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  #1  
Old 09-19-2011, 11:55 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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In premodern Europe, was there any real connection between crypto-pagans and folk magicians?

Inspired by this GD thread.

I've sometimes heard Wiccans and neopagans speak as if they were the faith-descendants, as it were, of the "witches" persecuted in 16th-Century Europe.

Well, there were always folk-magicians* and such in Europe, at all premodern periods -- not charlatans, but practitioners who believed in their own magic (and might have seen no distinction between chanting a spell and applying an herbal poultice -- magic is magic). "Witches" in the vernacular just meant folk-magicians who used their magic maliciously; and no doubt there were always some who did, or believed they were doing so. (There was also a recognized class of "cunning folk" -- respectable folk-magicians who did not think of themselves as witches, and were not regarded as witches, and sometimes were hired as witch-finders.)

And, perhaps, there might have been some underground pagans keeping alive some pre-Christian beliefs and traditions and ceremonies.

But, the crypto-pagans might or might not have been on speaking terms with the folk-magicians. ISTM. At least, popular imagination conflates the two groups but I don't know whether there is actually any reason to do so. Is there?


* As distinct from stage illusionists; also, as distinct from high or ceremonial magicians, or magickians, like John Dee, Israel Regardie, Aleister Crowley, etc. The sort who work with what Granny Weatherwax would call "books and stars and . . . jommetry."
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  #2  
Old 09-19-2011, 01:09 PM
Grendel's Father Grendel's Father is offline
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It's been a while since I read Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton (http://books.google.com/books/about/...d=gK43x-BFDuEC), but IIRC there's a lengthy discussion of "cunning folk" and other folk magicians. The upshot is there is no evidence that their practices are directly related to religious paganism (and there is no evidence that "crypto-pagans" ever existed in the first place).

The linked thread seems to be based on "Murray's now infamous The Witch-Cult in Western Europe", which has been roundly debunked by modern scholarship.

Last edited by Grendel's Father; 09-19-2011 at 01:12 PM.. Reason: Address Murray Thesis
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Old 09-19-2011, 01:57 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
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There's no reason to conflate the two, since neither existed in pre-Christian Europe.

Wicca is a made-up religion dating from the 1920s. It pretends to deep roots, but it is basically just a matter of picking and choosing practices from any time in history as people see fit.

Pre-Christian Europe had various pagan religions, but all were crushed by the Church. They have no connection to Wicca, nor do "folk magicians" -- what in other cultures are called "medicine men" mean anything in the context of the period: there were healers and priests of the pagan religions.
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Old 09-19-2011, 03:39 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
There's no reason to conflate the two, since neither existed in pre-Christian Europe.
Of course folk-magicians existed in pre-Christian Europe.

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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
Pre-Christian Europe had various pagan religions, but all were crushed by the Church. They have no connection to Wicca, nor do "folk magicians" -- what in other cultures are called "medicine men" mean anything in the context of the period: there were healers and priests of the pagan religions.
Every premodern culture has its magicians. Sometimes priests are wizards; sometimes -- as would have been the case in the Roman Empire -- magicians are distinguishable from priests in that they operate outside any official or recognized priestly hierarchy.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 09-19-2011 at 03:41 PM..
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Old 09-19-2011, 03:42 PM
cjepson cjepson is offline
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Of course folk-magicians existed in pre-Christian Europe.
Looks like a typo; I'm pretty sure "Christian" is what was meant.
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Old 09-19-2011, 05:01 PM
Smapti Smapti is offline
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I've sometimes heard Wiccans and neopagans speak as if they were the faith-descendants, as it were, of the "witches" persecuted in 16th-Century Europe.
And there's the problem. Unless i'm mistaken and there's been some major leap in historical understanding, there were no "pagans" to speak of left in Europe by the 16th century, and the "witches" who were persecuted were all, much like the "witches" in Salem, ordinary Christian folk (and some Jews) who were singled and wrongly accused due to neighborhood grudges or petty disputes or racism or just plain superstition.
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Old 09-19-2011, 05:35 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Looks like a typo; I'm pretty sure "Christian" is what was meant.
There were also folk-magicians in premodern Christian Europe. That's well-documented. Their connection to pagan survivals is not.
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Old 09-19-2011, 05:37 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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And there's the problem. Unless i'm mistaken and there's been some major leap in historical understanding, there were no "pagans" to speak of left in Europe by the 16th century, and the "witches" who were persecuted were all, much like the "witches" in Salem, ordinary Christian folk (and some Jews) who were singled and wrongly accused due to neighborhood grudges or petty disputes or racism or just plain superstition.
Of course, some of those might have been actual witches, i.e., folk-magicians who had been casting spells with malicious intent. And others might have been legitimate cunning-folk unfairly maligned -- not as to practicing magic, but as to the uses made of it.
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Old 09-19-2011, 05:46 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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OTOH, it's hard to believe there were no pagan survivals (other than Church traditions co-opting pagan ones, like Christmas) in Christian Europe -- conversion wasn't an all-at-once thing, Lithuania remained non-Christian until the end of the 14th Century.

I did once hear at a Wiccan educational seminar that "heathen" means "those peasants out in the remote countryside, on the heaths, who are still practicing that old-fashioned pre-Christian stuff." "Pagan" likewise means "hick," more or less (Latin paganus from pagus, rural district). And the conical witch's hat was explained as Church propaganda: Conical hats went out of fashion -- at least, in the towns and cities -- about a century before the first known artistic depictions of witches wearing them, but, at that time, some people were still wearing conical hats in the remote countryside, where cultural changes took a very long time to reach in those days. In depicting witches as wearing conical hats, the Church was saying, "Only these backward rustic folk are still pagans; all we hip, sophisticated people are Christians!" I've never tried to verify any of that.
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Old 09-19-2011, 06:03 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Conical hats went out of fashion -- at least, in the towns and cities -- about a century before the first known artistic depictions of witches wearing them, but, at that time, some people were still wearing conical hats in the remote countryside, where cultural changes took a very long time to reach in those days.
It's interesting to recall that wizards were usually depicted as conical hat wearers as well; sometimes, IIRC without brims. I wonder if the origin of the dunce cap is somehow connected with this "hick hat" theory as well?

I also have to ask, whenever were conical hats in fashion? I can't recall ever seeing anyone depicted or described as wearing such a hat, except in stories about witches or wizards.
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Old 09-19-2011, 06:06 PM
gytalf2000 gytalf2000 is offline
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And there's the problem. Unless i'm mistaken and there's been some major leap in historical understanding, there were no "pagans" to speak of left in Europe by the 16th century, and the "witches" who were persecuted were all, much like the "witches" in Salem, ordinary Christian folk (and some Jews) who were singled and wrongly accused due to neighborhood grudges or petty disputes or racism or just plain superstition.

Actually, I think there were still pagans in Lithuania at that time (1500s).

(I could be wrong, but I think I remember reading that paganism persisted there far longer than other regions in Europe.)
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Old 09-19-2011, 06:07 PM
gytalf2000 gytalf2000 is offline
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Actually, I think there were still pagans in Lithuania at that time (1500s).

(I could be wrong, but I think I remember reading that paganism persisted there far longer than other regions in Europe.)

And now I see that BrainGlutton has already mentioned this...
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Old 09-19-2011, 06:11 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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OTOH, it's hard to believe there were no pagan survivals (other than Church traditions co-opting pagan ones, like Christmas) in Christian Europe -- conversion wasn't an all-at-once thing, Lithuania remained non-Christian until the end of the 14th Century.
I think this is a possibility. You wouldn't be speaking or writing much about such things openly in a region where you might be severely punished for being Catholic or Protestant in the wrong country, and in earlier times, beheaded or impaled for adhering to paganism.
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Old 09-19-2011, 11:52 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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It's interesting to recall that wizards were usually depicted as conical hat wearers as well; sometimes, IIRC without brims. I wonder if the origin of the dunce cap is somehow connected with this "hick hat" theory as well?

I also have to ask, whenever were conical hats in fashion? I can't recall ever seeing anyone depicted or described as wearing such a hat, except in stories about witches or wizards.
Wikipedia has a whole article on pointed hats, but I see nothing that really answers that question.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 09-19-2011 at 11:52 PM..
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Old 09-20-2011, 12:17 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

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pagan
late 14c., from L.L. paganus "pagan," in classical Latin "villager, rustic, civilian," from pagus "rural district," originally "district limited by markers," thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten," from PIE base *pag- "to fix" (see pact). Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian, incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, c.202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (e.g. milites "soldier of Christ," etc.). Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908.
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heathen
O.E. hęšen "not Christian or Jewish," also as a noun, "heathen man" (especially of the Danes), merged with O.N. heišinn (adj.) "heathen, pagan." Perhaps lit. "pertaining to one inhabiting uncultivated land," from heath + -en (2). But historically assumed to be from Goth. haižno "gentile, heathen woman," used by Ulfilas in the first translation of the Bible into a Germanic language (cf. Mark 7:26, for "Greek"); if so it could be a derivative of Goth. haiži "dwelling on the heath," but this sense is not recorded. It may have been chosen on model of L. paganus, with its root sense of "rural" (see pagan), or for resemblance to Gk. ethne (see gentile), or it may be a literal borrowing of that Greek word, perhaps via Armenian hethanos [Sophus Bugge]. Like other basic words for exclusively Christian ideas (e.g. church) it likely would have come first into Gothic and then spread to other Germanic languages.
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witch
O.E. wicce "female magician, sorceress," in later use especially "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts," fem. of O.E. wicca "sorcerer, wizard, man who practices witchcraft or magic," from verb wiccian "to practice witchcraft" (cf. Low Ger. wikken, wicken "to use witchcraft," wikker, wicker "soothsayer"). OED says of uncertain origin; Liberman says "None of the proposed etymologies of witch is free from phonetic or semantic difficulties." Klein suggests connection with O.E. wigle "divination," and wig, wih "idol." Watkins says the nouns represent a P.Gmc. *wikkjaz "necromancer" (one who wakes the dead), from PIE *weg-yo-, from *weg- "to be strong, be lively." That wicce once had a more specific sense than the later general one of "female magician, sorceress" perhaps is suggested by the presence of other words in O.E. describing more specific kinds of magical craft. In the Laws of Ęlfred (c.890), witchcraft was specifically singled out as a woman's craft, whose practitioners were not to be suffered to live among the W. Saxons:

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Ša fęmnan že gewuniaš onfon gealdorcręftigan & scinlęcan & wiccan, ne lęt žu ša libban."
The other two words combined with it here are gealdricge, a woman who practices "incantations," and scinlęce "female wizard, woman magician," from a root meaning "phantom, evil spirit." Another word that appears in the Anglo-Saxon laws is lyblęca "wizard, sorcerer," but with suggestions of skill in the use of drugs, since the root of the word is lybb "drug, poison, charm." Lybbestre was a fem. word meaning "sorceress," and lybcorn was the name of a certain medicinal seed (perhaps wild saffron). Weekly notes possible connection to Gothic weihs "holy" and Ger. weihan "consecrate," and writes, "the priests of a suppressed religion naturally become magicians to its successors or opponents." In Anglo-Saxon glossaries, wicca renders L. augur (c.1100), and wicce stands for "pythoness, divinatricem." In the "Three Kings of Cologne" (c.1400) wicca translates Magi:

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Že paynyms ... cleped že iij kyngis Magos, žat is to seye wicchis.
The glossary translates L. necromantia ("demonum invocatio") with galdre, wiccecręft. The Anglo-Saxon poem called "Men's Crafts" has wiccręft, which appears to be the same word, and by its context means "skill with horses." In a c.1250 translation of "Exodus," witches is used of the Egyptian midwives who save the newborn sons of the Hebrews: "Še wicches hidden hem for-šan, Biforen pharaun nolden he ben." Witch in ref. to a man survived in dialect into 20c., but the fem. form was so dominant by 1601 that men-witches or he-witch began to be used. Extended sense of "young woman or girl of bewitching aspect or manners" is first recorded 1740. Witch doctor is from 1718; applied to African magicians from 1836.

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At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, 'she is a witch,' or 'she is a wise woman.' [Reginald Scot, "The Discoverie of Witchcraft," 1584]
FWIW.
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Old 09-20-2011, 02:49 AM
Walther Ego Walther Ego is offline
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I don't see magicians or witches as non-christians. There were a lot of pagan practices (like celebrating xmas ) in medieval and early modern christian Europe. But I doubt there were people (save muslims and jews to an extent) who did not believe christian God and Jesus do not exist. Also, everybody believed that there are a large number of other spirits, some of them "satanic". The argument to convert the Lithuanians was not that the stuff they worship is not real but that it is from Satan.

Witchcraft was real and a grave sin but like with any other sins, they committed it regularly. Some magical practices, like astrology, were not even condemned by the church. Having sex with Satan was the really big deal and the authorities were expected to act from a religious point of view. Cursing your neighbour's cattle was also a crime but probably a much less spiritual issue.
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Old 09-20-2011, 05:02 AM
Maastricht Maastricht is offline
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Wicca is a made-up religion dating from the 1920s. It pretends to deep roots, but it is basically just a matter of picking and choosing practices from any time in history as people see fit.
Cracked agrees with you.
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Old 09-20-2011, 12:06 PM
Tom Tildrum Tom Tildrum is offline
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These sound like insults that professors would have shouted at one another in the medieval Sorbonne or some such: "Crypto-Pagan!" "Folk Magician!"
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Old 09-20-2011, 12:30 PM
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These sound like insults that professors would have shouted at one another in the medieval Sorbonne or some such: "Crypto-Pagan!" "Folk Magician!"
"What? Folk ME?! ... Folk YOU!!"
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Old 09-20-2011, 12:34 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Wicca is a made-up religion dating from the 1920s. It pretends to deep roots, but it is basically just a matter of picking and choosing practices from any time in history as people see fit.
[shrug] So? The Gods move in mysterious ways. Blessed Be.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 09-20-2011 at 12:36 PM..
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  #21  
Old 09-21-2011, 03:37 PM
Cheshire Human Cheshire Human is offline
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Wikipedia has a whole article on pointed hats, but I see nothing that really answers that question.
The wiki page you link to includes links to our own Perfect Master, which then links to our Gormless Wienie. Damn. We're famous enough for Wikipedia!
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Old 09-22-2011, 12:16 AM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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The wiki page you link to includes links to our own Perfect Master, which then links to our Gormless Wienie. Damn. We're famous enough for Wikipedia!
German Wikipedia, too!
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  #23  
Old 09-22-2011, 04:04 AM
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To try to answer your question, folk magic in medieval Europe was pretty much explicitly Christian, and if you asked someone who practiced it what religion he or she was, they'd say "I'm Christian". So it wasn't like you had a bunch of secret pagans running around practicing pagan magic.

That being said, some of these magical traditions dated back to pagan traditions, and they continued as folklore, being stripped of their non-Christian elements.
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Old 09-22-2011, 06:37 AM
Derleth Derleth is online now
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Fixed link.
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Old 09-22-2011, 09:19 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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To try to answer your question, folk magic in medieval Europe was pretty much explicitly Christian, and if you asked someone who practiced it what religion he or she was, they'd say "I'm Christian".
Of course, that's exactly the answer you'd get from anyone in medieval Europe, including some (secretly) practicing Jews.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 09-22-2011 at 09:20 AM..
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Old 09-22-2011, 09:37 AM
Grendel's Father Grendel's Father is offline
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Of course, that's exactly the answer you'd get from anyone in medieval Europe, including some (secretly) practicing Jews.
Which is why we have to rely on corroborating evidence that Judaism was being practiced in medieval Europe. No such evidence has been uncovered for pagan survivals, with a few exceptions, such as, apparently, in Lithuania (was that actually a survival or was it largely a new religion?).
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Old 09-22-2011, 09:44 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Which is why we have to rely on corroborating evidence that Judaism was being practiced in medieval Europe. No such evidence has been uncovered for pagan survivals, with a few exceptions, such as, apparently, in Lithuania (was that actually a survival or was it largely a new religion?).
I think it was just the last place in Europe to be conquered/converted.

Of course, except in times and places where Jews were specifically banned, everyone knew Judaism was being practiced, quite openly, in medieval Europe. Jews, most of the time, more or less got a pass for not being Christians. But pagans would not have, they would have had to keep it all very secret.

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Old 09-22-2011, 10:03 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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There was witchcraft and satanic magic practiced by some Europeans, kept active by the very fear of it in the Christian population.

This is understandable enough - make a big deal about how scary black magic is, and soon enough, someone will take advantage of that (in spite of the personal danger).

An example of this sort of thing among the courtiers of Louis XIV ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Poisons

Again, it is hard from this remove to prove that any actual threatening black magic was involved - though I'd be surprised if it wasn't, pushed by various fakers.
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Old 09-22-2011, 11:13 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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There was witchcraft and satanic magic practiced by some Europeans, kept active by the very fear of it in the Christian population.

This is understandable enough - make a big deal about how scary black magic is, and soon enough, someone will take advantage of that (in spite of the personal danger).

An example of this sort of thing among the courtiers of Louis XIV ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Poisons

Again, it is hard from this remove to prove that any actual threatening black magic was involved - though I'd be surprised if it wasn't, pushed by various fakers.
My guess is, only an aristocrat would even think of defying God and the Church by practicing "satanic magic." It would never occur to a peasant, not even to one who already practices traditions the Church would call "Satanic" if it knew about them.

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Old 09-22-2011, 11:31 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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My guess is, only an aristocrat would even think of defying God and the Church by practicing "satanic magic." It would never occur to a peasant, not even to one who already practices traditions the Church would call "Satanic" if it knew about them.
I dunno, it was probably considered just another (really nasty) means of doing harm to your enemies.

People are willing to poision inconvenient family members, out of hate or to get an inheritance - peasants as much as aristos. Putting an evil spell on them with the help of Satan is just more of the same (in the case above, connected to it: the same folks distributing "inheritance powders" are also accused of dabbling in Satanism).

As long as people are willing to work evil on others, and are superstitious enough to believe that magic works, you will have a demand for "black" witchcraft of one form or another - culturally conditioned of course. In a Christian nation, it is likely to take the form of "satanic" magic, because people are likely to believe in Satan. Where there is a demand, sooner or later there will be someone to supply it.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that such stuff has no necessary connection to pre-existing paganism survivals.
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Old 09-22-2011, 11:48 AM
Grendel's Father Grendel's Father is offline
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I dunno, it was probably considered just another (really nasty) means of doing harm to your enemies.

People are willing to poision inconvenient family members, out of hate or to get an inheritance - peasants as much as aristos. Putting an evil spell on them with the help of Satan is just more of the same (in the case above, connected to it: the same folks distributing "inheritance powders" are also accused of dabbling in Satanism).

As long as people are willing to work evil on others, and are superstitious enough to believe that magic works, you will have a demand for "black" witchcraft of one form or another - culturally conditioned of course. In a Christian nation, it is likely to take the form of "satanic" magic, because people are likely to believe in Satan. Where there is a demand, sooner or later there will be someone to supply it.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that such stuff has no necessary connection to pre-existing paganism survivals.
That's all good speculation, but is there any evidence that any of this ever actually happened? It reminds me a little of the whole "satanic cult" urban legends today.
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Old 09-22-2011, 11:58 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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That's all good speculation, but is there any evidence that any of this ever actually happened? It reminds me a little of the whole "satanic cult" urban legends today.
Well, I posted the "affair of the poisions" link in the previous post ... the problem with lesser, non-aristocratic use of black magic lies in the standards of evidence used by criminal trials of the premodern era, which are somewhat lacking as "proof".

There are plenty of trials for murder, black magic and the like, but as confessions tend to be extracted by torture and the court proceedings are lacking in credibiliy, it is hard for the serious investigator these days to disentangle "actual practitioners" from "figments of the judges/prosecutor's imagination".

Thus, the most that can be said is that it would be surprising if a widespread belief in the efficacy of black magic existed and some malfactors did *not* attempt to capitalize on that to bamboozle the gullible.
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Old 09-22-2011, 04:11 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is offline
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Of course, that's exactly the answer you'd get from anyone in medieval Europe, including some (secretly) practicing Jews.
Sure, but what I mean is that the "cunning men" and other folk magic practitioners appeared to consider themselves Christian, and everybody else seemed to, also.
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Old 09-22-2011, 08:15 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Thus, the most that can be said is that it would be surprising if a widespread belief in the efficacy of black magic existed and some malfactors did *not* attempt to capitalize on that to bamboozle the gullible.
Or themselves.
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Old 09-24-2011, 07:14 AM
Toxylon Toxylon is offline
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folk magic in medieval Europe was pretty much explicitly Christian, and if you asked someone who practiced it what religion he or she was, they'd say "I'm Christian". So it wasn't like you had a bunch of secret pagans running around practicing pagan magic.

That being said, some of these magical traditions dated back to pagan traditions, and they continued as folklore, being stripped of their non-Christian elements.
Medieval and later European folk magic had all kinds of synchretistic layers to it with a heavy penetration of Christian elements, but there was pre-Christian stuff going on pretty much unaltered from the late-prehistoric (Iron Age ) times, too. Up until the 19th century country folk in places like Finland and the Baltic countries occasionally practiced stuff like depositing animal heads into the foundations of a new building, starting the fire in a slash-and-burn cultivation plot by prehistoric friction-fire methods, as that type of fire was "angrier" and more powerful than ordinary (the flint and steel) one, carrying offerings of new crops into stone hollows on Iron Age sacred grounds, and performing elaborate magical rituals on the winter dens of bear to succeed in the hunt. (These are off the top of my head based on a couple of comparative religion studies lectures and books, but volumes have been filled with descriptions and analysis of North European folk magic unstripped of its non-Christian elements).
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Old 09-24-2011, 08:47 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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Originally Posted by BrainGlutton View Post
Or themselves.
Heh true enough.
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Old 09-24-2011, 08:51 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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Originally Posted by Toxylon View Post
Medieval and later European folk magic had all kinds of synchretistic layers to it with a heavy penetration of Christian elements, but there was pre-Christian stuff going on pretty much unaltered from the late-prehistoric (Iron Age ) times, too. Up until the 19th century country folk in places like Finland and the Baltic countries occasionally practiced stuff like depositing animal heads into the foundations of a new building, starting the fire in a slash-and-burn cultivation plot by prehistoric friction-fire methods, as that type of fire was "angrier" and more powerful than ordinary (the flint and steel) one, carrying offerings of new crops into stone hollows on Iron Age sacred grounds, and performing elaborate magical rituals on the winter dens of bear to succeed in the hunt. (These are off the top of my head based on a couple of comparative religion studies lectures and books, but volumes have been filled with descriptions and analysis of North European folk magic unstripped of its non-Christian elements).
There are hefty syncretic elements to Christianity itself - for example, in the choice of local saints. What apparently lacks is any sort of concious survival of pre-Christian paganism as distinct from Christianity.
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