Persecution: Ancient And Modern

Julia Phillips


This is the text of a talk entitled PERSECUTION: ANCIENT AND MODERN. Written by Julia Phillips, it was presented by Julia and Matthew Sandow at the Wiccan Conference, Canberra, September 1992, and was illustrated with slides of medieval woodcuts, paintings and documents.

To begin, an example of religious persecution:

I am told that, moved by some foolish urge, they consecrate and worship the head of a donkey, that most abject of all animals. This is a cult worthy of the customs from which it sprang! Others say that they reverence the genitals of the presiding priest himself, and adore them as though they were their father's...As for the initiation of new members, the details are as disgusting as they are well-known. A child, covered in dough to deceive the unwary, is set before the would-be novice. The novice stabs the child to death with invisible blows; indeed, he himself, deceived by the coating of dough, thinks his stabs harmless. Then - it's horrible! - they hungrily drink the child's blood, and compete with one another as they divide his limbs. Through this victim they are bound together; and the fact that they all share the knowledge of the crime pledges them all to silence. Such holy rites are more disgraceful than sacrilege. It is well-known too what happens at their feasts...On the feast day they forgather with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of either sex and all ages. When the company is all aglow from feasting, and impure lust has been set afire by drunkenness, pieces of meat are thrown to a dog fastened to a lamp. The lamp, which would have been a betraying witness, is overturned and goes out. Now, in the dark so favorable to shameless behavior, they twine the bonds of unnamable passion, as chance decides. And so all alike are incestuous, if not always in deed, at least by complicity; for everything that is performed by one of them corresponds to the wishes of them all...Precisely the secrecy of this evil religion proves that all these things, or practically all, are true. (Minucius Felix: Octavius)

Although the language is not modern, the description of the practices could have come straight from last week's "Picture" magazine! And this is the point that I wish to make; the facts of persecution have not changed in almost 2,000 years, for that piece was written in the 2nd century AD. Moreover, the religion it condemns is Christianity, not Paganism, for Paganism at that time was the dominant state religion. In fact the author is a Christian apologist, and is attempting to rebuke what he sees as unfair criticism, by parodying the offenses which Pagans accuse Christians of perpetrating.

Persecution of religious minorities is quite simply that; it is persecution by a large body of people - generally those who represent "society" - against a smaller one; generally comprised of those who have either rejected, or for one reason or another, fall outside of the social "norm".

Let us look at the medieval picture of the witch; society's scapegoat par excellence: here we see her - for it is most often "her" - an old, ugly woman, most likely poor, and most likely on the fringe of the society in which she lives. This is the stereotype of the witch. We know it is false; we know it has no basis in fact; however, it became an integral part of the mindset of medieval Europe, and through fairy tales, drama and literature, and more latterly, cinema, the media and television, it has remained an integral image in modern society. One has only to look to Roald Dahl's "The Witches", or Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", for proof of this. It came as a surprise to me to learn that "The Wizard of Oz" was in fact a deliberate propaganda exercise, released just at the beginning of World War II. If you remember, the magic words are: "There's no place like home"; and where was "home"? Kansas! that epitome of the WASP culture.

When looking at medieval persecution of heresy, the waters are muddied by the many different causes and effects which permeate the whole matter. There was no single cause, and no single victim. It is a fact that far more women than men were persecuted; there are a number of reasons for this, not least that throughout this period, Europe was engaged in one war after another - most notably The Crusades - and men were in rather short supply. There were also several epidemics of the plague, not to mention other diseases such as dysentery and cholera, which in the Middle Ages were sure killers. Another reason is the rampant misogyny which, begun with the earliest Christians, has permeated their theology ever since:

"What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted in fair colors...The word woman is used to mean the lust of the flesh, as it is said: I have found a woman more bitter than death, and a good woman more subject to carnal lust...[Women] are more credulous; and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he rather attacks them [than men]...Women are naturally more impressionable...They have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know...Women are intellectually like children...She is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations...She is an imperfect animal, she always deceives...Therefore a wicked woman is by her nature quicker to waver in her faith, and consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft...Just as through the first defect in their intelligence they are more prone to abjure the faith; so through their second defect of inordinate affections and passions they search for, brood over, and inflict various vengeances, either by witchcraft or by some other means...Women also have weak memories; and it is a natural vice in them not to be disciplined, but to follow their own impulses without any sense of what is due...She is a liar by nature...(Malleus Maleficarum, edited by Jeffrey Russell).

It is easy to comprehend the persecution of women when one is confronted with such obvious hatred and fear of the sex. But perhaps the most powerful impetus of the witch trials era is one which is subtly - and sometimes not so subtly! - present in all the trials; that of a pursuit of power or wealth. For an example we can look to Gilles de Rais, who as the wealthiest man in Europe (as well as Joan of Arc's military Captain), was a prime victim for a charge of heresy. Found guilty, his lands, properties and wealth were confiscated by his accusers. Curiously though he was buried on consecrated ground in the Churchyard; normally forbidden to heretics. In "The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology", Russell Hope Robbins says:

"At first, Gilles dismissed their accusations as "frivolous and lacking credit", but so certain were the principals of finding him guilty that on September 3, fifteen days before the trial began, the Duke disposed of his anticipated share of the Rais lands. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to place any credence in the evidence against him, among the most fantastic and obscene presented in this Encyclopedia."

Charges included the now obligatory conjurations of devils and demons - Satan, Beelzebub, Orion and Belial are mentioned by name - and the practice of that dreadful art: geomancy! And of course the charges included human sacrifice and pedophilia; no self-respecting Christian could exclude these crimes from charges against a confirmed heretic!

There were not many who had the wealth of Gilles de Rais, but in a small parish, even the meanest property was eagerly seized, and the witch hunts became a profitable business. The victims were even required to pay for the fuel upon which they were burnt. But the laws were not consistent throughout Europe, and in some areas, if the victim confessed, then his or her property could not be confiscated, but was inherited by the next of kin. However, many of these victims were in fact devout Christians, who would be loath to confess to heresy just so that their family could inherit their land! Of course many were tortured to the point were they would admit to being anything demanded of them, although technically, they were only allowed to be tortured once. This is why you will read in trials records that the torture was "continued", which, of course, gets round the problem of the poor torturer missing out on his lunch and dinner.

Although most heretics were women, a great many men were also taken, tortured, and put to death. This is a letter from one such victim at the notorious Bamberg in Germany; a poignant epitaph to one of Europe's most hideous crimes:

Many hundred thousand good-nights, dearly beloved daughter Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent must I die. For whoever comes into the witch prison must become a witch or be tortured until he invents something out of his head - and God pity him - bethinks him of something.

I said: "I have never renounced God, and will never do it - God graciously keep me from it. I'll rather bear whatever I must."

And then came also - God in highest heaven have mercy - the executioner, and put the thumbscrews on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood spurted from the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from my writing. Thereafter they stripped me, bound my hands behind me, and drew me up on the ladder. Then I thought heaven and earth were at an end. Eight times did they draw me up and let me fall again, so that I suffered terrible agony.

All this happened on Friday June 30th and with God's help I had to bear the torture. When at last the executioner led me back into the cell, he said to me: "Sir, I beg you, for God's sake, confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot bear the torture which you will be put to; and, even if you bear it all, yet you will not escape, not even if you were an earl, but one torture will follow another until you say you are a witch."

The author of this letter, Johannes Junius, did indeed confess to being a witch, and in August of 1628, was burned at the stake. He managed to send his final letter to his daughter, which ended by saying:

Dear child, keep this letter secret, so that people do not find it, else I shall be tortured most piteously and the jailers will be beheaded. So strictly is it forbidden...Dear child, pay this man a thaler...I have taken several days to write this - my hands are both crippled. I am in a sad plight. Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you more.

This letter describes more accurately than any historical treatise just how uncompromising the ecclesiastical courts were in their hunt for heretics. Witches, of course, were only one kind of heretic.

I mentioned earlier that there are many causes, and many effects, to the period which is commonly referred to as "The Burning Times", or the Great Witch Hunt. It is often assumed by many people today that Christianity has been the dominant western religion for 2,000 years. This is not so. The death of Christ, which probably occurred in the year AD 30, may have heralded the new religion, but there was certainly not an immediate conversion of the world to Christianity. Parts of Scandinavia remained wholly Pagan until as late as the 12th century. The British Isles and mainland Europe were converted to Christianity over a lengthy period covering mainly the 4th to 9th centuries. Some parts have never truly been converted, and with the opening up of the Eastern bloc countries, we are now re-discovering a wealth of Pagan tradition and folklore that has been hidden for hundreds of years: initially from the invading Christian missionaries, and then later from the various communist regimes.

As the new religion of Christianity began to spread, many different sects and cults appeared within its ranks. The Pope in Rome was the nominal head, but rarely was the Pope a person of spiritual purity and ascetic tastes; the political scene in Rome has always been cut-throat and devious. A truly spiritual person would have lasted approximately two seconds amongst the clever and calculating politicians who infested the Papal See! The enormous wealth and power controlled by the Pope was an incentive to the most grasping and corrupt of men at that time to aspire to the Papacy. Pope Alexander VI (1492) is a superb example of the type who made it to Europe's foremost political seat of power: otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia; father (yes, we all know Catholics practice celibacy!) of Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia and Jofre, and supreme commander of a private army of which any modern dictator would be proud.

Because of their sumptuous lifestyle, their obvious disregard and contempt for vows of poverty and chastity, and their abuse of the spiritual authority invested in them, many spiritually inclined Christians rejected the Catholic Church, and instead followed leaders who lived simple, ascetic lives in accordance with the teachings of Christ. Some of these sects became very popular, and were soon perceived by the Pope as a threat to his status and power. It has been suggested that the witch trials were a direct result from the persecution of these sects. Rather than incorporate a discussion of the different sects within this talk, handouts are available which very briefly describe the main ones.

The main thrust was against the Cathars or Albigensians, and the Waldensians (Vaudois), and it was their persecution which gave rise to the legal machinery which developed into the Inquisition, and the so-called witch hunts. It began with Pope Lucius III and the emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa; they met at Verona in 1184, and issued the decree "Ad abolendam", which excommunicated sects like the Cathars and Waldensians, and laid down the procedures for ecclesiastical trial, after which the accused would be handed over to the secular authorities for punishment. The punishment decreed was confiscation of property, exile, or death. By the 12th century, burning had already become the established means of execution for heretics, and so this became enshrined in law.

At the beginning of the 13th century, the Dominican Order of Friars was established, and its members were instructed by the Pope to investigate and prosecute heresy. From this simple beginning grew the awesome machinery of the Inquisition, which although never aimed particularly at witches, became a byword for terror in parts of Europe.

As you can see, the motives for the heresy persecutions were not to stamp out Paganism - although that was certainly a by-product - but to remove the threat of any competition to the power of the Church (and thus to the Pope), in Rome. And the greatest threat came from other "Christian" sects, not the Pagans. The change from an accusatory to an inquisitorial process became established, and the legal machinery which allowed - indeed encouraged - individual psychopaths and religious maniacs to persecute at will, was in place.

Have you got a neighbor who annoys you? plays loud music, or who keeps their smelly refuse next to your garden fence? Now your recourse is to the local council or the police; in the Middle Ages, you simply denounced the offender as a witch or heretic, and let the Church deal with them for you. Not only did it cost you nothing, if you were lucky, you might also inherit their property!

For once you were taken as a witch or a heretic, there was little chance of escape. Certainly some victims were pardoned and released, but the vast majority were not so lucky. When you consider the style of questioning, this is not surprising:

  1. How long have you been a witch?
  2. Why did you become a witch?
  3. How did you become a witch and what happened on that occasion?
  4. Who is the one you chose to be your incubus? What was his name?
  5. What was the name of your master among the evil demons?
  6. What was the oath you were forced to render to him?
  7. What animals have you bewitched to sickness and death, and why did you commit such acts?
  8. Who are your accomplices in evil...?
  9. What is the ointment with which you rub your broomstick made of...?

This set of questions came from Lorraine, and was used consistently throughout the three centuries of the main persecutions. Bearing in mind that the accused HAD to answer - no answer at all, or a denial, was tantamount to guilt - you can see how easily the composite picture of the witch evolved. As Rossell Hope Robbins says: "The confessions of witches authenticated the experts, and the denunciations ensured a continuing supply of victims. Throughout France and Germany this procedure became standardized; repeated year after year, in time it built up a huge mass of "evidence", all duly authorized, from the mouths of the accused. On these confessions, later demonologists based their compendiums and so formulated the classic conceptions of witchcraft, which never existed save in their own minds."

As the new religion of Christianity began to spread, many different sects and cults appeared within its ranks. The Pope in Rome was the nominal head, but rarely was the Pope a person of spiritual purity and ascetic tastes; the political scene in Rome has always been cut-throat and devious. A truly spiritual person would have lasted approximately two seconds amongst the clever and calculating politicians who infested the Papal See! The enormous wealth and power controlled by the Pope was an incentive to the most grasping and corrupt of men at that time to aspire to the Papacy. Pope Alexander VI (1492) is a superb example of the type who made it to Europe's foremost political seat of power: otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia; father (yes, we all know Catholics practice celibacy!) of Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia and Jofre, and supreme commander of a private army of which any modern dictator would be proud.

It is also rather disturbing to discover just how important individual religious maniacs appear to have been in the persecutions. Rather like today, where a crusading tele-journalist, or evangelical vicar, can cause untold harm to innocent people. Without exception, these accusations are by those with an unhealthy mania against anyone whose theology or practices differ from their own. In the words of one modern evangelist: "if you're not fighting and winning, you're losing.".

Conrad of Marburg, described by Norman Cohn as, "a blind fanatic", was a severe and formidable persecutor. As confessor to the young 21 year-old Countess of Thuringia, he would trick her into "some trivial and unwitting disobedience, and then have her and her maids flogged so severely that the scars were visible weeks later". (Cohn). Conrad became Germany's first official Inquisitor, and his zeal in denouncing heretics was unsurpassed. Another Conrad, a lay-Dominican Friar, and his sidekick Johannes, were also vigorous in denouncing heretics. As they moved from village to village, they claimed to be able to identify a heretic by his or her appearance, based on nothing but their own intuition. They were responsible for the burning of many people, and said, "we would gladly burn a hundred if just one among them were guilty". (Annales Wormantiensis).

Their comment about appearance is an important one; as we saw earlier, the stereotype of the witch hasn't changed much in hundreds of years. We know it is false; we know that it exists only in the imagination of the persecutors, and yet how powerful and enduring this stereotype has proven to be.

If we think about this stereotype, what images do we conjure up? An old woman - occasionally an old man; or perhaps a young and alluring temptress? Flying through the air on a broomstick; worshipping a devil, often in the form of a goat; trampling upon the sacred symbols of Christianity; and of course our old friend the Sabbat, with its practices of sexual license, debauchery, drunkenness and ritual murder; the latter often of children.

But persecution does not restrict itself to witches; the similarities between this stereotype and that of the Jew are obvious: Jews have been persecuted throughout their history, but it is interesting to compare some aspects of their persecution with that of witches.

In the 12th century, the word "Synagogue" was used for the first time to describe the meeting place of heretics. Professor Russell says that: "This usage, obviously designed to spite the Jews, was common throughout the Middle Ages, being replaced only towards the end of the 15th century by the equally anti-Jewish term 'sabbat'.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says on the subject of Jewish persecution that: "To reinforce racial and religious prejudice, the preposterous ritual murder accusation became common from the 12th century." The third and fourth Lateran Councils had already prohibited gentiles from entering Jewish service, or being employed by Jews, and further ordered that Jews should wear a distinctive badge, and live only in Jewish settlement areas. This of course was the beginning of the ghetto.

As we have seen though, the ritual murder accusation was already over a thousand years old, before it was used against either the Jews or the heretics and witches. Most people know of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the 15th century, but perhaps not so commonly known is that for about 200 years prior to the expulsion, the Jews had been massacred and persecuted. Indeed, it was against the Jews that the infamous Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century was directed. The persecution of Jews in 20th century Europe is too well-known to require further comment here, but perhaps a few comments about its encouragement would be useful.

We are discussing persecution in this talk, and how persecution is manifested. Throughout history, the written word has been invaluable as a means of spreading propaganda. Even in the Middle Ages the "crimes" of the heretic were publicized by records of trials, where the "confessions" were made known to the general public. The infamous "Malleus Maleficarum" became highly influential in Europe mainly because its publication coincided with the introduction of mass printing. It had little effect in England because no English translation was available until 1928. This fact alone demonstrates the power of the written word.

In medieval Europe, a pamphlet describing the crimes of a convicted heretic would be pinned to a post in the town square, and those who could not read had it read to them. In 20th century Europe, pamphlets were still used by one group to spread lies about another. As we approach the 21st century, this technique is still used with very great success; for the persecutor needs to make only a glancing nod to the truth, and the lies which are published (or more frequently broadcast) are far more scandalous than the reality!

An example: soon after the launch of the Pagan Alliance, Sydney radio 2MMM broadcasted a news story about the sexual abuse of children by occultists and witches. Matthew responded immediately, and provided the station with copy documents and news clippings from Britain, proving the story to be without foundation, and a scheme by the Christian fundamentalists to discredit Pagans. The news editor and chief journalist were impressed by the material, and agreed that they had been used by the fundies. However, they refused to broadcast a retraction because it would be "old news". So, the damage had been done, and the fundamentalists achieved their objective.

This technique was used with very great effect in the early part of the 20th century, with the circulation of a pamphlet called, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". This purported to be, "an account of the World Congress of Jewry held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, during which a conspiracy was planned by the international Jewish movement and the Freemasons to achieve world domination." (M Howard).

German nationalists made very great use of the Protocols, which it was claimed were "smuggled out of Switzerland by a Russian journalist who had placed the documents in the safe keeping of the Rising Sun Masonic Lodge in Frankfurt." (ibid.) They were widely disseminated, and writing in "Mein Kampf", Hitler "denounced the Jews as agents of an international conspiracy devoted to world domination...". (ibid.) We all know what happened next.

The point is that although the Protocols were confirmed as a fraud in 1921, they continued to have an effect, and once published, could not effectively be retracted. This is the aim of today's fundamentalist Christian, who believes that if he or she throws enough dirt at their opponents (basically anyone who does not agree with their uncompromising version of Christianity), then some will stick, and the battle will be won. This is the strategy which has been used for thousands of years to persecute minorities, and has always been successful. The formula is simple: discover what most people fear most, and then accuse your enemies of practicing it. It is an interesting comment on humanity that those things which occur time and time again are consistent: conspiracy, buggery, pedophilia, sacrifice (human and animal) sexual license, drunkenness and feasting. More specific charges relating to a pact with a devil or desecrating sacred objects are additions to these core accusations.

A further interesting aspect is that many of the accusations were made by children; interesting parallels can be drawn to modern accusations by children "encouraged" to reveal information about occultism and witches. It has been widely recorded that Hitler's "Youth Army" required children to spy upon their parents, and report any indiscretions; modern social workers use an identical process for identifying Pagan parents - children are asked about what their parents do, and leading questions are commonly used. And of course there have always been children who, for one reason or another, tell the most fantastic tales. It is unlikely today that the victims of these child fantasies will be burned at the stake, but there have been families torn apart, children placed in detention centers, and untold misery for parents and children alike, based upon no more than the verbal report of a child.

Commentators on this aspect of persecution have suggested that the children wish to be the center of attention; or to direct punishment for their own misdeeds elsewhere; or are simply reacting in a hyperactive manner to the onset of puberty. Whatever the cause, the effects are dramatic, and have caused severe suffering, and in the middle ages, loss of life, on many occasions.

In medieval England, there were many occasions where children's "evidence" (sic) was used to convict witches. "The Leicester Boy", "The Burton Boy" and "The Bilson Boy" were a few of many who claimed to be bewitched by witches. Eventually proven to be a fraud, at least ten women died as a result of the accusations of The Leicester Boy, and the Burton Boy caused the death of at least one of the women whom he accused. In the 17th century a number of women were executed on the allegations of hysterical children, even though fraud was often discovered during the course of the trial. It is a fact that the delusions of delinquent or disturbed children were often used by judges to confirm their own prejudices; how little things have changed!

Salem (1692) is probably the best known of all the cases where children were the chief accusers. Although in fact, the "children" were more like young adults, with only one under the age of ten, and most in their late teens or early twenties. However, as the panic grew, a great many more were sucked into the web of lies, and Martha Carrier was hanged on the "evidence" (sic) of her 7 year-old daughter. At the height of the hysteria almost 150 people were arrested; thirty-one were convicted, and nineteen hung. Some died in jail, and others were reprieved. As was common in Europe, the accused were required to pay their expenses whilst in jail, even if they were subsequently found innocent. Sarah Osborne and Ann Foster both died in jail, and costs of £1 3s 5d and £2 16s 0d respectively were demanded before the bodies would be released for burial.

The chief of the accusers, Ann Putnam, confessed fourteen years later that the whole thing was a fraud. In 1697 the jurors publicly confessed they had made an error of judgment, and ten years after the executions, Judge Samuel Sewall "confessed the guilt of the court, desiring to take the blame and shame of it...". By then of course it was too late for those who were dead, or whose lives had been destroyed by the accusations.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves here, for Salem is the last of the great witch trials, coming as it does towards the end of the 17th century.

We mentioned earlier that in Continental Europe, the heresy trials appeared to arise from the persecution of the Christian sects of the Bogomils, Cathars, Albigensians, and others such as the Jews, Waldensians, and even the Knights Templars. The stereotype of the witch was compounded from many different sources, and gradually became the composite figure of the shape-shifting hag, who flew through the air on a broom, and flung her curses at all and sundry.

The concept of the pact with the devil existed as early as the 8th century, and as we have seen, sexual license, buggery and ritual sacrifice have long been seen as activities supposed to be practiced by those outside of society's norm, whether they be Christian or Pagan. During the 9th century, shape-shifting, maleficia and the incubus/succubus became more commonly reported, and by the 10th century, the idea of nocturnal flight was established. Published in 906, the Canon Episcopi described how some women were deluded in the belief that at night they could fly behind their Goddess, Diana (Holda or Herodias):

"Some wicked women are perverted by the Devil and led astray by illusions and fantasies induced by demons, so that they believe they ride out at night on beasts with Diana, the pagan goddess, and a horde of women. They believe that in the night they cross huge distances. They say that they obey Diana's commands and on certain nights are called out in her service..."

Echoes here to Maddalena's story recounted by Leland in Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches:

"Once in the month, and when the moon is full, ye shall assemble in some desert place, or in a forest all together join to adore the potent spirit of your Queen, my mother, great Diana".

Carlo Ginzburg has also published a remarkable book about the Witches' Sabbath, and the night flight, where he suggests that these are in fact based on genuinely ancient shamanic practices; nothing new in this concept to modern Witches, but a novel observation in the academic circles in which Ginzburg moves.

In 1012, Burchard's Collectarium was published: the first attempt to assemble a book of Canonical Law. Book number 19 of this vast collection was called the Corrector, and chapter five deals with various sins, and their respective penances. As we might suppose, Maleficia is prominent in this chapter! It enshrines in law the notion of night flight, together with murder, and the cooking and eating of human flesh. Although both the Canon Episcopi and Burchard's Corrector are specific in attributing the powers of flight to Witches, it is not until 1280 that the first picture of a witch riding upon a broom appears. This is found in Schleswig Cathedral.

In 1022, the first burning occurred: at Orleans, the victims were accused of, "holding sex orgies at night in a secret place, either underground or in an abandoned building. The members of the group appeared bearing torches. Holding the torches, they chanted the names of demons until an evil spirit appeared. Now the lights were extinguished, and everyone seized the person closest to him in a sexual embrace, whether mother, sister or nun. The children conceived at the orgies were burned eight days after birth, and their ashes were confected in a substance that was then used in a blasphemous parody of holy communion."

Strange how these charges appear to have changed so little in so many years! Compared with our first example, and indeed with the accusations of modern day fundamentalists, one would be forgiven for believing that time is a figment of our imagination, and that nothing ever really changes; certainly not human nature.

The 14th century saw a steady growth in the number of accusations and trials, and by the 15th century, the idea of the Devil's (or Witch's) mark had become established. So too was the idea of a flying ointment, and a consistent image of The Devil became common in trials literature.

The Papal Bull of 1484, Summis Desiderantes Affectibus, and then two years later, publication of the Malleus Maleficarum, further established the "crime" of witchcraft as a heresy, and confirmed Papal support for its eradication. This infamous work - The Hammer of the Witches - was incredibly influential in establishing a code of practice by which witches were to be denounced, tried, convicted and executed. There was no escape from this dreadful fate. The third part of the book describes how to deal with one who will not confess to the charges:

"But if the accused, after a year or other longer period which has been deemed sufficient, continues to maintain his denials, and the legitimate witnesses abide by their evidence, the Bishop and Judges shall prepare to abandon him to the secular Court; sending to him certain honest men zealous for the faith, especially religious, to tell him that he cannot escape temporal death while he thus persists in his denial, but will be delivered up as an impenitent heretic to the power of the secular Court.

It is also in this section that our friendly Dominican monks refer to, "witch midwives, who surpass all other witches in their crimes...And the number of them is so great that, as has been found from their confessions, it is thought that there is scarcely any tiny hamlet in which at least one is not to be found."

Despite its incredible influence in Europe, the Malleus had little effect in England, Wales or Ireland, where witchcraft accusations and trials were very different to those of the continent and Scotland. In fact Wales and Ireland seemed to escape from the witch persecutions almost entirely, with very few trials, and even fewer executions.

Although many laws have been enacted in England against witchcraft, there has never been anything like the hysteria about witches common in mainland Europe. The earliest known person accused of sorcery in England was Agnes, wife of Odo, who in 1209 was freed after choosing trial by ordeal of grasping a red-hot iron.

Until 1563, commoners accused of witchcraft in England met light (if any) punishment. Those of noble birth were treated rather more severely, as the crime could easily be one of treason, and any action which implied a threat to the monarch was treated very seriously indeed. This resulted in the charge of witchcraft being used to remove political opponents with great expediency. There were certainly laws against the practice of witchcraft or sorcery: Alfred the Great (849-899 AD), King of Wessex and overlord of England, decreed the death penalty for Wiccans (that was the word he actually used), and Aethelstan - perhaps one of the most compassionate of Saxon Kings, ordered those who practiced Wiccecraeft to be executed, but only if their activities resulted in murder.

Under Henry VIII's Act of 1546, the penalty for conjuration of evil spirits was death, and the property of the accused was confiscated by the King. However, this was in effect for only one year, being repealed by Edward VI in 1547, and only one conviction under this Act is recorded. In 1563, the statute of Queen Elizabeth I was established, which also made death the penalty for invoking or conjuring an evil spirit, but those who practiced divination, or who caused harm (other than death) by their sorceries, were sentenced to a year's imprisonment for a first offense. Subsequent offenses could be punishable by death, and in some cases, the confiscation of property as well.

However, even though laws against the practice of witchcraft had been established for hundreds of years, the first major trial was not until 1566, at Chelmsford, and was typical of the English style of witchcraft: no pact with the devil, no gathering at Sabbats, but simple and direct acts of maleficia, and the introduction of witches' familiars. It was an important trial, for it set the precedent in English law for accepting unsupported, and highly imaginative, stories from children as evidence. It also accepted spectral evidence (sic), witch's marks, and the confession of the accused.

There are some very distinctive aspects to English witchcraft, which set it apart from its Continental and Scottish counterparts, and which are worth noting. There was a relative lack of torture, and, this may come as a surprise to some people, but witches were never burned in England. Traitors and murderers were burned; witches were hung. Of course, a traitor or a murderer could also be a witch, but this was actually quite rare. The torture used in England - when it was used at all - was typically swimming, pricking, enforced waking, and a diet of bread and water. Unpleasant, but when compared to squassation, being skinned alive, the strappado, the rack, and such delights as the thumbscrews and the iron maiden, hardly in the same class. The focus of English witchcraft was more towards simple, personal, acts of maleficia than a perceived conspiracy against the power of the Christian Church. As one of Britain's foremost folklorists says: "Traditions of an organized, pagan witch-cult were never very plentiful in England, although they did exist occasionally, especially in the later years of the witch belief. They were never really strong, and after the end of the persecution in the early 18th century, they disappeared altogether." (Christina Hole) This is interesting, because it has been suggested that the witch trials phenomena was largely inspired by the heretical Christian sects; this would seem to be born out by the type of accusations made in England, which were largely neighbor against neighbor rather than Church and State against an organized conspiracy of heretics.

What is also interesting is that it was commonly believed in England that if the bewitched victim could draw blood from the witch, then they would be cured, and the witch's power made ineffective. This belief has persisted in folk traditions to modern times. In 1875, at Long Compton, the body of an old woman, one Ann Turner, was discovered. She had been pinned to the ground by a pitchfork through her throat, and across her face and chest had been carved the sign of a crucifix. James Heywood, a local farmer, had once claimed: "It's she who brings the floods and drought. Her spells withered the crops in the field. Her curse drove my father to an early grave!". Heywood maintained that the only way to destroy her power was to spill her blood, and so after her murder, he was taken and tried for the crime. He was convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Long Compton has always been associated with the practice of witchcraft, and is located only a short distance from the magical Rollright Stones, and near to the aptly named Wychwood Forest. The derivation of this name is from the curiously named tribe of THE HWICCE, who lived in the area at the time of King Penda of Mercia, and who seemed always to be ruled by two brothers. But back to Long Compton:

In 1945, Charles Walton, a local laborer, set out one morning to do some hedging on nearby Meon Hill. That evening, his mutilated body was found in a field - pinned to the ground by his pitchfork, which had been stuck through his throat. There were cuts to his arms and legs, and local police were baffled as to the motive for the crime, and who the likely culprit might have been. But gradually locals began to talk about Mr. Walton; they said he was a solitary and vindictive old man, who was concerned more with searching out the secrets of nature than in taking company with his neighbors. They said that he harnessed toads, using reeds and pieces of ram's horn, and then sent them across fields to blight the crops. They also remembered that he kept a witch's mirror - a piece of black stone polished in a mountain stream - concealed in his pocket-watch, which he used for weaving spells and seeing into the future. The police never discovered the culprit, but it was accepted locally that Mr. Walton was murdered because he was a witch. His wounds were a result of the belief that a victim could be freed from enchantment if he or she were able to draw the blood of the witch.

We could not leave English witchcraft without mention of that infamous gentleman, Matthew Hopkins; self-styled Witchfinder General. For all his fame, his activities were restricted to a relatively small area, and a relatively short period of time. However, his boundless energy, and boundless enthusiasm for the collection of large amounts of money, ensured that his name has not been forgotten.

Matthew Hopkins used the unrest of the Civil War to prey upon the fears of the common people. Little is known of his early life, except that he became a lawyer "of little note", and failing to make a living at Ipswich in Suffolk, moved to Manningtree in Essex - an area of Civil War tension.

With virtually no knowledge of witchcraft, but armed with a couple of contemporary documents (including James I's "Demonology"), Hopkins set himself up in business as a Witchfinder. And a very profitable business it was too. At a time when the average daily wage was 6d, Hopkins received £23 for a single visit to Stowmarket, and £6 for a visit to Aldeburgh.

His approach was consistent: James I mentioned that witches had familiars, and suckled imps; therefore, anyone who kept a familiar spirit or imp must be a witch! Bearing in mind the English partiality to keeping pets, and you begin to see just how very successful this technique could be. For example, Bridget Mayers was condemned for entertaining an evil spirit in the likeness of a mouse, which she called "Prickears"; another (unnamed) woman was rescued by her neighbors from a dunking, where she confessed to having an imp called "Nan". When she recovered she said: "she knew not what she had confessed, and she had nothing she called Nan but a pullet that she sometimes called by that name...".

Hopkins moved from Essex to Norfolk and Suffolk, and by the following year, had operations in Cambridge, Northampton, Huntingdon and Bedford, with a team of six witch finders under his control. "In Suffolk alone it is estimated that he was responsible for arresting at least 124 persons for witchcraft, of whom at least 68 were hanged." (RHR) However, Hopkins moved too far too quickly, and public opinion began to go against him. In 1646, a clergyman in Huntingdon preached against him, and judges began to question both his methods of locating witches, and the fees that he charged for the service. In 1647 Hopkins published a pamphlet called "Discovery of Witches", in which he supported his methods in sanctimonious and pseudo legal language. However, it was to no avail, for later that year he died, "in some disgrace" according to most authorities. Witchcraft legend has it that he was drowned by irate villagers in one of his own ducking ponds, but this has no recorded evidence to support it. However, it would be a fitting end to such an evil man, and I hope it was true.

Moving away from England; Scottish and Continental witchcraft shared a great many similarities; Mary Queen of Scots, and her son, James VI, were both educated in France, and this ensured that continental attitudes towards witches were enshrined in Scottish law at the highest level. In fact the concepts of witchcraft were introduced into Scotland by Mary in about 1563. Before then, trials for witchcraft had been few, and there were no recorded burning of witches. In "The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology" Rossell Hope Robbins says:

"Scotland is second only to Germany in the barbarity of its witch trials. The Presbyterian clergy acted like inquisitors, and the Church sessions often shared the prosecution with the secular law courts. The Scottish laws were, if anything, more heavily loaded against the accused. Finally, the devilishness of the torture was limited only by Scotland's backward technology in the construction of mechanical devices."

It is well known that James VI was an ardent prosecutor of witches, and it was under his authority that the Bible was translated to include the word "witch" (Exodus 22:18) to provide Biblical sanction for the death penalty for witches. The original Hebrew word - kashaph - meant either a magician, diviner or sorcerer, but was definitely not a witch. In the Latin Vulgate (4th century version of the Bible) the word had been translated as "maleficos", which could mean any kind of criminal, although in practice often referred to malevolent sorcerers. Similarly, the so-called Witch of Endor, consulted by King Solomon: the original Hebrew was "ba'alath ob": "mistress of a talisman". In the Latin Vulgate she became a "mulierem habentem pythonem": a women possessing an oracular spirit. It was only in the version of the Bible authorized by King James that she became a witch.

By the time that James acceded to the English throne in 1603, his attitude towards witches had undergone a subtle transformation. In fact, he was directly responsible for the release and pardon of several accused "witches", and personally interfered in trials where he believed that fraud or deception was being practiced. However, Lynn Linton writing in 1861 says of him:

"Whatever of blood-stained folly belonged specially to the Scottish trials of this time - and hereafter - owed its original impulse to him; every groan of the tortured wretches driven to their fearful doom, and every tear of the survivors left blighted and desolate to drag out their weary days in mingled grief and terror, lie on his memory with shame and condemnation ineffaceable for all time."

But it was under Charles II that perhaps the most famous - and enduring - of Scottish witches was tried, and most probably executed (although records of her punishment have not survived). Isobel Gowdie of Auldearne, on four separate occasions during 1662 testified that she was a witch, and gave what Russell Hope Robbins describes as: "a résumé of popular beliefs about witchcraft in Scotland.". He says that Gowdie "appeared clearly demented", but that "it is plain she believed what she confessed, no matter how impossible...".

From Gowdie are derived some of the concepts of today's Wicca, including the idea of a coven, comprised of 13 people. Gowdie said that a coven was ruled by a "Man in Black", often called "Black John". He would often beat the witches severely, and it seemed their main tasks were to raise storms, change themselves into animals, and shoot elf arrows to injure or kill people. Coming as she does right at the end of the witchcraft persecutions, it is difficult to establish how much of Gowdie's confession is based upon real, traditional folk practices of Auldearne, and how much she is simply repeating the standard accusations against witches. The Coven of 13 is probably the single aspect of her confessions which does not appear elsewhere in records of witchcraft trials, and my own feelings are that she was probably as genuine a witch as was ever taken and tried.

We have already commented how terrifying it is to consider the impact that a single person can have upon the lives of so many people. We have looked at a number of these - King James, Kramer and Sprenger, Matthew Hopkins, Conrad of Marburg - and their latter day successors are no less dangerous. Let us consider some of the 20th century persecutors. We have already mentioned Adolf Hitler; what about Stalin? his great purge in the period following 1936 saw charges of treason, espionage and terrorism brought against anyone who showed the least inclination to oppose him. Using techniques which would not have been out of place during the great witch hunts, Stalin's henchmen enforced "confessions", and effectively exterminated any threat to his political power.

We could look too at McCarthy, whose fame for persecution was such that his name is now used to describe "the use of unsupported accusations for any purpose". It is no accident that his activities were referred to as a "witch hunt", nor that Arthur Miller's play about the Salem witch trials, "The Crucible", was more a comment about McCarthyism than a comment about 17th century American life.

In 20th century Australia we are heirs to a European history, which maintains that witches are servants of the devil, and should be prosecuted for their crimes against humanity. In some States these laws actually remain upon the Statute Books; in others, the legal machinery has been removed, but often public opinion hovers around the middle ages, believing that the only good witch is a dead witch.

Our latter-day inquisitors play upon these fears, in much the same way as Matthew Hopkins played upon the fears of the people during the Civil War. Christian Fundamentalists have no hesitation in using every dirty trick in the book to ensure that public opinion remains opposed to witchcraft. If this means that some of them have to stand up and say: "Yes, I was a witch: I sacrificed my babies to the devil, and copulated with a goat; I took part in drunken orgies, and drank the blood of the sacrifice"; but then I found Jesus, and was born again, and now I'm a really nice person; well so be it. Some of them are so psychiatrically unbalanced they may even believe it themselves.

Listen to a sample of the claims made by Audrey Harper, who achieved notoriety in Britain as an ex-HPS of a Witches' Coven. This extract is from an article by Aries, which appeared in Web of Wyrd #5:

Sent to a Dr. Barnado's home by her mother, she grew up with deprivation and social stigma. In time she becomes a WRAF, falls in love, gets pregnant, boyfriend dies, she turns to booze, gives up her baby and becomes homeless. Wandering to Piccadilly Circus she meets some Flower Children with the killer weed, and her descent into Hell is assured. By day she gets stoned and eats junk food; by night she sleeps in squats and doorways. Along comes Molly; the whore with a heart of gold who teaches Audrey the art of street walking. She flirts with shoplifting, gets into pills, and then gets talent spotted and invited to a Chelsea party, where wealth, power and tasteful decor are dangled as bait. At the next party she is hooked by the "group", which meets "every month in Virginia Water". She agrees to go to the next meeting which is to be held at Hallowe'en.

Inside the dark Temple lit by black candles and full of "A heady, sickly sweet smell from burning incense", she is "initiated" by the "warlock", whose "face was deathly pale and skeletal...his eyes...were dark and sunken" and whose "breath and body seemed to exude a strange smell, a little like stale alcohol." She signs herself over to Satan with her own blood on a parchment scroll, whereupon a baby is produced, its throat cut, and the blood drank. Following this she gets dumped on the "altar" and screwed as the "sacrifice of the White Virgin". The meeting finishes with a little ritual cursing and she's left to wander "home" in the dark.

Her life falls into a steady routine of meetings in Virginia Water, getting screwed by the "warlock", drug abuse, petty crime, and recruiting runaways for parties, where the drinks are spiked -"probably with LSD" - and candles injected with heroin release "stupefying fumes into the air"; the object being sex kicks and pornography. She falls pregnant again, gets committed to a psychiatric hospital, has the baby, and gives it away convinced that the "warlock" would sacrifice it. Things then become a confusion of Church desecration, drug addiction, ritual abuse, psychiatric hospital, and falling in with Christian folk who try vainly to save her soul. For rather vague reasons the "coven" decide to drop her from the team, and she dedicates herself to a true junkie's lifestyle with a steady round of overdosing, jaundice, and detoxification units. The "warlock" drops by to threaten her, and she makes her way north via some psychiatric hospitals to a Christian Rehabilitation farm. She gets married, has a child which she keeps, and becomes a regular churchgoer. But beneath the surface are recurring nightmares, insane anger and murderous feelings towards her brethren. At the Emanuel Pentecostal Church in Stourport she asks the Minister, Roy Davies, for help. He prays, and God tells him that she was involved with witchcraft. An exorcism has her born again, cleansed of her sin. She gets baptized and has no more nightmares, becoming a generally nicer person. She becomes the "occult expert" of the Reachout Trust and Evangelical Alliance, and makes a career out of telling an edited version of her tale.

Geoffrey Dickens MP persuades her to tell all on live TV; "Audrey, to your knowledge is child sacrifice still going on?" To this she replies, "To my knowledge, yes." After this the whole thing rambles into an untidy conclusion of self-congratulation, self-promotion, and self-justification; and for a grand finale pulls out a list of horrendous child abuse, which is shamelessly exploited in typically journalistic fashion, and by the usual fallacious arguments which links it to anything "occult"; help-lines, astro predictions in newspapers, and even New Age festivals.

And so we are left with a horrifying vision of hordes of Satanists swarming the country, buggering kids, sacrificing babies, and feeding their own feces to the flock."

Whilst all this seems incredible to any rational person, unfortunately, in the age old tradition, it confirms the worst fears of the man and woman in the street, and so they swallow it whole. After all, it was on telly, so it MUST be true!

As a direct result of people like Audrey Harper publicizing their lies and fantasy, children in England and Scotland were forcibly removed from their homes, and subjected to the type of questioning that we had previously believed had died out at the end of the Middle Ages.

A consultant clinical psychologist scrutinized the interview transcripts and audio records of the recent Orkney child abuse case, and in her summing up said: "[the Social Workers] told the children they knew things had happened to them and were generally leading all the way. When the children denied things, the questions were continually put until the children got hungry and gave them the answers they wanted."

Who says that torture is no longer legal in the British Isles?

The father of four of the children who were taken into care said: "At first I thought the allegations were laughable, but I found out how serious the police were...". Just to remind you of the words of Gilles de Rais some 500 years ago: [the accusations] are frivolous and lack credit...".

One 11 year-old described being asked to draw a circle of ritualistic dancers. He said: "They got me to draw by saying, 'I am not a drawer. Can you draw that?' It was meant to be a ring with children around and a minister in the middle wearing a black robe and a crook to pull children in."

The boy said he had been promised treats such as a lesson on how a helicopter worked if he cooperated, and was told that he could go if he gave one name. How remarkably similar to medieval witch trials, where the victims were always pressed to name their accomplices - for is it not said, "thou canst not be a witch alone?"!

In 1990, journalist Rosie Waterhouse commenting upon the Manchester child abuse case said: "After three months of questioning by the NSPCC, strange stories began to come out and other children were named. The way the children began telling "Satanic" tales in this case is remarkably similar to the way such stories first surfaced in Nottingham. As "The Independent on Sunday" revealed last week (23/9/90), the Nottingham children began talking about witches, monsters, babies and blood only after they had been encouraged, by an NSPCC social worker, to play with toys which included witches' costumes, monsters, toy babies, and a syringe for extracting blood."

Believe it or not, the parents of these children had no access to them whatsoever. Why? Because our modern, scientifically trained, 20th century social workers believed that, "[the parents] would try to silence the children, using secret Satanic symbols or trigger words".

By March 1991, senior Police spokesmen were publicly claiming that "police have no evidence of ritual or satanic abuse inflicted on children anywhere in England or Wales". Scotland has a different legal system, which is why it was not included in the statement - not because the police have evidence there, for they do not.

When the Rochdale case finally came to court, after the children had been in care (sic!) for about 16 months, the judge delivered a damning indictment upon those who were responsible for it, and said: "the way the children had been removed from their parents was particularly upsetting." He saw a video of the removal of one girl from her home during a dawn raid, and commented that, "It is obvious from the video tape that the girl is not merely frightened but greatly distressed at being removed from home. The sobbing and distraught girl can be seen. It is one of my most abiding memories of this case."

Let us return briefly to Salem, where, in 1710, William Good petitioned for damages in respect of the trial and execution of his wife Sarah, and the imprisonment of his daughter, Dorothy, "a child of four or five years old, [who] being chained in the dungeon was so hardly used and terrified that she hath ever since been very chargeable, having little or no reason to govern herself.".

Today's Christian Fundamentalist, like his vicious and self-righteous predecessors, will use anything in his or her power-including innocent children - to destroy the evils of Paganism and the occult. Sometimes I wonder if we are becoming paranoid, or the subjects of a persecution complex, but in writing this lecture it was brought home to me more strongly than ever before: the witch trials of the Middle Ages are not a bloody stain on the history of Christianity; they are the source from where today's fundamentalists draw their power, and are just as terrifying today as they were hundreds of years ago. Bigotry and persecution have changed in only one respect: 20th century mankind has far more efficient and effective means of spreading lies and propaganda than was available to our ancestors.

Appendix A

The subject of the European Witch Trials has been written about ad infinitum (and nauseam!), and there are a great many useful books which the student will find of interest. There follows a short bibliography of those to which I referred when writing this lecture.

Select Bibliography
  • Bradford, Sarah Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times (1981)
  • Cohn, Norman Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom (1975)
  • Ginzburg, Carlo Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath (1990)
  • Hole, Christina Witchcraft in England (1977)
  • Howard, Michael The Occult Conspiracy: Secret Societies--Their Influence and Power in World History (1989)
  • Kieckheffer, Richard European Witch Trials (1976)
  • Larner, Christina Enemies of God: The Witch Hunt in Scotland (1981)
  • Larner, Christina Witchcraft and Religion (1985)
  • Maple, Eric The Complete Book of Witchcraft and Demonology (1966)
  • Radford, Kenneth Fire Burn (1989)
  • Ravensdale & Morgan The Psychology of Witchcraft (1974)
  • Robbins, Rossell Hope The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology (1984)
  • Russell, Jeffrey A History of Witchcraft (1980)
  • Scarre, Geoffrey Witchcraft and Magic in 16th and 17th century Europe (1987)
  • Stenton, Sir Frank Anglo-Saxon England (1971)
  • Summers, Montague (Trans) Malleus Maleficarum (1986)
  • Thomas, Keith Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971)
  • Trevor-Roper, H R The European Witch-Craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries (1988)
  • Walsh, Michael Roots of Christianity (1986)
  • Worden, Blair (Ed) Stuart England (1986)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica (1969 edition)
  • Collins Dictionary of the English Language (1980)
  • Newspapers: The Times, The Guardian, The Independent (Britain)

Appendix B - Historical Periods

Anglo-Saxon: broadly 550 AD to 1066 AD (the Norman invasion).

Middle Ages: broadly the period from the end of classical antiquity (476 AD) to the Italian Renaissance (or fall of Constantinople in 1453). More specifically the period from 1000 AD to the 15th century.

Medieval: of, or relating to, the Middle Ages.

Tudor: the Royal House, descended from Welsh Squire Owen Tudor (d.1461), which ruled in England between 1485 AD - 1603 AD

Stuart: the Royal House which ruled in Scotland between 1371 AD and 1714, and in England between 1603 AD - 1714 AD.

Jacobean: relating to the period of James I's rule of England (1603-1625).

Reformation: a 16th century religious and political movement which began as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church, but actually resulted in the establishment of the Protestant Church.

Renaissance: usually considered as beginning in Italy in the 14th century, this is the period which marked the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world. It is characterized by classical scholar ship, scientific and geographical discovery, and the exploration of individual human potential.

Civil War: 1640-1649, between the Royalists under Charles I, and the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. Charles I was executed in 1649.

Crusades: a series of wars undertaken by the Christians of western Europe with the authorization of the Papacy from 1095 until the mid-15th century for the purpose of recovering the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem from the Muslims and defending possession of it. (Enc. Britannica)

Thirty Years' War: a major conflict involving Austria, Denmark, France, Holland, Germany, Spain and Sweden that devastated central Europe, but especially Germany. It began as a war between Protestants and Catholics but developed into a general power struggle (1618 1648).

Lateran Councils: Five ecumenical councils held at the Lateran Palace (the official residence of the Pope) between 1123 AD and 1512 AD.

Appendix C - Gnostic and Christian sects

Manichaeism: a dualistic Gnostic religion first preached by Mani (q.v.) in the 3rd century AD. Its early center was Babylonia, then part of the Persian empire and a meeting place of faiths. (EB)

The basic theology of Manichaeism is that good and evil are separate and opposed principles, which have become mixed in the world through the action of the evil principle. There is a complicated mythology which describes the creation of the world and the elements, and a set of complex correspondences by which the seeker can return to a state of salvation. Manichaeism spread across a huge area, including the Roman Empire. However, by the 6th century it had virtually been eradicated from Spain, France and Italy, although was strong in the eastern Mediterranean until the 9th century, when it was absorbed into the neo-Manichean sects of the Bogomils, Cathars, etc.

Bogomils: a religious sect which flourished in the Balkans between the 10th and 15th centuries.

Their central teaching was strictly dualistic; that the visible, material world was created by the Devil, and that everything within it was therefore evil. They rejected many of the trappings of Christianity, and their condemnation of anything to do with the flesh - including eating and drinking! - has rightly earned them the nickname, "the greatest puritans of the middle ages".

Cathars: a heretical Christian sect that flourished in western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.

They believed that goodness existed only in the spiritual world created by God, and that the material world, created by Satan, was evil. Their theology bore a great resemblance to that of Manichaeism and the Bogomils, and they were closely connected with the latter.

Waldensians: also known as Valdenses or Vaudois. The sect was founded in southern France in the 12th century, and emphasized poverty, abstinence from physical labor, and a life devoted to prayer.

They were influenced by other "heretical" sects, and rejected a number of the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. They were stern opponents to the acquisition of wealth and power within the Church, and thus came into direct opposition to the Papacy, which thrived on both. They were fiercely persecuted, and by the end of the 15th century, confined mainly to the French and Italian valleys of the Cottian Alps. During the 16th century, the Waldensians were transformed into a Protestant church, but suffered heavy persecution throughout the 17th century from the Dukes of Savoy. This ceased only after Oliver Cromwell intervened personally on their behalf with the duke, Charles Emanuel II. In the latter part of the 17th century the Waldensians returned to their original homeland, and in 1848 the Waldensians were given civil rights, and are today members of the World Presbyterian Alliance.

Appendix D - A calendar of events connected with the persecution of heretics

640 AD Eorcenberht succeeds Eadbald as King of Kent, and becomes the first English king to order the destruction of pagan idols throughout his kingdom;
663 AD Council of Whitby determines the date of Easter to be in accordance with Roman practice, and so ends Celtic Christianity in Northumberland;
668-690 AD Liber Poenitentialis by Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. Probably the first legislation against witches. It advised penances (e.g., fasting) for those who "sacrificed to devils, foretold the future with their aid, ate food that had been offered in sacrifice, or burned grain after a man was dead for the well-being of the living and of the house."
735-766 AD the Confessional of Ecgberht, Archbishop of York, which prescribed a 7-year fast for a woman convicted of "slaying by incantation";
871-899 AD reign of King Aelfred (brother of Aethelred), who declared the death penalty for those who practice Wicca;
925-939 AD reign of King Aethelstan, where murder - including murder by witchcraft - was punishable with the death penalty;
936 AD Otto elected King of the Germans, whereupon he declared it his intention to drive the pagans out of his land;
951 Otto crowned King of Lombardy;
955 Otto defeated the Magyars and proclaimed himself "Protector of Europe";
962 Otto crowned Holy Roman Emperor;
1022 the first burning (at Orleans) for heresy;
1066-1087 AD reign of William the Conqueror in England; he reduced Aethelstan's sentence of death for convicted murderers to banishment;
1118 King Baldwin II of Jerusalem suggested to Sir Hugh de Payens that he organize a chivalric order of knights to defend travelers to the Holy Land, and granted part of his palace, which stood on the site of Solomon's original temple, for their headquarters. As a result of this gesture, Hugh de Payens called his Order the Templi Militia, and then later changed this to Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem;
1162 Pope Alexander III issued a special papal bull releasing Templars from spiritual obedience to any but the Pope himself, gave them exemption from paying tithes, and allowed them their own chaplains and burial grounds;
12/13th cent the Cathar heresies: introduction of the obscene kiss and ritual adoration of the devil;
1243-44 Siege of Montsegur;
1244 225 Cathars burned at the stake at Montsegur;
1259 relationships between the Knights Templars and the Hospitallers of Knights of St John deteriorated into open warfare;
1291 the Saracens took Jerusalem, and the Knights Templars were expelled, and lost their headquarters on the site of Solomon's Temple;
1301 Walter Langton, bishop of Coventry, tried by ecclesiastical court for diabolism and acquitted;
1302 trial in Exeter for defamation of a man who called a woman a "wicked witch and thief";
1307 King Philip of France ordered the arrest of every member of the Knights Templar in France: this was followed by a papal bull to all rulers in Christian Europe that all Templars were to be arrested;
1311 investigation in London by Episcopal authority into sorcery, enchantment, magic, divination and invocation;
1312 the Pope officially disbanded the Knights Templars;
1314 Jaques de Molay (last Grand Master of the Knights Templars) burned as a relapsed heretic;
1321 last Cathar burned at the stake;
1324 Alice Kyteler tried in Kilkenny by secular and ecclesiastical authorities for diabolism, invocation and sorcery;
1347 the Plague spreads over the whole of Italy, and arrives in France by the end of the year;
1348 the Plague reaches Paris, then the Low Countries, and then via the Channel to southern England;
1349 Britain ravaged by the Plague, which passes into Germany, Austria and Scandinavia;
1360 the Plague, complicated by influenza reappears in Europe, continuing in waves until 1441, and finally ending around 1510;
1390 woman tried in Milan for attending an assembly led by "Diana", "Erodiade" or "Oriente";
1408 the Plague, still rampant in Europe is complicated by an epidemic of Typhus and Whooping Cough;
1409 trial of Pope Benedict XIII at Pisa for divination, invocation, sorcery and other offenses;
1428-47 Dauphine: 110 women and 57 men executed by secular court for witchcraft, especially diabolism;
1431 Joan of Arc tried for heresy and burnt at the stake: the trial decision was annulled in 1456, and in 1920 she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV with the date of her execution (May 30) becoming a national holiday in France;
1440 Gilles de Rais tried on 47 charges including conjuration of demons and sexual perversions against children: nearly all evidence was hearsay, none of his servants was called to testify, and the proceedings were highly irregular: he was strangled and then sent to the pyre, but his family were given permission to remove his body before the flames reached it for burial at a nearby Carmelite Church;
1441 Margery Jourdain ("the Witch of Eye") convicted of plotting to kill King Henry VI, and burned as a traitor;
1458 first recorded use of the word "sabbat" (Nicholas Jacquier). "Synagogue" was the word commonly used to describe the meeting places of heretics and witches;
1470 trial before Royal Court in England for defamation - man had accused the Duchess of Bedford of image magic;
1479 Earl of Mar executed for employing witches to kill James III of Scotland;
1484 Papal Bull of Pope Innocent VIII officially declaring witchcraft a heresy;
1486 first publication of the Malleus Maleficarum;
1488 Metz: 31 women and 4 men tried by secular court for weather magic: 29 burned;
1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain;
1521 Martin Luther excommunicated by Pope Leo X, and so begins the Reformation;
1532 the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina: the criminal code for the Holy Roman Empire which specified how witches, fortune tellers, etc. were to be tried, and punished;
1542 first statute against witchcraft in England passed by Parliament (revoked 1547);
1557 first list of prohibited books issued by the Roman church;
1562 statute enacted in Scotland under Mary Queen of Scots declaring the death penalty for witchcraft, sorcery and necromancy: the Act was confirmed in 1649 and repealed in 1736;
1563 statute against witchcraft by Elizabeth I in England ordering the death penalty for witches, enchanters and sorcerers (under civil, not ecclesiastical law);
1566 first major trial under statute of 1563: Elizabeth Francis, Agnes Waterhouse and Joan Waterhouse at Chelmsford: Agnes hanged, Elizabeth received a light sentence and Joan was found not guilty;
1584 "Discoverie of Witchcraft" by Reginald Scot published - a Protestant argument against belief in witchcraft;
1590-92 North Berwick trials by James VI;
1595 Nicholas Remy publishes "Demonolatreiae" where he boasted on the title page that he had condemned 900 witches in 15 years;
1596 John Dee as Warden of a Manchester College acts as an advisor for cases of witchcraft and demonology;
1597 "Daemonologie" by King James VI published;
1600 Giordano Bruno burnt at the stake in Rome as an "impenitent heretic";
1603 ascension of James VI to the English throne as James I;
1604 new statute against witchcraft by James I which established pact, devil-worship and other continental ideas in English law;
1611 King James authorizes a new translation of the Bible to include the word "witch";
1612 twenty witches tried together at Lancashire (the Pendle witches);
1628 in Massachusetts, an English lawyer, Thomas Morton ordered a Maypole to be erected in the colony which he founded (Merrymount), and celebrated May with local Indians and refugees from the Puritans, with stag antlers, bells and brightly colored clothes, under an elected "Lord and Lady" to rule over the celebrations; He was arrested under charges of practicing witchcraft, but was released;
1633 the public exorcisms of the nuns of Loudun as part of a plot by Cardinal Richelieu to revenge himself upon Urban Grandier: Grandier arrested and tried by investigating committee;
1634 Grandier tortured then burned alive;
1644 Maypoles made illegal in England;
1644-5 Matthew Hopkins active in Chelmsford;
1646 Matthew Hopkins retired - he died the following year;
1647 first witch hung in the USA, in Connecticut;
1649 first newspaper astrology column by Lilly;
1662 at Bury St Edmunds women were accused and convicted of witchcraft on the testimony of hysterical children;
1662 the trial of Isobel Gowdie in Auldearne, Scotland: Gowdie introduces the idea of a coven of thirteen;
1663 the Licensing Act determined that books could not be published without prior consultation with the Church or State;
1679-82 the Chambre Ardente affair: a star chamber court admitting of no appeal arraigned to try Madame Bosse, her daughter and sons; Madame Montvoisin (La Voisin) and La Dame Vigoreux. During the course of the trial, several hundreds of the highest courtiers of King Louis XIV were implicated in the poisoning scandal. The affair degenerated into a search for heresy and witchcraft, and eventually Catholic Priests Davot, Gerard, Deshayes, Cotton, Tournet, Guibourg and Mariette were also drawn in, accused of performing the Black Mass. Evidence was collected to show that Madame de Montespan (Louis' former mistress) attempted to poison Louis and his new mistress, and was the leader of the Satanic cult. In all, 319 people were arrested and 104 sentenced: 36 to death, 4 to slavery in the galleys, 34 to banishment and 30 acquitted. In 1709 Louis attempted to destroy the records of the affair, but failed;
1684 Alice Molland was the last person executed as a witch in England (at Exeter);
1689 Cotton Mather (New England) publishes "Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions" supporting belief in witchcraft;
1692 Salem witch trials: 19 hung and more than 100 jailed; the last person executed in the USA for witchcraft;
1727 last execution in Scotland for witchcraft;
1731 last trial for witchcraft in England: Jane Wenham, who was convicted, then pardoned and released;
1736 the repeal of the statutes against witchcraft of Mary Queen of Scots (1562), Elizabeth I (1563) and James I & VI (1604): replaced with a statute which stated that, "no prosecution, suit or proceeding shall be commenced or carried out against any person or persons for witchcraft, sorcery, inchantment (sic), or conjuration." It provided for the prosecution of those pretending to possess magical powers, but it denied reality to those powers;
1745 last execution in France for witchcraft;
1775 last execution in Germany for witchcraft;
1829 Lamothe-Langan fabricated and published documents represented to be records of trials of witches in Toulouse and Carcassonne, probably in an attempt to prove the continuing existence of the worship of the old religion;
1830 in "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft" Sir Walter Scott argues that alleged witches had been misunderstood and mistreated;
1862 Jules Michelet argues in his book "La Sorcerie" that witchcraft was a protest by medieval serfs against a crushing social order;
1865 Pope Pius X again attacked secret societies, claiming that Freemasonry was anti-Christian, satanic, and derived from paganism;
1899 publication of Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Leland;
1928 first English translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (tr Summers);
1951 repeal of the 1736 Witchcraft Act with the Fraudulent Mediums Act;
1963 demand made for reinstatement of the Witchcraft Laws in England following desecration of churches and graveyards;
1966 the Index (of prohibited books) abolished;
1991 Anti-occult amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill had its third reading in Parliament. Presented by Geoffrey Dickens, this prescribed imprisonment for not more than five years against one who, "permits, entices or encourages a minor to participate in, or be present at a ceremony or other activity of any kind specified in sub-section 3...". Subsection 3 says: "The ceremonies or activities to which this section applies are those of, or associated with, Satanism and other devil worshipping, black magic, witchcraft, or any activity to which Section 1 of the Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951) applies. The Bill was rejected for a number of reasons, not least because it made newspaper/magazine editors culpable if minors should read the astrology column!
Quote of the moment:
Dragons make great pets. Just put down LOTS of newspaper.

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