Monday, October 8, 2012

Season of the Witch--Guest Post from Nova at My Seryniti

It's my pleasure today to welcome Nova from My Seryniti.  Nova is sharing with us a great write up about everything witches.  Enjoy!


I have the lovely task of bringing to you a guide to witches. When I was talking to Michelle, our lovely host, she mentioned Witches would be our October theme! I love it! And then I thought hmm, how exactly did we come to think of witches as these ugly, old, long wart speckled nosed women?

Then as I was searching I found that there have been witch hunts in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Papua New Guinea and Saudi Arabia, the latest was in 2012!!!

On December 12, 2011 Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar was beheaded in Al Jawf Province after being convicted of practicing witchcraft and sorcery. Another very similar situation occurred to Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri and he was beheaded on June 19, 2012 in the Najran Province. - Wikipedia

There has to be some kind of starting line when this thought moved forward to killing these women and men.

  • Why was it ok to torture or burn witches (anyone for that matter!)?
  • When did it start?
  • More importantly how did it start?
  • And how do people feel about witches today compared to in our past?
Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Leviticus 20:27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.

Circe by John William Waterhouse

Fantastically enough, the word witch is actually translated from Hebrew, kashaph which means to whisper. The priest that wrote this most likely meant, one that whispers, as in whispers a spell. The priests were speaking to the Jews and probably wanted them to listen to their own priests and not listen to the religions of the tribes around them.

In 906, the Canon Episcopi by Abbot Regino of Prum condemned as heretical any belief in witchcraft, sorcery, etc. Of course we are also talking herbal remedies. The church didn't understand how and why someone would try to heal the sick, it was God's will one way or the other. If they were sick they were probably being punished by God anyway!

It seems that the church was very upset in the 1100 & 1200's by heresy, " the belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs." Pope Innocent III openly attacked the Cathar heretics who believed that God and Satan were at war. The church spread rumors saying that the Cathar heretics actually worshipped Satan and everyone's opinion of Satan went from trickster to deeply sinister force.

In time the word Witch was turned around to mean one that was a heretic, a non-believer. The healing these women could do was most likely a form of demon worship. The powers derived from Satan himself! And now that everyone is thinking that Satan is a real evil-doer, so must be these witches.

Because of the many groups of heretics Pope Innocent IV approves papal inquisitors to use torture in heresy cases although in 1200, killing of witches had already become authorized by Pope Gregory IX.
But soon most of the heretical groups were wiped completely off the map. This left the church looking elsewhere for scapegoats: Those Satan worshiping witches!!

These women were condemned for nearly everything from living alone, having an animal, to such things as the bubonic plague! Anything and everything that someone could not explain would be explained off as Satan's work. And if there was an old woman living in the outskirts of a village, or someone that the village didn't understand, they were starting to become the ones people would point to.

Edward Frederick Brewtnall - Visit to the Witch, 1882

Funnily enough these same people became very superstitious and because of their fear, superstitions ran rampant. A few of those are...
  • Witches were able to fly ( this explained how witches could move quickly across impossible distances. A broomstick was then added to the superstition as these became common household articles used by women)
  • A witch was often portrayed as an old crone or hag ( with no man to defend her against accusations of witchcraft) 
  • Witches are closely associated with living alone ( house in the wood) 
  • Witches were known to keep animals like the Cat, Frog, Pig, Raven, Goat, Wolf, Goose, Crow, Bat and Mouse which were believed to be the forms adopted by a Witches Familiar (an evil spirit, in animal form, who was used by the witch to perform evil deeds and cast malevolent spells) 
  • Witches brewed magic potions over a cauldron (Wise women had knowledge of herbs such as mandrake, datura, monkshood, cannabis, belladonna, henbane and hemlock) -- Elizabethan Supersitions
Papal Inquisitors in this day had a lot of power. With the ability to torture at will anyone that they suspected of heresy they could walk into a village and arrest based purely on circumstantial evidence. Bernard Gui published Practica in 1320, an instruction manual for the now all powerful inquisitors. He wanted them to pay particular attention to the women that worshipped the Goddess Diana. Four years later, Alice Kyteler was accused of witchcraft in Kilkenny, Ireland. Her nursemaid was burned at the stake, Alice however was able to get away.

"With regard to the other heretics and sorcerers who belonged to the pestilential society of Robin, son of Art, the order of law being pre, served, some of them were publicly burnt to death; others, confessing their crimes in the presence of all the people, in an upper garment, are marked back and front with a cross after they had abjured their heresy, as is the custom; others were solemnly whipped through the town and the market-place; others were banished from the city and diocese; others who evaded the jurisdiction of the Church were excommunicated; while others again fled in fear and were never heard of after. And thus, by the authority of Holy Mother Church, and by the special grace of God, that most foul brood was scattered and destroyed." -- Sacred

Also 1320 Pope John XXII had witchcraft added to the list of heresies.

Pope Innocent VIII was so upset by the "spread of witchcraft" in Germany in 1484 that he created Summis Desiderantes Affectibus, which approved two inquisitors to stamp out all signs of witchcraft or demonology. Those two inquisitors, Henry Kramer and Jakob Sprenger published Malleus Maleficarum which refuted anyone who thought that the work of demons was done only in troubled minds. To believe other than what was written in this book was, you guess it, heresy!! It went on to say, anyone that consorted with demons and became a witch must recant or be put to death. Christians had the obligation to find said witches and put them to death. This book also said that these women would have sex with demons, kill babies and steal penises.

The book also went on to say that the priests should strip the women down to search for moles, which is a sign of consorting with the devil, and they should be brought into court backwards so they could not cast spells on the officials.

It wasn't until the late 1500 that these powers began to diminish however in 1580 Jean Bodin wrote De La demonomanie des sorciers and had witches burning at the stakes once again. This new book said you could use the testimonials of children, entrapment and instruments of torture. Basically any evidence that could be gathered would be used against the accused!!! This may sound appalling to us today but back then they were scared out of their wits and would do anything to entrap someone they suspected of witchcraft.

80% of those killed in Europe between the years of 1500 to 1660 were women, 50,000 to 60,000 suspected of witchcraft were executed! England and Ireland have the lowest death tolls, Ireland having only four due larger to the fact that they had better procedural safeguards to protect the defendants.

Alexandre-Marie Colin. The Three Witches from "Macbeth," 1827

1606 Shakespeare performs MacBeth where the witches were old, bearded hags.

A dark Cave. In the middle, a Cauldron boiling. Thunder. Enter the three witches.

1 WITCH. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
2 WITCH. Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.
3 WITCH. Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!
1 WITCH. Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

France, 1643 in Languedoc 650 arrests due to the atmosphere of unrest but most countries had started doing away with witchcraft trials. The last witch ever to be executed in England was Temperance Lloyd in 1682. However Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis North wrote, "The evidence against them was very full and fanciful, but their own confessions exceeded it. They appeared not only weary of their own lives but to have a great deal of skill to convict themselves." His criticism may have helped discourage more witch prosecutions.

Examination of a Witch, by T.H. Matteson 1853.

This all leads up to the US's own Salem Witch Trails. There are many things that helped the prosecutors there. The church had laid the ground for prosecutors to basically do whatever they needed to obtain the confession. As well all know after being tortured for however many hours we would all confess to witchcraft! Hundreds faced persecution and dozens were jailed but surprisingly only 19 people were convicted in Salem. To add insult to injury scientists today think that the town was infested with Ergot, a fungus which invades developing kernels of rye grain. Convulsive ergotism causes violent fits, a crawling sensation on the skin, vomiting, choking, and--most interestingly--hallucinations. The hallucinogenic drug LSD is a dervivative of ergot. -- An Account of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

You would hope that it stopped there right? It doesn't. As I stated above, the last reported incident was in June of this year.

Belief in witchcraft has been shown to have similarities in societies throughout the world. It presents a framework to explain the occurrence of otherwise random misfortunes such as sickness or death, and the witch sorcerer provides an image of evil. Reports on indigenous practices in the Americas, Asia and Africa collected during the early modern age of exploration have indeed been taken to suggest that not just the belief in witchcraft but also the periodic outbreak of witch-hunts are a human cultural universal.

Apparently in some cultures the ideas of witches have not changed. Now THAT is scary!! Perfect for Halloween.

Fabulous resources:
A History of Witchcraft Persecutions
Irish Witchcraft and Demonology
An Account of the Salem Witchcraft Trials
Elizabethan Supersitions

What a great article! Nova did such a great job.  Thanks, Nova! In regards to the book, Malleus Maleficarum, mentioned in the article, the plot of the book, The Witch's Trinity by Erika Mailman, is centered on that book.  It is on my list of witchy reads for this month.  I think I will pick it up next and have a review for you later on this month.


1 comment:

Thanks for visiting our little corner of the horror universe. Your comments are appreciated.
Please note: Your comment will appear after site owner approval.

- See more at:
- See more at: