At a time where Christians are killed by Muslims, copiously in the Third World and, yet and just, separately elsewhere and both without much interest from public and media, where the world got its collective knickers in a knot that the pope is Catholic, the following from the information site "Katholisches – Magazin für Kirche und Kultur" is of particular importance. "Katholisches" (which means something like "Catholic matters") introduces a book "Toleranz und Gewalt ("Tolerance and Violence") and forwards some details about the dreaded Inquisition, evil incarnate and second only to the 20th century Holocaust of the Jews (if that), in a historical context: Informationen und Zahlen über die Heilige Inquisition aus dem Buch "Toleranz und Gewalt".Thanks to feminism, the history of the European witch hunts of the late 16th and early 17th centuries has become ideologized and bent out of shape to their liking and, interestingly, 9 million is the number incorrectly and widely bandied about. While witch hunts were seen in the early 1900s as outbreaks of religious hysteria for which an ever-sinister and oppressive Catholic church was responsible, in the Seventies, feminist revisionist historians claimed that they had been a systematic campaign by the patriarchal system to do away with the remnants of -- Yeah, right! -- goddess-worshiping pre-Christian religions.
According to that book, the Spanish Inquisition has, within the 160 years between 1540 and 1700, passed 44,674 sentences. Of those sentenced, 826 were executed. The book compares this to the Spanish Civil war, where Communists murdered within a time span of six years more than 7,000 priests and monastics. The Roman Inquisition had, between 1542 and 1761, exactly 97 people executed. Another example: Secular jurisdiction executed within the same time span 939 people in the city of Nürnberg alone.
Burning of witches was almost unknown and strictly rejected by the popes. In the 17th century, when all over the Protestant regions north of the Alps the stakes were burning (there is an estimation of 25,000 victims), not a single witch trial was performed. In Spain, about 300 "witches" were burnt at the stakes, in strongly Catholic Ireland 2.
The frequently traded number of 9 million victims can, interestingly, be traced back to Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful man in the "Third Reich", who intended to fuel thus anti-Catholic resentments. In fact, even his "research team" couldn't fabricate more than 30,000 victims.
While both concepts are wrong, somewhat predictably, the more idiotic one has prevailed. As Laura Miller puts it in Salon.com:
For a summary of this now-widespread misperception of the "Burning Times," we need look no further than a passage from the best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code": "The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human history. 'Malleus Maleficarum' -- or 'The Witches' Hammer' -- indoctrinated the world to 'the dangers of freethinking women' and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture and destroy them. Those deemed 'witches' by the Church included all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers, and any women 'suspiciously attuned to the natural world.' Midwives were also killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth -- a suffering, the Church claimed, that was God's rightful punishment for Eve's partaking of the apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea of Original Sin. During 300 years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women" [internal quotations original, source unidentified, but definitely not "Malleus Maleficarum"].Let me repeat: That's the sort of thing real historians do.
This is an impressively erroneous passage, incorrect almost from beginning to end, but it is contaminated by one morsel of fact: The "Malleus Maleficarum" is indeed a spectacularly misogynistic and twisted book, compiled by the Dominican inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, published in 1486 and an essential guidebook and inspiration for witch hunters throughout Europe.
For many years, such volumes of demonology ("findings" on the behavior of demons, witches and their master, the devil) were the main sources for historians of Europe's witch hunts, including such revisionist feminist historians as Margaret Murray and Anne Llewellyn Barstow. The trouble is, demonology texts like "Malleus Maleficarum" -- alarmist calls to arms in a society where many people were skeptical about the threat posed by witches -- amount to advertisements and arguments for the profession of witch hunting. When it comes to what actually happened in the real world, they're about as trustworthy as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
In the past two or three decades, however, many historians have turned their attention to more reliable source materials on the witch hunts -- the local records of trials and executions stashed away in hundreds of small towns across Europe and Great Britain. As the historian Jenny Gibbons has pointed out in her admirably lucid 1998 essay "Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt," this is hard work, sifting through vast amounts of dull documents written in archaic and often frustratingly obtuse language, but it's the sort of thing real historians do.
No doubt, the knowledge thus retrieved painted a somewhat different picture of Europe's witch hunts and at the end of the day, it was what we all know anyway because people do not change that much. Petty feuds among neighbors, resentments within families, disagreeable local characters, the schemes of power hungry public figures big and small and the disgusting psychosexual interests we know in various forms all anyway. The quotation of the phenomenon Hannah Arendt called the "banality of evil" is very apt indeed.
Interestingly, too, some 20 percent of the European average of those tried for witchcraft were men. In some cases, the accused were children. Now try to get that in line with the evil patriarchy.
As indicated in the excerpt of my other blog entry quoted above, the Inquisition was not greatly involved in witch burnings. It was rather a matter of the Protestant sub-culture and while the justification for witch trials was religious, the trials were not performed by churches of ANY denomination, but held in civil courts and prosecuted by local authorities as criminal cases. It shouldn't be forgotten, either, that the power vacuum that developed through the fragmentation of political and legal powers in Germany in the post-Reformation era, made it possible for panics like witch hunts to get their own momentum, when all kinds of moral fundamentalism, that saw the Devil's hand at work in all opponents, run rampant.
In her book "Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany" Lyndal Roper explains in detail that Germany in the late 16th century was a place where marriage and children were difficult to attain because of the estate system and laws that prevented people from marrying unless they could prove that they could support a family, and where illegitimate pregnancies were outlawed and harshly punished. To be a wife and mother was thus a privileged station in life and the target of envy, the base for many accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, different from the political correct history that tries to sell us that witch hunts were organized campaigns by a patriarchial society and a church hell-bent on eliminating all "ancient wisdom". But married women and mothers were by far not the sole targets. When all else is said and done, there are always women who will begrudge other women even their eyesight, and so, somewhat predictably, the cases Roper quotes suggest the opposite to the evil patriarchy scheme, namely that the chief accusers, and the initiating force behind the trials against women, were often -- women, and that the pagan cultures, so glorified in many feminist and "alternative" circles, have, what little records they have left, proven to be every bit as capable of misogyny and brutalizing outsiders and misfits. To summarize: Pagans were no better than Christians, women no better than men and village communities no better than any other human society.
A gift of baked goods that comes with a barbed remark about the recipient's own culinary skills, a quarrel over the price of apples, irritation at someone who doesn't come promptly to dinner when called -- these are the sorts of incidents that precipitated the hideous cruelty of Europe's witch hunts. "It is difficult to comprehend the sheer viciousness of the way villagers and townsfolk attacked those they held to be witches," Roper writes. Then again, if you've ever lived in a small community, is it really that difficult to see how they got started in that direction, if not how they managed to get so far? It may take a village to raise a child, but history also keeps telling us that it takes a village to burn a witch.So Laura Miller.
Although all that is something anybody with a modicum of common sense knows anyway, there remains a feeling of weird awe towards those women who turn the truth upside down and inside out, who abuse historiograpy to their own twisted ends and who do not shy away from even the most debased of libels and lies, not even those fabricated by a Heinrich Himmler, one of the most effective mass murderers in history.