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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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Werewolves and Witches 215


Chapter Eight Werewolves and Witches Toward the end of the sixteenth century, while the witch- hunts gained terrible momentum across Europe, numerous people were tried and executed as werewolves. In France werewolves, or lycanthropes (from the Greek lukos, "wolf," andanthropos, "man"), were known as loup-garou, in Germany, wiihr-wolffe, and in Italy, lupo manaro. 1 The increasing preoccupation with, and apprehension concerning, lycanthropy is reflected both in the numbers of people brought to trial and in the fact that between 1591 and 1686 no less than fourteen major treatises were written on the subject. 2 Demonologists maintained that werewolves were actually witches who, through magical procedures and diabolical pacts, changed themselves into wolves and, while in the form of these ravenous and ferocious beasts-possessing supernatural cunning, strength, and speed-committed unspeakable atrocities, killing men, women, children, and livestock. Witches transformed themselves, or shifted shape, into wolves, demonographers argued, because of their innate greed, cruelty, lust for human flesh, thirst for human blood, and a desire to execute their heinous works without being identified.3 One skilled in this witchcraft, according to Bishop Olaus Magnus' A Compendious History of the Goths, Swedes, & Vandals, and Other Northern Nations (1658): "when he pleases ... may change his human form, into the form of a wolf entirely, going into some 216 WITCHCRAFT, LYCANTHROPY, DRUGSAND DISEASE Figure 8.1 A werewolf devouring a woman. Werewolves were witches who changed their shape by magical procedures and diabolical pacts. From a 19th century engraving. By permission of the Mansell Collection, London. WEREWOLVES...

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