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Letters From The Fishbowl

The life, times, fiction, and mind-lint of V.B. Rising. Enter at your own risk, traveler, for here there be rants and misplaced modifiers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sorority

Last week, I had a milestone.

It hit me while I was in the tub, mulling over a personal essay on witchraft written by a young, budding-Pagan friend of mine.* I was thinking about how he mentioned how much I resisted teaching him anything about witchcraft or involving him in any working or ritual. That's a story for another post, but now, here was my little buddy, all grown up and reflecting on his early witchy days. It made me think back to my own beginnings and how far I've come.

From the days when my spiritual knowledge amounted to, 'don't set your hair on fire while lighting the Goddess candle,' I am now confident in my ability to write a multi-participant ritual from beginning to end, and lead it if need be.** From the days when I preached a brand of Wicca I had copied word-for-word from an introductory website, I now find myself more and more deconstructing accepted tenants of belief and asking myself why I believe them and what that belief means to me and my daily life. From days when I wore a teensy, tiny pentacle on a chain long enough to hide under my shirt and spent half my time staring at my chest to be sure my little charm was safely hidden between Bennie and June, I am now open about my faith with my family, my friends, my boyfriend, my colleagues, my classmates, the entirety of the internet, and anyone on the street who asks. From the days when I lit candles and asked for things, now I light candles and listen and feel and be. Point is, at this moment in my life, I know I am still just barely on the upward slant of my learning curve, but I have grown up.

In Smalltown, USA, I was raised agnostic. No one ever sat me down and said, “Look, God's probably not real,” but when other families were saying grace over dinner, my parents were trading anecdotes about whatever wacky thing the Christian babysitter had said that day. We never talk about religion or our own personal faith, although probability says that out of the whole damn dozen of us, I can't be the only believer. I didn't see the inside of a church until I was in high school. And while I didn't get kicked out of Vacation Bible School (ahem, Nuwanda, coughcough), I had such a hard time not giggling through the inspirational songs on the first day that I knew I could never go back. Religion was a shill, a crutch for the na├»ve.

Well.

The cynicism has lasted me well into adult life, but I did began to notice a spiritual bankruptcy in my life, and false start after false start, I eventually found my way into witchcraft. And when I did find my new path, the first people who knew about it were my friends, followed by my mother, then eventually the rest of my family. Although it's not a frequent occurrence, I've had serious conversations about my faith with my atheist brother and father, burned sage with my Jesus-email-forwarding stepmom, and had very long, very drunk conversations with my mom about exactly how many goats will be present for sacrifice at my wedding.*** The one thing I have never done is EVER mentioned my religion to either of my sisters, let alone talked about it at any sort of length. I know they're both aware of what I do; in my family, rumor and gossip passes osmotically from person to person like the Deadly Motaba Virus, so once that shit was out of the bag, I always assumed it was out of the bag in a big way. But since one of my neurotic fears is unwittingly turning into an attention whore, I don't run around going, “Hey, sis! Have you heard I'm a witch? Guess what's up in my witchety witch life lately?!” The topic has never come up.

And honestly, I was glad, and I'll tell you why, albeit a little shame-facedly. I was glad not to talk religion with my sisters because I, public pagan, founder of clubs, waver of athames, reader of Tarot cards, corrupter of precocious minor witchlets, was afraid of what they'd think. Having “the Talk” with my science-minded, physics-spewing boyfriend had been scary enough, and in fact, I'd put it off for a long time because I knew my heart would break if he laughed at me. But my sisters? Couldn't do it. Wouldn't and didn't.

You have to understand something here. My sisters? Yeah, they're my frickin' heroes.

Nuwanda and I often trade tales of hard times and social inequities, and when in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, we'll tell each other, “Just think, WWCD? What would C. (my younger sister) do?” This is because C. is the toughest woman I know. She takes no shit. She lets no one push her around, keep her down, make her feel bad about herself. She is the walking goddess of not giving a single fuck, and if one day I can be as self-assured and capable as she is, I will die happy.

On the other hand, my older sister was my first roommate, my first rival, my first friend, and my first idol. She is my best friend to this day. I followed her around from kindergarten till graduation as often as she'd let me. A large part of my self-esteem is built on the fact that she thinks I'm funny. Once, after a play I was in, she told me she'd forgotten it was me on the stage, and I still hold that compliment as the dearest one I've ever received. I love her. I respect her. And because of that, I feared her scorn.

Which brings me around to my milestone. Last week, my older sister and her boyfriend came to see a show.**** They crashed in my living room, a corner of which is devoted to my altar and library. Every time she has come to visit, my sister has walked back and forth past that altar with barely a second glance. The only comment either of us has ever made about it was when she asked, “Can I put my earrings here tonight?” and I said, “Yeah, sure.”

Last week, out of the blue, my sister took a look at the altar and asked hesitantly, “So... Does all this stuff mean something, or do you just like the way it looks?”

And for a second, even though it's Witchcraft 101, even though I had explained the set-up on numerous occasions, even though it was my freaking altar for fuck's sake, I couldn't answer because I honestly didn't know how.

Finally, I told her that it all meant something, and she replied that she'd always wondered, but had been too afraid of offending me to ask. To which I replied with my greatest, stupidest fear:

I never mentioned it before. I was afraid you'd laugh because you think religion is stupid.”

She reminded me that she thinks organized religion is stupid, and I showed her the pentacle my Frog Hollow Coven girls had made for me, the silver apple stuffed with rose petals, the incense burner (which she recognized, having spotted me 15 bucks in New Orleans to purchase it), and pointed out that there was a symbol for each of the four compass points.

Then we went to Denny's. And that was the end of the conversation I'd been dreading for five years.

Was I unfair to my sister in thinking she'd be too cynical to accept the choices I'd made as valid? Yes. Was it wrong to assume she'd immediately put aside her affection and our friendship because I was dumb enough to believe in not just one god, but multiple aspects of deity? Yes. Had I been selling her short for years because I was chickenshit? Yes.

In the end, did it make any difference? No.

Not on the surface anyway. Not in the sense that now everything has changed and our relationship will never be the same and blah blah blah. Not in the way I feared.

But was a big deal? Yes. The biggest, best deal in a long time.





*I don't always think of underage boys in the tub, but when I do please forget I ever started that sentence. Christ.

**Although I get weirdly high right before grounding and have to be ear-flicked to quiet the giggling.

***One hundred and eight. One for every pre-marital lover.

****If you love musical asskickery, you will love Sirsy. Get on iTunes this minute, and follow it up with Ticketmaster, cuz that's some shit you need to see for yourself.

Friday, February 17, 2012

My God Can Beat Up Your God

My God Can Beat Up Your God: The Threat of Paganism
V.B. Rising

During the time of Europe's witch craze, pagan ritual behavior was reason enough to condemn a person as a witch. Since all can agree that the witch hunts were motivated partly by a power struggle in medieval Europe, we must examine why such behavior was considered a threat to those in power; could these simple country beliefs be reason enough to commit mass murder against those who were accused to have held them?

Before examining how pagan ritual behavior acted as a threat to those in power (namely, the Catholic Church and secular authorities, those infamous bedfellows), we must first define those behaviors. It's not enough to say that the acts and beliefs in question were 'rituals.' The Church uses rituals too, ceremonial acts used in accordance with religious law to commemorate or celebrate and event, such as the ritual of taking communion or of baptism. Obviously, this sort of ritual behavior would not be seen as a threat by either the Church or the secular authorities who sought to end the influence of witches.

Therefore, the rituals that did constitute a threat were pagan rituals: beliefs and acts that would be viewed as heresy at best, and at worst as a full-blown attack against the Catholic Church. For the purposes of this paper, pagan ritual behavior will be defined as any religious beliefs or rituals which did not coincide with the teachings of Middle Age Christianity, including the work of folk healers, participation in seasonal harvest festivals (which sometimes included fertility rites), application of spells and charms, and worship of gods or forces beyond the Christian god. Often, people would engage in pagan acts while considering themselves good Christians; pagan ritual behavior was so deeply embedded in medieval mind as superstition or just common knowledge, that it was often a matter of course to practice it in conjunction with a Christian religion.

Why were these beliefs dangerous?

One of the most practical reasons illustrates a threat to the fast-crumbling feudal system. Ehrenreich and English state: “There is evidence that women accused of being witches did meet locally in small groups and that these groups came together in crowds of hundred or thousands on festival days.” (12) Festival days were usually linked to an agricultural event, such as a spring planting or a first harvest, and included thanksgiving and celebration. (Buckland 97) While from a religious standpoint, such celebrations could be seen as heresy, the main problem was that so many serfs were gathering, unsupervised by their lords, causing concern for rebellion. “Any peasant organization, just by being an organization would attract dissidents.” (Ehrenreich and English 12) In a feudal system, which depends upon the coordination of lords and serfs, the masters could little afford a rebellion.

Further, I suggest that any group in power, whether it be a feudal master in control of a plot of land, a king in control of a country, or a church in control of the better part of a continent, will fear a conspiracy. The nature of rulers is to want to remain rulers, which is dependent upon docile and powerless subjects. As Christina Larner points out, the belief in pacts with Satan, the Black Mass, and demonic orgies, were not a part of popular belief until the Scottish King James VI suggested them. (Simpson 7) Ben-Yehuda agrees, maintaining that prior to the 14th century, witchcraft did not exist as “a developed, systematic conceptualization of a negative supernatural world, diametrically opposed to the world and at war with it.” The addition of the Black Mass and orgies indicates a strong fear of not just pagans, but gatherings of pagans. The addition of a pact with Satan proves this as well; now gatherings of pagans had a powerful ally. Just as enough unruly serfs could threaten their feudal master, so could enough now anti-Christian witches topple the Church.

As Ehrenreich and English point out, there is also the matter of competition, a crime nearly as dangerous as rebellion. Folk healers of the Middle Ages were the peasantry's only choice for medical attention; the Church-sanctioned doctors of the time were not known for their affordability or their effectiveness. While the Church maintained that illness was caused by sin, folk healers were basing their medicine on empirical evidence and experimentation. Simply put, the pagan's healing magic “was the science of her time.” (Ehrenreich and English 14) These healers, who used pagan methods, drew attention and reverence away from the Church; we can assume that their effectiveness may have made a fool of Church-owned-university-learned medicine. The Church and newly born medical profession could not allow such efficient competition to exist. However, it is interesting to note the Christian clergy sometimes employed the same types of magical methods in their exorcisms and masses; even Pope John XXII “procured a magic snakeskin to detect poison in his food and drink.” (Barstow 112)

Another reason to fear pagan ritual, and perhaps the most damning, was that pagan spirituality was far more female-friendly that Christianity. Witch hunt scholars note that, except in a few isolated countries, most of the victims of witch hunts were women. (Barstow 24) Why such a fear and hated of women existed may never be fully explained, but from its existence, we can postulate that any sort of female empowerment through pagan religious beliefs would not be accepted by either the Church or secular governments. Obviously, there was a deep need by men in power to keep women as powerless as possible.

Many early pagan religions encompassed not only many gods (the exact opposite of Christianity, where only one male God is worshiped), but also both male and female gods, with the female gods playing a complementary role to their male counterparts, rather than a subservient one. For instance, the classical pantheons of Greece and Rome sometimes assigned goddesses to aspects which are now seen as masculine, indicating a balance in feminine and masculine power, e.g., Diana was the Roman goddess of hunting, seen since early times as a male profession, but she was also the goddess of the moon, a chiefly female symbol in the whole of the Western world.

Some pagan religions did not just worship goddesses alongside gods, but elevated the female to an exalted status, worshiping a Great Mother, or fertility goddess. (Buckland 2) This indicates that prior to the spread of Christianity, there was a respect for feminine energy, and an openness to the idea of sharing divinity among the sexes. Even if women were not treated as equals in the physical world, existence of goddess worship shows an acceptance of femininity as beautiful, useful, and strong, whereas one could argue the Christianity does not accept femininity at all, except as a vehicle for evil Since engaging in pagan rituals could indicate a support or adherence to pagan religion and thus to the idea of female empowerment, it was necessary for the Church to vilify paganism in order to justify its male-oriented belief system, and to keep control over the female population.

Although we will never fully understand the motivations behind the witch-hunting craze of medieval Europe, I suggest that a major factor was power, getting it and keeping it. Those in power (The Church and government, closely tied) gained it by keeping the population controlled, through fear and religious restriction. The condemnation of pagan gatherings by transforming it into the Black Mass, the denouncement of pagan medicine, and the demonizing of female divinity kept not only women, but the entire population firmly under the boot of authority.

Sources Cited

Barstow, Ane Llewellyn. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts. San Francisco: Pandora, 1994.

Buckland, Raymond. Buckland's Complete Book Of Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004.

Ehrenreich, Barbara and Deirdre English. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers. New York: The Feminist Press, 1973

Simpson, Jacqueline. “Witches and Witchbusters.” Folklore 107 (1996): 5-18.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Arbitrary Sex and Chocolate Day!

Hey, everyone!*  Slow news week around here (because I don't consider yet another drug addict offing themselves "news"), so here is an old rant.  These are my old (but still relevant) thoughts on Valentine's Day.  Here's hoping you get laid!

Okay, it’s a day after Valentine’s Day and I’m still pissed off. I cannot take all the people who bitch about Valentine’s Day like it’s the fucking Holocaust. You know what? It’s just a holiday! It’s just a holiday that no one forces you to celebrate and will be over in twenty-four hours. Do you think maybe you could get over yourself for one day?

Maybe you’re thinking it’s hypocritical of me to bitch about people who bitch. You might be right; just because I sometimes dislike Valentine’s Day for a legitimate reason (it turns 75% of the population into crybabies that I have to deal with), does that make me any better than people who hate it for the following stupid reasons?

3) It causes people to be sickeningly gushy and pull off PDAs everywhere.
 

2) It’s too commercial.
 

1) It makes them feel lonely.

The short and honest answer is no. But this is my page and I write so that I can express myself and I don’t really care if I get six hundred pissed-off e-mails saying I’m being unfair.  So if you feel this rant is going to piss you off because it’s bitching about bitching, well, you were warned.

Anyway, that being said, let’s talk about why people bitch about Valentine’s Day. As you can see from the list above**, the third most popular reason people whine all through the beginning of February is because they don’t want to watch all the happy couples flirting and macking on the big V Day. Why should they have to watch people being vulgar and sentimental in the streets?

These people need to shut up. First of all, it’s a stupid thing to complain about. You’ve been watching people mack in public since the dawn of time. Get used to it already. All the shit that goes on in the world and you’re complaining about a holiday that celebrates love and togetherness and makes people kiss each other instead of killing each other? Grow the fuck up. Of course they’re going to kiss in the street and of course you’re going to see. That’s the thing about PDA; it’s, by definition, public. Public places are for everyone’s use and as long as you’re not exposing yourself indecently, what’s the big deal if two people are macking on a park bench? I think we could use more of it.

But oh no, it makes people sad to see other people having fun, especially if you throw in the old jealousy factor too. Just cuz you’re not getting any love, no one else should? Don’t be so fucking juvenile. Don’t define yourself by the person you are or aren’t dating. If you can’t stand alone, you shouldn’t stand at all. Lay down on your couch for the rest of your life and be a co-dependent jerk. Whatever. And if you want someone to be with, go out and find someone. Don’t bitch because everyone else has someone to love. Let me give you a hint: being single and whiny is a cycle. You’re not dating –> you whine –> no one wants to date someone who’s bitching about how hard life is all the time –> you’re still not dating. Is it starting to make sense now?

The second most common reason people whine about Valentine’s Day is the blatant commercialism of it all. Oh, what a horrible capitalist society we live in, wah wah, boo hoo. They put the candy out in January and the greeting card industry is taking over the world! They have taken everything sacred and run it into the ground.

Well, duh.

I don’t know if you’ve been living in a cave or what, but that’s kind of what we do in America. Not one of our better characteristics, I admit, but still, that’s the way it is and if you can’t at least tolerate it, what the hell are you doing here? I’m all for changing the world when it’s needed, but people are always going to be greedy bastards. Money is always going to be important, however wrong it is. Get used to it and get over it. Everything is commercialized here, this isn’t something unique to Valentine’s Day; just ask Charlie Brown.

I don’t see what the big deal is about commercializing it anyway. If greeting cards didn’t produce Valentines, no one would get any. Sure, you could make your own and it might be preferable to do so, but I guarantee you the 95% of the country won’t be bothered with it. If you don’t have the time and energy to make handmade fucking lace-covered Valentines it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I say more power to people who give out store-bought Valentines; at least they were thinking of you. So if only 5% of the country is giving out ‘Thinking of You’ cards made of macaroni, that’s a lot of people feeling left out. And you know what that leads to! MORE BITCHING!

People say that all this commercialism has cheapened the holiday and that it’s not about loving people anymore. The fact that the stores pushed the candy and stuff on you means you’re giving gifts out of pressure and expectation. This is bullshit. Any time you give someone a gift, it’s your responsibility to do it for the right reasons; it’s not the responsibility of the fucking department store where you got the gift to make sure you’re being a good person. The stores don’t care why you buy their shit; if you want to buy sixteen crates of Be Mine candy hearts, they don’t care if you’re doing it to show your appreciation for your girlfriend, or because she demanded a box of only yellow ones and now you have to pick through eight tons of hearts to get her this one present cuz she’s a conniving bitch, or because you like the fizzy noise they make in the bathtub. Don’t blame stores for cheapening emotion. Blame the bastards who buy into it.

What’s so horrible about giving or getting a present just because it’s a certain date? If it was really something to apologize for, Christmas would be an awkward fucking holiday.

If you’re getting a present, you’re getting a present! Presents = good. Take it and shut up! If you’re giving a present, good for you. You did something unselfish and tried to make someone feel good. And even if you only did it hoping to get laid, hey, maybe you will and maybe you won’t. If you do, good things. Congrats. If you don’t, it’s your own fault for getting your hopes up and thinking that your significant other would whore themselves to you for a box of heart-shaped candy.
 

Which brings me to the number one reason people bitch on Valentine’s Day and put themselves at risk of being stabbed in the neck with a fork for being such an annoying asshole: loneliness.

See above re: the old jealousy factor. Stop being so selfish. So you’re lonely. Big fucking deal!  Everyone’s lonely at some point. I’m lonely right this very second, but I don’t bitch and whine about how no one loves me, what a world, what a world. Just because I’m not getting any doesn’t mean I think the rest of the world should be depressed and isolated and kept from their loved ones just to make me feel better.

Let me clue you in on something here. Are you paying attention? Good. Sometimes, children, other people have things that we don’t and that makes us sad because it’s unfair.

LIFE! IS! NOT! FAIR!

Stop being so selfish. So there’s a holiday that reminds you that you have no significant other. Boo fucking hoo. Get over yourself, the whole world isn’t going to stop celebrating the good things about their lives just because you can’t find even one positive aspect to focus on.

Here’s a solution and it’s even a legitimate, curse-word-free one. If you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/whatever to be with on Valentine’s Day… do something for someone else! Oh, my God, you mean I can give my friends or family presents or cards on Valentine’s Day?! Who knew? Better yet, give a flower or card to a complete stranger. Stop the bitching epidemic in its tracks!

If you’re going to protest Valentine’s Day, do it silently, would you? Don’t ruin it for everyone else. Chances are, at least some of them have to be celebrating for the right reasons and if they’re doing them for what you consider the wrong reasons, tough shit. It’s not your call to decide right and wrong for other people. You don’t like it, fine. Don’t celebrate. Boycott Hallmark. Hold an anti-Valentine’s Day party; those are usually really fun if you get the right guests there. Get a fucking hobby or something, but just stop the madness! Stop being such a pessimistic moron. Shut. Up.

I like Valentine’s Day and, incidentally, I went liked it during my boyfriendless years too. You know why I like it? Cuz it represents hope. Cuz it gives people a chance to have a good time in the middle of the shittiest month of the year. Because it promotes positivity and love.
Not to mention that the upshot of all this is that on February 15th there’s a clearance sale in the candy aisle. Where’s the downside?




*And by "Everyone," I mean "Mom."

**This list compiled by V’s Bureau Of Made-Up Statistics.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Arguing Semantics and the Defamation of a Word

Arguing Semantics and the Defamation of a Word: Thoughts on the Inquisition and the European Witch Hunts of the Middle Ages
by V.B. Rising

Inquisition. From the Latin inquerere, which means “to looks to,” the word inquisition has come to have such a negative connotation that even the dictionaries are biased; the Random House dictionary's first two definitions are “1) an official investigation, esp. one of a political or religious nature, characterized by lack of regard for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the examiners, and recklessly cruel punishments,” and “2) any harsh, difficult, or prolonged questioning.” That's a big reputation for a word that, in its simplest and most accurate form means, “the act of inquiring.” Inquiring is defined as follows: “to seek information by questioning” or “to seek to learn by asking.” (“inquiring” Dictionary.com) Hence, we can surmise that without the horrific influence of the Inquisition, the word inquisition would mean just that; “the act of learning by questioning,” a perfectly respectable definition.

As an English major and lifelong lexophile, I find the transformation fascinating. How did the simple act of questioning become inextricably tied with political scandal, violence, and abuse? I will seek to illustrate just how by exploring two phenomena: the Inquisition, the great Heresy Hunt itself; and the inquisition that occurred simultaneously on a smaller, more personal scale within the former.

First, however, it would be remiss not to point out that the title Inquisition is actually misnomer. As stated above, to inquire is to ask questions in order to learn. During the Inquisition, the Inquisitors very obviously knew which answers they wanted to hear, and they supplied these answers to their victims through the use torture. A questioner who accepts only answers which he himself has already determined is not seeking to learn or find truth; he is seeking to justify his opinions and actions.

In the European witch hunts, this is illustrated best by the introduction of Satan's pact into witch lore. Prior to the publication of the Malleus Malificarum, it was not a commonly held belief that witches were Satan's lovers, that they had signed a pact with Satan, or that they were in league with Satan to bring about the downfall of the Catholic Church. (Ben-Yehuda 3) These ideas were introduced to the general public by the higher-ups: witch-hunters, both ecclesiastical and secular. In what we would now probably call a disgustingly extreme case of “leading the witness,” these Satanic ideas were posed to victims of torture, and “these fantasy elements duly appeared in the confessions as well as the indictments and verdicts.” (Simpson 7) Since the questioners already had their minds made up, the word inquisition is far too lenient to describe the actual practice of injecting their own answers into the minds of their victims. The questioners already presumed their victims were guilty of Satanism, and their methods thrust the imagined crime upon the prisoners, whose confessions would thrust it upon the public. (Simpson 12)

The Inquisition in its official capacity was a group of “special but permanent judges who executed their doctrinal functions in the name of the pope” and whose main function was to judge those charged as heretics, in order to maintain the purity of the Catholic Church. (Blotzer) However, the Church and secular government jointly enforced the hunt for heresy, in the same way that they jointly enforced the hunt for witches. But why form this new body at all? What happened that warranted such a crackdown on evil?

Some suggest that the Black Death was the impetus for the sudden, vicious attack on heretics. Roughly a third of the population of Europe had been wiped out by disease. Seeking someone to blame for the deaths, the people turned to their favorite scapegoats, the Jews and lepers. Jews were accused of causing the disease by “poisoning water sources” and the lepers were their accomplices, accused of scattering the water fountains and wells with “a mixture of human blood, urine, herbs, and consecrated Eucharist wafer.” (Stewart 147) Interestingly, the Jews were blamed because they did not get sick with the Black Death as often (due to better cleanliness than the general population), and the lepers were blamed for already being sick.

It is possible that in response to a public fear of widespread illness, the Inquisition was formed in order to transfer the public's fear to a more manageable source: outsiders. Unlike illness, outsiders can be found and destroyed; they can be controlled in a way that disease never can be, and those who manage to do so will gain power over the public, reasserting their dominance over their environment. During the witch hunts, the public's stress over illness, a poor economy, the restrictions of Christianity, and the conflict of a schism within the Christian faith, presented as a fear of witchcraft. Instead of blaming an outsider for their troubles, the people turned to an enemy within – witches.

The Inquisition (and witch hunting) was highly organized, with an explicit hierarchy of power. There were detailed procedures to be carried out in order to properly prosecute the victims, and rules about who could testify on a victim's behalf, who could represent a victim at a trial, and rights of the victim during the trial. (Blotzer) There were also rules and methods for extracting a confession or procuring the names of accomplices; torture was an oft-used tool., and it was not just allowed, but encouraged.

Interestingly, in his Catholic Encyclopedia, Joseph Blotzer claims that because of the structure and rules of the Inquisition's processes, the accused was at an advantage. He also states, however, that “the testimony of a heretic... was worthless before the courts,” leading one to wonder why someone already accused of heresy was granted a trial at all. (Blotzer) Similarly, he states that “Conscientious and sensible judges quite properly attached no great importance to confessions extracted by torture.” (Blotzer) Again, why bother? Why would the Inquisitors bother to use torture to procure a confession in any sensible judge would dismiss that evidence anyway? Either the Inquisitors had a more sinister motive for the torture, or the Inquisition's judges did take the confessions gained by torture seriously. The contradiction points out a flaw in the reasoning of the Inquisition as an institution and highlights it use as a continent-wide episode of scapegoating.

Meanwhile, as the search for enemies of God was sweeping across the country, there was a smaller, more personal inquisition going on within the villages and towns of Europe. This inquisition was not a highly-orchestrated institution, but rather a wave of paranoia and deceit that took its cues from the Inquisition.

The people of the villages found, just as the church had, that when something went wrong, they needed someone to blame. Hence, when illness, poverty, or other disasters struck a family, the unfortunate party would often point out a witch as the cause. This witch would often be someone who had argued with the family or slighted them in some way. (Stewart 157) Nearly always, the witch was someone just one step lower on the economic scale as the accuser. (Smith 6) The witch was always found within the community, rather than being an outsider. (Demos 3)

As government expanded, spreading its influence into the previously mostly self-governed villages, strict rules that had once existed regarding false accusations began to fade, leaving “crying witch” a nearly foolproof method of revenge or attack. (Barstow 33) Thus, while the Inquisition was mostly motivated by fear of illness and a bid for control, small inquisitions were motivated by fear of the hard times, or dislike or jealousy of neighbors, or guilt born from having more than a neighbor and being unwillingly to share, or any of a myriad of small-town squabbles and conflicts. For the rich, “crying witch” was a way to rid themselves of beggars or other undesirables.

Also an important feature of this internal, small-scale inquisition, was the rise of witch hunting as a business. Jacqueline Smith state in her article “Witches and Witchunters” that “it was unusual for an outsider to hunt witches.” She goes on to describe the process by which these hunters began to systematically track down the cause of a client's misfortunes. The fact that they were paid handsomely for their services, and sometimes paid per witch found, gives us reason to believe that their motives may not have been pure. Witch hunters, while conducting their investigations, would often plant evidence that would condemn the accused. (Simpson 10) They had “a vested interest in keeping the belief [in witches] alive,” and encouraged rumors of local witchcraft in order to stay in business. Perhaps one of the most insidious features of the entire witch hunting craze were these hunters, who held themselves to be saviors if their communities, but in actuality were capitalizing on the murder of their own neighbors.

Given the above, it becomes easy to see how the word inquisition could be vilified by its history. Perhaps some horrors and guilt feelings are so influential and so strong that they become embedded in the human mind, joining the scarecrow and the river as icons in the collective unconscious. Simply put, maybe we as a people just don't get over certain things, and our ghosts will always come back to haunt us. Thus the stigma that still hangs around the word inquisition; even now, hundreds of years later, it is used negatively, synonymous with persecution. To modern ears, inquisition plays the same party trick as holocaust; even though it has a general definition, it always brings to mind a specific point in time. Both words capitalize themselves, because we as a people cannot let go of the associations we assigned to them with our behavior. It's a shame that an innocent word should have such a reputation thrust upon it by a frightened and foolish people.

Sources Cited

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