The Light was retreating before Darkness: Tales of the Witch hunt and climate change

The Light was retreating before Darkness: Tales of the Witch hunt and climate change

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The Light was retreating before Darkness: Tales of the Witch hunt and climate change

Teresa Kwiatkowska (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa)

Medievalia, No.42 (2010)


Back in time, solar eclipses and comets, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were often interpreted “as signs of divine anger against human sins” (Kempe, “Noah’s Flood”, 152). When the Great Storm of 1170’s in England has flatten crops and flood swept away people and buildings, inundating fens, only a Crusade against God’s enemies could placate his an- ger. However, the belief in witchcraft goes far back into prehistoric era. Weather witching can be en- countered in Greco-Roman as well as in Celtic and Teutonic cultures. Witches, Satanism, black magic —these are among many concepts recognized by nu- merous people back then and today in many parts of the world. The uses to which magic might have been put included much feared form of harmful power to raise storms, conjure mists, and destroy crops by hailstorms and other means (Bailey, Magic and Superstition in Europe).

In the beginning, the Christian Church authorities opposed the belief in witchcraft and rejected the claim that humans had any power over climate. St. Augustine referred to magic as a lie or deception, and all the work of devil as kind of deceit. He disapproved of the practice of all magic and sacrilegious rites for being pagan and heretics (Augustine, City of God,22, 330). First synod of St. Patrick declared that: “A Christian who believes that there is a vampire in the world, that it to say a witch is to be anathemized […]”(Bieler, 56-57). Years later Charlemagne in Capitulary for Saxony (775-790) stated: “If any one deceived by the Devil shall have believed, after the manner of the pagans, that any man or woman is a witch […] and on this account shall have burned a person, […] let him be punished by a capital sentence” (“Medieval Sourcebook, Charlemagne”, 6). Almost at the same time, Saint Agobard, (c.769-840) Archbishop of Lyon denounced adscription of hailstorms, tempests and any fruit of the earth damage to magic.


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