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 Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)

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khafara

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PostSubject: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Sat Apr 12, 2014 11:24 pm

I've been poking around trying to find authentic information about European witchcraft beliefs predating the 19th century, when much synthetic material regarding folk beliefs seems to have been concocted.

In my search, I ran across the e-book version of a tome entitled Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations, a collection of monographs edited by one Mary Douglas, originally published in 1970. It's not normally visible in the sampled pages offered online, but when I did a Google search on "anthropological study of witchcraft" I pulled up what is apparently the whole of Keith Thomas' essay "The Relevance of Social Anthropology to the Historical Study of English Witchcraft", as well as the first two pages of Alan Macfarlane's "Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart Essex".

Some observations:

-- From what I have read of these gents' writings, they seemed to take it as a given that European witchcraft by definition meant "Devil worship". However, most persons who call themselves witches today will state that they aren't "Devil worshippers" any more than persons who worshipped Zeus or Inanna would be.

-- Thomas lays the blame for instigating the anti-witch mania squarely at the feet of the Protestant Reformation. While Catholicism inveighed against witchcraft, it also allowed for tools with which to fight it: Charms, counter-charms, holy water and the like. But to Protestants, holy water and all other such tools to fight witchcraft were themselves demonic (as of course was the entire Catholic Church), which meant that the only recourse for persons who felt themselves victims of witchcraft was to haul the suspected witch into court - hence the dramatic increase in witch trials during the Tudor period.

-- Another factor in the rise in witch trials was the breakdown in the social fabric that had sustained medieval society. The strong emphasis on charity and fellow-feeling as the moral duty of every Christian, high or low, was undercut during the economic upheavals that followed the Dissolution, which by closing the monasteries also laid waste to England's chief "safety net" for the poor, just as the country was going through wretched and unprosperous times. By far the most common feature in the witchcraft accusations is of a poor, elderly woman asking charity of her neighbor (or often simply just to borrow something). In the old days the neighbor would have responded favorably, but in the harder Tudor Protestant times the neighbor would reject the old woman, and if something bad befell that neighbor shortly afterward, the old woman he or she had spurned would be the first and often only suspect of having practiced witchcraft against the neighbor.

Thoughts?
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whitehound
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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Wed Apr 16, 2014 4:17 pm

These are excellent points I hadn't seen raised before. One of my friends belongs to a little sect which he *claims* is genuinely ancient, but I'm not convinced that they're not just another 18th C reinvention. However there was a really interesting find of Tudor-period occult symbols and graffiti made recently at a house called Canons Ashby, and some of the statements echo what this little sect (whose name escapes me) believe. The symbols could be witchy or could be proto-Masonic. You can see some of them here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-21577807

As I understand it there was an element of blackmail and terrorism in the witchcraft panic - so-called witchfinders would threaten to "discover" that somebody's relative was a witch unless the somebody bribed them to go away.

Another factor was the obsessive nature of James Six-and-One, who was a very odd man who was probably autistic, and who was fixated on witchcraft.
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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Wed Apr 16, 2014 8:46 pm

Thanks!
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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Thu Apr 17, 2014 3:41 am

I'm sure that at the time of the Canons Ashby find I saw another article about similar symbols which had been scratched into wooden beams in various Mediaeval buildings.  I'll try and find it.

Of course most surviving traditional magical practices in Britain are, and were, carried out by people who would identify themselves as Christian.  I mean the Padstow and Minehead 'Obby 'Osses, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, the Queensferry Burry Man, the fire-ceremonies in Stonehaven and Ottery St Mary, wassailing apple trees, catching the spirit of the corn in the last sheaf and keeping it in the house until next spring, magic healing wells, tying ribbons onto sacred trees, parading round the houses at mid-winter with a horse's skull on a stick -all good Christian practices.

I've never forgotten going to Bosworth with the RIII Society in the 1980s, and visiting Sutton Cheney church, the last church where Richard prayed.  Standing by the altar where Richard knelt for the last time I glanced behind it, and lined up along the base of the wall behind the altar were three or four corn dollies.  And I do not mean the cute, doll-shaped ones people make for the tourist trade - these were squat, vaguely phallic little pillars about 10" high, like a row of tiny wickerwork standing stones.
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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Thu Apr 17, 2014 9:03 am

Here you are http://www.apotropaios.co.uk/ritual-marks.html I don't think this is the article I saw last year but it contains much the same information, with cites at the bottm for fuller articles.

It's interesting that most of these are Tudor or later. I suppose that ties in with Mary Douglas's point about the Protestant Reformation. Before H8, Catholicism itself had provided a means of performing charms and "spells" although it didn't call them that, but with the loss of that officially sanctioned outlet people took their rituals underground. I know that in the article I originally saw, and haven't managed to re-find, there was a reference to these carved symbols including elaborate Ms believed to be invocations of the Virgin Mqary.
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phaecilia

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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Thu Apr 17, 2014 5:35 pm

khafara wrote:
I've been poking around trying to find authentic information about European witchcraft beliefs predating the 19th century, when much synthetic material regarding folk beliefs seems to have been concocted.

In my search, I ran across the e-book version of a tome entitled Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations, a collection of monographs edited by one Mary Douglas, originally published in 1970.   It's not normally visible in the sampled pages offered online, but when I did a Google search on "anthropological study of witchcraft" I pulled up what is apparently the whole of Keith Thomas' essay "The Relevance of Social Anthropology to the Historical Study of English Witchcraft", as well as the first two pages of Alan Macfarlane's "Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart Essex".

Some observations:

[Snip]

1-- Thomas lays the blame for instigating the anti-witch mania squarely at the feet of the Protestant Reformation.  While Catholicism inveighed against witchcraft, it also allowed for tools with which to fight it:  Charms, counter-charms, holy water and the like.  But to Protestants, holy water and all other such tools to fight witchcraft were themselves demonic (as of course was the entire Catholic Church), which meant that the only recourse for persons who felt themselves victims of witchcraft was to haul the suspected witch into court - hence the dramatic increase in witch trials during the Tudor period.

2-- Another factor in the rise in witch trials was the breakdown in the social fabric that had sustained medieval society.  The strong emphasis on charity and fellow-feeling as the moral duty of every Christian, high or low, was undercut during the economic upheavals that followed the Dissolution, which by closing the monasteries also laid waste to England's chief "safety net" for the poor, just as the country  was going through wretched and unprosperous times.  By far the most common feature in the witchcraft accusations is of a poor, elderly woman asking charity of her neighbor (or often simply just to borrow something).  In the old days the neighbor would have responded favorably, but in the harder Tudor Protestant times the neighbor would reject the old woman, and if something bad befell that neighbor shortly afterward, the old woman he or she had spurned would be the first and often only suspect of having practiced witchcraft against the neighbor.

Thoughts?

1 - Does Thomas discuss Malleus Maleficarum in his essay?  Malleus Maleficarum  It was written and used by Catholics against so-called heretics well before the Protestant Reformation.  I don't know how Catholic witch persecutions compared to the Protestant anti-witch mania.  Does Thomas make that comparison?

2 - It has always seemed to me that people who used witchcraft accusations were discrediting the deity or religion they were claiming to "purify."  If their deity was all-powerful and all-knowing, why did their deity need for them to torture and kill anyone?  Didn't they trust their all-powerful, all-knowing deity to protect them?

It seems more like a convenient excuse to steal a rich person's property or get rid of people too sick or poor to contribute to the church.

phaecilia
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khafara

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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Sun Apr 20, 2014 8:46 pm

Malleus Maleficarium wasn't published until 1487, in Germany, two years after Thin Henry usurped the English crown.  Its authors tried to claim that it was personally approved by the Pope at the time, as well as by various German Catholic theologians -- and even forged documents to that effect -- but the official church would have none of it, condemning it as false in 1490, three years after it was published (which for that time was lightning speed).  Even the Inquisition warned against referencing it.  To quote one scholarly cite I've seen:

Quote :
"In its own day it was never accorded the unquestioned authority that modern scholars have sometimes given it. Theologians and jurists respected it as one among many informative books; its particular savage misogny and its obsession with impotence were never fully accepted.", Monter, ‘'The Sociology of Jura Witchcraft'’, in ‘'The Witchcraft Reader'’, p. 116 (2002)

It was far more popular with secular bodies -- and remember that Germany was the cradle of the Reformation, and Luther's first truly powerful supporters were secular nobles who wanted to flex their muscles with the rise of nationalism.
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phaecilia

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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Wed Apr 30, 2014 6:12 pm

khafara wrote:
I've been poking around trying to find authentic information about European witchcraft beliefs predating the 19th century, when much synthetic material regarding folk beliefs seems to have been concocted.

Thoughts?

Your comments reminded me of a ship's model discussed in Chapter 10 of Shakepseare's Restless World, by Neil MacGregor.  Now displayed at the National Museum of Scotland, it was originally given to the Protestant Church at Leith as thanks to God for James VI's and Anne of Denmark's safe arrival home.  About 1,300 such votive ships survive in Denmark.  Both Danish and Scottish witches were blamed for the severe storms that threatened James VI's and Anne's  voyages between Denmark and Scotland.  Witches were tried and executed in both countries.

The connection between witchcraft, stormy voyages, and votive ship offerings was new to me when I read this book.  It's full of such interesting connections among a variety of objects and events, well-illustrated, and worth reading if you missed the BBC radio series it's based on.

phaecilia


Last edited by phaecilia on Thu May 01, 2014 12:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Wed Apr 30, 2014 6:55 pm

There's an additional significance to giving a votive ship model to the parish church in Leith (one of my great aunts was married in that church btw). The emblem of the Port o' Leith is a ship carrying Mary in her aspect as Star of the Sea, and the motto "Persevere".

It is claimed that the 20th C founders of the Wiccan movement based at least some of their practices on genuine folk-beliefs which they had collected from families living in the New Forest, but I don't know how sound the evidence for this is.

There's one custom variants of which crop up apparently independently in separate areas of England and Scotland, in places which are not obviously linked by shipping or droving routes, which suggests that it's an ancient survival of something which was once more widespread. That is, customs of marking special occasions by playing games with balls which are painted gold or silver and then tossed or kicked very high, to represent the sun or moon.

There's a town in the Scottish Borders, for example, where weddings are marked using a football which is painted white and decorated with ribbons and then displayed in a window, befoe being high-kicked and played at the time of the wedding. There's at least one in the English West Country involving wooden balls painted gold or silver and displayed in the same way, but I forget the details - I learned about this stuff nearly 35 years agoi.

Games of "village football", where the teams are sprawling mobs of dozens or hundreds of random locals and the ball is wrestled across miles of countryside, are very ancient and may have ritual implications. In the Haxey Hood game in the north of England, where the "ball" is a sort of leather sausage about the size of your forearm, there are accompanying legends and customs which make it pretty explicit that the townsfolk believe that the original ball was a severed head.

There was an interesting programme on the other night which spoke in passing about the 17th and 18th C custom of burying foundation sacrifices near the hearth, usually dead cats or shoes. The shoes were believed to carry the imprint of the wearer, so that if demons came down the chimney during the night they would go after the shoes rather than their owners.

Then of course there's the whole business of the Horseman's Word, the Scottish agricultural secret society dedicated to herbal and magical practices said to control both horses and women, although the Horseman's Word iirc is primarily a 19th C phenomenon.

Then - is it Sweden or Norway or Denmark where people still make tiny houses for the fairies to live in? I'll have to look it up.
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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Sun May 04, 2014 8:52 am

This article on British spring and summer customs may be of interest. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-27205244 Some of these probably date back to Richard's time. The Cotswold shin-kicking contest, for example, was founded in 1611 but it was based on a local form of wrestling which was already well-established.
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khafara

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PostSubject: Re: Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ed. Mary Douglas)   Wed May 07, 2014 9:51 pm

whitehound wrote:
This article on British spring and summer customs may be of interest.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-27205244  Some of these probably date back to Richard's time.  The Cotswold shin-kicking contest, for example, was founded in 1611 but it was based on a local form of wrestling which was already well-established.

I'm bad. I at first read "shin-kicking" as, well, something else...  Embarassed 
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