Thursday, October 25, 2012

Christianity's relationship with witchcraft: Part 2

Christianity's relationship with witchcraft: Part 2

Witchcraft was now classified a heretical cult. Not only that, but it was considered heretical to not believe in the power of the Devil. The punishments against witchcraft were carefully laid out, as well as the methods for detecting and trying witches. The hitherto sporadic cases of witchcraft were now to be viewed as a cohesive group that had been marshaled together by Satan to attack and destroy Christianity.

In view of this calamitous assault on Christ, the pope commissioned Henrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, educated Dominicans who occupied high positions at the University of Cologne, to systematically bring witches to trial and punishment. They carried out their assignment with a vengeance. ref

Pope Innocent’s immediate successors followed his lead and anyone who opposed the repressive measures could be considered in league with the witches. In the case of Venice, the entire state was threatened by Leo X if it did not obey the Inquisition in apprehending witches. Venice bowed to the Pope's threat, and within a year Venice had sentenced 70 witches to the flames.

The Witches Hammer, the Malleus maleficarum, is the most important and nefarious legacy the world has on witchcraft. Published in 1486, it was written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. Their book is divided into three parts: the first proves the existence of witchcraft; the second sets forth the forms in which it manifested itself; the third describes the rules for its detection and prosecution. It states that the world in the last quarter of the 15th century was more given over to the devil than in any preceding age. It appeals to the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church and especially to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for support. Witches and sorcerers are described as meeting at weekly sabbats and do the devil homage by kissing his ass. Satan appears among them as a tom-cat, goat, dog, bull or black man while demons of both sexes swarm at the meetings. During these sabbats, baptism and the Eucharist are ridiculed and the cross trampled upon. After an abundant feast the lights are extinguished and at the devil’s command of "Mix, mix," the participants celebrate with a lewd orgy. The devil, however, is a strict disciplinarian and applies the whip to errant members. Further, the book states that witches are supposedly transported through the air, they kill unbaptized children, and later they eat them. There is a very frequent mention of sexual intercourse. To quote: "…it is common to all of them to practice carnal copulation with devils.” Interestingly, there are two full chapters devoted to this topic alone.

For evidence of the reality of their charges, the authors cite their own extensive experience and declare that, in 48 cases of witches brought before them and burnt, all the victims confessed to having practiced abominable whoredoms for between 10 to 30 years.

Among the precautions which the book prescribed against being bewitched, are the Lord’s Prayer, the cross, holy water and salt, and the Church formulas of exorcism. It also adds that inner grace is a preservative.

The directions for the prosecution of witches, given in the third part of the treatise, are set forth in great detail. Public rumor was a sufficient cause for an indictment. The accused were to be subjected to the indignity of having the hair shaved off from their bodies, especially the more secret parts, lest perchance some imp or charm might be hidden there. Careful rules were given to the inquisitors for preserving themselves against being bewitched. If someone too zealously defended the witch, then that was taken as evidence that he was himself under the same influence. One of the devices for exposing guilt was a sheet of paper the length of Christ’s body inscribed with the seven words of the cross. This was to be bound on the witch’s body at the time of the mass, and then the ordeal of torture was applied. This measure almost invariably brought forth a confession of guilt. The ordeal of the red-hot iron was also recommended, but it was to be used with caution, as it was the trick of demons to cover the hands of witches with a salve made from a vegetable essence which kept them from being burnt. Such a case supposedly happened in Constance, the woman being able to carry the glowing iron six paces and thus going free.

The Witches Hammer was printed in many editions. It was issued 13 times before 1520 and 16 more times from 1574–1669.

That concludes part one of a three part series on Christianity’s fascination with witchcraft. You’ve been listening to the Ex-Christian Monologues, a podcast from ExChristian.Net.

Ref: Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge | History of the Christian Church | The Malleus Maleficarum


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