as an act of falling into paganism to believe in such pagan illusions. He wrote, “It is the duty of priests earnestly to instruct the people that these things are absolutely untrue and that such imaginings are planted in the minds of misbelieving folk.” (Catholic Encyclopedia: New Advent.org).
A well-known Pontiff actually forbade King Harold (England circa 1054) from putting people to death for witchcraft.
Common sense apparently prevailed among the clergy until the Papal Inquisition. The first recorded death of a supposed witch, by clerical inquisition, occurred in 1275 C.E. I’ve often wondered why we went from calm rationalism to insane, bloodthirsty murder……WHAT HAPPENED?
From 1275 C.E., until the last satanic cat was killed in 1712 C.E. (England), illustrious INNOVATORS like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure came to believe that women could have carnal intercourse with demons. They aided, whether willingly or unwillingly, in the rise of the witch hunt, but it’s nothing new to folks like us.
I’ll throw this out there: Something very akin to Fox News and MSNBC reared its ugly head in the 14th century. In the area of Geneva, and in many parts of Germany and France. There was aggressive competition for the souls and minds of the average peasant and lord. As an example, John Calvin used the charge of witchcraft to label his enemies, and Martin Luther operated in the same manner among his flock. In fact, Geneva experienced 2.5 times the number of witch incidents than the entirety of France over roughly the same period. John Calvin was operating in Geneva at the time….go figure.
On top of this, we can see a deadly rise in “Devil literature” in the 15th and 16th centuries, with Faust closing out the 16th century by reaching the 24th edition over the last 12 years of that century! Popular opinion was smothered in thoughts of the devil and its carnal, super-sexy weirdness. It only took a few plagues and extreme sociopolitical division to open the door for the spin doctors of that era. The death of as many as 60,000 women and perhaps a million cats might actually fall at the feet of a few “inspired” individuals that were bent on swaying the public toward one political outcome or another. This was a society that was suffering under numerous plagues, Christian infighting between Catholics and reformers, and the rise of the Inquisition. Sound familiar?
I found this interesting so I decided to post an article about it. I know it’s hastily written and sloppy, but I was wondering if you felt that we might be suffering from a similar set of “witch hunts” as we invade one Muslim state after another. Is it possible that we can eventually be swayed, much like our ancestors, to slaughter illegal immigrants in the streets, or exclude and terrorize homosexuals, or enslave an entire population and lynch them if they get out of line (oh, we already did that)…..Are we as gullible as our European antecedents? Was the destruction of the Native populations of the Americas, another form of witch hunt?
Can we be moved to action almost as easily, right now?
Just a thought.