Sunday, December 10, 2006

An Afternoon Spent Witch Hunting

I watched the Da Vinci Code DVD last week. The videography was great. Unfortunately, the good videography could not overcome the mediocrity of the book.

In this work, Dan Brown makes the accusation that witch hunting is a primary tenet of Christianity. He even points to a book called the Malleus Maleficarum with the claim that Christians, following Constantine, used the Malleus Maleficarum in a massive persecution of pagans of the ancient world. I reject the Malleus Maleficarum led to the ascendency of Christianity in Europe. The Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1486, a full millennia after Constantine.

1486 is toward the end of the Italian Renaissance and near the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It seems to me that the Malleus Maleficarum was part of the effort to rid a Christian Europe of the superstitions that had calcified society during the "dark ages." It does not fit in an explanation of why Christianity won out over Roman and Greek paganism.

The fact that some people were caught by the lure of witch hunting in Renaissance Europe does bring up the question of the role that witch hunting plays in the Christian world. Christian Europe seems to have a very interesting pattern. There would be a fury of interest in witch hunting, followed by a widespread condemnation of the witch hunters. The lack of sustained interest in witch hunting leads me to believe that witch hunting is a central theme of Christianity.

I read a little bit about the Malleus Maleficarum. I found it interesting that the work makes multiple references to witch hunting in Rome. A central theme of the work is that if Christian Europe is to be great like Rome, Christians much persecute its witches ... like Rome. This is typical Renaissance literature.

Multiple references to witch hunting in Rome made me start thinking that witch-hunting is not unique to Christianity. Research on witch-hunting in Christianity must compare the witch hunting incidents in Christiandom to those of other cultures.

In this regard, I was intrigued with a podcast that showed up in National Geographic podcast list called the Witches of Ghana. This video shows the plight of a woman accused of witchcraft then banished to the witch town of Gnani. I have always associated the term witch hunting with Christians run amok. However, it makes sense that culture that seriously believe in witchcraft would resort to persecuting people accused of black magic.

I suspect that quality research would end up finding that witch hunting is more common in societies that actually believe in the practice of witchcraft.

Perhaps it is because witch-hunting is out of character of the Christian tradition that we have a more detailed account of the abuses of witch hunters than societies that believe in witchcraft. In the modern world the accusation of being a witch hunter has more of a stigma than the accusation that a person is a witch.

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