The Servants Of Satan

While Christian theology portrayed the Devil as interested in drawing souls away from God and, ultimately m imposing his rule on the world, there were other images of evil that were incorporated into Christian demonology. As well as being the source of evil in the world, Satan and his demons" were believed to have human allies and servants. According to Cohn (1970) it is this that distinguishes Christian beliefs m evil from those of other religions. The elaboration of this idea into the notion of the Witches Sabbath that let- loose the witchcraze in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took time. It took up even older ideas and blended them into a single terrifying image (Cohn, 1975). Later versions of it remained a part of Western culture after the authorities had stopped the witch-hunts.

One of the ways m which devils, or the Devil, were believed to associate with human beings was m lending them extra-human powers to perform acts that were beyond the range of human beings. These demons were versions of the pagan gods from whom pagans had been believed to draw the powers of magic. By the Middle Ages, learned magicians were suspected of summoning and using demons by their magic in order to exchange their souls for magical powers m Faustian contracts. The practice of magic came to be associated with demons and hence with extremes of evil. Its practice m the twentieth century has been given similar connotations.

However, demonic magic was the pursuit of educated men, many of them clerics. Among the peasants magic consisted of the powers to heal sickness, pursue thieves and make charms to protect the wearer or bring good fortune. Those who possessed such powers, or witchcraft, the 'wise men' or 'wise women', might also be suspected of causing harm by evil magic but the term witchcraft was initially neutral. When, during the fifteenth century, the belief spread among the clergy and the elite that all such powers were derived from a contract with the devil, the idea of witches as servants of the devil came into existence.

The idea of Satan's servants had been developed earlier m the Church's fight against heretics. It came to be believed that there were regular gatherings to celebrate and worship their diabolic master. What was thought to happen at these gatherings drew on folk beliefs that had been used first against Christians by Romans. These were then used by Christians in their turn: against heretics, the Jews, Templars and all others who were considered enemies of the Church. The folklore referred to secret meetings in which demons and Satan himself participated and at which slaughtered babies were consumed in a feast and there were orgies of sex in which all normal restraints, including those prohibiting incest, were abandoned. Variations on the central themes of murder, cannibalism and orgiastic sex took into account particular practices or beliefs with which the accused were associated. Thus the Templars, who were sworn to celibacy, were accused of sodomy, and the Jews, whose food taboos set them off from Christians, of using the blood of Gentile babies to bake their ritual bread. The evidence that these gatherings actually took place was drawn almost entirely from the accused's confessions. Most of these were extracted under persistent questioning or torture, like those of the witches; Levack has pointed out that 'once torture was applied, then charges of diabolism arose' (1987:12). Details from the confessions of the tortured were widely circulated and might form the basis of other allegations and of some of the allegedly 'spontaneous' confessions.

In some early cases, however, like that of the heretic Canons of Orleans who were burned for heresy m 1022, stones of diabolism were invented after the execution of the accused and further elaborated three-quarters of a century later (Cohn, 1970:8). Such legends attached to enemies of the Church ensure that they are remembered as infamous and cannot form the focus of a rebel sect. They have become a folk mythology that may be quoted as evidence that satamsm has existed all through the centunes, despite the fact that histoncal research has shown how unreliable the evidence has been, how partisan the arguments, and how and why the fabncations were made.

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    Is the witchcraze a war against satan?
    7 years ago

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