In the Beginning A Sense of Wonder

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Some six thousand years ago, they say - but I should rather suppose a span of centuries far greater - a people (for this aggregation of human beings was much bigger than a mere tribe) lived out its simple collective life in one of those mountain-girdled plains where Europe insensibly becomes Asia.

This people, whose existence and mode of life were deduced, just on two centuries ago, from that common language which is the parent-tongue of so many others - from Russian to English; from French to Hindustani; from Greek to Welsh -we have agreed to call the Indo-Europeans. The other name given to this now positively identified but long-vanished people was 'The Aryans' - but tendentious political and ideological 'loading' of this name has rendered it, at least temporarily, unacceptable to many. All modern books on etymology, philology and other sciences which mention the parent-tongue that these people spoke refer to it, without exception, as 'Indo-European'. The Indo-Europeans bequeathed us much of their blood; they bequeathed to the world the majority of the languages which are spoken today.

The existence of this people, now so distant in time, was first deduced at the end of the eighteenth century, when, not only was it noted that certain 'basic' words, such as mother, father, brother, sister, horse, sickle, fire, water, (to) sow, etc., were common to many, if not all of a group of widely scattered languages, but also that this fact implied the existence, at some time in the remote past, of a language which must have been the parent of all those modern or vanished languages having many basic words in common.

The first man to realise in full the implications of a number of words common to many languages was Sir William Jones, a judge on the establishment of the East India Company. Sir William, who had made a deep study of Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Hindus, was struck by the fact that many words in Sanskrit appeared to have congeners in Greek and (though to a lesser extent, for reasons not then understood by Sir William) in Latin, also.

On his calling the attention of scholars to this fact - but was it fact, and not merely coincidence that the Sanskrit and Greek words for five, mother, father, brother, fire, God, etc. so strikingly resembled each other? - study of ancient texts and the careful comparison of seemingly identical words began throughout Europe. Within thirty years of Jones's literally world-shaking discovery, English, Danish, German, French and Italian scholars had not only proved the common descent of Europe's principal languages, but had demonstrated beyond argument both the existence and much of the nature of the once hypothetical parent-tongue.

Now, in collecting the long list of words which had descended from the parent-tongue - now called Indo-European - to the many languages of Europe, of India, Persia and even (it was discovered only in this present century) China also, a fairly accurate picture was made possible of the mode of life and thought of the ancestor-people who spoke 'Indo-European'. They had domesticated many of the animals which are the staple of farming-stock today - notably, the horse, the ox, and the sheep. They practised what at any rate was a primitive form of agriculture, and their word for 'sickle' or 'reaping' is found in many Indo-European languages, Russian, Welsh, Lithuanian, Greek, etc.

This means that they had passed out of the truly primitive stage of food-gathering, where the men hunt wild animals and the women, children and weakly men gather nuts and berries; and this decided advance towards a sophisticated culture is made evident by some other facts -that they had a society based on a tightly-knit and elaborately classified family unit (they even had words for 'wife's brother' and 'wife's brother-in-law'), and that they worshipped a god whose character is such that he can belong only to a relatively sophisticated stage of human culture.

The Indo-Europeans called this god, 'Sky-Father' - a title which was retained by the immediate ancestors of Greeks and Romans for their Supreme God, but which did not descend, with the Indo-European language, to the ancestors of the English, Germans and other Teutonic peoples.

It is clear that the concept of a 'Sky-Father' could have come to a people's religious sense only after that people had progressed, over how many centuries or even millennia, from the pure sense of uncritical wonder which is the well-spring of all mankind's religious views.

Those earlier stages of religious thought - animism, shamanism and all the other classifications of primitive man's attempt to adjust himself to the Unseen World - are stages through which our Indo-European ancestors must have passed; since no people, however intelligent, however 'spiritual', can arrive at a 'Sky-Father' without having encountered many another more earthly god on its way.

In fact, as the Indo-Europeans advanced towards the refined concept of a monotheistic, perhaps only slightly anthropomorphic divinity, they retained many of the primitive beliefs through which they had passed, and they retained, too, those divine and semi-divine beings which were the product of earlier stages of religious speculation.

What is more, when the Indo-European community broke up and scattered, to become the ancestor people of so many other races, east and west, north and south, it bequeathed its primitive as well as its sophisticated beliefs to those peoples whom it fathered, though mostly this fathering was done by giving conquered peoples the Indo-European speech, and not by creating new nations in the sense of procreating them. Thus, With the sublime concept of the 'Sky-Father' inherited from the Indo-Europeans, the Romans and Greeks had also been bequeathed a whole menagerie of gods and godlets whose names most clearly reveal that original animal character so skilfully hidden beneath the elegances of Greek and - though much later - Roman sculpture.

Artemis was the Bear-Goddess, Apollo (her divinely born twin), the Mouse-God; Demeter - the Corn-Goddess in later times - was originally, as her name shews, the Pig-Goddess; her function, changing from a protector of pigs' natural increase to a protector of crops, demonstrating clearly the change of the community from a predominantly pastoral to a predominantly agricultural one, and in passing we may note that the status of gods rises with that of their worshippers.

'Alexamenos worships his God': Scratched on a guardroom wall in the Domus Gelotiana (or Paedogogium), ibis graffito, with its badly written Greek inscription, 'Alexamenos worships his God!' is generally considered to be, not only 'the oldest picture of the Crucifixion in the world', but also a caricature. I doubt that it was a caricature; the dual-natured 'animal god' was a stock figure of Mediterranean religious thought at the time that this rough drawing was made - c. AD 30.

All religions, I have said, spring from a sense of wonder in man. As he emerges from that almost purely animal condition which has spanned the millions of years between his sea-life as a fish and his environment-controlling existence as homo sapiens, we may think of him as dazzled with the wonder of the world that he can now realise for the first time. For millions of years he has reacted to his surroundings in a purely instinctual way, hunting his food no differently from, and almost certainly with less success than, the commoner animals.

But now, something has happened. A mutation has occurred, and Man, who has been producing man for millions of years, has now produced something subtly different - perhaps not noticeably in appearance, but certainly in the matter of mind.

And it is this change in mind which produces that from which all human progress is to stem: self-consciousness. For the first time in his slow and painful upward climb, Man is aware of himself as no animal can ever be, and certainly as Man, whilst still an animal, never was.

But now, aware for the first time of himself, he is aware, too, of that world which is at once his constant threat and promise; where every brake conceals a possible enemy, yet whose hostile forests harbour the animals which are Man's prey.

With mind came memory - the Latin words for 'mind', 'intellect', 'reason', 'judgement', 'memory' and 'correct, precise measurement' all come from the same ancient Indo-European root, men-men - and with memory came the ability to recall that, the other side of that terrible winter just passed, there was another splendid summer like this; after a time, perhaps a little hesitantly, a little fearfully, to believe that summers would come round, again and again and again. Man noticed that the trees put on their leaves when the winter had given place to milder weather, and that, with the burgeoning of the trees, the animals shewed signs of wishing to couple - and that, after animals had coupled, they bore young, even as the trees, after having leaved and flowered, bore fruit.

No one can now say how long the implications of these observed facts took to arrive in Man's hardly developed mind; but arrive they did, and that sense of wonder which had first inspired the close observation of natural phenomena did not pass as Man began to understand that the conduct of the world was not a haphazard thing; that seasons followed each other in order, crops in rotation, and that, though there was no tree without a seed from which to germinate, there was every chance that a carefully buried and tended seed might well produce a tree.

Man, with his new consciousness, first became aware of himself; then of the world about him; then of his relationship to that world; and, lastly, to an awareness that within him lay the power to effect some sort of control over the forces that he still only dimly perceived and even more dimly understood.

The earliest religious object so far upturned by the archaeologist's spade is the crude clay figure of an animal with pronounced female characteristics, rather more human than animal. Yet the image is obviously that of a bear - and so, until we find an object of earlier dating, we may say that the worship of Artemis the Bear-Goddess is the oldest religion of which we have record. (1)

What makes this discovery so significant is that the dead man with which the Bear was buried represents by no means the highest physical type towards which evolution was directing the humanoid. If the anthropologists are not in error, the man crouched in the grave was no six-foot-six Cro-Magnon -the first true homo sapiens - but a dwarfish, beetle-browed, shambling proto-Man of the Neanderthal type. Yes, even to this brutish creature had come the awareness, perhaps not of what lay about him, but of what might lay about him; numinous influences to ensure good and ward off evil.

What the symbolism might be which is expressed in putting the dead man to his eternal sleep with the crude image of a female Bear to keep him everlasting company, no man now can say. But that we have here, in a grave perhaps fifty thousand years old, the undeniable evidence of a burial accompanied by a religious rite, permits us to realise how soon after his tremendous intellectual awakening - I speak here in relative terms, of course - Man came to that uneasy persuasion that he was not alone in a world, a universe, peopled with things both visible and invisible.

Religion had sprung from that first sense of wonder. But from religion had sprung both hope and fear -and the fears and hopes so intimately associated with the religious sentiment are with us still, and will remain with us until everlasting.

In this book, I shall explain how Man the Ambivalent is at once the most adventurous and most conservative being of all. Magpies and squirrels are acquisitive; but Man is both as acquisitive as magpies and squirrels, yet spendthrift in a manner which would be unthinkable to both these famous hoarders from the animal creation. Man wants both to eat his cake and have it.

[1] The great antiquity of bear-worship and its survival, even though in a degenerate form, until the nineteenth century (to this century, if we include the bears of Bern amongst sacred animals) is described in some detail in my The London That Was Rome; London, George Allen & Unwin, 1971.

His adventurous mind is always seeking, finding, accepting, believing, doubting - which explains why he hangs on to the religious beliefs from the very night of our race's forebeing, before, during and after what he thinks is his intellectual freeing himself from 'outworn superstitions'. Modern Man is no different from the Romans who paid reverence to such ancient Fertility Gods as Semo (2) Sancus Dius Fidius even as they raised splendid temples to the more exotic gods imported from the highly civilised East. Or from Redwald, King of the East Saxons, who, the chronicler tells us, 'in the same temple had an altar to sacrifice to Christ, and another smaller one to offer victims to devils'. (3)

The law of the conservation of energy applies notably well to that energy which has been expended in pondering on the nature of the universe; especially on the nature of those rules by which it is governed. Not a speculation, from even before Man was truly Man, but has not affected the present structure of Man's philosophy; not an idle reflection but has not been powerful enough to leave some trace on the intellectual - nay, even on the neuronic and synaptic - pattern of the modern mind. Great efforts have been made to efface the residual memories of ancient beliefs - the later chapters of this book will describe the most organised, longest-lasting and most successful effort. But, as Lamb pointed out, our beliefs are too deeply imbedded in every human consciousness to be eradicated. They were not put there in our earliest childhood; they were implanted there in the earliest childhood of our human race.

It may well be asked: Why yet another book on Witchcraft? Are there not already books on this subject in abundance and over-abundance? What excuse have you for giving us yet another?

[2] From an ancient root, sa, 'to sow,' which gives both Latin semen, 'seed, that which is sown,' and our English word seed. The name sufficiently indicates the antiquity and primitive nature of this old Roman god.

[3] 'Devils' because a Christian, Bede, is the chronicler.

Well, I have several excuses for adding to the admittedly large number of books on the subject of witchcraft, but I shall content myself with giving the three principal reasons which persuaded me to write this book.

'Animal magnetism' - or eighteenth-century hypnotism: This is a caricature - of animal magnetism, on the system of Anton Mesmer, or Mersburg (1734-1815), who introduced his hypnotic methods into Paris in 1774. But note how ideas of immemorial antiquity persist in this late eighteenth-century drawing - compare it with that of Alexamenos worshipping his God. The two drawings - separated by nearly 1800years - are strikingly similar, for they draw upon the same remote inspiration.

In the first place, I am not satisfied that any book on Witchcraft - not even excepting the admirable works of the late Dr Margaret Murray, who died urging me to write this book - have clearly defined Witchcraft or have made sufficiently clear the essential distinction between Witchcraft and Diabolism -two completely different disciplines, for all that it suited the Rome-directed branch of Christianity to blur the distinction and finally to persecute witches as diabolists.

In the second place, my interest in Witchcraft is rather historical than exegetical; I am concerned with the origins of the cult; more particularly with the geographical situation of the region from which this ancient faith spread over Europe. As with any other faith, Witchcraft - the Fertility Cult is a better, but 'witchcraft' is a more popular, name - is a syncretism of beliefs, though, unlike many other syncretic religions, the original, the basic dynamism remains remarkably free of the influences of the acquired 'trimmings'.

In the course of discovering the origins of Witchcraft, I shall demonstrate that the 'gibberish' of the various rituals, recorded (not always correctly), by nervous ecclesiastical and lay note-takers at the witch-trials, consists of words in a language which was, to the organised Fertility Cult, what Old Slavonic is to the Russian Orthodox Church and what Latin, until recently, was to the Church of Rome.

The language, as recorded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was, as I shall shew, greatly corrupted, and the recovery of the correct forms from the parroted and degenerate late rituals has always taxed and sometimes outwitted my ingenuity as an etymologist. However, as I shall shew, I have translated the more important of the surviving invocations, and in doing so, have proved both the facts of the Cult's origins and the philosophy preached by the founders of the faith.

In the third place, I shall produce evidence, not so far revealed in any book on Witchcraft, to shew that, whilst Witchcraft was not, after the famous Bull of 1484, as widespread or as powerful as vested ecclesiastical and political interests found it useful to make it out to be, the Old Religion (4) (as I shall often call it in this book) was far more established, far more widespread, until at least the year AD 1400, than the activities of the Inquisition would imply. I shall endeavour to demonstrate that, far from the Black Death's having 'given a boost' to the old Religion (at the expense of the New), the facts rather indicate that the opposite occurred; that the freeing of the serfs by the economic results of the Black Death divorced the parish church from the Old Religion - and, henceforth. Church and Old Religion took their separate and (as it turned out, their) disastrous ways.

[4] The Cult retains its name in Italy, where is it known as 'La Vecchia Religione'. This aspect of Italian (rural) conservatism reflects the fact that Italy, despite its important industrialisation, is still a pastoral and agricultural economy.

At the end of the long history of Witchcraft, as I shall shew, two mutually hostile 'religious' opinions amalgamated to oppose, in deadly enmity, two separate 'religious' opinions; to the almost inevitable fact that, confused by the aggressors, the two victim 'religions' ended by being themselves unaware that they were not one. Catholic and Protestant, however much they disliked and - by the Divine authority of Sacred Writ - sought to injure each other, were yet united in their detestation of Witches.

Mr H.R. Trevor-Roper deplores the historical fact that the Witches were persecuted for over two centuries, less than a quarter of that period by the Roman Catholics alone. One may well speculate that, had the persecution - actively prosecuted by both Roman Catholics and Reformed - continued for at least another century, this alliance of Roman ,and Protestant would have made for an oecumenical healing of doctrinal differences, and the Reformation would have been reversed by 1750.

The Pantheists say that there is - can be - no fundamental difference between one religion and another; that all men, however they worship, and whatever they worship, are (even though they be unaware of this fact) worshipping the same Divine Essence - the same Prime Mover - in the same act of worship; that all men are, whether they worship Buddha or Christ, Mithras or Mohammed, thanking the Maker of All Good for His Gifts - for Life and for 'all those other gifts which make the support of life possible.

But, if the differences between religions are not important to the Prime Mover, they are of essential importance (not so much to the worshippers as) to the organisers of each selfconsciously 'different' cult. It has always astonished me how many persons, men and women, have spent so many lifetimes, writing so many books, defending or attacking this religious 'truth' or that, when those who rule and govern a religion are concerned with only two things - neither of which has anything to do with 'truth' or otherwise: orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

'Orthodoxy' does not mean the support of the tenets of the religion, it simply means the support of the religion itself - that is to say, its organisation. 'Set a seal upon my lips, O Lord!' is a cry which has been interpreted in far too literal a sense by those who have a vested interest in organising and profitably conducting religions.

'Heterodoxy', on the other hand, simply means, in the simplest interpretation, not attending the services of a Church which knows that it has the 'truth'. In times of ecclesiastical tyranny - rather than in those times of political and fiscal tyranny in which we now live - 'heterodoxy' or mere non-attendance at church could involve the backslider in perilous difficulty.

The witch-trials which, beginning sporadically (and always politically) in the thirteenth century, progressed to the sado-lunatic pogrom of the late fifteenth, sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, were a skilfully organised attack on heterodoxy, or, to choose a perhaps more definitive word, 'nonconformity'. As I shall attempt to prove, Reformation and Counter-Reformation sought to close the gap which was threatening to divide them for ever by finding a common enemy, so that, in this forced though close alliance, reasons for division might be forgotten.

Let us go back for a moment to the Pantheists, and ask a question of all importance in a book which concerns itself exclusively with religion and religious beliefs. The question is this: Is there any fundamental difference between any religion and all the others, living and dead? And - as a corollary -we might ask the question more specifically: Was there any fundamental difference between the Oecumenical Christianity of the late fifteenth century and the Old Religion that the New Faith (now some fifteen hundred years established) set out to attack and destroy?

The answer is: Yes. But this plain answer may not be given without the warning that, though the answer was 'yes' in 1484, the answer would have been a decided 'no' only, perhaps, a century earlier.

Religious differences come first; the doctrinal differences which 'justify" those religious differences come, inevitably, later. All the subtly incomprehensible dogmata which now set the Church of Rome apart from the rest of the One, Holy and Apostolic Church have been 'revealed', one by cautious one, over the centuries, the Holy Ghost revealing them to Christ's Vicar evidently in answer to a plea that the Church remain separated from the other Christians by virtue of her being always in sole possession of 'the revealed truth'.

Transubstantiation, the doctrine which was so greatly peculiar to the Church of Rome that it set both

Sacrifice and Church apart, was no dogma of Early Christianity, whose members ate bread and drank wine at the agapai - the primitive, innocent 'love feasts' of primitive, innocent Christianity -'in commemoration of Me'. 'Take ye and eat, for this is My Body and this is My Blood' was a hallowed injunction accepted (as it had been said) only in a reverentially symbolic sense. Those feasters in the catacombs would have been astonished to learn that, generations hence, Christians would expose themselves to hell everlasting did they not accept the injunction in a completely literal sense.

The dogmata which were to test the credulity of even the most doctrinally subservient of Roman Catholics were left, curiously enough, until the regretted 'Ages of Faith' had demonstrably passed away. The Immaculate Conception, the Infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex-cathedra, (5) the Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Her Bodily Form - all these not-immediately-credible religious truths were not amongst those that a fifteenth century Christian was forced to believe under pain of mortal sin and eternal damnation. They were left to the Faithful of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whom, presumably, the Church considered to be more credulous than the Faithful of five hundred years earlier.

But even by the end of the fifteenth century, the Roman Church - which, then, was the monopolistic Faith of Christendom - had evolved a doctrinal structure which set it apart - as was intended - from that Old Religion whose fundamental tenets, at least, the Christian religion had once shared.

[5] In fairness to the Pope, it should be borne in mind that it is only when pronouncing upon Faith and Morals in his capacity as Vicar of Christ that the Pope claims to be infallible. Speaking as an ordinary mortal, the Pope is as vulnerable to the human propensity to error as is the author of this book.

Pared of all the 'wasteful and ridiculous excess' with which the ingenuity of dogmatists and exegetists had dressed up, so as to disguise, an originally simple faith, the difference between Christianity and the Old Religion, by 1484, the year of Pope Innocent VIII's famous Bull (6) may briefly be stated as follows: Christianity, like all other religions, postulated a sacrifice to its God. But, in the person of Christ, a God-turned-human-but-still-retaining-all-His-Godlike-attributes, a sacrifice had been made of such worth that no further sacrifice was necessary.

The inexhaustible 'grace' (spiritual credit) 'earned' by Christ's sacrifice was, obviously, sufficient to offset the debt of sinful mankind towards its Creator - that is, in the way of payment for incurred guilt. In other words - and these were significant words - Christianity was a religion in which the necessary sacrifice had occurred once and for all time. With other religions (and Rome had the Old Religion well - almost exclusively - in mind here) the sacrifice had to be repeated again and again; though, with the Old Religion, as with those earlier Faiths to which Christianity could look back as ancestral, the 'savagery' of the sacrifice had become greatly modified over the centuries.

But, as Montague Summers said, in his preface to his translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, 'Witchcraft was inextricably mixed with polities', and to this observation we may add that of T.C.

Lethbridge: (7) 'It is a curious piece of irony that the Church, which had suffered so much from persecution itself, should have been the organisation which treated witches with even greater brutality, and shews how terribly it had wandered from the teaching of its great master. It is only fair to add that it was quite as ready to burn its own members at the stake, if they happened to differ slightly from the official view in dogma'.

[6] Summis desiderantes affectibus, dated and published, 9th December, 1484. It gave retrospective authority to 'the ecclesiastical authorities', specifically the Dominicans, to apply generally the restrictive intentions of the Bull of Innocent IV (1252), which earlier charitable proclamation begins with the significant words, Ad Extirpandum.

[7] Witches: Investigating an Ancient Religion; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962.

I shall argue, in its proper place, that the Church's persecution of the Old Religion was eminently successful, as persecution, despite the romantic sighs of those who think that there's any justice in this world, so often succeeds - and succeeds completely. I shall point out that the modern highly-publicised 'revival of Witchcraft' is a non-fact; that Witchcraft - or the Old Religion - cannot be revived until and unless the beliefs associated with natural (not internal-combustion tractor) agriculture be revived.

I shall further point out that, in 'extirpating' the Old Religion, consonant to the pious exhortation of Popes Innocent IV, and VIII, the Dominicans, Kramer and Sprenger, launching an all-out attack on what remained of the Old Religion, succeeded, not only in destroying the ancient, simple Fertility Cult, as it survived into fifteenth-century Europe, but also in reviving and strengthening that Diabolism which, though completely distinct from the Old Religion, had been, for political reasons, identified with the Old Religion by these conscienceless monks.

It is of no worthy chapters in Man's oddly contradictory history that I shall have to write, though, in the ecclesiastical persecution of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the human spirit seized its chance to exhibit its nobility, just as it did in the lay and religious persecutions of the twentieth century.

I feel, in embarking on this examination of the anatomy of Witchcraft, that identification with either the worshipper or his enemy has, hitherto prevented the historian from seeing the truth of Witchcraft. Though natural human charity shrinks from approving the calculated cruelty of those whom Kramer and Sprenger led in their over-two-centuries-long Sadists' Sabbath, it is just this indignant repudiation of cold ecclesiastical savagery which has militated the calm presentation of the truth. One may well sympathise with the simple worshippers of 'The Giver of All Good', snatched up from the innocent expression of that ancient 'sense of wonder' to face the literally diabolical enmity of the hired examiners, whose ears were conditioned to hear only one plea - Guilty! - and whose sense of 'justice' could be satisfied with only one punishment: Death!

But sympathy for one side and loathing for the other are no sure guides to an objective assessment of the rise, development, continent-wide influence and gradual decline of what must be the oldest Faith by which Man has sought to leave the sole consideration of self and seek, first, to approach and understand the phenomena of that Nature of which he knows himself to be a part, and, second - and much more importantly - to control the forces of which those phenomena are but the visible manifestation.

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