Attitudes to witches (was Re: The Potterverse)

minnow at minnow at
Sun Feb 22 17:57:58 EST 2004

Charlie wrote

>> What Simon Magus is most noted for is not acts of witchcraft, no details
>> of which are given in the book and which he presumably gave up when he was
>> christened (which is the point of the story), but trying to buy the power
>> of the Holy Ghost -- hence simony for trying to buy preferment in the
>> church.
>True - but it does say that he was a sorceror, which is the other point: as
>a popular and respected sorceror he'd have been quite a 'catch' for the

Mmm.  I get a distinct feeling that there was what one might call a
"profession" of sorceror in the Middle East at the time of Christ and
earlier: divination and so forth was positively respectable, by the look of
it, in that it was something kings and rulers encouraged by demanding it,
and the prophets simply out-classed the opposition, on several occasions,
because God was whispering the answers to them instead of some false god.
(Interpreting dreams is walking the very edge of the forbidden, and only ok
if God is involved.)

But that's quite a far cry from the "witch" of later European persecution,
who was hardly the confidante of Princes.

>> Oh, and "servants of the Devil".  That's surely more an attitude that
>> during the "witch-craze" in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when
>> popes and theoretically "enlightened" and educated men seem to have gone
>> somewhat doolally on the subject.  Witches had traffic with spirits, and
>> muttered spells, and all like that, in early beliefs, but the Satanism
>> aspect seems to have been a later accretion.
>Yes, I think you're right that 'servants of the Devil' isn't a phrase that
>applies equally well throughout Xianity's history, if by that we mean the
>full-blown witches' sabbat, sex-with-goats scenario a la Matthew Hopkins.

That evil little charlatan!  Considering how pitifully short a time anyone
gave him credence (and what happened to him in the end) I am constantly
astounded that anyone can seriously think of him as anything but a raving
nutcase with an eye to the main chance and a strong urge to take money off
the credulous.  He got paid per head for witches found, so it isn't exactly
surprising that he found a lot of witches, now is it?

>That there was indeed a change in attitude around the time of the *Malleus*
>we clearly agree.


>On the other hand, your quotations from Boniface,
>Charlemagne etc, showing that the early Church found it necessary to tell
>people not to burn/believe in witches, is pretty clear evidence that many
>Christians *did* believe in them, and probably burn them too.

True for you.  Similar reasoning to how we know when playing cards first
came into common use: by the first city making a law against gambling with
them as well as with dice and knucklebones!

>So I think
>I'll stand by my original remarks, perhaps omitting the word 'official'!

How about settling for "magic" as being what the church has always opposed,
instead of "witches"?  I suspect the Church has always opposed things
magical, because they are supposed only to happen when Holy People aka
Saints are involved, at which point the word is "miracle" rather than

Incidentally I know someone who was thrown out of a church congregation in
this town because he healed someone's migraine without first getting
permission from and the approval of the vicar or the senior members of the
congregation of said church.  And his wife stayed in the congregation and
threw him out of his house too: he came home from work and found all his
worldly goods on the pavement and two heavies from the church in the hall
to take his doorkey from him and evict him.  Later on she divorced him (a
very Christian proceding, all this, ain't it?)

Makes the mind boggle, but it's no word of a lie.  If the healing had
happened when the vicar was present, they would probably have decided he
was "touched by the Lord", but because it happened when someone had a
migraine rather than in a "healing service", it was the Work Of The Evil

(This is in answer to your "(not so sure about now!)".  They wanted to
exorcise him to cast the devil out of him.  You get ten bonus points if you
can guess which church it was.)


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