Thursday, March 2, 2017

Philip IV - Laying the Foundations of the Witch-hunt

The idea of the good and the evil witch goes all the way back to paganism. Christianity properly opposes this idea, saying it is wrong to seriously practice magic, whatever your intent. But when Christianity became the official state religion, much of the older idea continued, although underground. Originally this was put in perspective by the idea that demons only had limited powers and trusting God would protect His people from them. But over time the pagan idea of evil witches was gradually accepted, attributing to them much greater power. Then the authorities used the accusation of knowingly being involved with demons to smear those sects who rebelled against the beliefs of the established church. They also introduced the Inquisition, which used methods like examination by torture and which became an example for other tribunals. The next step was taken by Philip IV of France.

Up to Philip's time, demonic accusations were used mainly by people in power against those who were involved in what they considered were dangerous crimes. Philip made it into a more commonly available weapon. He, as mentioned in a previous post, got into a fight with Pope Boniface VIII. As part of that conflict Philip put out stories that Boniface had tried to summon demons and bind them to do his will (a procedure practiced by some intellectuals of the time, though not at all approved by the established church). Philip also wanted to break the power and acquire the wealth of the Knights Templar (a monastic order that originated to fight the Muslims in Palestine). To do this he accused them of worshiping an idol called Baphomet (a distortion of the name Muhammad; it was commonly believed among Europeans at the time that the Muslims worshiped Muhammad). They were also accused of having an initiation ceremony of defiling the cross and of being involved in homosexuality and intercourse with demons. This was an obvious frame-up. Are we to believe that young men volunteering to fight for Christianity against the Muslims would one and all be willing to defile the cross and no one would report it? Or that the Templars had picked up from the Muslims the practice of worshiping Muhammad, something the Muslims did not do? The only evidence for this was testimony obtained by torture, which was later denied by the people who made it. But Philip was a king and proceeded with what he wanted to do, anyway. But Philip did succeed in taking these types of accusations away from being the exclusive possession of the church authorities and making them something anyone could use for their own selfish purposes.  

There were other later events that contributed to the witch-hunt. The black plague inspired the idea that there was a conspiracy headed by the devil that was trying to destroy Christendom, and witches were later seen as his agents in this. The Reformation resulted in both sides taking their Christianity seriously and therefore acting to eliminate all witches, classifying all as evil. But Philip was a clear turning point, making the accusation of witchcraft something that anyone could use as an accusation against their enemies. It was a clear turn down the wrong path.     

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