ABSALON, ANNA PEDERSDOTTER (?-1590). The victim of perhaps the single most famous witchcraft accusation made in Scandinavia, Anna was the wife of the Lutheran minister and famous scholar Absalon Pedersen Beyer. The charges against her arose mainly out of popular opposition to the attempts by Absalon and other Protestant clergy to remove holy images from the churches of Bergen, Sweden, in accordance with Lutheran teachings. Because the clergymen themselves were too highly placed for their efforts to be resisted directly, opposition focused on Anna. She was first acquitted of charges in 1575, but more accusations arose years later. She was tried again and executed in 1590. Her trial later became the basis for a play and then the film by Carl Theodore Dreyer, Day of Wrath.
ACCUSATORIAL PROCEDURE. This refers to the basic system of criminal procedure that was used in most courts of law, mainly secular but also to some degree ecclesiastical, in medieval Europe prior to the 13 th century. It was then gradually replaced in most lands, first in ecclesiastical courts but eventually in secular courts as well, by inquisitorial procedure. Although the earlier accusatorial procedure by no means precluded prosecutions for crimes of magic or sorcery, it was difficult to ensure a conviction for such crimes under this system. By contrast, inquisitorial procedure made prosecuting such crimes significantly easier, and so provided a necessary condition for the emergence of witchcraft and witch-hunting in the late-medieval and early-modern periods.
Under accusatorial procedure, all legal actions had to be initiated by accusations coming from private persons who felt themselves afflicted or injured in some way. Accusers, however, did more than just initiate trials. They also acted as prosecutors and were responsible for proving the guilt of the person or persons whom they had accused. If the accused did not admit their guilt, and if no positive proof could be provided, the matter was placed in the hands of God. Most often, the accused would be made to undergo an ordeal. They might be dunked in water, or made to put their hand in boiling water, or forced to hold hot irons. If they were able to stay immersed in the water for a sufficient period of time in the first case, or if their wounds healed reasonably well in the second or third, they were judged to be innocent. Nobles, instead of undergoing an ordeal, might have access to trial by combat, in which, in theory, God would ensure that the innocent won and the guilty lost. Importantly, if by whatever mechanism the accused would be judged innocent, the accuser then fell under the penalty of law for bringing a false accusation.
For crimes such as sorcery or, later, witchcraft, secretive by their very nature, positive proof was very difficult to obtain. Thus almost all cases would have been decided by ordeal. Since the accuser could be severely punished in cases of wrongful accusation, fear of divine judgment would have prevented many specious accusations. Moreover, even when accusers honestly suspected that sorcery was being used against them, given the extremely secretive and indirect nature of the crime, complete certainty was probably rare. Thus the threat of legal repercussions for false accusations kept the number of trials for sorcery low. The inquisitorial system, on the other hand, although in many ways more rational, facilitated trials for sorcery and later witchcraft by making prosecution the responsibility of the court, not the individual accusers.
ADLER, MARGOT (1946- ). An American journalist, author, and practicing pagan, Adler wrote the first important study of the emergence of neo-paganism and modern witchcraft, or Wicca, in America. Her book Drawing Down the Moon, published in 1979, the same year as Starhawk's The Spiral Dance, became an important text for modern witchcraft. From a historical perspective, in particular, it recognized that much, if not all, of modern witchcraft's connection to the historical witchcraft of the medieval and early-modern periods was fictitious.
Raised in New York City in a non-religious household, Adler studied at the University of California at Berkeley and at Columbia University's School of Journalism. She began a career in broadcast journalism and was also active in political, environmental, and feminist causes. She was first introduced to modern neo-paganism in the early 1970s while in England investigating the history of the druids. Returning to New York, she entered a coven and began practicing modern witchcraft as established by Gerald Gardner. Approached to write a book about modern witchcraft, she began researching the origins and development of the movement.
Adler soon realized that many of the claims made by Gardner, that modern witchcraft was directly linked to the witches of the medieval and early-modern period, and that witchcraft represented a genuine preservation of an even more ancient, pre-Christian religion, were false. Nevertheless, she recognized that most religious beliefs ultimately rested on pseudo-history in which real historical fact and myth were merged to meet the needs of belief. Modern Wiccan and neo-pagan groups could recognize the largely mythical nature of this pseudo-history, she argued, and still retain the force and value of their beliefs. These ideas, among others, were set out in Drawing Down the Moon.
AFRICAN WITCHCRAFT. Historically, the belief in various forms of harmful magic or sorcery, often termed witchcraft by Western observers, has been widespread across sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, these beliefs have remained prevalent and socially respectable in many African societies, while in Europe they have declined significantly since the period of the major witch-hunts ending in the 18 th century. Thus in the 20th century, as anthropologists began to study these African beliefs, scholars of European witchcraft sought to apply the information gathered from African case studies for comparative purposes to their own work on historical witchcraft in medieval and early-modern Europe. Such comparisons have limitations, the most obvious being that European witchcraft was grounded so completely in specific aspects of Christian theology and de-monology, and especially the Christian concept of the devil, while African witchcraft operates in an entirely different religious and cultural context. Nevertheless, some interesting parallels emerged.
Generalizations about African witchcraft are made difficult because beliefs and practices vary between different African societies. Perhaps the most famous study was made in the early 20th century by the British anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard. Focusing on the Azande of southern Sudan, he discovered three distinct categories of magic among these people. Good magic was used by witch doctors, diviners, and oracles to predict the future and to protect against harmful magic. Evil sorcery was used to harm other people. This form of magic often involved using material objects in the performance of spells and typically targeted individuals. A third category, which Evans-Pritchard labeled witchcraft, entailed an internal, hereditary power passed down from fathers to sons and, more often, from mothers to daughters. It manifested, supposedly, in the witch's stomach as a small black swelling. Witches were to some extent organized and gathered at secret meetings to practice their magic. They could attack individual people, but were also responsible for all manner of hardships and afflictions suffered by the entire community, including crop failures, lack of game, infertility, and even poor government. Other African societies make similar distinctions. For example, the Bechuana of Botswana distinguish between "day sorcerers" and "night witches." Day sorcerers might work magic either to help or harm people, but usually do so on an individual basis and for specific reasons, often for pay. Night witches are more inherently malevolent. They are typically pictured as old women who seek to harm the entire community.
The widespread belief in Africa of the existence of certain categories of people who seek to harm society as a whole is reminiscent of the historical European concept of witchcraft as a diabolical conspiracy directed against the entire Christian world. Across Africa, these people are frequently seen as female, they gather at secret assemblies to plan and work their evil magic, and they are often described as flying at night to these gatherings. All of these factors present more parallels between European and African witchcraft. The conclusion drawn by many scholars is that there are certain fears and concerns common to almost all pre-modern, largely agrarian societies, and particularly to societies composed of small, tightly knit communities. Ideas of witchcraft, in a very general sense, seem to be a common response to and explanation for certain kinds of hardship and misfortune in such societies. The notions of secret, nocturnal
AGE, CORRELATION WITH WITCH ACCUSATIONS • 5
gatherings and night flight seem to indicate that basic notions of shamanism and encounters with spiritual forces, good or bad, are a common feature of many human societies and a basis for many systems of religious and magical beliefs.
While no true witch-hunts ever developed in any region of Africa on the scale that was seen in Europe during the early-modern period, witchcraft has been, and to some extent continues to be, greatly feared in many African societies, and a variety of steps can be taken to protect a community from witchcraft or to punish suspected witches. Many types of counter-magic have developed, and in some areas such as Zambia groups of professional witch-finders emerged. These were people, usually men, who were employed to discover the presence of witches in a community and to eliminate them. In addition, popular lynching of witches could occur, and is still known to occur occasionally in the present day. The fear of witchcraft and violence directed toward suspected witches could become severe enough that authorities, especially European colonial authorities, felt the need to intervene. For example, in 1914, a witchcraft ordinance was issued in Zambia that prescribed punishment for making accusations of witchcraft or using certain forms of magic to discover supposed witches. Ironically, in many areas European colonial rule in Africa seems to have exacerbated the very economic and social tensions that often underlie accusations of witchcraft.
African beliefs and systems of magic have also influenced some modern religions that incorporate a significant amount of what could be labeled magical rituals. In particular, African slaves brought to the Americas and forced to convert at least nominally to Christianity retained many of their traditional beliefs. African deities and other supernatural entities were merged with Christian saints and a number of syncretistic beliefs emerged. The modern religions of Santería and Voodoo are prominent examples of such syncretism. These religions are practiced mainly in the Caribbean and elsewhere in Latin America, as well as in large Hispanic communities in North America.
AGE, CORRELATION WITH WITCH ACCUSATIONS. By far the most common image of a witch is that of an old hag. From surviving evidence, it seems clear that the majority of people accused of witchcraft throughout the historical period of the European witch-hunts
6 • AGRIPPA (HEINRICH CORNELIUS AGRIPPA VON NETTESHEIM) (1486-1535)
were in fact old women. There is also an opposite stereotype of the witch as a young seductress, but this seems to have been more common in literary representations of witchcraft (the models being classical figures like Circe or Medea) than in actual accusations. Moreover, an elderly witch could also be seen as sexually driven, since during the medieval and early-modern periods old women were often regarded as being sexually voracious. The actual factors producing such a high number of elderly people among the accused were several. Suspicion of witchcraft often developed slowly in a community, and many years of strange or threatening behavior might be needed before an initial accusation came to be leveled at an individual. Also, the elderly, and especially elderly women, could easily become marginalized socially, thereby making them easier targets for accusations. Widows, in particular, might be seen as a burden by their families, or as an obstacle to property inheritance. Also, the elderly could easily suffer from some form of senility, producing odd behavior and making them vulnerable to accusations.
AGRIPPA (HEINRICH CORNELIUS AGRIPPA VON NETTESHEIM) (1486-1535). More important for the history of magic than the history of witchcraft per se, Agrippa was one of the most famous magicians and occult philosophers of the early-modern period. He completed his major work, De occulta philosophia (On Occult Philosophy) in 1510, when he was only 24 years old, but he did not publish this work until 1533. It became one of the most important compendiums of magical and occult knowledge of the period.
Agrippa was born in Cologne and educated at the university there. He was drawn to the study of the Kabbalah, the Jewish system of mysticism and occult knowledge, and to neo-platonic and Hermetic magic and occult systems. He led a peripatetic life, holding many positions throughout France and the German Empire. His involvement with magic often raised concerns on the part of local authorities and frequently prompted his relocation. Many stories began to circulate about Agrippa's life. He was widely considered to be a magician involved in the blackest arts, such as demonic invocation, and was at times suspected of witchcraft. He supposedly had a demonic familiar, which took the form of a large black dog, and he was rumored to be able to reanimate corpses with his magic.
Rumors aside, the only direct involvement he seems to have had with witchcraft was as a defender of accused witches. On one occasion, while living in Metz, he became involved in a witch trial. A woman was being accused of witchcraft, primarily on the grounds that her mother had been convicted and executed for this crime. Agrippa successfully defended the woman, arguing that the crime of witchcraft, involving a deliberate pact with the devil, had to be entered into voluntarily. A witch's power could not simply be inherited from another person.
ALBERTUS MAGNUS (ca. 1190-1280). Born in the German region of Swabia, Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great) was a Dominican friar and an important medieval philosopher and theologian. He taught theology at the university in Paris, where his most famous student was Thomas Aquinas, and later he went to the Dominican studium at Cologne. Albertus viewed some magic as a form of natural science, distinct from demonic sorcery. In the area of de-monology, however, he helped to develop notions of explicit and tacit pacts that humans might enter into with demons. His student Aquinas would develop this position more fully, and such ideas formed an important basis for later notions of witchcraft. Like many famous medieval scholars, Albertus himself developed a popular reputation as an alchemist, astronomer, and sorcerer. While he certainly did engage in the study of certain occult sciences, which he viewed as legitimate, he thoroughly condemned demonic sorcery.
ALCHEMY. An occult science that developed in antiquity and was rediscovered in Europe, along with other forms of learned magic and occult practices, in the 12th century, alchemy involved the manipulation of the secret properties of chemicals and other natural materials. Above all, alchemists sought to discover the so-called philosopher's stone, which would allow them to transmute lead or other common materials into silver and gold. As a clearly learned form of magical practice, like astrology, alchemy had little direct connection to witchcraft. Alchemists might, however, as a result of the secretive nature of their work, become suspect of practicing more sinister forms of magic.
ALEXANDER IV, POPE (?-1261). By the 1250s, papal inquisitors, whose purpose was to investigate cases of heresy, were increasingly dealing with matters of sorcery, and questions were being raised as to whether such matters properly fell under their jurisdiction. In 1258, Alexander IV (pope from 1254 to 1261) ruled that sorcery was not a matter of concern for papal inquisitors, unless the sorcery involved acts that "manifestly savored of heresy" (manifeste saperent haeresim). Since any case of sorcery that involved the invocation or worship of demons met this condition, Alexander's ruling provided an important basis for later inquisitorial action against sorcerers and witches. See also INQUISITORIAL PROCEDURE.
ALEXANDER V, POPE (ca. 1340-1410). Reigning for only a short time from 1409 to 1410, Alexander V, in his first year as pope, sent a letter to the Franciscan inquisitor Pontus Fougeyron in which he announced his concern over the existence of many people, both Christians and Jews, who performed demonic sorcery and worshiped demons. In particular, he stated that such people were forming "new sects" (novas sectas). The use of this phrase was not original to Alexander, but serves to illustrate how, in the early 15th century, witchcraft was clearly perceived as a new and serious threat to the church and Christian society in Europe.
APOSTASY. Referring to a complete renunciation of the basic principles of faith, apostasy was considered to be one of the chief crimes entailed in witchcraft, along with idolatry, during the medieval and early-modern periods. Upon entering a heretical cult of witches, usually at a witches' sabbath, new witches were generally believed to be required to renounce the Christian faith entirely and pledge themselves to the service of the devil. Unlike normal heresy, which involved errors of belief or practice that could be corrected, apostasy was often seen as an unforgivable crime, a kind of treason against God that required the most severe form of punishment possible.
AQUINAS, THOMAS (ca. 1225-1274). A Dominican friar and one of the most important theologians of the Middle Ages, Aquinas was born in Italy and studied in Paris and Cologne under the direction of the Dominican scholar Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great). Aquinas later became a professor of theology at Paris and in Italy. In numerous works, most notably his Summa contra gentiles (Summa Against the Gentiles) and Summa theologiae (Summa of Theology), he systematized medieval theology according to scholastic logic. Although his works were at first controversial, they later became widely accepted as authoritative, especially by other Dominican authors. Many early clerical authorities who wrote on witchcraft cited Aquinas heavily, including the Dominicans Johannes Nider, Jean Vineti, and Heinrich Kramer, the author of the Malleus maleficarum.
Aquinas did not write about witchcraft himself—he lived centuries before the idea of diabolic witchcraft fully developed in Europe—but he did discuss the operations of sorcery and the power of demons in several of his works. He worked out a logical system to explain how demons, as spiritual beings, could affect the physical world, including how demons operating as incubi could impregnate women, and how they might influence human actions. He also discussed the evil nature of demons and demonic sorcery. Such sorcery, he argued, always entailed at least a tacit pact between the human sorcerer and the demon that the sorcerer invoked. Demons submitted to carry out the wishes of sorcerers in order to ensnare and corrupt them. Such basic notions of demonology and the nature of demonic sorcery became foundational for later ideas of witchcraft.
ASTROLOGY. Throughout ancient, medieval, and early-modern Europe, most people believed that the stars and planets exerted influence on many aspects of the terrestrial world, including human beings, and that stellar bodies could be used to predict the future. Astrology, the study of the stars and their effects, was practiced as a real, if often occult, science by educated elites, but many forms of astrology were also practiced at a popular level. Perhaps the most common use of astrology was the practice of making horoscopes to predict the future and divine the destiny of individual people. Astrology also entered into many other forms of magical and occult operations, since the power of the stars was thought, for example, to affect alchemy and even demonic invocations. Astral magic, which claimed to draw down and manipulate the power of heavenly bodies, was obviously intimately connected to astrology. There was, however, little direct connection between astrology and witchcraft.
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, SAINT (354-430). The most important of the so-called Latin Fathers of the Christian church, and probably the most important intellectual figure in the history of Western Christianity, Augustine's writings on demonology and the nature of magic provided a basis for all further consideration of these subjects throughout the Middle Ages and the early-modern period in Europe. Above all, his ideas about demonic involvement in most forms of magic and the necessity of pacts between the human magician and the demon were essential to later conceptions of sorcery and witchcraft.
Born in North Africa, Augustine studied in Carthage and later in Italy. Although his mother was a Christian, he did not convert to Christianity until 385. He then returned to North Africa, where he became a priest and later bishop of the city of Hippo. For the rest of his life, Augustine devoted himself to demonstrating the superiority of Christianity to pagan religions. Of particular importance to the history of magic and later witchcraft were his arguments that pagan deities were in fact Christian demons and that pagan religious practices were empty superstitions. He distinguished sharply between magic performed with the aid of demons and legitimate Christian miracles performed by divine power. He discussed the nature of demons in many works, especially in his treatise De divinatione dae-monum (On the Divination of Demons), written in 406, and in sections of his greatest work, The City of God, written from 413 to 425. Because demons were inherently evil, he reasoned, they would not serve humans who invoked them unless those human sorcerers entered into pacts with the demons and worshiped them.
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