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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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Demonology: Ideology of Terror 101


Chapter Four Demonology: Ideology of Terror European demonologists sought to validate their assertions in numerous ways. They appealed to the Scriptures, legends from Classical times, travelers' tales regarding witchcraft in other lands, the poetical authority of Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, and confessions compiled during previous persecutions.1 The reality of witchcraft, as Bodin put it, is demonstrated by the countless stories from around the world, the innumerable confessions, and the untold convictions, condemnations, and executions that have taken place for millennia in every country on earth. 2 The witch-hammerers also appealed to the authority of the Church itself. Francesco Guazzo, a seventeenth-century Italian friar and demonologist, argued in his Compendium Maleficarum (1608) [Handbook of Witches] that, "they who assert that all this [Sabbats, night-flying, and Satan worship] is not true, but only a dream or illusion, certainly sin in lack of true reverence to our Mother Church. For the Catholic Church punishes no crime that is not evident and manifest, and counts no one a heretic unless he has been caught in patent heresy. Now for many years the Church has counted witches as heretics and has ordered that they be punished by Inquisitors and handed over to the Secular Courts .... Therefore either the Church is in error, or they who maintai this belief. But he who says that the Church is in error over a matter concerning the faith is Anathema Maranatha."3 Demonological axioms were thus presented as incontrovertible truths. To doubt the reality of witchcraft, in other words,...

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