Magicology (II) A distorted picture.


The main problem we face speaking about magic, sorcery and witchcraft, is that all concepts we receive from written sources are distorted either by the author or by his erudition which prevents him to have a respectful view of the magical belief.

The wizard -I will use this term to name the sorcerer as well as the warlock when there is no need to distinguish them- will always appear as the responsible of his actions, of those actions which achieve an alteration even thought people do not believe in them or do not understand them; or he will appear as a victim for the same reasons before mentioned. However, if we go back to a specific topic mentioned in Principles of magicology (I) there is a point that deserves our attention. Latin was the European lingua franca but only among the clergy and high cultured environments. If a medieval peasant hardly could recognized and read some words, how he was supposed to remember and pronounce Latin verses, or worst, Greek, Persian or Hebrew verses? Rustic magic as a common social system, seemed to fall apart easily. Rural magic thus might be recognized as the more ancient cultural living stratum, but that contradicted the idea of book culture that unfortunately grew until our days. Arnau de Vilanova (1240-1311) branded especially old herbalist women and those people who recited Latin spells without knowing their real meaning as ignorant people. This way, some people could mix love spells with prayers to Lucifer with even three Ave Maria.

Magic's criminalization was not only because mixing good and evil magic under the same name, but also because of social and political issues. The Roman Law of the Twelve Tables established punishment to those who carried out spells with malevolent purposes, but they did not include haruspicy or other divinatory methods. But Emperor Constantine did but because of religion and political reasons, since these practices were apparently common in pagan people and Jewish people and also because of his intention to accuse political rivals of crimen magiae under legal pretext. It is important to point out that one of the main rules against magic referred especially to secret meetings, which leads to think more about rebellions than in primitive witches' covens. Although this will have an special section, it is necessary to mention that only astrology, maybe because it is mentioned in the sacred texts, did not end in the same way as the other magical practices. It had certain science because no one could reject that Creation had non random structure and order that affected the rest of the elements: the influence of the stars, therefore, was a natural agent as any other. Isidoro de Sevilla divided it in astrología naturalis, fair, mathematical, scientific and superstitiosa, which remained forbidden by its divinatory purposes. However from one to another there was less than one step, and a lot of them ended in pure quackery. It was impossible at the beginning to separate astrology from astronomy. But even when it happened, in order to refute that man could not have a fate because freewill was weak, they started to talk about "tendencies" which guided mankind. This way the marked one could decide to trust the stars or not.

Any cult to ancient gods or spirits, transformed in demons or fake idols by Christianity, was easier to gather under magical name. Because of that superstition could not be accepted as "habit" but as something evil, and the wizard changed to be a person who committed the crime willingly. Apart from all this, since the beginning there were references to sexual licentiousness which in Middle Ages would be named as incubus and succubus according to the sex of the sinner, which adds a new reason to search for moral and legal regulations for sacred view of sexual act, virginity and marriage. Since 7th century there were superstition indexes and pagan rituals written for better identification, there was no death penalty but it came for those who believing to know a wizard, executed him instead of banishing him or trying to redeem him or putting him a fine as Charlemagne promulgated in 8th century.

There was some discussion about if Creation belonged to God, for example, Guillermo de Auvernia's idea (1180-1249) which spoke about its extension and therefore the existence of all the mythological creatures known. Unfortunately everything was summarized in the fact that indeed secret energies existed, but demons perverted them and the person who used them followed the example of that demon. The fear of the Christian Hell provoked the accusations of magic to focus more on the person only because of carrying it out than in the direct consequences which finally end with a physical and mortal punishment. They had no problems to acknowledge the magical practice only in supposed meeting or conversations because some wax figures were found full of blood or nails as the ones found from Hugues Geraud, Cahors' bishop, accused of trying to kill Pope John XXII with them.

The paranoia was extended and it made believe in people with supernatural powers among simple folk, along the fear to lose power in high Christian positions, both lead to many chaotic executions we know from these dark centuries, which avoided any other testimonies out of sentences and identification manuals as Malleus Malleficarum (ca.1430)where the questions made to those accused of witchcraft serves us to know they were thinking but not the reality: they asked not only about their faith but also if they knew how to read and write, because the diabolic agreement must have remained in something written. Chroniclers also serve us to see under which pretexts or allegedly magical actions the accusations and arrests were carried out, as well as to check one of the worst problems, searching for accomplices, and especially the fact that in the most of the cases those accusations were for women.

Even in Middle Ages, women had not access to culture so they were easy to manipulate especially in rural areas. A woman out of her role or worst, with knowledge reserved for men, it was a sign of witchcraft. Many of this assumptions, for example, were related to midwifes because of they helped in the delicate moment of birth but this, linked to the image of an stigmatized woman, high mortality in breastfed babies and horrible writings about witchcraft where child blood and sacrifices were established as unequivocal proof of diabolical devotion, took to hasty conclusions in many cases. The same way happened with not married woman or old widows where they believed the devil has more presence since they had not any carnal pleasure.

It is important to mention that witch hunting was not exactly the same in every place in the world. It got to European areas with Orthodox influence, or Mediterranean (in the Iberian Peninsula were gathered on Pyrenees more than others as well as in the north of the Italian one) and other sections of Scandinavia. However we also have the Icelandic example, which in their isolation pursued more warlocks than women and whose number of victims in a small space like that could compete with the continental persecutory delirium.

In the next centuries it evolved and the study of magic held college positions, both in favor or against studying as a science. Its return, but not its rebirth in 18th century with the current hidden and esoteric value will be carefully analyzed in Principles of magicology (III).

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -

Rachel Black - Translator -

DAXELMÜLLER, Christoph, Historia social de la magia. Empresa Editorial Herder, 1997, Barcelona
GIRALT, Sebastià, Magia y ciencia en la Baja Edad Media: la construcción de los límites entre la magia natural y la nigromancia, c. 1230 - c. 13101 Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Clio&Crimen nº 8 (2011), pp. 14-72
WEILL-PAROT, Nicolas, «Science et magie au Moyen Âge», HAMESSE, J. (coord.), Bilan et pers - pectives des études médiévales (1993-1999). Euroconférence (Barcelone 8-12 juin 1999). Actes du Congrès Européen d'Études Médiévales,Tournhout, Brepols, 2004.

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