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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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Demonic Possession, Witchcraft, Deception, and Disease 155


Chapter Six Demonic Possession, Witchcraft, Deception, and Disease The belief that spirits can enter a human body is found cross- culturally, and among many societies spirit possession is seen as a legitimate means of contacting the supernatural world.1 In Europe during the medieval and early modern period, however, possession was believed to be caused by evil or unclean spirits. 2 According to one theologian: "The torment of possession is the greatest that man can suffer-the longest, for the demon never tires; the cause is invisible; the most-dangerous, for it leads to the irreparable ruin of the soul and body."3 Hence, whenever cases of possession arose, experts were called in to oust or exorcise the intruding spirits. In Christianity, the idea of possession by demons is based on The New Testament and the miracles performed by Jesus. Mark 5:2-13 relates the following: And when he Uesus] was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit ... [who] said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of that man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: For we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there neigh unto the...

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