Posts Tagged “witch”

Women condemned for witchcraft burned at the stake / Rudolf Cronau [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsOne of the (many) surprising things I learned about the Middle Ages, while I studied that period in college, was that for much of the period — despite common folk belief that witches were real and a threat to society — witch-hunts generally did not occur. The Church actually taught that witches did not exist — despite widespread folk belief they did, in many areas — and that to suggest they did, was heresy.

That’s not to say the Church was a collection of pansies; they certainly did go after heretics of various kinds, e.g. the Cathars, against whom they marched to war in the early 13th century, and the repression of the Knights Templars was predicated on charges of heresy and blasphemy, not of witchcraft (as is sometimes said).

But through the 15th century this attitude changed, and witch-hunts began to occur. From the middle of the 16th century through the middle of the 17th, witch-hunts reached their peak. By the close of the 17th century, witch-hunting mania had all but died out, both in Europe and in the New World (the infamous Salem Witch Trials took place in the early 1690s).

I’d always suspected this had been brought on by religious reform fervor which had been underway for some time already (e.g. in the case of Waldenses, Cathars, Lollards, Hussites, etc.). Especially in the wake of the Great Western Schism ending in 1417, religion was being rethought in many quarters. But that’s as far as my speculation went.

Recently two economists (of all people) have examined this mystery, and arrived at a possible explanation. The (UK) Guardian reports on their interesting findings (Archive.Is cached article):

But by 1550 Christian authorities had reversed their position [that witches didn’t exist], leading to a witch-hunt across Christendom. Many explanations have been advanced for what drove the phenomenon. Now new research suggests there is an economic explanation, one that has relevance to the modern day.

Economists Peter Leeson and Jacob Russ of George Mason University in Virginia argue that the trials reflected “non-price competition between the Catholic and Protestant churches for religious market share” [cached].

As competing Catholic and Protestant churches vied to win over or retain their followers, they needed to make an impact — and witch trials were the battleground they chose. Or, as the two academics put it in their paper, to be published in the new edition of the Economic Journal: “Leveraging popular belief in witchcraft, witch-prosecutors advertised their confessional brands’ commitment and power to protect citizens from worldly manifestations of Satan’s evil.”

They reach their conclusion after drawing on analyses of new data covering more than 43,000 people tried for witchcraft in 21 European countries.

It was about both sides each trying to one-up each other and prove their piety and sacred prowess. It’s an interesting idea, and makes a good deal of sense in the context of the time. Although the Guardian compares this to Stalin’s “show trials” of the mid-1930s, I see parallels elsewhere, such as with Islamist groups going after third-party (mostly occidental) victims in their efforts to impress the rest of the Islam world with their sanctity and to prove they have al-Lah’s favor.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Secular Web News Wire.

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King Arthur II concept art 4Most of my readers have never been part of fundamentalist Christianity. As such, they’re unaware of fundies’ very strange — and supernaturally-saturated — worldview. As a former fundie myself, I’m familiar with it, but unless you’ve been part of it, it can be difficult to comprehend. This worldview is predicated on the presumed reality of the supernatural and preternatural, with powerful and infernal forces at work in the world, actively trying to destroy the godly and saintly.

Yes, I realize this is actually a very primitive mindset, one that made sense in ancient times, when nature wasn’t very well understood. Indeed, it probably did — way back when, in prehistory — seem as though invisible metaphysical agents were at work in the world. It’s a philosophy that seems downright bizarre now that we have a much better idea of how the world works. Yet, fundies cling to it — fiercely, and even angrily. And it explains a lot of what they say and do.

Take, for example, retired Army officer Robert Maginnis, who made this pronouncement on disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker’s show (WebCite cached article):

He even said that he had “personally met” with witches [cached] who told him that they are advising high-ranking government officials in Washington, D.C. “I know that there’s demonic forces in that city,” he said. “I have personally met people that refer to themselves as witches, people that say they advise the senior leadership of the country.”

Yeah, as though any of these people Maginnis says he “met personally” actually walked up to a Christofascist like him and said, “Hey, Bob, just want you to know, I’m a witch!” I’m sorry to have to say it, but this guy is clearly spewing bullshit.

And that, my friends, is the problem with this sort of thinking. It’s easy to make up all sorts of tall tales about witches and demons and devils and all that assorted horse-hockey, because it’s all metaphysical and non-demonstrable anyway. As long as Maginnis never provides the names of any of these supposed “witches” who’re working with “demonic forces,” there’s no way anyone can even begin to confirm any of his B.S.

To be clear, however, there’s no such thing as a witch, nor are there any demons or devils. Satan exists solely as a literary character, in works such as the book of Job and Paradise Lost.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Imagine No ReligionIn news that’s sure to ignite the rage and fury of religionists throughout the country, a Harris poll shows that religious belief is declining in the U.S. (WebCite cached article):

A new Harris Poll finds that while a strong majority (74%) of U.S. adults do believe in God, this belief is in decline when compared to previous years as just over four in five (82%) expressed a belief in God in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Also, while majorities also believe in miracles (72%, down from 79% in 2005), heaven (68%, down from 75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (68%, down from 72%), the resurrection of Jesus Christ (65%, down from 70%), the survival of the soul after death (64%, down from 69%), the devil, hell (both at 58%, down from 62%) and the Virgin birth (57%, down from 60%), these are all down from previous Harris Polls.

Belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, while well below levels recorded for belief in God, miracles and heaven, is up in comparison to 2005 findings (47%, up from 42%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,250 adults surveyed online between November 13 and 18, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

I can hear Christianists’ bellicose, sanctimonious whining now: People are worshipping Darwin instead of our Gawd! they’ll shriek. I know I’ll be chuckling when I see/hear it!

The news isn’t entirely good, however. An awful lot of Americans cling to a wide range of other nutty metaphysical and/or irrational notions:

The survey also finds that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts, 36% each believe in creationism and UFOs, 29% believe in astrology, 26% believe in witches and 24% believe in reincarnation — that they were once another person.

42% believing in ghosts? That’s almost half the country believing in something that doesn’t exist!

I note that the Harris Poll story refers to “belief in UFOs” … but what they really mean is “belief in extraterrestrial visitors to earth,” because no one questions that “UFOs” (i.e. “unidentified flying objects”) exist. People do occasionally see flying things they can’t readily identify. What they don’t see, are extraterrestrial craft breezing through the atmosphere.

I note that Harris admits these results were drawn solely from online respondents. As such, they may well reflect the beliefs of Internet-connected Americans; but it can’t be safely assumed they reflect the beliefs of the entire population. So everyone — myself included! — must take this report with more than a grain of salt.

Photo credit: JasonTomm, via Flickr.

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DSC00777Pastor John Hagee is the well-known pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. He’s a fire-&-brimstone megapreacher of the charismatic-fundamentalist sort. He also happens to be anti-Catholic, and despite being a vocal Christian Zionist, is also anti-Semitic. Yet, for reasons not well understood by observers of Christianity such as myself, he’s widely respected among the Religious Right, and Republican candidates fawn over him, knowing that R.R. voters will do whatever he tells them to without giving it a thought.

As one would expect, therefore, Hagee is also a militant Christianist, and a vehement and devoted Christian Nationer. Naturally, he subscribes to the idea that the United States exists only for Christians, and that others … especially atheists … need to leave. In fact, he stated this explicitly recently, as recorded on video and as reported by Right Wing Watch (WebCite cached version):

Tomorrow, June 6, will be the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy and Pastor John Hagee used his sermon this past Sunday to reflect upon the sacrifices made on this day … and also to tell atheists to get out of America “if our belief in God offends you” because they are not wanted and won’t be missed while also calling on Congress to “outlaw the practice of witchcraft and Satanism in the US military, lest we offend the God of Heaven”

This video, in case you want to watch his ferocious sanctimonious delivery, is available on Youtube:

Oh how the poor little thing just can’t handle that those insidious and insolent atheists dare tread on his own personal and only-Christian domain, the United States! How awful it must be for him to have to put up with their presence … not to mention the presence of Satanists and witches in the military! Why, it’s an abomination that can’t be tolerated for one more second!!!!

Although I’m not a atheist, nor am I a Satanist or witch or warlock, I am nevertheless a committed non-believer, especially in Hagee’s dour, vicious and intolerant religion; so I’ll take Hagee up on his dare. Pastor Hagee, I dare you to come find me — the cold-hearted, skeptical, godless agnostic heathen that I am — and throw me out of your precious Christian country. If you are really as angry as you seem about the presence of atheists in your precious Christian nation, then you have absolutely no reason not to do so immediately. Come on. Do it. I won’t complain, and I won’t stop you. Just throw me out of your country.

If you refuse my challenge, that will only demonstrate you’re nothing but a pathetic, vile, cowardly little troll who can’t and won’t live up to his own stated ideals.

P.S. Again, I’m aware that RWW is an ideologically-driven site, but I’m using their story as a source since they provided primary-source material (i.e. the video).

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: The Jewish Agency for Israel, via Flickr.

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A large number of women are victims to the witch hunt practice in Nepal. © Naresh Newar/IRINMost people don’t usually think of Nepal — a predominantly, and once officially, Hindu country — as the sort of place where religious violence takes place. After all, it’s the birthplace of the famously non-violent Gautama Siddartha (aka the Buddha), which perhaps contributes to this perception. But while the so-called “eastern religions” are typically viewed as pacifist in nature, the truth is that they’re anything but. I’ve already blogged about metaphysically-motivated “honor killings” and mistreatment of “the Untouchables” in India, for example.

So really, despite this widespread assumption, it should (sadly) be no surprise that, as CNN reports, religious violence has claimed a life in the Buddha’s homeland (WebCite cached article):

A 40-year-old mother of two was burned alive in central Nepal after she was accused of being a witch, police said Saturday.

Dhegani Mahato was attacked and set on fire by family members and others after a shaman allegedly accused her of casting a spell to make one of her relatives sick, Police Officer Hira Mani Baral said. …

She was beaten with sticks and rocks before being doused with kerosene and set afire, an attack witnessed by her 9-year-old daughter, according to the local police report.

This is, unfortunately, not new. Harassment, torture, and even killing of accused witches has been going on in Nepal for a long time (cached). I’m sure the perpetrators of this crime are proud of what they did. But there is no way it can possibly be justified. None.

Photo credit: Naresh Newar / IRIN.

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Some 25,000 alleged "witches" were executed between 1500 and 1782 in Germany. Germany was responsible for the deaths of some 40 percent of the 60,000 witches who were tortured and killed in Europe during the infamous era, says witch-trial expert Hartmut Hegeler. This woodcut shows a witch being burned at the stake in Dernburg in 1555.At several points during the European Middle Ages, witch-hunts were a fact of life, and in some locales and times were even commonplace. This activity was not limited to the Church institution of the Inquisition; many regions had secular laws against “witchcraft,” which meant that many witches could be, and were, prosecuted by local authorities. “Handbooks” for dealing with witches … the most famous of which was Malleus Maleficarum … were widely trafficked, in spite of the fact that most of them (including M.M.) didn’t have official Church sanction. Witch-hunts could, therefore, be spontaneous, ad hoc “peasants with pitchforks” affairs, sometimes not even having the approval of local authorities.

Naturally, this is an unpleasant history that most folks these days prefer to avoid, brushing it off as “a thing of the past” which no longer reflects modern life. But Der Spiegel reports that Germany — once a hotbed of medieval witch-hunting — is trying to accept and deal with this history (WebCite cached article):

Tortured and burned at the stake by the tens of thousands, Germany’s alleged witches have been largely forgotten. But thanks to efforts by a small group of activists, a number of German cities have begun absolving women, men and children who were wrongly accused of causing plagues, storms and bad harvests. …

It began with the trial and execution of an eight-year-old girl for witchcraft in the spring of 1630. Compelled to name others involved in an alleged nighttime dance with the devil in the German town of Oberkirchen, young Christine Teipel’s confession sparked a wave of fingerpointing and subsequent trials. Within just three months, 58 people, including 22 men and two children, were burned at the stake there. …

“We owe it to the victims to finally acknowledge that they died innocent back then,” [retired minister and witch-trial expert Hartmut] Hegeler told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “But this is not just about the past — it’s a signal against the violence and marginalization of people that goes on today.”

Indeed, witch-hunts do continue, even today. Not in Germany, perhaps, but they still do happen nonetheless.

Hegeler’s efforts to rehabilitate accused witches, unfortunately, haven’t met with universal acceptance:

But not every community welcomes such requests. In November, the western German city of Aachen rejected a request to vindicate a 13-year-old Sinti girl who was tried and killed in 1649. …

The city of Büdingen in the state of Hesse also told Hegeler they had more important issues at hand.

Even so, progress is being made on this score. Maybe if enough people hear about the rehabilitation of accused medieval witches, they’ll pay attention to the witch-hunts that keep occurring even now.

Photo credit: Der Spiegel.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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Young Saudi Arabian woman in Abha, by Walter CallensIt seems I leaped to conclusions about Saudi Arabia entering the 21st century. That country remains mired in medieval thinking, as exemplified in this ABC News report about a Saudi woman who was beheaded for having engaged in “witchcraft” and “sorcery” (WebCite cached article):

A Saudi woman was beheaded after being convicted of practicing “witchcraft and sorcery,” according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, at least the second such execution for sorcery this year.

The woman, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was executed in the northern Saudi province of al-Jawf on Monday.

The “evidence” against her?

A source close to the Saudi religious police told Arab newspaper al Hayat that authorities who searched Nassar’s home found a book about witchcraft, 35 veils and glass bottles full of “an unknown liquid used for sorcery” among her possessions. According to reports, authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell a veil and three bottles for 1500 riyals, or about $400.

This execution received a stamp of approval from the entire Saudi court system:

According to the ministry, Nassar’s death sentence was upheld by an appeals court and the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council.

Are we quite clear, now, on how barbaric it is to kill people over mere metaphysics?

Note: Any Christians out there who are thinking how superior their religion is to Islam, in this regard, had best be careful: I’ve already blogged about Christians in Africa who’ve gone after supposed “witches.” Christians would do well to keep in mind how much harm their own religion has inflicted on people in the name of eliminating witchcraft. Christianity certainly does not have clean hands in this matter — even now.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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