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Augustines Vision of Hell

The burning stakes and bruloirs (ovens for burning persons accused of witchcraft) were justified by their proponents who reasoned that since the hell is a cruel place, cruelty that lasts less than an hour is preferable to cruelty that stretches over eternity. In most texts on philosophy and theology, Saint Augustine receives acclamation. His selfreflection is extolled, as is the ornate language of his psalms, and the depth of his faith. Let us look at one of the less well-known of Augustines narratives, which was accessible only in Latin: the description of Hell in his 69th address to his fellow hermits ''Ad Fratres in Eremitate Sermo LXIX.'' There St. Augustine describes how Satan seized the damned female and commanded his fellow devils to pierce her eyes with forks as she enjoyed looking at unclean things, pierce her mouth as she used them for blasphemy, pierce her heart, as she did not harbor piety, compassion, clemency, and forgiveness there, pierce her hands with the heavy fork forged in Hell since she reached with them at things unclean and did not use them to distribute alms and help her neighbors, use the fiery forks to pierce her legs she used to dance and meet her lovers.' After performing these tasks, devils spread out their black wings and transport the stabbed female to the Hell. When the gates of Hell open, '"out steps a hideous, horrible dragon, always ready to devour sinners. The dragon inserts the female into his mouth, full of stench. After chewing and digesting its prey, the dragon vomits the female into a fiery lake, where millions of other sinners wait for their trial by our Lord." This is sick and sickening, as are the similar narratives about females fried for eternity in oil and males in their own sperm.

Witchcraft trials
Clearly fraudulent and aberrant, the witch trials were sanctioned during a period of about three centuries. Witch burning occurred sporadically since 1450's. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued an edict, Summis desiderantes affectibus, where he alleged that many men and women were in collusion with the Devil. All Christians were to extend their help the Dominican monks Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer the Pope placed in charge of fighting people who, in association with Satan, caused diseases, pestilence, harmed harvest and cattle, and perpetrated other heinous crimes. Sprenger and Kramer wrote Malleus Maleficarum (1486) which codified the charges, interrogation procedures and the means of judicial resolutions for the witchcraft trials. After Luther posted his theses (in 1517), launching the Protestant-Catholic controversy, the frequency of the trials increased,

as each side believed that the other side is inspired by the devil. The era of witch trials culminated around the time of the Thirty Years' War.

Extent of witch trials Church archives on witchcraft trials remain


closed even to academic scholars and thus the estimates of the number of victims of these trials differ. However, the ongoing controversy about the number of victims of religious fanaticism has many parallels with the controversy surrounding holocaust deniers who do not deny that Holocaust occurred, but try to diminish its extent. In a similar vein, theologians and religious scholars do not deny that the Christian churches mandated the witch trials and burning of live human beings, but to try to diminish the number of victims of these trials. It is impossible to chart a Christian future that leaves behind the reality of torture and burning of human beings that took place for over more than three centuries. It is difficult, if not impossible, to envision a positive expression of Christianity with the bruloirs it helped to construct at its center. Instead, what occurs is an attempt by theologians, Christian scholars, and fundamentalist Christians to deny the extent of human suffering and the number of deaths the collusion of ecclesiastic and secular institutions projecting power via the justice system inflicted on innocent human beings.

Termination of witch trials Witch burning stopped around the


time of the American (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) which affirmed the separation of secular and ecclesiastic powers.

Severity of suffering Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms fairy tales drew


inspiration from folk sources. Their stories include such classics as Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel. In Grimm's original Kinder und Hausmarchen (1812, p.68) written from oral peasant narration, the burning of the witch in the oven is described as follows. "Hu! da fing sie an zu heulen, ganz grauselich; aber Gretel lief fort, und die gottlose Hexe muste elendiglich verbrennen." [Oh! How the (old witch) did howl, it was quite horrible to hear her; but Gretel ran away, and the irreligious witch had to burn miserably.] In most English translations of Hansel und Gretel, the word "irreligious" is missing. Did the informant of brothers' Grimm have elaborated on actual events of witch burning? (cf., Krus, Nelsen, & Webb, 1998)

Bruloirs were large ovens, built to expedite burning of individuals convicted in the
course of criminal justice proceedings that resulted in the death penalty with increased severity of punishment (M llendorf, 1911, p. 100; Sindelar, 1986, p.182). In these ovens

were also burned children sentenced to death by fire in the course of criminal proceedings against their parents (Cavendish, 1987). In Spain, these ovens were called "quemadero" or "brassero." In a study on the agony of dying based on judgments of forensic pathologists (Rhyne, et.al., 1995), the most excruciating way to die is by fire, followed by pain of death resulting from cutting the throat and by stabbing the abdomen. The bruloirs intensified the pain of death by fire by slowing down the process and increasing its psychological impact by the horror of being enclosed in a small, dark place where the temperature was steadily raising. This method of execution is salient among the cruelest methods designed to intensify the agony of death.

You shall not suffer a witch to live Computer search of


both the Old and New Testaments shows only two occurrences of the word witch: Deuteronomy 18:10 and Exodus 22:18. On inspection, the context of the word witch in Deuteronomy, in somewhat circumspect fashion, involves fire, However the Exodus 22:18 is explicit and ominous: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Aside of Deuteronomy 18:10, the death penalty by fire was justified by the Biblical verse from the Gospel by John: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."

Eyes dilated by fear Preserved in numerous engravings, the faces of


people about being burned look at us across the time. Surrounded by flames with hair already singed, their eyes are dilated by fear. Jean Bodin (1529-1596), a well-known jurist who taught and practiced law in Toulouse and Paris was unmoved by the suffering experienced by people that were burned alive. In his book Demonomanie des Sorciers (On the Demon-mania of Witches, 1581) Bodin maintained that burning is too lenient for serious crimes because the suffering does not last more than one hour.[1] Bodin, a staunch advocate of Huguenots at the court of Catherine de Medici looked for inspiration to Calvinist Scotland. He recommended that the Calvinist practice of placing boxes in every church into which parishioners were advised to put names of persons they suspected of witchcraft was also adapted in France. Bodin also approved of torture during criminal interrogations, including the torture of children to compel them to testify against their parents. However, many people wondered if Bodin, such an expert so convinced of the devil's existence and so curious about this topic may not himself have been involved with witchcraft. On June 3, 1587, the general prosecutor ordered the lieutenant of the baillage to proceed with a search of Bodin's home on suspicion of witchcraft. However, this search was brought to a halt by intervention Bodin's supporters. One may only wander how Bodin would feel while experiencing what he legislated for others. Bodin died in 1596 of bubonic plague.

Witch trials in Geneva Calvins administration of Geneva burned


people not only on charges of witchcraft, but also on charges of blasphemy and adultery. Calvinism at its height in Geneva led to threatening children with death. Some were hung by their armpits from gallows to demonstrate that they deserved death, and one child was executed for striking his parents.

Witch trials in England and Spain With respect to burning


witches, there was no dispute between Protestants and Catholics as both sides engaged in this practice. Catholic sovereigns of Spain staged auto-da-fes. England prided herself in upholding modesty by burning women at the stake, as quartering (a penalty reserved for men accused of witchcraft) would have involved nudity.

Witch trials in American colonies European immigrants


to America brought with them beliefs in witches and immigrants from England carried with them also memories of the British criminal justice courts, dispensing sentences of death by hanging for about 200 offences. These memories likely included the remembrance of hanging, in 1708, of Michael Hammond, seven-years-old and his sister, Ann, eleven-yearsold, for shoplifting. Religious zealots attempted to implant the witch trials in America, starting a series of witch trials in Connecticut, Boston, and Salem, Massachusetts. In Salem, two girls in the household of the Reverend Samuel Parris were accused of witchcraft and the prominent colonial Mather family pressed for their prosecution, resulting in death of 22 people. Cotton Mather (1663-1728), an influential Puritan pastor and author of over 450 predominantly religious books is perhaps the best known member of that family. In one of his children's books Cotton Mather asserts that children which lie, must go to their father the devil, into everlasting burning."

The trials Accusations of witchcraft were obtained by soliciting the congregation


to name suspected sorcerers or witches. The identity of the accusers was kept secret from the accused. The goal of the investigation was to obtain a confession of witchcraft. The confessions were forced by use of torture. Among the religious orders, a major role in the trials of both witches and heretics was played by the Dominican and Franciscan orders of friars.

The wheel and the rack Breaking a bone is painful and breaking
bones is an old method of torture. This was frequently done by hitting the extremities or

the rib cage with a wagon wheel. As the dislocated joint is more painful than a broken bone, the torture by the wheel was supplanted by torture on the rack. The rack was designed to stretch the body to dislocate its joints. The dislocations of joints was heard as popping sounds, often mixed with the shrieks of agony. The pain of stretching was sometimes further increased by gouging eyes, branding body with hot irons or tearing off tongue, nipples, ears, nose or male genitals with red hot pincers. The female genitals were torn from inside by spiked, pear shaped vaginal stretchers.

The intestinal crank Among the instruments of torture, used during


the criminal justice investigations to obtain information, was also the intestinal crank. This method of torture involved abdominal incision, separation of the duodenum from the pylorus, and attachment of the upper part of the thin intestine to the intestinal crank. The crank could be rotated to extract information (and intestines) from the gastrointestinal cavity of a conscious person (Monestier, 1994).

Witch hunters Witch hunter was a term used to describe people who worked
to locate and bring witches to justice. The most prominent of the witch hunters was Balthazar Ross. Between 1602 and 1606, Ross collected information that was used to arrest and prosecute more than 700 people. Another professional witch hunter was the Puritan lawyer Matthew Hopkins, who often described himself as the leading expert on the problem of witch crimes. Hopkins is best known for orchestrating the mass execution of witches in Chelmsford, Essex, in 1645. Nicholas Remy, a jurist in Lorraine, was responsible for the death of more than nine hundred persons in witch trials between 1581 and 1591. According to Remy Devil appears as a man or in shape of an animal, seeking sexual relationships with women. In case they do not agree, he rapes them, Remy also maintained that "Children should be burnt if they had a witch as a parent." Remy described his methods for discovering witches and bringing them to justice in his book (1595) Demonolatria Libri Tres, which replaced Kramer and Sprengers Malleus as the updated manuals for the criminal justice proceedings concerning witchcraft. Inquisitors Inquisitors who distinguished themselves by a large number of their victims

were Bernard Gui, Conrad of Marburg, Pedro Arbues, Robert le Bougre, Nicolas Eymeric, and Tomas de Torquemada, who traveled with 50 cavalrymen and 200 foot soldiers as his bodyguards, well aware that his large-scale burnings have created him many enemies. The inquisitor Conrad "the butcher" of Marburg was killed in 1233 by a group of noblemen whose relatives he burned at stake. Inquisitor Pedro Arbues was killed in 1485 in Saragossa, Andalusia.

Apologists Apart from Malleus Maleficarum, there were many books justifying
the witch trials. Johann Geiler von Kayserberg maintained in his Die Emeis(1517) that the devil anesthetizes witches right before burning so they would not feel any pain. Bartolomeo Spinas Questio de Strigibus (1523) is polemics against people who did not believe in witch trials. The French Calvinist Lambert Daneau, in his book Les Sorciers (1564), published in Geneva, proposed the final solution of the witch problem. He held that witches represent a major danger for humanity and must be exterminated. Bishop Peter Biensfield in his Tractatus de Confessionibus Maleficorum (1589) maintained that since the sinfulness of the world increased, God also allowed increasing the stringency of punishments. Henri Boquet in his Discours des Sorciers (1602) believed that witches multiply as worms in the garden do and wished to burn them all in one great fire.

Antagonists To oppose witch trials was dangerous. The proponents of witch


trials maintained that whoever opposes the trials is probably also a witch or a sorcerer. This opinion persists and a person who opposes a law or its severity is often suspected of ulterior motives and has something to hide or something to be afraid of. These notions discouraged many people from opposing injustice. Tace pro pace, be silent and live in peace. However, the Romans also used to say Qui tacet, consentire videtur, who remains silent, consents.

The physician Johannes Weyer was among the early opponents of witch trials. Weyer in his book De Praestigiis Daemonum, (On the Activities of Demons, 1563) Dr. Weyer writes: "The uninformed and the unskilled physicians relegate all the incurable diseases, or all the diseases the remedy for which they overlook, to witchcraft. When they do this, they are talking about disease like a blind man does about color." Called the Father of Psychiatry, he investigated the 1564 devil possession of the nuns of Cologne and found out that a group of teenage boys climbed the convent wall and made

love to the nuns who, subsequently, covered up this amorous event by claiming possession by the devil.

The most courageous opponent of the witch trials was the Friedrich Spee von Langefeld who in his Cautio Criminalis (1631) told of confessions of hundreds of persons just before their executions. The condemned witches and sorcerers all confessed that their signed confessions were forced by torture and that they were innocent. He wrote: Why do you search so diligently for sorcerers? I will show you at once where they are. Take the Capuchins, the Jesuits, all the religious orders, and torture them - they will confess. Should a few still be obstinate, keep on torturing - they will give in. If you want more, take the Canons, the Doctors, the Bishops of the Church - they will confess.

Qui bono? The cardinal question remains who ultimately benefited from these
trials. The reason usually given is that the witchcraft trials were sustained by material benefits obtained by confiscation of property of the condemned individuals. However, the elites with real power and real money could ultimately hardly benefit from depopulated villages and crippled economy. The reason elites tolerated the trials was that the widespread horror generated by mass burnings turned out to be one of the most effective tools for maintaining power. Over the centuries, hysteria of witch hunts intensified during the times of internal unrest or prior to initiation of wars of aggression, as notions that to counteract the supreme evil embodied by the devil justified even the most ruthless and cruel methods of inflicting violence on others.