Christianity's relationship with witchcraft: Part 1
Hello, you’re listening to the Ex-Christian Monologues, a podcast from
ExChristian.Net. I’m Dave, and today’s date is April 24, 2006.
I want to talk a little bit about Christianity’s historic relationship
with witchcraft. This is part one of a three-part podcast. Part One
draws heavily on the History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff and the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Schaff’s classic work is in the public domain and freely available on the Internet.
primitive cultures attributed witches with the power to supernaturally
injure crops, animals, health, and possessions. Many ancient cultures
created laws to punish the offense. As in other cultures, the ancient
Hebrews condemned witchcraft, as expressed in the Mosaic Law ( Deut 18:10 & Exodus 22:18). Following in Judaism's footsteps, the early Christian Church believed in and condemned witchcraft Acts 19:19, Acts 8:9. (Click here for Moree examples).
Belief in witchcraft never disappeared, but it wasn’t always severely persecuted. The Synod of Reisbach in 799,
for example, formally mandated penance as a punishment for women
convicted of witchcraft, but prohibited any capital punishment. For a
time the official rhetoric of the Church even tried to tone down belief
in magic or witchcraft, labeling it as either false superstition or
For centuries Christianity had taught that God was in
HIS heaven, far removed from human society. The Church encouraged
people to be content with their miserable, medieval lot in life. Poverty
and sickness were considered gifts of God that helped people remain
holy by focusing their minds away from this world and on to the next.
Physical pleasures should be shunned — this life was to be endured, but
not necessarily enjoyed. Common people weren't easily convinced to
meekly adopt this philosophy — many hung on tenaciously to a belief in
magic. They thought magic could empower them to deal with the some harsh
realities of their lives. Belief in magic, instead of subsiding,
Some so-called heretical groups, and some well
meaning churchmen, doubted that witchcraft was anything more than
illusions of the Devil. Most were convinced that witchcraft was a real
power, fueled by the denizens of hell.
Witches were reportedly
transporting people through the air and holding meetings, or sabbats,
where they indulged in lust-filled orgies with demons. Mention is given
to these activities in the The Bishop’s Canon, which appeared first in the 10th century and was later incorporated by Franciscus Gratianus, a lawyer from Bologna, in his collection of canon law in 1150. Women confessed to flying through the air, but Gratianus considered the women delusional. English author, diplomat and bishop of Chartres John of Salisbury, felt the stories illusions propagated by the Devil. But, his contemporaries, such as Englishman Walter Map, reported that the wild orgies were real, with the Devil appearing on the scene in the form of a tom-cat.
to Philip Schaff, the daughter of a count was carried through the air
every night, one night even escaping the arms a Franciscan monk who
tried to hold her back. In 1275, a woman of Toulouse, under torture,
confessed she had indulged in sexual intercourse with a demon for many
years and had given birth to a part wolf, part serpent, monster. She
added that she sustained the creature by feeding murdered children to
Pope after pope called upon the Inquisition to root out and
punish witches alongside the heretics they were already persecuting.
Pope Gregory IX issued a bull in 1231 invoking the use of civil
punishment against witchcraft. Dominican theologians spread the belief
that incubi and succubi were mating with people—a belief that was rooted
in Augustine’s “City of God,” xv23., as well as in the Genesis account of angels mating with humans.
In 1233, Pope Gregory IX
asserted that the Devil was making appearances in the forms of a toad, a
pallid ghost and a black cat. His papal bull, the “Vox Rama,”
shockingly and graphically detailed what was taking place during witch's
satanic, sexual orgies, and with the stroke of his pen launched an
official, large-scale persecution of witches.
In 1274, Thomas Aquinas
supported the claims that humans were cohabitation with demons, and
even declared that old women could inject an evil essence into young
people with just a glance. I suppose that's where the evil eye myth was
Jean Gerson, the leading theologian of his age, said it was heresy and impious to doubt the practice of witchcraft, and Pope Eugenius IV spoke in detail about those who made pacts with demons and sacrificed to them.
Among all the papal and other documents on witchcraft, perhaps the place of pre-eminence is held by the papal bull, Summis desiderantes
issued by Innocent VIII in 1484. The pontiff wrote, “…by their
incantations, charms, and conjurings… they cause to perish the offspring
of women, the foal of animals, the products of the earth, the grapes of
vines, and the fruits of trees, as well as men and women, cattle and
flocks and herds and animals of every kind, vineyards also and orchards,
meadows, pastures, harvests, grains and other fruits of the earth… and
hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving, and prevent all
consummation of marriage; that, moreover, they deny with sacrilegious
lips the faith… at the risk of their own souls, to the insult of the
divine majesty and to the pernicious example and scandal of multitudes.”