Friday, September 26, 2008

The witchcraft just keeps coming...

I've been amazed in recent weeks that the witchcraft news keeps evidencing itself.

A few weeks ago, there was the riot at a soccer game in Congo. It began with taunts that one of the players was a witch, and then fisticuffs got involved, and then the police fired warning shots in the air which totally terrified everyone. The crowd stampeded towards the exits, leaving 15 trampled... to death. Many of them were youths. This is so sad and ridiculous.

Then, of course, there's the YouTube video of Sarah Palin being blessed against witchcraft.

I shake my head in disbelief.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Malleus is scientific

The Malleus Maleficarum, written in the 1480s, very carefully outlines how to locate witches, question them, and punish them. The authors, two friars, structured the book like a legal argument, with questions posed, considered and then answered. This structure makes the book feel reasonable and logical. That's one of the most chilling things about it.

Here is a scientific analysis of how dreams work. It's under Question VII of Part I: "Whether Witches can Sway the Minds of Men to Love or Hatred." Among other methods, witches work to sway opinion while the person sleeps:

The apparitions that come in dreams to sleepers proceed from the ideas retained in the repository of their mind, through a natural local motion caused by the flow of blood to the first and inmost seat of their faculties of perception; and we speak of an intrinsic local motion in the head and the cells of the brain.

And this can also happen through a similar local motion created by devils. Also such things happen not only to the sleeping, but even to those who are awake.

See, we are influenced by the scientific-sounding description of blood through the cells... and then the friars slide in the reference to devils. It is hard to argue with such authoritative-sounding facts. And unhappily, few medieval folks did.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Be careful who you burn

The Malleus Maleficarum notes that those who bring the witches to the stake may put themselves in fatal danger:

And lastly, in the same diocese, in the territory of the Black Forest, a witch was being lifted by a gaoler on to the pile of wood prepared for her burning, and she said: ”I will pay you”; and blew into his face. And he was at once afflicted with a horrible leprosy all over his body, and did not survive many days.

In my novel The Witch's Trinity, the officials at the witchcraft trials take pains to protect themselves, both by the use of salt (which the Malleus says can protect them) and by covering the eyes of the accused so she cannot give them the evil eye. Here's a Malleus quote about salt:

They [inquisitors] must not allow themselves to be touched physically by the witch, especially any contact of their bare arms or hands, but they must always carry about them some salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and some Blessed Herbs.

I think if I was minutes away from burning, I would also pretend to hex my executioners... after all, what do you have to lose at that point? And much to gain... the reverse placebo effect, where whatever ills they endured would be accounted back to the angry spell. (Although how often does leprosy just hit you?)

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