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The Burning Times

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  • The Burning Times

    How did the lies start? Where did the negative image of the Witch begin? And how did it become so ingrained in our culture that it's almost impossible for some people to hear the word Witch without thinking of evil?

    The religion of Witchcraft dates back about 25,000 years, to the Paleolithic Age, where the God of Hunting and the Goddess of Fertility first appeared. Out of respect for the overwhelming power of Nature grew a belief in beings, gods, who controlled the winds, the seas, the earth and the fires.

    Soon, the old ways of the common people came into conflict with a new religion that started with rulers and upper classes - Christianity.

    When the Christians decided that their new ways weren't catching on fast enough, things got a lot rougher for those who were practicing the Old Religion. Christian leaders began asserting that Witches were devil worshippers and savages.

    1347-1400 France - 67 burned for witchcraft

    In the year 1233, Pope Gregory IX instituted the Roman Catholic tribunal known as the Inquisition in an attempt to suppress heresy. In 1320, the church (at the request of Pope John XXII) officially declared Witchcraft and the Old Religion of the Pagans as a heretical movement and a "hostile threat" to Christianity. Witches had now become heretics and the persecution against all Pagans spread like wildfire throughout Europe. (It is interesting to note that before a person can be considered a heretic, he or she must first be a Christian, and Pagans have never been Christians. They have always been Pagans.)

    1550 Geneva - more than 500 executed for witchcraft

    The single most influential piece of propaganda in this campaign was commissioned by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484 after he declared Witchcraft to be a heresy. He instructed the Dominican monks Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob Sprenger to publish a manual for Witch-hunters. Two years later the work appeared with the title Malleus malificarum, or "The Witches' Hammer." The manual was used for the next 250 years in the church's attempt to destroy the Old Religion of Western Europe.
    "He must not be too quick to subject a witch to examination,
    but must pay attention to certain signs which will follow.
    And he must not be too quick for this reason:
    unless God, through a holy Angel, compels the devil
    to withold his help from the witch,
    she will be so insensible to the pains of torture that
    she will sooner be torn limb from limb than confess any of the truth.
    But the torture is not to be neglected for this reason,
    for they are not equally endowed with this power,
    and also the devil sometimes of his own will permits them
    to confess their crimes without being compelled by a holy Angel."

    -- Kramer and Sprenger, the Malleus Maleficarum
    1589 Saxony - 133 witches burned in one day

    Witches... along with countless numbers of "innocent" men, women, and children who were not Witches were persecuted, brutally tortured, often sexually molested or raped, and then executed by sadistic, bloodthirsty church authorities who taught that their God was a god of love and compassion. Once denounced, a suspected Witch was arrested and then hideously tortured into a confession. Suspects were subjected to thumbscrews, the rack, boots which broke the bones of the legs; they were deprived of sleep, starved and beaten. At times, hundreds of suspected Witches were killed in a day.

    1591-1600 Switzerland - 300 executed for witchcraft

    Witchcraft in England was made an illegal offense in the year 1541, and in 1604 a law decreeing capital punishment for Witches and Pagans was adopted. Forty years later, the thirteen colonies in American also made death the penalty for the "crime" of Witchcraft. By the late seventeenth century, the followers who remained loyal to the Old Religion were in hiding and Witchcraft had turned into a secret underground religion after an estimated one million persons had been put to death in Europe and more than thirty condemned at Salem, Massachusetts, in the name of Christianity.
    Unfortunately, when the persecutions ended in the 18th century, the stereotype of Witches as devil worshippers remained for those who were uninformed of the true nature of the Craft.

    1674-1677 Sweden - 71 beheaded or burned for witchcraft
    The Burning Times - by Caryn Smirl

    A young woman about my age
    Has been put on trial as a witch
    For growing harmless herbs
    On her window sill.
    I watch helplessly
    As they bind her hands and feet
    With thick coarse rope
    And pull her long golden hair.
    Someone spits on the ground
    Just inches from her face
    And curses at her like a demon.

    A holy man is at the river's edge
    Blessing the swirling water.
    This is the first test.
    If the blessed water receives her
    And she sinks,
    Then she was wrongly accused
    And she goes to Heaven.
    But if the water rejects her
    And she floats,
    Then she is the demon spawn
    They say she is
    And she will be tortured and burned.

    I feel her terror as she is lifted.
    Feel the air rushing by
    As they throw her into the river.
    Feel the churning water around me
    As she disappears below the surface.
    And I feel her overwhelming dismay
    As she rises to the surface,
    Coughing and struggling to breathe.
    A few men wade through the water to her
    And pull her back to shore.
    The crowd clamors for her burning,
    And she is taken away to be tortured.

    I see her again a few days later
    With her hair shorn and shaven.
    She has been dressed in a black robe
    And she looks as though
    Her spirit has been broken.
    My heart cries out for her,
    But I cannot bring myself to defend her
    For fear they would do the same to me.
    They tie her to a post
    Surrounded by wood.
    Our eyes lock as holy men
    Drive their torches into the wood.

    I can feel the heat as the fire
    Licks at the hem of her robe.
    She is suddenly shrouded
    By a shimmering light.
    Just before she is consumed
    By the flames.
    The light remains until the fire dies down.
    Nothing is left of her body.
    It seems that though Holy Water rejected her
    The Almighty accepted her in her last moments
    And I feel her joy and peace.