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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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Hallucinogenic Drugs and Witches 189


Chapter Seven Hallucinogenic Drugs and Witches European demonologists maintained that witches had the ability to fly through the air and that they often traveled in this manner to attend their hideous nocturnal assemblies. The idea of the witches' flight, or transvection, was rooted in myths from Classical times and elements of local folklore. Popular beliefs regarding the night-flying adherents of the pagan goddess Diana, or Herodius, are mentioned in the Canon Episcopi, a document incorporated into Canon Law during the twelfth century and considered the highest authority in matters of orthodoxy: 1 It is not to be omitted that some wicked women, perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and profess themselves, in the hours of the night, to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the dead of night to traverse great spaces of earth, and to obey her commands as their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on certain nights. 2 The possibility of the atmospheric transportation of witches was based on Matthew 4:5-8, which relates how the Devil transported Jesus through the air, setting him down on the Temple and then on the pinnacle of a mountain outside Jericho.3 Citing this passage, as well as Thomas Aquinas' commentary on it, Bodin observed that "Satan, with God's permission, has no less power over men to transport them, since it is completely certain that Jesus Christ was...

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