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Witchcraft and Other Nonsense

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

When it comes to witchcraft, very few things can be proven, but this can: my great . . . [number of greats unknown]. . . great grandmother, Mary Perkins Bradbury, was tried and convicted of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, when she was 78 years old.

According to one source, “Witnesses testified that she assumed animal forms; her most unusual metamorphosis was said to have been that of a blue boar. Another allegation was that she cast spells upon ships. Over a hundred of her neighbors and townspeople testified on her behalf, but to no avail and she was found guilty of practicing magic and sentenced to be executed. Through the ongoing efforts of her friends, her execution was delayed. After the witch debacle had passed, she was released.”

Mary was actually one of the more fortunate players in this sad New England drama. Before it was over, twenty men and women were executed and five others died in jail.

But, witches don’t exist! How could such madness happen? In the end, it appears to have resulted from a few people who actually knew nothing being accepted as authorities on something.

Belief in magic and witchcraft has been around since the earliest human cultures. Man appears to have a built-in propensity to believe that when something bad happens, that thing was intended by some conscious agency; someone must be responsible. With the rise of Christianity, it became common to assume that witches were in league with Satan.

Practically from the beginnings of written language, a wide and deep lore of witchcraft was developed and passed from generation to generation. What might be termed the first “official,” widely read and influential book on witches was written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman. The “Malleus Maleficarum,” meaning "Hammer of the Witches,” is a treatise on the prosecution of witches, written to discredit those who expressed skepticism about witches, and to educate legal authorities on how to identify and convict them.

Between the years 1487 and 1520, the Malleus was published thirteen times (and sixteen more times between 1574 and 1669). Thus, while the book was never officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church, it was enormously influential and became the handbook for secular courts throughout Renaissance Europe.

The Malleus is basically a how-to guide to recognizing, capturing, torturing, and executing witches. An edition of the Malleus currently available on Amazon.com is 308 pages long, and apparently contains very little commentary. It is thus a very detailed compendium of “knowledge” on witches and witchcraft.

Each chapter in the book is comprised of a question and its detailed answer. While many of these questions strike us as comical today, we must keep in mind that the author was deadly serious; I say “deadly” because thousands of innocent people were tortured and executed because of this work.
Here are a few examples:

Question VI: Concerning Witches who copulate with Devils. Why is it that women are chiefly addicted to Evil superstitions?

Question IX: Whether Witches may work some Prestidigitary Illusion so that the Male Organ appears entirely removed and separate from the body.

Question XVIII: Here follows the Method of Preaching and Controverting Five Arguments of Laymen and Lewd Folk, which seem to be Variously Approved, that God does not Allow so Great Power to the Devil and Witches as is involved in the Performance of such Mighty Works of Witchcraft.

The Malleus makes no attempt to actually prove the existence of witches, it simply assumes their existence and builds from there. For the author, a clergyman, the Bible provided both tradition and authority; no further proof was needed than the words of Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

Yahweh, much like witches, appears to be nothing more than a mirage pasted on a shadow balanced on an assumption.This is the fatal flaw of the Malleus Maleficarum: the existence of witches was never proven. Thus, a broad body of knowledge was claimed and disseminated on a subject the author, the AUTHORITY, in fact knew nothing about!

This created a situation wherein nothing actually had to be proven to convict someone of witchcraft. In fact, nothing could have been proven about an alleged witch or his/her powers, since there never was a “true” witch. By “true” witch, I mean a human with supernatural powers via magical brews, incantations, etc.

It is ironic that the Bible provided the authority for the existence of witches since the Bible suffers from the same fatal flaw as the Malleus; the authors of the Bible made no real attempt to prove the existence of a god. To my knowledge, the only passage that appears to offer any evidence at all is Paul’s assertion in Roman’s 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” But, of course, this passage just assumes that because there’s a world then there must have been a creator, but it certainly doesn’t prove it. And, besides, what if creation was the work of another god, not Yahweh? Paul never considers this issue. The Bible authors simply assumed Yahweh was the principle (or only) god, and built everything else on that assumption.

Yahweh, much like witches, appears to be nothing more than a mirage pasted on a shadow balanced on an assumption. There is no foundational proof. The Malleus Maleficarum, based on a blind appeal to tradition and authority, tore through the Middle Ages destroying the lives of thousands upon thousands of innocent people. Ironically, it was based on another book which is likewise no more than a blind appeal to tradition and authority. And that book, the Bible, has caused even more destruction as it very effectively undermined reason, man’s sole defense against the ravages of nonsense.

It seems the Enlightenment’s insightful instruction to question authority and demand evidence has enabled huge progress in science, politics, economics, and other fields, but has hardly put a dent in entrenched religious superstition.

The lesson is simple: Beware of anything or anyone claiming to be an authority. If the matter is important, then one should demand evidence and insist on proof. Remember: some of the most influential men in history, like Heinrich Kramer and St. Paul, were fools, frauds, or both.

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