The Bloody History of Witchcraft

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Throughout centuries, witches have appeared in various forms such as wicked individuals, who were in league with the Devil, of the possession of necromantic powers. Therefore, they were simply potential dangers for others. In Medieval Europe, Witchcraft was perceived to facilitate the summoning of demons, the Devil, and other evil spirits.

Of course, the church had to power to punish any human being, and the priests, to exorcise anyone that they believed to be possessed by demons. That was a primitive time, where people have believed in old wives’ tales, more precisely, if the crops failed, if a child dies prematurely, -wow, or if livestock dies, people tend to blame all these on Witchcraft. Let’s get the bottom of Witchcraft first.

Deuteronomy 18:11-12: ‘‘Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner, or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead.’’

Text from a second printing of the Malleus Maleficarum /Jacob Sprenger, Heinrich Institoris.

The Hammer of Witches

There was this book, named The Malleus Maleficarum (1486), written by Heinrich Kramer (There is no doubt that it would be a man.) who was allowed to write this document, thanks to Pope Innocent VIII, to be able to identify witches and of course, hunt them. The book is actually a root cause of all the torture and executions related to witches. The book is simply divided into three parts: the first part is somehow the evidence that Witchcraft exists (!) and claims that there have to be three elements of Witchcraft; the evil-intentioned witch, the Devil itself, obviously, and the permission of God, which is quite interesting, I mean, even when you intend to be pure evil, you need a permission, brilliant! Nonetheless, the second part consists of the details about practices, powers and possible abilities of witches as well as how they recruit others to their ‘side.’ It absurdly states that it is not the Devil, who is in charge of recruiting, instead, it is the women who are corrupted and now deeply controlled by his power. Before passing on the next part, I would say here that Witchcraft was all about bending to women’s will and being in charge in case mankind loses their power on women. Anyway, the third part legalises the Malleus Maleficarum and describes how to locate and prosecute a witch. By the 15th century, there were no more severe than a day in the stocks. Yet, after the introducing of the Malleus Maleficarum, the persecution and punishments have become more and more brutal, and as crazy as it seems today that it was a real and pretty dangerous time for many, not people, but mostly women.

An illustration depicts a woman being burned at the stake for the crime of engaging in witchcraft/Kean Illustration

The Witchcraft Act

In 1542, the Parliament passed a law, declaring that the practices of Witchcraft are to be punished by death. The Witchcraft Act of 1542 was repealed two years later; followed by, fifteen years later, and was restored in 1562. When James I  -a man who is captivated with occult and demonology, came to the throne in 1604. With his reign, further laws were passed, and the authority of the Witchcraft Act has been transferred from the church to the ordinary criminal courts. Unfortunately, most of the common victims of accusations were the poor, elderly or overly SEXUALISED women. The Witch-hunting craze has reached its peak during the late 16th century, and the South of England was the place where the accusations were at their highest and more than five hundred people were executed.

After centuries, The Witchcraft Act was again repealed in 1736. However, fines and imprisonments could still be handed out, for those who were found to be guilty of practising any kind of magic or sorcery. This was somehow lesser of two evils since it rescinds the death penalty. In 1824, the Parliament passed the Vagrancy Act, that fortune-telling, astrology (Seriously?) and any form of spiritualism was an offence. (How kind.) The Vagrancy Act, on the other hand, is still in effect through England and Wales. The modern Vagrancy Act has spared fortune tellers, astrologers and spiritualists and now it is ‘’an act for the punishment of idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds.’’

The Magic Bread: Medieval LSD

During the 17th century, there was something called the magic bread. According to the belief, witches would give this magic bread to their victims, and the victims would immediately start to hallucinate (!) and suffer. Many village people, especially women (I think I shall no longer indicate the main target has always been women.), were accused of making magic bread and were sent to death. After a long-term research, scientists have taken another look at the magic bread (Thanks!) and found a sensible explanation for it. They simply believed tainted rye, that is covered with the dangerous mould ergot, was the black sheep. Let me explain what this ergot is. It is simply found in LSD, yet it grows naturally on the crops that are being used to make bread. Being a powerful psychedelic hallucinogen, ergot is also a poisonous neurotoxin, meanıng that eating ergot, for example, might lead to vomiting, prickling sensations and hallucinations. In this case, those people frankly were accused of using nowadays LSD. Science talks. 

Copyright: ©The British Library Board

From Black Death to Black Cat

I suppose everybody is familiar with the belief that a black cat brings bad luck. Besides, there was this black plague, also known as the black death, that is also considered damned. In fact, it was simply a disease caused by bacterium, Yersinia pestis, that enters the body through the skin, travels via the lymph system and lives in the digestive tracts of fleas. There is no need to talk about how fast it can spread, I believe, we all know half of Europe has died due to the black plague. The question is what is the connection between the black plague and the black cat? To be able to answer this question, we need to comprehend the belief system of Medieval Europe. During this period, people were prone to several superstitions. The Catholic Church was the most powerful authority in Europe back in the time, and the masses of black cats were assumed, in the presence of evil, that they might be in any form because of their secretive nature and their ability to survive in extraordinary circumstances. The general population started to be scared of cats since they believed that they consort  Satan. Nonetheless, when the population of rats has increased, the plague grew even more. Later, since animals typically harboured fleas, people drastically thought even worse and they began to associate the black death with CATS. In the end, it was decided that the rats and neither cats nor dogs were responsible for spreading the black plague, which shed light on the scientific discovery of the plague’s possible causes.

One could also say that most of these superstitions are associated with prudery, bigotry and hypocrisy. Since, when you take a brief walk along the paths of Witchcraft’s winding history, it is quite obvious that most of them have been prepared by men against women. ‘Stereotype’ superstitions are already abominable, but appropriating these to women or animals is definitely beyond imagination, even for Medieval people.







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