lunes, 14 de mayo de 2007

Writings and translations VI: witchcraft

Witches were people who had magical abilities which they used either to hurt somebody or something, or for their own benefit. There are scholars, like Julio Caro Baroja, who distinguish between witches and sorcerers. For these authors, witches developed their activities mainly in rural areas and were the main victims of the witch hunt that took place between 1450 and 1750. Sorcerers, on the other hand well known from classical antiquity, were mainly urban characters. In any case, both witches and sorcerers came, in general, from those who were alienated from society (unlike those who practised learned magic, which achieved a great development during the Renaissance age).

During classical antiquity, it was known already that witches had the ability to turn themselves into animals, to fly during the night, and, to practise magic for their own profit or for the profit of third parties. They were dedicated, mainly, to erotic magic, as is mentioned in the works of Horace, Ovid, Apuleius, Lucan, and others. In Latin, the witches were named “maleficae”, a term which was used during the Middle Ages and for a great part of the Modern Age.

Witchcraft was associated mainly with women. In the Bible, it was a forbidden activity: it is said there that this practise needs to be punished with the death. From the beginnings of Christianity witchcraft was condemned, although the attitude of the Church was not too belligerent during the first half of the Middle Ages. It was in the XIV century when the trials filed by the Inquisition began to appear, and when witches began to be charged with pacts with the Devil. The first trial in which there are documented charges of pacts with the Devil took place in Kilkenny, Ireland, in the years 1324 and 1325. According to scholars, the main characteristics of witches were:

a) Flying on sticks, animals, and fiends or alone but with the help of ointments.
b) Night meetings with the Devil and other witches in what were called Sabbats.
c) Pacts with the Devil.
d) Having sex with fiends.
e) Practising black magic.

The Malleus Maleficarum, by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, was one of the most important books which the Inquisition used during witch hunts, which were especially bloodthirsty between the XVI and XVII centuries, and which caused the death of 60,000 people. In this book it was asserted that not to believe in witches was a crime equivalent crime to heresy:

“Hairesis maxima est opera maleficarum non credere”.

Figura 1: grabado aparecido en el libro titulado Witchcraft (1591), de Peter Binsfield.

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