The Burning Times
© 1994, Brisgamen
brought to you by the Children of Ra Temple
The enlightened emergence from the medieval Dark Ages. The Reformation. The
Renaissance. An undeniably high point of human evolution. Or so we are taught, and so many
believe, but to my people -- the Pagans, the Witches, the wise women and men, the healers,
the midwives -- it was Europes fall into paranoia and intolerance, the Inquisition,
the Burning Times, a Holocaust in which up to 9 million people (85% of them women) were
killed for the "sin" of Witchcraft.
In the year 1484, a papal bull by Innocent VIII declared Witchcraft a heresy. In 1486,
the Dominican Inquisitors Kramer and Sprenger published the Malleus Maleficarum
("The Hammer of the Witches"), which became the witchhunters manual for
the next two and a half centuries. Anyone -- especially a woman -- could be accused of
being a Witch, which was defined as a special crime to which the ordinary laws of evidence
did not apply. Once accused, the suspected Witch was subjected to torture --
euphemistically called "the Question" -- for weeks on end (except in England,
where torture was banned, but starvation, sleep deprivation and gang-rape where not
considered torture). Standard tortures on the continent included thumbscrews, bootscrews,
whips, branding irons, racks, strappado (a pulley to haul the victim into the air by her
arms bound behind her back, jerking her up and down until her shoulders dislocated), as
well as the English "non-tortures. The inquisitors role was to keep on
torturing until the victim named many "accomplices," who were then arrested and
tortured until more names were given, and so on until whole districts were found guilty.
Inquisitors were instructed by their handbooks to give false promises of mercy for the
sake of compliance and confession. Victims that didnt die of gaol fever (typhus) or
torture were burned alive at the stake, pressed under rocks, or hanged.
What "sin" could millions of people commit to illicit such abominations
against their bodies? Church history is a history of persecution, but it has usually been
applied against alien ethnic-religious groups such as Jews, or heretic sects such as the
Waldenses and Albigenses. Witches, however, were accused of fantastic and bizarre feats
that contradicted reality: social and sexual intercourse with the devil, night flights,
turning people into animals, and charming away penises and hiding them in birds
nests. Perhaps this quote from the era gives us a clue: "If a woman dare to cure
without having studied, she is a Witch and must die," (of course, women werent
allowed in medical school then). In addition, Witches had ergot for the pain of labor at a
time when the Church held that labor pains were the Lords just punishment for
Eves original sin. Traditional healers were, and are, religious leaders. As such
they upheld the values of worth inherent in nature and all living creatures -- values that
oppose exploitation. They were focal figures around which communities could organize
against Church and government oppression. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is the
"sin" inherent in Witchcraft.
The Witch persecutions on healers was an attack on a value system, the same value
system that modern Pagans are striving to renew. Although we disagree on many things, most
Pagans believe in a single golden rule: "Do what you will, harming none," based
on an awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, and
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