26. ✡️ The Gospel of Atrocities ✝️ Chapter 5

To be accused of being a witch anywhere in the world has never been a matter to be taken lightly; nor by any means does one actually need to be a practictioner of witchcraft to learn this—just ask France’s Joan of Arc, who was convicted of precisely that by an English church court in 1431 and subsequently burned at the stake; or any of the fifteen women and four men who were hanged as ‘witches’ only a few centuries ago in Salem, Massachusetts right here in the U.S.

Still, the non-Christian world has a far worse record of dealing with such accusations than the Christian.

For instance, in such countries as Ghana, Malawi, Cameroon, Tanzania, Kenya, Tibet, and India—where accusations of witchcraft sometimes turn out to be linked to personal disputes, jealousy, religious rivalries, conflicts between family members over inheritance, or occasionally neighbors over land—hundreds of people accused of witchcraft continue to be legally put to death, if not simply killed by panicky villagers each year.

And even in such advanced third world countries as Saudi Arabia, practicing witchcraft still remains a crime punishable by death—witness the last five such Saudi executions, carried out as recently as 2011, 2012, and 2014.

But of course, all this doesn’t mean that our own, Judeo-Christian society hasn’t suffered its own share of panicky mobs determined to rid the world of those who appeared to threaten them with supernatural powers—or of individuals seeking to rid themselves of rivals by simply bearing false witness against them.

But we should let the record speak for itself . . .

* * *

In the Old Testament, Exodus 22:18 prescribes, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

* * *

That appears to have been the sentiment in ancient Rome as well, where some twenty-four hundred years ago, 170 women were executed as witches in connection with a city-wide epidemic.

According to contemporary historians, witches had been executed in Rome before—but never on such a scale.

* * *

About a hundred fifty years later, the Roman senate issued a decree describing the mostly female followers of Dionysus, the Roman god of drunken revelry, as witches.

And two years afterward, they executed 2,000 of them—and over the next several years, another 3,000.

* * *

During the final century of the pre-Christian Era, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach of Ashkelon, in Judea sentenced eighty women to death for witchcraft in just one day.

* * *

In 354 CE, the Roman Emperor Tiberius Claudius had 45 men and 85 women executed as witches

* * *

In 380, persecution of witches abated in the Roman Empire with the establishment of Christianity as its official religion—although some prominent church men weren’t exactly thrilled with that.

The now-sainted Augustine of Hippo and some other early Church theologians not only believed in witchcraft, but promulgated elaborate demonologies that included the belief that humans could enter pacts with demons—a stance that would be used much later to justify witch hunts—and ultimately condemned witchery as but another form of paganism.

* * *

Whatever the position of individual clerics, witch hunting seems to have persisted as a human phenomenon.

Arguably, the first famous witch hunt in early Christendom was the mob abduction, torture and execution of Hypatia, a renowned female philosopher and mathematician who in 415, had simply dared to become a threat to the influence of another of the Church’s early ‘saints’, Cyril of Alexandria.

* * *

In 785, the Church’s Council of Paderborn found it necessary to explicitly forbid the condemning of anyone as a witch, and set death as the penalty for whoever might still dare to burn a person suspected of being one.

* * *

Around 900, the Church’s Canon Episcopi officially declared that witchcraft did not exist, and further, that to teach people that it did would henceforth be considered a false, heretical teaching.

* * *

Around 1020, the Bishop of Worms firmly rejected the possibility of many of the alleged powers with which witches were popularly credited, such as nocturnal riding through the air, the changing of a person’s disposition from love to hate, the control of thunder, rain and sunshine, the transformation of a man into an animal, the sexual seduction of women by ghosts and spirits, and other such superstitions.

* * *

In 1080, Pope Gregory VII wrote to King Harald III of Denmark forbidding that he continue putting witches to death upon presumption of their having caused storms, failure of crops, or some pestilence.

* * *

Around that same time, King Olaf Trygvasson of Norway sought to further the Christian conversion of his own country by luring witches and other pagan types to his hall under false pretenses, barring the doors, and burning them alive; while those who somehow managed to escape were subsequently hunted down, captured, and drowned.

* * *

In 1320, the Inquisition that had been commissioned to deal with the Cathars of Southern France completed its task and was subsequently authorized by Pope John XXII to move on to witch hunting—no matter that during the preceding century, Pope Alexander IV had instructed the Inquisitors not to bother with witchcraft cases unless they were somehow related to heresy.

* * *

In 1431, the politically motivated trial of the French warrior Joan of Arc by an English church court during the so-called Hundred Years War between England’s ruling House of Plantagenet and the French House of Valois over who would rule France ended with her being convicted as a witch—they really couldn’t come up with anything else; and of course, it didn’t hurt that she was a woman—and ultimately being burned alive.

* * *

In 1563, a pamphlet called The True and Horrifying Deeds of 63 Witches recorded the first major persecution of witches in central Europe, when that many women were tried, convicted, and burned alive in southwestern Germany.

* * *

In 1536, following the establishment of the Protestant Reformation of Denmark, the Danish king Christian IV encouraged the burning of witches, with several hundred people consequently put to death during his reign.

* * *

In 1542, England passed the Witchcraft Act stipulating various penalties for practicing witchcraft.

* * *

In 1590, when James VI of Scotland set sail for Copenhagen to meet his betrothed, Anne of Denmark, and encountered such bad weather along the way that he was finally forced to turn back, no less than seventy ‘witches’ were subsequently accused of having caused the storm.

And a widely circulated pamphlet, News From Scotland, reported that he’d personally presided over the torture and ultimate execution of one Doctor Fian, who’d been made to confess.

Indeed, James himself subsequently published a witch-hunting manual, Daemonologie, containing his infamous dictum that, “Experience proves that without torture, they’re loath to confess.”

* * *

In 1644, coinidental with the start of the English Civil War, one Matthew Hopkins, along with a few of his associates made a comfortable living hiring themselves out to various communities as professional ‘witch-hunters’—resulting in some 300 convictions and executions.

* * *

In 1647, Hopkins published a book about his methods bearing the title The Discovery of Witches, which overnight became a kind of English legal text and was soon used as a handbook for identifying such individuals in the American colonies.

It may only have been a coincidence, but that same year, a woman named Margaret Jones became the first of seventeen people—fifteen women and two men—to be executed for witchcraft in the Massachusetts Bay Colony over the next few years.

* * *

In 1692-93, the infamous Salem witch trials claimed nineteen more—fourteen women and five men—who in their case, were hanged, with five more dying in jail and another being pressed to death after refusing several demands to at least enter a plea one way or the other to the ludicrous charge.

* * *

According to surviving court records from the period 1300-1850, Switzerland tried 9,796 people for witchcraft—the second most in all Europe—ultimately resulting in the conviction and execution of 5,681, or 58%: the highest percentage in Europe.

During the same period, Germany tried 16,474—by far, the most anywhere—but executed ‘only’ 6,887, or a little less than 42%: about the same as Belgium, which executed 378 out of a possible 887.

Meanwhile, France obtained death warrants for 1,663, or about 40% of those it put on trial; England, 367, or 37%; Norway, 32%; Hungary, 29%; Finnland, 16%. The Netherlands, 13%; Italy, 10%; Scotland, 190, 4%; And Spain, would you believe, just one conviction—and execution—out of 1,949 trials.

* * *

While the days of executing people for witchcraft in Europe and the U.S. are now over, in other parts of the world it remains a very different story.

Today in the Central African Republic, hundreds of people accused of witchcraft are annually kidnapped by Christian militia, and then in public ceremonies, ‘tried’, convicted, and burned alive at the stake—or in some cases, buried alive.

* * *

In 2002, USAID funded a short film about the fact that over the past several years, more than 25,000 children in the former French colony now officially called the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been branded enfants sorciers, or ‘child witches’ by self-styled Christian pastors who upon finding them reluctant to convert to some new, strange religion, had forcibly taken them from their homes and subjected them to violent abuse during exorcisms in an effort to ‘rid them of the Devil’.

* * *

In 2008, amidst much panic in the streets of Kinshasa—also in the ROC—police arrested several men accused of using witchcraft to shrink other men’s penises and then offering to perform a curing ‘spell’; of course, for a fee.

* * *

About the same time, twelve alleged penis-shrinkers were beaten to death by a frightened mob in Ghana.

* * *

Also in Ghana, where women accused of witchcraft are often attacked and sometimes killed by neighbors, for well over a century now there has existed somewhere out in the wilderness six state-protected camps to which women suspected of being witches can be sent for safety.

Currently housing about a thousand, there are no similar camps anywhere else in Africa—and Ghana has recently announced plans to close theirs.

* * *

In Malawi, where it’s also common practice to accuse children of witchcraft or demonic possession—and many children are known to have been abused, or in some cases even killed as a result—both traditional African healers, or ‘witch-doctors’ and their modern Christian counterparts are currently reported to make their living by going from village to village and simply pointing out to parents which and how many of their seemingly uncontrollable children are ‘obviously’ possessed of a demon, and thus in need of their ministration; for a fee, of course.

While during the exorcism that follows, the children are not only the focus of much loud prayer, but are often starved, beaten, mutilated, or sometimes forced to drink acid—and in the end, may ultimately be set afire as hopelessly lost souls, or depending on the local custom, simply buried alive.

* * *

Indeed, in Nigeria, where there are numerous Christian missionary groups and the competition for converts is particularly fierce, some actively seek a reputation for being able to detect these ‘possessed’ children following some local death, job loss, or would you believe, accusations of financial fraud against the missions themselves—and while some Christian leaders have spoken out strongly against this practice, so many Nigerian missions are involved in it that the remaining ones are usually afraid to even admit knowledge of it.

* * *

In Nigeria and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, many Pentecostal pastors have mixed their evangelical brand of Christianity with the traditional African belief in witchcraft in order to benefit from the lucrative witch-finding and exorcism racket—which in the past, had been the exclusive domain of the region’s ‘witch-doctors’.

In fact, many Pentecostals have themselves become involved in the torturing and killing of children and others found guilty of witchcraft—with around 15,000 children accused, and more than 1,000 murdered over the past decade.

* * *

It’s estimated that from pre-Christian times to about 1750, when witch hunting pretty much came to an end in the Christian world, at least a few hundred thousand people—about 80% of them women—were either strangled, hanged, beheaded, burned alive, buried alive, or drowned after being convicted of witchcraft.

* * *

For a long list of individuals who are still remembered by local historians as having been executed for witchcraft in Europe and the U.S.—including when, where, the method of their execution, and even the story behind it if you click on their name—see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_executed_for_witchcraft

(to be continued)

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Sources

Wikipedia, Witchcraft, Violence in Relation to Accusations https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft

Wikipedia, Witchcraft, Abrahamic Religions https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft

Wikipedia, Witch-hunts, History https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt

Wikipedia, Witch-hunts, History, Middle Ages https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt

Wikipedia, Witch-hunts, History, Early Modern Europe https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt

Wikipedia, Salem Witch Trials https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

Statista https://www.statista.com/chart/19801/people-tried-and-executed-in-witch-trials-in-europe/

Wikipedia, Witchcraft, By Region, Africa, Central African Republic https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft

Wikipedia, Witchcraft, Democratic Republic of the Congo https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft

Wikipedia, Witchcraft, Ghana https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft

Wikipedia, Witchcraft, Malawi https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft

Wikipedia, Witchcraft, Nigeria https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft

Christian Atrocities, Witches, citing R. H. Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, New York 1959, p. 180 https://stellarhousepublishing.com/victims/

Christian Atrocities, Witches, citing J. B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Ithaca NY 1972, p. 39 https://stellarhousepublishing.com/victims/

Christian Atrocities, Witches, citing H. Zwetsloot, Friedrich Spee und die Hexenprozesse, Trier 1954, p. 56 https://stellarhousepublishing.com/victims/

Christian Atrocities, Witches, citing N. Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons: An Enquiry Inspired by the Great Witch Hunt, Frogmore 1976, p. 253 https://stellarhousepublishing.com/victims/