Monday, May 21, 2012

Witchcraft, authority, medieval church and secular government

In the box: Roasted human foetuses covered with gold leaf.
Witch hunts were neither small in scope nor implemented by a few aberrant individuals; the persecution of witches was the official policy of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches. The Church invented the crime of witchcraft, established the process by which to prosecute it, and then insisted that witches be prosecuted. After much of society had rejected witchcraft as a delusion, some of the last to insist upon the validity of witchcraft were among the clergy. Under the pretext of first heresy and then witchcraft, anyone could be disposed of who questioned authority or the Christian view of the world.
(The Witch Hunts: The End of Magic and Miracles 1450-1750 C.E.)
There is a charge against the church for its heinous past in witch-hunting. To them, black magic and witchcraft are crime created by the church to secure its sociopolitical power. For those who agree with such accusation, I wonder what would they think of this modern "witch-hunt"?
Six human foetuses which had been roasted and covered in gold leaf as part of a black magic ritual have been seized from a British citizen in Bangkok...
(Thai police arrest Brit with foetuses for black magic, Yahoonews, 18 May 2012.)
I'm not justifying the church's deeds in the past, if indeed they were done with evil intention. Rather, I'm intrigued by our modern authorities' as well as journalists' response toward black-magic, seeing similarity in their disagreement with witchcraft with that of the medieval church.

If the modern people are prosecuting modern black magic for whatever reason, why then should they not see that the medieval church may share their similar concern?

But, what do you think? Should those involved in black magic, such as the one reported above, be arrested and prosecuted? 

If yes, then you may be sharing the same concern of the medieval authorities.

For those who accuse the medieval church for criminalising witchcraft in order to secure its influence, shouldn't they also similarly accuse contemporary authorities for prosecuting black magic? 

Unless of course that these accusers chose to believe that the medieval church lusted after power, while contemporary secular authority is merely pursuing social peace and stability. 

I wonder whether can anyone really so naively hold on to the belief that sociopolitical authority, be it medieval church or secular government, is either merely lusting after power at one time, while at other time, merely pursuing social stability? Are not lusting after power and pursuing social stability two sides of the same coin? I mean, can anyone pursue social stability without also asserting one's influence in the society? I don't think so.


Martin Yee said...

LOL. You are sounding like Foucault now. Of prime concern to Foucault is the fact that a given idea – say witchcraft – usually serves to justify the coercive power of the ruling elite class by marginalizing, controlling, and sometimes even reshaping, other classes of people to suit the former’s dominance of the culture.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

I prefer to see myself more along with Paul rather than Foucault. Foucault's project was simply a secularization of Eph 6:12. :D

reasonable said...

Perhaps there is an important difference between Witch Hunts of the past and the recent incident.

The recent incident's concerns were on the way human corpses were treated. If the incident of "black magic" involved something else instead of human corpses, such as, if the person caught was discovered with a bag of wooden dolls poked with needles instead, the authorities would not have bothered. People now are allowed to do their "black magic" as the authorities are not concerned with such beliefs and the corresponding practices. Whereas in the past during the Church's witch hunts, the Church would probably still prosecute you even if your "black magic" involves the use of dolls instead of human corpses.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

I think the "important difference" is only possible when one sees the difference between the mechanics of witchcraft from a secular-liturgical perspective, where the sacredness of matters have lost its distinctiveness.

A doll with many needles may appear to modern people as harmless, but it was not so to the medieval people. To the latter group, a doll with many needles is equivalent in its significance to a died foetus. The 'spiritual' dimension of matters (such as dolls and corpses) are differently held by the medieval and the modern people.

reasonable said...

A related question would be:

Is it better to be in the situation of the medieval times where there is very little freedom of relgious/supernatural beliefs/practices or in the situation of our times where there is much more freedom of religious/supernatural beliefs/practices (this modern freedom is not absolute but exist only to the extend that they do not cause any empirical harm)?

Sze Zeng said...

Hmm...I can't see there is a difference between the medieval and modern in term of causing empirical harm. Partly because I don't have the data about empirical harm in a degree that reliably represent both eras in order to compare them.