Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween - Brief Timeline of Witchcraft in Europe

Brief history of witchcraft in England and Europe

c 560 B.C. The Bible.  (KJV) 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. (KJV)

c 420 St. Augustine argues witchcraft is an impossibility.  He argued in the early 400s, that God alone could suspend the normal laws of the universe.  In his view, neither Satan nor witches had supernatural powers or were capable of effectively invoking magic of any sort.  It was the "error of the pagans" to believe in "some other divine power than the one God."

1208  Satan becomes a sinister character following Pope Innocent III's attack on Cathar heretics, who believed in a world in which God and Satan, both having supernatural powers, were at war.  

1273 Thomas Aquinas argued that demons do exist & try to lead people into temptation.  In Summa Theologian, Aquinas made his case for the existence of God.  Aquinas argued that the world was full of evil and dangerous demons.  Among other things, Aquinas argued, these demons had the habit of reaping the sperm of men and spreading it among women.  In Aquinas's writings, sex and witchcraft begin what would become a long association.  Demons thus are seen as not merely seeking their own pleasure, but intent also on leading humans into temptation.

British Library, Royal 16 G VI, detail of f. 64 (‘Detail of a miniature of witches being burnt and tortured’). Chroniques de France ou de St Denis. Paris, after 1332, before 1350.

Mid-1400s Witchcraft trials erupt in Europe.  Fleeing a papal inquisition launched against alleged heresies, many had migrated into Germany and the Savoy.  Torture inflicted on heretics suspected of magical pacts or demon-driven sexual misconduct led to alarming confessions.  Defendants admitted to flying on poles and animals to attend assemblies presided over by Satan appearing in the form of a goat or other animal.  Some defendants told investigators, that they repeatedly kissed Satan's anus as a display of their loyalty.  Others admitted to casting spells on neighbors, having sex with animals, or causing storms.  The distinctive crime of witchcraft began to take shape.

1484  Pope Innocent VIII and Malleus Maleficarum.  Pope Innocent announced that satanists in Germany were meeting with demons, casting spells that destroyed crops, and aborting infants. The pope asked two friars, Heinrich Kramer (a papal inquisitor of sorcerers from Innsbruck) and Jacob Sprenger, to publish a full report on the suspected witchcraft.  Two years later, the friars published Malleus maleficarum ("Hammer of Witches") which put to rest the old orthodoxy that witches were powerless in the face of God to a new orthodoxy that held Christians had an obligation to hunt down and kill them.  

1500s  The Reformation.  Outbreaks of witchcraft hysteria, with subsequent mass executions, began to appear in the early 1500s. Authorities in Geneva, Switzerland burned 500 accused witches at the stake in 1515.  Nine years later in Como, Italy, witchcraft charges led to as many as 1000 executions.  The Reformation divided Europe between Protestant regions and those loyal to the Pope, but Protestants took the crime of witchcraft no less seriously--some even more so--than Catholics.  Germany, rife with sectarian strife, saw Europe's greatest execution rates of witches--higher than those in the rest of the Continent combined.  Witch hysteria swept France in 1571, after Trois-Echelles, a defendant accused of witchcraft from the court of Charles IX, announced to the court that he had over 100,000 fellow witches roaming the country.  Over the 160 years from 1500 to 1660, Europe saw between 50,000 and 80,000 suspected witches executed.  About 80% of those killed were women.  

1550 Italian scientist Girolomo Cardano said witchcraft was merely an illusion of minds distorted by poverty and undernourishment, and confessions were therefore worthless.

1591 King James authorizes the torture of suspected witches in Scotland.  Scotland's witch-hunting had its origins in the marriage of King James to Princess Anne of Denmark.  Anne's voyage to Scotland for the wedding met with a bad storm, and she ended up taking refuge in Norway.  James traveled to Scandinavia and the wedding took place in at Kronborg Castle in Denmark.  After a long honeymoon in Denmark, the royal newlyweds encountered terrible seas on the return voyage, which the ship's captain blamed on witches.  When six Danish women confessed to having caused the storms that bedeviled King James, he began to take witchcraft seriously.  Back in Scotland, the paranoid James authorized torture of suspected witches.  Dozens of condemned witches in the North Berwick area were burned at the stake in what would be the largest witch-hunt in British history.  By 1597, James began to address some of the worst prosecutorial abuses, and witch-hunting abated somewhat.

1606  Shakespeare's Macbeth in which witches play prominent roles.  
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. 

1640s  Witch-hunting, after a major outbreak in France, begins to decrease.  In 1643-1645, the largest witch-hunt in French history occurred.  During those 2 years there were at least 650 arrests in Languedoc alone.  The same time was one of intense witch-hunting in England, as the English civil war created an atmosphere of unrest that fueled the hunting, especially under Matthew Hopkins. The number of trials began to drop sharply, however, in the late 1640s.  Holland, for example, was by 1648 a tolerant society that had done away with punishments for witchcraft.  

1682  England executes its last witch.  In 1682, Temperance Lloyd, a senile woman from Bideford, became the last witch ever executed in England.  Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis North, a passionate critic of witchcraft trials, investigated the Lloyd case and denounced the prosecution as deeply flawed.  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."  North's criticism of the Lloyd case helped discourage additional prosecutions and witch-hunting shifted from one side of the Atlantic to the other, with the outbreak of hysteria in Salem in 1692.

The Enlightenment, gaining strength in the 1600s, contributed to the end of witch-hunts, as such, throughout Europe.  The Enlightenment fostered a bit of empirical reason, skepticism, and humanitarianism, each of which helped a little to defeat some superstitions of the earlier age.  The Enlightenment suggested that there was no empirical evidence that alleged witches caused real harm, and claimed that the use of torture to force confessions was somewhat inhumane. That debate seems to linger.