NECROMANCY. Technically referring to a form of divination that involves summoning the spirits of the dead, throughout much of the medieval and early-modern periods, necromancy came to mean demonic magic, and specifically a complex, learned form of ritual demonic invocation. Some of this confusion might have arisen from the Christian notion that the spirits of the dead, be they in heaven or hell, could not be summoned to return to earth, and so any sorcerer or diviner claiming to do so was in reality summoning demons who merely took the form of a dead person. The famous Witch of Endor, for example, who is described in the Bible as summoning the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel for King Saul, was widely thought by medieval authorities to have summoned a demon instead.

In the early Middle Ages, ecclesiastical authorities largely dismissed the potential power and reality of demonic magic, believing that demons typically engaged only in deception and illusion. However, in the 12th and 13 th centuries, a large number of classical, Jewish, and Arab texts describing learned magical practices were discovered or rediscovered in Western Europe. Some of these systems of magic involved rituals to summon spirits or even explicitly to summon demons. Many European clerics became interested in this new form of learning, and the practice of necromancy began to spread (although still, of course, limited to a small and clandestine group).

Based on learned texts and ancient traditions, necromancy in the later Middle Ages was clearly an elite form of magic restricted to the educated, and often to the clerical, classes. It typically entailed using complex, often quasi-religious ceremonies and rituals to summon and command demons. Such magic was not suited to the masses and could never become widespread. However, it did serve to increase ecclesiastical concern over demonic magic generally. Although many necromancers were in fact clerics of some level, ecclesiastical authorities became concerned that, instead of commanding the demons they invoked, they were worshiping them. By the late 14th century, arguments were established that almost all demonic magic necessarily involved the worship of demons. This belief helped pave the way for the demonization of common harmful sorcery, or maleficium, and the development of the idea of widespread demonic witchcraft in the centuries to come.

NEO-PAGANISM. In the second half of the 20th century, a wide variety of new religious systems emerged, largely based on nature worship and New-Age spirituality, and patterned off of or maintaining a supposed connection to ancient pre-Christian European religions, mainly varieties of Celtic and Norse paganism. These are collectively referred to as new- or neo-paganism. Modern witchcraft, or Wicca, comprises by far the largest segment of the neo-pagan spectrum of movements.

Although by no means adhering to a single unified or coherent system of belief, most forms of neo-paganism share certain basic similarities. They arose after World War II and first began coming to prominence in the 1960s as a response to the notion that the traditional Western religions no longer adequately met modern spiritual needs and were in fact authoritarian and repressive, particularly to women. Most neo-pagan groups stress a high degree of individuality and tolerance for individual spiritual pursuits, provided these do not infringe on the rights of others or bring harm to other people. Groups as widely disparate as modern witchcraft and modern Satanism adhere to the basic creed, first advanced by the English ritual magician and occultist Aleister Crowley: if it harms none, do what you will. Most forms of neo-paganism stress worship and concern for nature, and thus are closely tied to the rise of modern environmentalist ideologies, and many varieties of neo-paganism also place a high emphasis on feminine spirituality, according women an equal if not superior place to men in their systems of belief and practice. Thus, neo-paganism, and especially Wicca, can be seen as related to the growth of modern feminist ideologies since the 1960s and 1970s. Most modern pagans also practice ritual magic in some form and believe in its real efficacy.


NIDER, JOHANNES (ca. 1385-1438). A Dominican friar, theologian, and religious reformer, Nider wrote some of the most extensive and important early accounts of witchcraft to appear in Europe in the first half of the 15th century. Above all his Formicarius (The Anthill—a moralizing dialogue between a theologian and student that takes ants as its organizing image), written mostly in 1437 and

early 1438, was very influential. It was printed in seven separate editions from the late 1400s down to 1692, in other words throughout the entire period of the great witch-hunts. In addition, it served as an important source of information for the later Dominican Heinrich Kramer, author of the Malleus maleficarum, first published in 1487. The fifth book of the Formicarius, which deals specifically with "Witches and their Deceptions," was printed along with the Malleus in some later editions.

Born sometime in the early 1380s in the small town of Isny in Swabia in what is now southern Germany, Nider studied at Cologne and Vienna. He then attended the Council of Basel, where he began collecting many contemporary stories and examples of witchcraft that he would include in his Formicarius. In that work, he described witchcraft in much the form that it would take throughout the later period of the witch-hunts. Witches were evil sorcerers who performed harmful sorcery, maleficium, with the aid of demons. They attained this power by surrendering themselves to Satan. Gathering at secret nocturnal conventicles (Nider never used the terms synagogue or sabbath), they worshiped a presiding demon or the devil himself, offered sacrifices to him, desecrated the cross and other religious objects, killed and ate babies and young children, and engaged in sexual orgies. Nider never described witches as flying to such gatherings, and elsewhere in the Formicarius he explicitly denied the reality of night flight, although he did not deny the basic power of demons to transport people through the air if they wished.

In another work, the Preceptorium divinae legis (Preceptor of Divine Law), Nider attempted to provide a guide to various problems of religious belief and practice based on the Ten Commandments. In this work, he included some important sections on demonic magic and witchcraft under the heading of the First Commandment, which stated that one should not worship any other deities before the one Hebrew, and later Christian, God. Demonic invocation, magic, and witchcraft were thought by medieval theologians to entail the worship of demons and thus constituted idolatry.

One particularly important aspect of the witch stereotype that Nider developed was the presumption that women were more inclined toward witchcraft than men. In fact, Nider was the first learned authority to advance this position. Although he presented many ex amples of male witches, he also discussed many female witches. Nider described women as weaker than men in body, mind, and spirit. Thus they were more prone to the seductions and temptations of the devil and submitted more quickly to his service than men. This basic line of argument would become much more pronounced in the extremely misogynist Malleus maleficarum.

NIGHT FLIGHT. Witches were widely supposed to have the power to fly through the air. In particular, they were thought to fly to their secret nocturnal gatherings, known as sabbaths. They often did so on brooms, staves, or occasionally on animals, and this became the standard image of the night flight of witches. The idea of malevolent supernatural beings or of humans empowered by supernatural beings flying through the night and bringing harm to unsuspecting innocents is ancient and widespread, appearing in some form in many human cultures throughout history. In Christian Europe, the idea was codified at least as early as the famous 10th-century canon Episcopi, and the beliefs upon which the canon was based clearly went back much further, most likely to Germanic notions of the Wild Hunt.

The canon Episcopi described groups of "wicked women, who . . . believe and profess that, in the hours of the night, they ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the night traverse great spaces of earth." The canon went on to state, however, that this belief was entirely false and that such supposed flight was only an illusion created by demons. Throughout the Middle Ages, such beliefs were often associated with the practice of sorcery, but authorities generally paid them little concern. Only in the 15 th century, as the idea of the witches' sabbath began to develop, did the idea of night flight become particularly important. Such flight began to be regarded as the means by which witches would travel to their secret nocturnal gatherings. This meant, however, that if authorities wanted to regard the events of a sabbath as real, night flight also had to be real, and they had to disregard the tradition of the canon Episcopi. Some authorities decided that flight must still be an illusion, and so, therefore, must the entire sabbath, but they concluded that accused witches might still be condemned just for believing that they had taken part in such an event. Most authorities, however, were able to argue for the reality of night


flight. Because the ability of demons to transport objects through the air was accepted, they argued that although such flight could sometimes be an illusion as stated in the canon Episcopi, there was no reason that, in other cases, it could not be entirely real.

There is now much evidence to support the idea that the widespread belief in night flight throughout Europe was at least partially based on the survival, in practice or simply in common folklore, of certain forms of archaic shamanism. In many different locations throughout Europe, historians and anthropologists have uncovered ideas of special people or groups of people who were believed to be able to travel at night in spirit form, most often to battle evil spirits in order to ensure fertility for the coming season. The most well-known example of such a group would be the benandanti of northern Italy. Surviving fragments of such beliefs, misinterpreted by authorities or misremembered by the people themselves, may well have contributed to the concepts of night flight and the witches' sabbath across Europe.

NORTH BERWICK WITCHES. The trials of the so-called North Berwick witches are among the most famous in Scottish history, mainly because of the direct participation of the Scottish king, James VI (later also James I of England). The experience of these trials, held in 1590 and 1591, probably provided the king with important inspiration to write his Daemonologie (Demonology), first published in 1597. The trials began when a maid named Gillis Duncan, a resident of the town of Traneten near Edinburgh, began to exhibit certain apparently magical healing powers. Her employer was convinced that she must be a witch. She was interrogated and the devil's mark was found on her throat. She was imprisoned and forced to implicate other witches from Edinburgh and the surrounding region. These people were also arrested, and several were questioned in the presence of King James VI, who had an interest in matters of witchcraft and demonology. Torture was used, and eventually confessions were extracted. The witches supposedly met at regular sabbaths in the town of North Berwick, about 25 miles east of Edinburgh. These gatherings might be attended by as many as 100 witches. In particular, the accused confessed to trying to kill the king by raising a storm at sea as he journeyed back from Den mark. The trials of the North Berwick witches helped to inspire an upsurge in other trials around Scotland.

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