POPES AND WITCHES
Belief in witches and wizards, spells, sorcery and curses stretch back at least to Biblical times. Such beliefs were an attempt to explain the mysteries and
dangers of life on Earth. Before people understood the real reasons behind an earthquake, flood, thunderstorm, failed harvest, outbreak of disease or other disaster, they blamed the forces of evil or mischievous spirits and influences.
Spells were already enough of a problem in ancient Babylon, in 1760 BCE, when falsely casting them incurred the death penalty in the Code of Hammurabi.
The Biblical book of Deuteronomy refers to sorcery as an 'abomination', Exodus states, 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' The Book of Samuel recounts how, during the late eleventh century BCE, King Saul 'hath cut off those that have familiar spirits and the wizards'
King Philip IV of France, who initiated the persecution of the Knights Templar in 1307, is also pictured in the medieval manuscript illustration. Four Templars are prepared for execution in the presence of their king and persecutor.
Women, particularly old women, were associated with witchcraft early on, and a thousand years after Saul, in the first century BCE, 80 of them were sentenced to death at Ashkelon, in Palestine, which was then a province of the Roman Empire.
At that stage, witchcraft and the other 'dark' arts were classified as sins or crimes that disturbed law and order, spread fear and unrest and angered God. But in the early Middle Ages, when the fledgling Christian Church and its popes became involved, their concept of the subject was different. Now, Christianity considered witchcraft as heresy, along with all other beliefs that ran contrary to those preached by the Church.
St Augustine of Hippo is shown arguing with the Manichean Bishop Faustus of Mileve in around 383 CE. Manicheans believed that God and the Devil were perennially fighting for possession of the human soul.
DELUDED VICTIMS OF EVIL
Early Church practice treated those who fell for the enticements of the Devil as deluded victims of evil rather than criminals. Far from indicting them, Church authorities recommended that they be instructed in the foolish and fallacious nature of witchcraft. However, to underline its strong stand against the Devil, Church authorities followed the pronouncement of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in Algeria. In around 400 CE, Hippo had declared that anyone who believed in
The statue of King Wladyslaw II Jagiello of Poland, formerly the pagan King Wladyslaw III of Lithuania, which stands in Central Park, New York.
witchcraft was de facto a heretic. In 785 CE, this belief was specifically outlawed at the Council of Paderborn in western Germany. Here, it was declared,, that sorcerers must be reduced to the status of serfs or slaves and handed over to the service of the Church. Sorcery and magic were in themselves wicked pursuits and even studying them placed souls in danger.
Fighting magic, sorcery and witchcraft were not simply spiritual matters, designed to bring all who called themselves Christians into a universal belief system. Behind the battle lay Church politics, which sought to rid Europe of paganism. Pagan witchcraft and the superstition it fostered stood firmly in the way of the Christian ambition to establish a monopoly of faith across the continent. To this end, the Church waged a long and costly war against the pagans, which was not won until 1386, when King Wladyslaw III of Lithuania, the last of the pagan states, became a Christian as a wedding present to his child bride Queen Jagwiga of Poland.
Two suitably ugly witches cast a spell to ensure bad weather, with a rainstorm breaking above them.
But it was one thing to spread Christianity to those who were intellectually attracted to it or who had a use for it (in Wladyslaw's case, an advantageous marriage). It was quite another to convince less educated, less calculating minds driven under the influence of popular fears and pagan practices.
Pagan beliefs possessed a remarkable tenacity nurturing the idea that witches could change shape or lay terrible curses on anyone who refused to give them arms. It was natural for illiterate, uneducated people to conclude that everyday experiences like the death of a child, a plague of locusts or the failure of crops meant that they were in the inescapable grip of dark, evil forces.
The evidence, they believed, was all around them. Most medieval villages had their strange looking or ugly old women, or people disfigured by disease or born with what we would now call genetic defects, and they were always first in line to take the blame when anything went wrong. This seems to have become common in thirteenth-century Switzerland and Croatia, where reports of witches and witchcraft rose to near-epidemic proportions after Pope Gregory IX set up the first, Papal, Inquisition in 1231.
It was declared that sorcerers must be reduced to the status of serfs or slaves and handed over to the service of the Church.
Pagan beliefs possessed a remarkable tenacity nurturing the idea that witches could change shape or lay terrible curses on anyone
POPE GREGORY AND THE FIRST INQUISITION
Gregory was what would now be called hardliner, and was so utterly determined to stamp out heresy in all its forms that he went beyond even the broad bounds of his times. He sent zealous, often fanatical, inquisitors to gather evidence of witchcraft, sorcery and similar activities. As far as is known, the pope never questioned their findings, even though some were clearly sadists. One of them, Gregory's protege, was the notorious Konrad of Marburg, tormentor of the Cathars, whose excesses eventually prompted his assassination in 1233. Six years earlier, Konrad had been commissioned by Gregory to wipe out heresy in Germany, and was under orders to pursue the Lucifarians, or Satanists who were, it was said, openly worshipping the Devil and subverting Christians to their odious beliefs. Konrad soon fulfilled his commission with his customary diligence. He uncovered, he claimed, numerous nests of 'devil worshippers' and achieved an appalling death toll. High birth or position protected no one. Some 80 men, women and children were burnt as heretics at Strasbourg and bishops went to the stake along with the rest. Nobles, commoners, priests - anyone and everyone who fell under suspicion - were considered guilty unless and until they could prove they were innocent.
THE HORRORS OF TORTURE
In the atmosphere of terror and suffering, amid the screams of agony and assailed by the stench of fire and roasted flesh at the burning grounds, the urge to confess - if only the torture would stop - made proving innocence well nigh impossible. Many victims appeared to go mad under the instruments of torture, which included some of the most excruciating ever devised, such as head and limb crushers, slow stranglers, or 'cats' paws', which shredded flesh. All caused unimaginable pain.
Nobles, commoners, priests -
anyone and everyone
who fell under suspicion -
were considered guilty unless
and until they could prove
they were innocent.
One of the most devilish of torture devices and the most widely used was the strappado, described by Philip Limboch in his History of the Inquisition published in 1692:
The prisoner has his hands bound behind his back, and weights tied to his feet and then he is drawn up on high, until his head reaches the pulley. He is kept hanging in this manner for some time, so that all his joints and limbs may be dreadfully stretched... Then suddenly, he is let down with a jerk, by slacking the rope, but kept from coming quite to the ground, by which terrible shake his arms and legs are all disjointed.
The strappado and other instruments of torture were sometimes blessed by priests to acknowledge the 'holy' work they were doing in revealing heresy. The ravings of their victims were taken as true confessions of wrongdoings, which they had never committed or even imagined. But confession did not always save them, for
The strappado and other instruments
of torture were sometimes blessed
by priests to acknowledge
the 'holy' work they were doing
in revealing heresy.
scores of innocents, having 'cleared' their consciences and possibly named other 'heretics' still died later in the all-consuming flames of the stake.
A CREDULOUS POPE
Pope Gregory was fully complicit in all of this. He had extraordinary confidence in Konrad von Marburg and his other inquisitors and accepted without question virtually everything they told him. This included the news that Satan regularly appeared at witches' sabbaths, and there transformed himself into a toad or a pale shadow or a black cat. Black tomcats became a particular target for Gregory. In his papal bull Vox Rama issued in 1233, he condemned black cats as animal incarnations of Satan for their sinister ability to 'vanish' in the dark and the supposed role they played as 'familiars' to witches. Cats were often placed in baskets and burnt at the stake along with their equally hapless owners. Simply owning a black cat could be
A papal bull is a pronouncement, charter or decree issued by a pope, usually for public consumption. The content of papal bulls may be news of a bishop's appointment, the canonization of a new saint, the announcement of excommunications or forthcoming Vatican Council. The bull takes its name from the bulla (seal) attached to the document, which is most often made of metal, but might also be made of lead or, for very solemn occasions of gold.
taken as 'proof of a link with Satan' and thousands of the animals were thrown into fires and burnt alive in an attempt to extinguish the Devil's presence on Earth.
TORTURE BECOMES OFFICIAL
Pope Gregory IX died in 1241, and Innocent IV, who was elected pope two years later, took up his work against heresy. In the meantime, Konrad of Marburg had been using torture on his victims on a freelance basis. Innocent IV made torture official papal policy in 1252 and unleashed some outlandish confessions. Old women, whose ugliness and often crooked physique created an image of witches still standard today, owned up to having sex with the Devil and producing invisible children. They were burnt at the stake just the same, but left behind a fearful legacy. In the fevered climate of the witchhunt, the fact that no one had ever seen their 'children' did not cast doubt on their existence; it just made them all the more sinister.
But witchcraft was no longer confined to crazy, terrified old women. Husbands began to suspect their wives of being secret witches, which meant that their children were the spawn of Satan. Friends, relatives, neighbours, even passers-by in the street were scrutinized for eccentricity or other 'unusual' behaviour. Witches were believed to be everywhere and no one could know their identity or what they were going to do. In this atmosphere of hysteria it seemed that the Evil Eye of ancient folk belief was watching, ready to wreak havoc, and that the Antichrist was about to triumph and consign all humanity to hellfire.
Old women, whose ugliness and often crooked physique created an
image of witches ... owned up
to having sex with the Devil and
producing invisible children.
Innocent IV, was elected pope in 1243. He continued the witch-hunting work of his predecessor, Gregory IX, and made torture to extract confessions official in 1252.
TO BE CONTINUED
AGAIN TO KNOW THIS WAS PART OF ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORY IS SICKENING; IT SHOULD MAKE MILLIONS, OR A BILLION ROMAN CATHOLICS THINK TWICE ABOUT BEING PART OF A RELIGIOUS MACHINE, THAT THOUGHT AND ACTED LIKE THIS. TRULY A DEPRIVED SATANIC MODE OF THINKING AND ACTING TOWARDS OTHERS, EVEN GOING SO CRAZILY STUPID AS TO THINK BLACK CATS WERE DEMONIC.