Friday, May 15, 2009

Totally Missing the Point

I came across this article the other day, and it strikes me as a perfect example of completely missing the point regarding the witchcraft persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

This seems as good a time as any to admit to a possibly controversial personal belief: of those accused of witchcraft over the ages, especially in Europe and its colonies during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and put to death, I am certain a dreadful percentage were innocents, but, by the same token, I am equally certain some percentage were guilty of actual witchcraft and trafficking with fiends.

It's actually not much of a controversy to suggest that a significant number of those executed by the Inquisition were in fact practitioners of some sort of esoteric spiritual or magical system regarded as heretical by the Church. I can think of one for sure off the top of my head - Giordano Bruno.

While none of the tests in the Malleus Maleficarum actually work to identify magicians and the activities that many of the accused confessed to under torture bear no resemblance to the practices of any real school of magick, some of the accusations themselves were probably rooted in fact. I mean, I'm sure that at least a few people were using the grimoires that were available at that time, which would probably qualify as "trafficking with fiends" in eyes of Inquisitors. As far as the numbers go, if you include the Cathars who were practically wiped out during the Albigensian crusade it could perhaps be the case that half of those executed were "guilty" in the eyes of the Church.

The thing is, though, that what was wrong about the Inquisition was not that it executed people who were falsely accused of practicing magick, but rather that it executed people for exploring alternative spiritual practices - whether or not they had actually done so. Even if every single person who was tried and found guilty by the "witchfinders" had actually practiced some form of magick the whole thing still would have been brutal, barbaric, and inexcusable. The fact that innocent people were persecuted merely adds incompetence to the already extensive list of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Inquisitors.

Angels and devils are as real as the Risen Christ, and devils live to ensnare mortal souls by enticing them into heresy and sin. So, why not witchcraft?

While I agree that spirits fitting the description of angels and devils exist, the Manichean univalence of Christian theology isn't the best way to classify them. The basic Christian model seems to be that any minion of the Christian God is an angel and all other spiritual entities that exist across the whole universe, even entities from different religious pantheons who otherwise fit the Christian idea of goodness, are devils. That strikes me as kind of silly, in that it assumes a "with us or against us" mindset that is not particularly enlightened.

I'm not talking about magic or somesuch superstitious nonsense, I am talking about the select use of the profane power still present in devils from their time as angels before the Rebellion and War in Heaven.

So would working with a grimoire constitute "superstitious nonsense" even though the author clearly believes that it is possible to summon "devils?" Maybe the author is contrasting magic (stage magic) with magick (the spiritual arts) here, because otherwise it's kind of a confusing sentence.

Old Scratch is real, his legions of devils are real, and I find no reason to believe that there are not sons of Adam and daughters of Eve so debased as to have surrendered themselves in service to the Archfiend's infernal will, to the peril of their immortal souls.

There are demons in world, yes. I've summoned them and I know that they exist. I can say the same for angels. However, if you surrender your will to a demon that's called possession, not magick. The angels and demons that I work with are directed by my will, not the other way around.

I understand that as the author appears to be a conservative Christian he or she probably disagrees with that statement and just about any other that I'm likely to make about the nature of magick. Nonetheless, I would hope it should be obvious that torturing and killing me over those disagreements would be fundamentally wrong, and that it was fundamentally wrong in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as well.

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3 comments:

Suecae Sounds said...

There will always be excuses for barbarism. It essentially boils down to the notion that 'some people have to die so that the many can trive'.

I am more prone to believe that parts of the Inquisition were guided by a very powerful devil called ignorance, then that the people who burned were perpetrating anything that we today would consider criminal.

lsmft said...

93-

More generally speaking, the "Us vs. Them" gap that occurs in all species of fanaticism sets up the neophyte in that belief system (BS) to elevate themselves above those that are not in that same group. Once this occurs, it is a small step to dehumanize those outside that BS. This is absolutely a two-way street, and we would do well not to forget it. Practitioners of the occult arts are guilty of this same thinking- in certain schools of thought, the "unenlightened" or "sleepers" are reduced to the moral status of either pets to be benevolently managed, or worse, even seen as sheep to the slaughter. (Apo Pantos Godwin-os!)

From my own experience, I resisted Thelemic conversion for several years; it took a fairly powerful UPG (Unverifiable Personal Gnosis) to finalize that process. But that potent experience was what finally allowed me to see past what my rational mind indicated was the advocation of a very dangerous form of occult elitism- one which on one hand suggests a policy of non-interference in the affairs of others, and on the other seemed to suggest that the treatment of others as cannon fodder was acceptable and perhaps even laudable.

This kind of problem arises for virtually every occult and religious group. If I were to hazard a guess at the reason, it would be something like this: The process of attainment in any such system is fundamentally irrational. Humans, regardless of their worldly situation are inclined toward rational explanations, based on their experience. I believe that -from my personal experiences- small epiphanies offered by systems of attainment, when allowed to accumulate and run their course, can create the state that we call Enlightenment. The apparent necessity of getting everyone "on the same page" in order to have a coherent group inevitably evoke the Ape of Thoth, an entity I experience as the cognitive dissonance between prior experience and new experience and between reason and gnosis. The attempt to communicate the true nature of a gnostic experience will fail, because the experiences of speaker and hearer are non-identical, and communication is imperfect at best. The application of literalism to a text seems at first like a safe and more certain way of successfully communicating that gnosis and creating a coherent group, but it ignores the fact that expressions of Great Truths lean heavily toward semiotic content requiring interpretation, and are not statements of simple facts. As individuals we know this; as herd animals, we choose to forget it.

In groups where authority is enforced, or leadership is elevated toward infallibility, the result is that participants are required to sacrifice their individuality to the egregore, and this is neither an easy nor a perfect process. Those who cannot make that sacrifice, and seek their own gnosis will be branded heretical- and even cultural heretics like Thelemites form into groups and call other members heretics. In a sense, this is a laughable situation -"turtles all the way down!" At the same time, our animal instincts perceive the heretic as a threat, and we react with the tools at our disposal - puffing our feathers, raising our hackles and seeking the safety of numbers. As K said, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals..." and we seek to destroy that which we don't understand.

93 93/93
-LSMFT

Ananael Qaa said...

I am more prone to believe that parts of the Inquisition were guided by a very powerful devil called ignorance.

Me too. In a civilized society "heresy" should never be a reasonable criminal accusation.

More generally speaking, the "Us vs. Them" gap that occurs in all species of fanaticism sets up the neophyte in that belief system (BS) to elevate themselves above those that are not in that same group. Once this occurs, it is a small step to dehumanize those outside that BS. This is absolutely a two-way street, and we would do well not to forget it.

That's absolutely correct, and the minute anyone starts thinking that their belief system is the One True Way problems usually arise. I certainly don't believe that every spiritual path is the same - some are more efficient than others and for every individual there is likely one system out there that is most suited to their specific psyche, but there is never an excuse for foisting the spiritual system that works for you on anyone else.

At the same time, our animal instincts perceive the heretic as a threat, and we react with the tools at our disposal - puffing our feathers, raising our hackles and seeking the safety of numbers.

This is the real problem that's at the root of all of it, in my opinion, and what we as magicians must work to oppose when we find it in ourselves. For good or bad, we evolved from tribal apes. One of the functions of enlightenment is to transcend and integrate many of the behaviors resulting from that legacy rather than allowing ourselves to be ruled by them.