Person Performing Whitchcraft And Poisoning In The Wwst Indies

PACTS, DEMONIC. The notion of a pact with demons or with the devil, either explicit or tacit, was for Christian authorities in medieval and early-modern Europe an essential element of most forms of sorcery, and this was one of the central crimes entailed in witchcraft. The roots of the Christian notion of the demonic pact are found in the Bible, chiefly Isaiah 28:15, given in the early-modern King James' Version as, "We have made a covenant with death and with hell we are at agreement." The medieval Latin Vulgate actually uses the word pact: ". . . et cum inferno fecimuspactum." Early church fathers such as Origen (185-254) and Augustine of Hippo (354-430) began to link the performance of sorcery and divination to pacts made with demons. Augustine in particular viewed the entire world in terms of a struggle between demonic and divine power, and he contrasted the evil of demonic magic starkly with the good and salvational power of divine miracle in his famous City of God and other works. His notions of demonic pacts would form the essential foundation on which all later Western Christian thought on this subject was based.

For much of the early Middle Ages, Christian authorities seem to have been relatively less concerned about real demonic power in the world than they would later become, although Augustine's notions of demonic pacts did enter into official ecclesiastical canon law at this time. Around the 12th century, Christian authorities became increasingly concerned about demonic activity. In the 13 th century, the great theologian Thomas Aquinas began to develop the notion of the demonic pact and its connections to demonic sorcery to a further extent. By the end of the 14th century, the theologian and inquisitor Nicolau Eymeric developed a detailed argument proving that all demonic sorcery necessarily involved the agreement and cooperation of demons. Sorcerers had to worship these demons and form pacts with them, either explicitly or implicitly, and so were guilty of terrible idolatry and heresy.

When the full stereotype of European witchcraft finally developed in the 15 th century, the pact with the devil was central to the entire concept of how witchcraft supposedly operated. Typically at a sabbath, new witches were thought to be required to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the devil. Increasingly, accounts came to describe a formal, written agreement signed by the witch, often in blood. The notion of a pact made with the devil in order to attain wealth, power, or worldly pleasure also existed outside of the stereotype of witchcraft. Probably the most famous story of a human entering into a pact with the devil is that of the German magician Faust.

PAGANISM. Historically used by Christian religious authorities to refer to any form of polytheistic religious belief, in contrast to the three main monotheistic religions of the West—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—the term paganism derives from the Latin pagus, meaning the countryside, andpaganus, meaning rustic people, generally. In late antiquity, as Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman world, it was initially centered in the cities, and so early Christians began to use the term pagan to describe those who held to the older, polytheistic religions of the ancient world. During the Middle Ages, Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic tribes that had not yet converted to Christianity were labeled pagans. There is no evidence of any direct connection between historical witchcraft and paganism in any form. However, in the late 19th and early 20 th centuries, certain professional and amateur scholars, most notably the British Egyptologist and anthropologist Margaret Murray, advanced the argument that historical witchcraft actually represented the covert but direct survival of pagan religion into the Christian era. Encountering pagan rituals still practiced among the

104 • PARACELSUS (1493-1541)

common people, Christian authorities supposedly condemned these practices as devil-worship and thus created the stereotype of witchcraft and cults of witches gathering at ritual sabbaths.

Although certain elements of the historical stereotype of witchcraft were clearly influenced by the remnants of some ancient, pre-Christian practices, for example the shamanistic fertility rites practiced by the northern Italian benandanti, the notion that pagan religiosity survived intact throughout the medieval and early-modern periods never found any firm support and has long since been discredited in historical scholarship. Nevertheless, such notions were crucial to the development of modern witchcraft, or Wicca. The early founders of this movement, following the arguments of Margaret Murray, believed or at least claimed they believed that they had rediscovered an authentic, ancient, pagan religion. Even within Wicca, this view has since largely been abandoned, however, and most modern witches, along with practitioners of other variants of modern neo-paganism, recognize that they are developing new religious systems creatively based on ancient, pagan models.

PARACELSUS (PHILIPPUS AUREOLUS THEOPHRASTUS BOMBAST VON HOHENHEIM) (1493-1541). A Swiss physician and alchemist, Paracelsus was never involved in any aspect of witchcraft, and he was in fact skeptical of much magic based on incantation and ritual demonic invocation. He did, however, believe strongly in what might be called natural magic. That is, he believed that occult properties and powers existed in natural substances and throughout the natural world, including the stars and planets. Magicians, sorcerers, and cunning men and women, he felt, often knew how to employ these natural properties for magical healing or for other purposes. Using such practices, common healers often excelled educated physicians in the effectiveness of their remedies.

After studying medicine in Vienna and Italy, Paracelsus traveled extensively throughout Europe. Originally going by his given name of Theophrastus, he eventually took the name Paracelsus to denote his connection to the famous ancient Roman physician Celsus. He gained a considerable reputation as a healer. His acerbic personality, however, guaranteed that he was never popular, and he rarely stayed in one position for very long.


PENTAGRAM. The pentagram or pentacle, a five-pointed star usually inscribed within a circle, is an important religious symbol for modern witchcraft, or Wicca. The five points of the star are typically interpreted as representing the divine, or alternately humanity, in harmony with the four natural elements. This symbol has little association with historical witchcraft. Magical circles of various sorts, often with stars or other occult symbols inscribed within them, were frequently employed to perform ritual magic, especially ritual demonic magic or necromancy, in the medieval and early-modern periods. The use of such symbols was then revived in the modern era by occult groups such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. An inverted pentagram (with a single point of the star facing down as opposed to the Wiccan pentagram in which the single point faces up) has also been adopted as the symbol of Baphomet by the modern Church of Satan, and this or similar symbols are frequently used by many groups practicing modern Satanism.

PERKINS, WILLIAM (1555-1602). A major English authority on de-monology, witchcraft, and witch-hunting, Perkins was a fellow of Christ's College at Cambridge. His major work, Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft, was published posthumously in 1608 and soon surpassed even the Daemonologie of King James I to become the standard authority on matters of witchcraft in England in the 17th century. Perkins relied heavily on the Bible for his condemnation of witchcraft, but drew relatively little from earlier, continental authorities, with the notable exception of Nicholas Remy, on whom he relied heavily


A nephew of the more famous Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Picco della Mirandola, Gianfrancesco was also a Renaissance humanist by training. He did not, however, share in the skepticism about witchcraft that some humanists showed. In 1523, he was present for several witch trials in Bologna, and from this experience he wrote Strix sive de ludificatione daemonum (Strix, or the Deceptions of Demons —strix was a term for witches at this time). In this dialogue, several characters debate about the reality of witchcraft and then question an actual witch. In the end, the skeptical character in the dialogue is convinced of the error of his position and accepts the reality of witchcraft. Written in Latin, the work was translated into Italian as early as 1524.

POISON. Historical witches were often accused of using poisons to harm or kill others. In some cases, people accused of witchcraft may in fact have been skilled herbalists capable of producing very dangerous poisons. The root of the mandrake plant, for example, often associated with witchcraft, could be very toxic. More often, however, the supposed link between witchcraft and poisoning was more fantastic. Witches were often described as receiving various poisons, along with other magical ointments, from the devil at a witches' sabbath. They would use these poisons to kill or injure people at the devil's command.


POSSESSION, DEMONIC. Referring to cases where a demon or the devil has supposedly entered a person's body and taken control over physical actions and to some extent the mind and personality, possession, and its near equivalent obsession, in which demons were thought to afflict people from outside of their bodies, was often associated with witchcraft. Witches were believed to be able to send demons to afflict people whom they wished to harm. In cases of possession, they often employed some item of bewitched food to convey the demonic spirit into the person. According to some authorities, apples were particularly useful for this sort of activity. In cases of obsession, the demon was sometimes thought to appear, visible only to the person it was afflicting, in the form of the witch herself. This formed a basis for some cases of spectral evidence.

During the Middle Ages, the church prescribed exorcism as a remedy for possession. The basis for the power of exorcism, as for possession itself, is found in the Bible, primarily the New Testament passages in Matthew 8:28-32, Mark 5:2-13, and Luke 8:27-33, in which Christ encounters a possessed man (or two possessed people in Matthew's account) and frees him by commanding the demons to enter a herd of swine, which then drown themselves. In early Christianity, possession, and more so obsession, was often thought to be a sign of holiness. Much early Christian demonology was developed in


the deserts of Egypt by hermit monks who frequently believed themselves to be assailed by and in spiritual conflict with demons. By the later Middle Ages and the early-modern period, possessed people were often thought to have been victims of witchcraft. Perhaps the most famous such case occurred in a convent in the French town of Loudun where several nuns claimed to have been possessed because of the sorcery of a local priest. The charges were false and in fact were politically motivated, and the whole affair was a ruse, but the priest was, nevertheless, eventually burned at the stake. Another famous case linking possession to witchcraft occurred in Salem, Massachusetts, where a major witch-hunt began when several young girls began to exhibit signs of possession, obsession, and bewitchment.

Throughout the period of the witch-hunts, exorcism remained a common remedy for possession in Catholic lands. In Protestant countries, where the clergy had abandoned the formal rite of exorcism, people resorted to prayer. In addition, to free themselves from supposed demonic assault, people often turned to a variety of common spells and charms that could be acquired from cunning men and women. The causes of possession could vary, from outright deception as in the Loudun case, and possibly in the case of Salem as well, to real mental illness or dementia. Authorities did recognize that some cases of apparent possession might be caused by such factors, and many skeptical authorities, such as Johann Weyer, argued that many aspects of witchcraft and demonic activity were in fact signs of physical diseases and should be treated medically, not spiritually.

PRICKING. A method of detecting witches during the period of the major European witch-hunts was to prick the skin of suspects with a needle or some sharp object. Witches were often thought to have dead areas of skin that would not bleed and were insensitive to pain. Such an area of flesh was evidence of the devil's mark, a spot where the devil had branded the witch in his service. The process of pricking was especially humiliating because it required the suspected witch, usually a woman, to disrobe before authorities. Such marks were generally thought to be located on very private and thus easily concealed areas of the body, such as near the genitalia, although they could be found anywhere and were even thought to move around the body.


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