Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Move Over "Christian Side-Hug"

watch it all the way to the end. srsly. (oh, and if you don't remember "christian side-hug" check this out: God. Purpose. Culture. Side Hugs.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Quick: How many accused Scottish Witches were primarily accused of maleficium? (Answer: not that many)

Anyone and everyone can download the entire "Scottish Witchcraft Database" from here: http://datashare.is.ed.ac.uk/handle/10283/45. And, oh, in case you didn't already know, this database is an amazing resource.

Unfortunately, the database is in Access format. However, it can easily be converted to a real database using the handy tool BullZip. Of course that assumes that you have either MariaDB (aka MySQL) or Postgresql installed, and if that is not the case, then you might want to go get MariaDB here:
https://mariadb.org/.

As always, there are many different ways of accomplishing this kind of thing. Your mileage may vary, etc, etc. The important thing is this: to properly work with any database you need it in a format where you can use some form of SQL. You could also try downloading the SQL schema and tables that are provided on the same page where you can download the Access database.

Before proceeding to the details, please note the following information, taken from the website of the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft in their "How To Cite Us" section:

If you use information from this website in something you have written, please acknowledge us as your source.
Please use your normal citation conventions for websites. We suggest:
Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller and Louise Yeoman, 'The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft', http://www.shca.ed.ac.uk/witches/ (archived January 2003, accessed '[your date]').
The information in this website may be used freely for the purposes of private reference, research or study, but please remember that it is copyright. See Authorship and Copyright.


If we read through the documentation put together by the team at the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, we find that there are three different flavors of "maleficium" used as a characterization of the cases against accused Witches:
  • Maleficium_p refers to cases where it was decided that maleficium was "the main theme".
  • Maleficium_s refers to cases where maleficium was "mentioned" in the documentation, but it was decided that this was a secondary characteristic.
  • Maleficium (without a trailing _p or _s) refers to cases in which there were allegations of "collective maleficium organized or committed" at Witches' meetings (without distinguishing between "primary" or "secondary").
These characterizations are all found in the table "wdb_case". So in order to discover how many cases during the Scottish Witch-hunts were primarily characterized by accusations of maleficium, all we need is a simple SQL query like the following:

SELECT FROM wdb_case
WHERE Maleficium_p=1

And the result is that we get a grand total of 40 rows. Ahem. That is out of over 3,000 recorded cases.

What? Only 40? Let's double check, but this time we'll jazz things up a little by getting the names of the accused Witches as well as the counties in which they resided and also the dates of their trials:
 


SELECT wdb_accused.FirstName, wdb_accused.LastName,
 wdb_accused.AccusedRef, wdb_case.Case_date,
 wdb_accused.Res_county
FROM wdb_accused join wdb_case
ON wdb_accused.AccusedRef = wdb_case.AccusedRef
WHERE wdb_case.Maleficium_p = 1
ORDER BY wdb_case.Case_date_as_date, wdb_accused.Res_county,
 wdb_accused.LastName;

+-----------+---------------+------------+------------+------------+
| FirstName | LastName      | AccusedRef | Case_date  | Res_county |
+-----------+---------------+------------+------------+------------+
| Johnnet   | Wischert      | A/EGD/2067 | 17/2/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Isobel    | Cockie        | A/EGD/2066 | 19/2/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Christen  | Michell       | A/EGD/2077 | 9/3/1597   | Aberdeen   |
| Isobell   | Strauthaquhin | A/EGD/2105 | 21/3/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Katherine | Gerard        | A/EGD/2096 | 15/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Christian | Reid          | A/EGD/2095 | 15/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Margret   | Reauch        | A/JO/2954  | 17/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Issobell  | Richie        | A/EGD/2110 | 24/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Helene    | Rogie         | A/JO/2898  | 24/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Agnes     | Wobster       | A/EGD/2107 | 24/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Margrat   | Cleraucht     | A/JO/2951  | 25/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Helene    | Frasser       | A/EGD/2097 | 25/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Ellen     | Gray          | A/EGD/2106 | 27/4/1597  | Aberdeen   |
| Marion    | Peebles       | A/EGD/2261 | 21/3/1644  | Shetland   |
| Janat     | Cuj           | A/EGD/2294 | 16/11/1646 | Elgin      |
| Margaret  | Murray        | A/EGD/2295 | 26/11/1646 | Elgin      |
| Helen     | Small         | A/EGD/2297 | 18/1/1649  | Fife       |
| Beatrix   | Watsone       | A/EGD/2299 | 19/8/1649  | Edinburgh  |
| Marioun   | Twedy         | A/EGD/1832 | 21/11/1649 | Peebles    |
| Jonet     | Coutts        | A/EGD/1791 | 4/1/1650   | Peebles    |
| Margaret  | Merchant      | A/EGD/1821 | 19/3/1650  | Forfar     |
| Elspet    | Gray          | A/EGD/1968 | 21/3/1650  | Forfar     |
| Jonat     | Couper        | A/EGD/2318 | 11/4/1650  | Forfar     |
| Catharin  | Lyell         | A/JO/2825  | 11/4/1650  | Forfar     |
| Margaret  | NcLevin       | A/EGD/1519 | 14/2/1662  | Bute       |
| Issobell  | NcNicol       | A/EGD/1513 | 21/2/1662  | Bute       |
| Margrat   | NcWilliam     | A/JO/3084  | 7/5/1662   | Bute       |
| Marjory   | Craig         | A/EGD/1727 | 20/2/1677  | Renfrew    |
| Margret   | Jackson       | A/EGD/1729 | 20/2/1677  | Renfrew    |
| Jonet     | Mathie        | A/EGD/1732 | 20/2/1677  | Renfrew    |
| Jon       | Stewart       | A/EGD/1731 | 20/2/1677  | Renfrew    |
| Bessie    | Weir          | A/EGD/1728 | 20/2/1677  | Renfrew    |
| Annabell  | Stewart       | A/EGD/1730 | 4/4/1677   | Renfrew    |
| John      | Gray          | A/EGD/1740 | 19/7/1677  | Stirling   |
| Janet     | McNair        | A/EGD/1741 | 3/12/1677  | Stirling   |
| Thomas    | Mitchell      | A/EGD/1742 | 3/12/1677  | Stirling   |
| Mary      | Mitchell      | A/EGD/1739 | 3/12/1677  | Stirling   |
| Janet     | Wharrie       | A/JO/2888  | 7/11/1699  | Dumfries   |
| Janet     | Cornfoot      | A/EGD/2371 | 15/2/1705  | Fife       |
| Andrew    | Ratter        | A/JO/2879  | 11/6/1708  | Shetland   |
+-----------+---------------+------------+------------+------------+
40 rows in set (0.01 sec)

MariaDB [witchdb]>

In future posts I will dig more deeply into what the data actually has to say concerning the prevalence, or lack thereof, of actual accusations of maleficium during the Scottish Witch-hunts. But for now these results obviously should give pause to anyone who wishes to continue to claim that Witchcraft must be defined primarily in terms of malefic magic.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Until the fifteenth century witchcraft was not clearly distinguished from general sorcery or magic." Edward Peters on "The origins of the offence of Witchcraft in Europe"

Edward Peters' article "The Literature of Demonology and Witchcraft" is available in full at the Cornell University Library Witchcraft Collection website (link).

Here's an excerpt (please refer to the original for sources, citations, and footnotes):

The Literature of Demonology and Witchcraft

By Edward Peters, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania © 1998 Edward Peters

The literature of demonology and witchcraft produced between 1440 and 1750--some of the most important works of which are included on this website--constitutes a substantial source for the intellectual and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Europe and the Americas.

No longer considered as merely incidental to witch trial records, this literature has been integrated into the study, not only of demonology and witchcraft, but of an entire dimension of thought--what Sidney Anglo once characterized as, "a complex of interrelated magical ideas which informs many aspects of medieval and Renaissance thought."1 Among those aspects are women's and gender history, legal history--particularly of crime and punishment--theology, folklore, historical anthropology, sociology, and literature. Many writers of tracts on demonology and witchcraft also wrote on other subjects, some ostensibly far removed from witchcraft. Thus, the literature is connected not only to a variety of topics in early modern European and American history, but to the other intellectual interests of its authors that touch many disciplines.

THE ORIGINS OF THE OFFENCE OF WITCHCRAFT IN EUROPE

In European Christian cosmology as it developed from the epistles of Paul to the late seventeenth century, human nature was generally believed to be innately weak, sinful, and vulnerable to demonic temptation and deception. Although human reason--to the extent that it received divine grace and was properly instructed--could distinguish right from wrong, human will might not always choose the right.

Human ability to perceive and understand the world was also limited by the Fall. Those aspects of nature that humans could not perceive or understand could be manipulated, it was believed, by demons. Because these demons operated in natural realms beyond human intelligence, they could appear to work "wonders" and in doing so tempt humans, sometimes with God's permission. This was how the devil elicited homage of a kind properly paid only to God, and entered agreements with humans: by exhibiting and granting powers over nature and others not attainable by any other means, by performing acts that were not miracles,miracula, but rather mira, "wonders." All of these were ways of winning support from humans whose flawed perceptions and flexible wills would allow them to be led astray.

Servants of the devil could, on their own or with the devil acting through them, harm or illicitly influence other people or property by occult (meaning "hidden from humans," not "supernatural") means. Pact with the devil presumed the sins and crimes of idolatry and apostasy (renunciation of faith), because it constituted both a willful rejection of Christian baptism and the paying of sinful homage to the devil. The Latin word that designated harm caused to others by these means was maleficium, and it constituted the crime of witchcraft, establishing a link between it and demonology.

In addition to committing such acts, witches, it was said, evidenced other characteristics. They were thought to be identifiable (differently in different parts of Europe) because they might bear the mark of the devil on their bodies, have demonic companions (familiars), gather collectively to pay homage to the devil (at assemblies that came to be called the "synagogue" or "sabbath"), sacrifice infants, engage in acts of sexual promiscuity, and to be capable of flight and shapeshifting. Although not all writers on demonology and witchcraft subscribed to all of the aspects of the model for the offense of witchcraft here sketched, most did. The doctrines of demonology and witchcraft as they developed between 1300 and 1500, moreover, were consistent with the cosmology of the Church Fathers and later theologians and so appeared to be confirmed by scripture.

FROM MAGIC TO WITCHCRAFT

Until the fifteenth century witchcraft was not clearly distinguished from general sorcery or magic. Linguistically, this is still the case in French. In German Hexerei (witchcraft) was differentiated from Zauberei (magic, sorcery) in the early fifteenth century, and in Spanish this distinction was reflected in the terms hechicería (sorcery) and brujería (witchcraft). In English witchcraft--from the Old English wiccecraeft, which once meant divining, foretelling the future--was distinguished from magic/sorcery somewhat earlier.

Sorcery was consistently described and condemned in scripture, in the writings of the church fathers, especially St. Augustine [354-430] and Isidore of Seville [ca. 569-636], and later in theology, such as the work of Thomas Aquinas [ca. 1227-1274] and in canon law. Although sorcery was never the primary concern of the Church Fathers or medieval theologians before the fifteenth century, their work provided a comprehensive and contextual view of its function in the universe and in Christian cosmology.

Beginning in the twelfth century magic tended to divide into two types: learned magic, which was natural--and arguably neither sinful nor demonic--and sorcery proper, which was both. The division was shaped by the twelfth century influence of much Arabic (and much Greek via Arabic) learning into Latin learning. Under this influence, European thinkers began to view learned or natural magic as diabolical. From the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries, in fact, scholars undertook a vigorous debate concerning the validity of learned/natural magic. This raised some of the most important questions about spiritual causality that the period knew. As a consequence, sorcery, necromancy (the raising of the spirits of the dead), divination, and other forms of congress with the spirit world were all uniformly labelled as diabolical and came to be associated with a number of practices: healing, recovering lost or stolen objects, and harming one's neighbors. Witchcraft, learned demonology and other kinds of demonic magic became objects of widespread popular belief and were the charges behind most trials and condemnations during the period of the most intense persecutions, roughly from 1560 to 1660 ....

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A typical example: "'Witch' is a bad word" (On Tess Dawson on Witches)

I recently happened across an interesting 2012 blog post at Kina'ani, a blog devoted to "Canaanite religion, Natib Qadish, polytheism, and polytheist communities, oracles, and inspiration...". The post in question, by Tess Dawson, is titled, simply enough, "Witch" is a bad word.

Although it's a little dated, the post in question is important to look at not because it says anything new, but because what it says is all too typical and pervasive. Tess Dawson's post perpetuates the insidious notion that Witchcraft is intrinsically harmful and evil, and that all positive associations with Witchcraft are modern, romantic contrivances dreamed up by feminists and/or Wiccans.

What makes Dawson's uncritical repetition of these tired old anti-Witch and anti-Wiccan talking points all the more galling is that she is herself a prominent leader of a modern polytheistic religion (Natib Qadish). That is to say, she should know better.

Here is how Dawson frames her discussion of the historical meaning of the English word "Witch" in the opening paragraphs of her post:

Allow me to clarify: witch is a bad word, i.e. it is a poor word choice for the magic that we do.

For centuries, the word “witch” in English has had a connection with improper use of magic, and even with evil. In recent years, many people who work with magic in the New Age and Pagan communities have tried to reclaim the word “witch” and understand it as a beneficial term despite centuries of use as a malevolent term. In the English language, fewer words mean bad-magic-user quite like the words “witch” and “sorcery” have for generations. As such, scholars of texts exploring Canaanite history, religion, and magic, use the words “witch,” “witchcraft,” and “sorcery” when they translate Canaanite terms which basically mean "bad-magic-user" or "bad-magic". It is ungainly to keep using "bad-magic-user" or "bad-magic" when the terms “witch,” “witchcraft” and “sorcery” are understood to be that.

Why is all this consideration and contemplation over words important? Because there were prohibitions against “witchcraft” and “sorcery,” since these were unlawful forms of magic in Canaan and ancient Mesopotamia. In ancient Mesopotamia, the law went so far as to punish some offenders with death. Let’s take a look at the terms often translated into English as “witch,” “witchcraft” and “sorcery.”

Later on, toward the end of her piece, Dawson claims that anyone who uses the word "witch" in any positive sense is ignoring "the centuries during which 'witch,' 'witchcraft,' or 'sorcery' were evil terms ..."

In the remainder of this post I will not be concerned with Dawson's careless conflation of the very different terms "Witchcraft" and "sorcery". Instead I will focus solely on the words "Witch" and "Witchcraft" and provide a summary of (some of) the evidence that clearly refutes Dawson's contention that "witch" is "an evil term".

First up in the witness box are the authors of The Dictionary of English Folklore, Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, who begin the entry for the word "witch" in their dictionary as follows:
"The Old English word ‘witch’ meant ‘one who casts a spell’. Intrinsically neutral, it could be applied to those using magic helpfully."
In their entry for "white witch", Simpson and Roud also have this to say:
"This term ['white witch'], together with the equivalent 'good witch', or even 'witch' on its own, might be applied in Tudor and Stuart times to people who used healing spells and performed other useful services."
So, according to these two noted folklorists, going back as far as Old English (a thousand years ago) and all the way up to "Tudor and Stuart times" (bringing us up to the early 18th century) the word Witch was a "neutral" term without any automatic negative (let alone "evil") connotations, and which was definitely used to refer to "those using magic helpfully", including "people who used healing spells". For more on Simpson and Roud see this previous post of mine: Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud on Witches and Witchcraft.

Second, let's take a quick look at the historical records of the Scottish Witch-hunts. Half or more of all Witchcraft trials conducted in the English language took place in Scotland, so this is obviously an important source of information for the meaning of the English word "Witch". According to the research done by the folks at the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, there exist records from 873 Scottish Witchcraft trials for which we have surviving documentation that tells us what those accused of Witchcraft were actually accused of having done. (Parenthetically, this is only about 1/4 of the total surviving trial records, but only these 873 cases tell us anything about the actual, or at least purported, activities of accused Witches).

To be sure, in Scotland as elsewhere during the Burning Times, simply being accused as a Witch could mean any number of things, from practicing midwifery to being able to fly, to plotting to murder the King. What we find when we search through these trial records is that less than half of those cases in which specific information about the charges is preserved involved any reference to the use of magic to cause harm, while over 20% of these same 873 trial records explicitly refer to the  performance of various kinds of beneficial magic (folk healing, midwifery, and what the researchers at the Survey simple denote as "white magic"). For more on the surviving data from the Scottish Witch-hunts see these three previous posts:
A third category of evidence is comprised of written sources drawn from medieval and early modern English literature. Two notable 14th century sources in which one finds Witchcraft explicitly associated with beneficial magic are Piers Plowman (which refers to Witches as healers), and John Trevisa's (Middle) English translation of the Polychronicon of Ranulf Higden (which tells us about sailors seeking out Witches to perform beneficial weather magic). In the late 15th century we find Malory's redaction of the tale of Sir Balin, in which the "poor knight" is suspected of practicing Witchcraft not because he has harmed anyone (or, more generally, done anything "evil"), but rather because he was the only one of the knights (including Arthur himself) who could come to the aid of the "damsel, the which was sent on message from great Lady Lylle of Avelion." See these three posts for more on Piers Plowman, John Trevisa, and Sir Balin:
From the 16th century we have James Sanford's 1569 English translation of Cornelius Agrippa's The Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences (De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber). Chapter 44 of that work is titled "Witchinge Magick". In that section, Agrippa includes discussion of such beneficial forms of magic as "charmed drinckes for love, and ... medicins ... whereby happy and fortunate childerne maye be begotten," and also  the ability to "understand the voices of birdes." Also according to Agrippa, the "pocions" of Witches make it possible to change one's shape. Agrippa also includes beneficial weather magic under the category of "Witchinge Magick", and he specifically refers to the wondrous ability of Oprheus to calm the seas with his songs, as related in the famous tale of the Argonauts. For more on this see: Cornelius Agrippa on "Witchinge Magick".

By the time we reach the 17th century, finding literary sources documenting the association of Witches with beneficial magic becomes increasingly easy. The works of William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, Robert Burton, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, Henry More, Samuel Collins, John Dryden and Joseph Addison (although Addison actually brings us into the 18th century) all provide such examples. For more on these and other sources, explore the links found here: Beneficent Witchcraft: One Hundred And Seven Sources .

An especially interesting source of literary evidence from the 17th century is provided by thee different English dictionaries from the period. Robert Cawdrey's 1604 A Table Alphabetical defines "magitian" as "one vsing witchcraft". Thomas Blount's 1656 Glossographia Anglicana Nova tells us that a Witch is a woman who is capable of "Prophecying". Edward Phillips' 1658 The New World of English Words tells us that "Enchantress" and "Prophetess" are other names for a "Witch"; and that "Magick" is another word for "Witchcraft", which is defined as "the black Art whereby ... some Wonders may be wrought, which exceed the common Apprehensions of Men." In all of three of these dictionaries we find that "Witches" and "Witchcraft" are associated with magic generally, and that, as such, they are "evil" only to the extent that Christians considered all magic, outside of the "miracles" sanctioned by them, to be the works of their Devil. For more details see: Looking It Up: Witches and Witchcraft in some early English dictionaries.

Fourth, and finally, we should go back even further and flesh out what Roud and Simpson had to say about the meaning of the word "Witch" in Old English sources. If we look at the earliest known Old English laws on the subject, "wicca" (or "wicce" or "wiccecræft") usually appears as just one member of a list of proscibed magical practices, along with "wigleras", "scinlæcan"/"scincræftcan", "lybblac",and "gealdorcræftigan". In none of these lists is "wicca" singled out as especially associated with harmful or "evil" activities. Rather, these laws clearly represent sweeping efforts to eradicate surviving Pagan magical practices among people who are supposed to have been "converted". The one time when "wicca" does not appear alongside other terms for practitioners of magic, it appears, instead, in an explicitly religious context in a law (Cnut 1018) intended to root out "hæðenscip". In addition to these laws, we also have other surviving Old English sources documenting the fact that Witches were sought out by those seeking healing, financial success, and longevity. For more details and sources see:
The executive summary is that it is completely wrong-headed to apply moralizing labels such as "evil" to Witches and Witchcraft as if this were some kind of objective, historical fact. And it is especially wrong-headed for modern-day polytheists to mindlessly apply such moralizing labels, because they are borrowed directly and uncritically from Christianity's obsessive hatred for all magic that it does not control, whether that magic is beneficial and highly sought after, or potentially harmful and greatly feared.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Chinese Zen Master On Monotheism, Tolerance, Religious Dialogue, Etc.

"We don't believe in a single god who is the supreme, original, ultimate creator...." 

"After silence ...."

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays