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Witchcraft, Lycanthropy, Drugs and Disease

An Anthropological Study of the European Witch-Hunts- Second Printing


Homayun Sidky

Long before the political mass-murders witnessed in the present century, western Europe experienced another kind of holocaust – the witch-hunts of the early modern period. Condemned of flying through the air, changing into animals, and worshipping the Devil, over a hundred thousand people were brutally tortured, systematically maimed and burned alive. Why did these persecutions take place? Was it superstition, irrationality, or mass delusion that led to the witch-hunts? This study seeks explanations in the tangible actions of human actors and their worldly circumstances. The approach taken is anthropological; inferences are grounded on a wide spectrum of variables, ranging from the political and ideological practices used to mystify earthly affairs, to the logical structure of witch-beliefs, torture technology, and the role of psychotropic drugs and epidemic diseases.


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Witch-Sects and Flying Cannibals: Fact or Fantasy? 51


Chapter Two Witch-Sects and Flying Cannibals: Fact or Fantasy? European demonologists claimed that witchcraft was a religion, a vile diabolical sect whose adherents worshipped Satan. The Devil's sect, according to Inquisitors such as Nicholas Jacquier and Silvestro Mozzolino, first appeared in the Alps in 1404, and thereafter spread with astonishing swiftness across much of Europe. Careful and detailed investigation by modern scholars, however, has failed to turn up a shred of evidence in support of this assertion.1 Nevertheless, the idea of witchcraft as a sectarian organization has generated considerable discussion and debate, and, as one historian has observed, almost every possible explanation, ranging from total credulity to complete skepticism, has been forwarded. 2 Margaret Murray's ideas, espoused in an article entitled "Organisations of Witches in Great Britain (1917)," and later elaborated in her book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921), still remain quite popular. After carefully scrutinizing demonological treatises, Murray concluded that witches did indeed exist, but rather than being Devil-worshippers, as ecclesiastical authorities maintained, they belonged to a surviving pagan religion. The zealous friars and Inquisitors were indeed combating an organized religious sect, according to Murray, but they were simply incorrect about the nature of the organization they were trying to suppress. The witch-cult, whose principal deity was a horned god with two faces, supposedly dated to pre-Christian times and was the 52 WITCHCRAFT, LYCANTHROPY, DRUGSAND DISEASE Figure 2.1 A coven of witches in the company of demons worshipping the Devil during the Sabbat rites. From Paul Christian's Histoire...

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