Witchcraft and Sorcery

In the extension of its power as a religious, social and political force, the church had long opposed pagan practices and sORCERY, especially sacrifices to DEMONs. From the 8th century to about the 12th century, the church sought to wipe out paganism. By the 13th century, there was more tolerance, and the church itself even acquired an aura of magical power. Practices of alchemy, MAGIC, sorcery, divination and necromancy were widespread, even in the church. John XXII was well aware of this activity and was a believer himself, using magical talismans for protection. A necromantic plot of sympathetic magic was directed at him and his cardinals. The plot failed, but the pope responded by turning the Inquisition against sorcery.

On July 28, 1319, John XXII ordered the prosecution of two men and a woman who were believed to be consulting with demons and making magical images. He soon followed with another bull directing the Bishop of Toulouse to proceed against sorcerers as if they were heretics. The bishop accused heretics of sacrificing to and worshipping demons and making pacts with the Devil.

John XXII was especially interested in wiping out magical practices among the clergy and prominent people, but his campaigns sometimes backfired, making the victims and their works more popular than ever. In 1330 the pope issued a bull ordering that sorcerer and witch trials be concluded, and no new ones started.

John XXII died in 1334. His successor, Benedict XII, resumed the use of sorcery as a crime of heresy, expanding into small-time practitioners in villages.

In the 14th century, the association between sorcery and heresy took on new dimensions, bringing sorcery and witchcraft into the Inquisition. But nearly 200 years passed before the essential elements of witchcraft as heresy solidified: the Devil's PACT, sABBATs, sHAPE-sHIFTING and MALEFICIA. In 1398, the theological faculty of the University of Paris adopted 28 articles of witchcraft, which became a foundation for subsequent treatises on witchcraft by demonologists. The articles were considered proof of witchcraft, and they established as fact that a Devil's pact was necessary for the performance of all acts of magic and witchcraft. The first reference to sabbats in trials occurred in 1475, but sabbats received scant attention until later in the 15th century. Lurid descriptions were given about witches engaging in ritual feasting, sexual orgies and the ritual murder and cannibalism of infants and children.

Devil's pacts became a central element in the 16th century In the 15th century, the writers of inquisitional handbooks and treatises emphasized sorcery and witchcraft and drew upon the influential writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, who in the late 13th century condemned any kind of invocation of demons and Devil pacts either implicit or explicit.

The campaigns to stamp out sorcery and witchcraft had the effect of whipping up public fears of the powers of magic. People already lived in fear of bewitchment, and the Inquisition intensified it. Ironically, the attention validated the reality of magic and evil powers.

Most accusations against witches concerning evil spell-casting, but diabolical elements were introduced by inquisitors, who sought to prove Devil worship and pacts in order to convict of heresy. Torture also increased in order to secure the necessary "free confessions" to diabolism.

The witch craze raged for nearly three centuries, from the 1500s to the late 1700s, with the most intense persecutions taking place in the 17th century. In the 18th century, the Inquisition lost momentum and finally came to an end.

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