Burn the witch!

While there are many causal factors contributing to the phenomenon that we call the witch hunts, I contend one way that they can be understood is in terms of a change in the conception of consciousness from group to personal dynamics. Let’s look at the many ways in which this change was evidenced in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and why this change contributed to the bringing about of the witch hunts.

Illustration from the Malleus Maleficarum
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Dion Fortune was a shaman, fight me

Violet Mary Firth, later known as Dion Fortune, was a strange child, reputedly psychic all her life, who grew into one of the most formidable occultists of her day. Her work was an important influence on many Neo Pagans, most notably Gerald Gardener, but also on others later such as Druids Isaac Bonewits and John Michael Greer. She was an interesting mix of clairvoyant medium and university trained psychologist and much of her work was remarkably shamanistic in character.

Born in Llandudno, North Wales, on the 6th of December, 1890, her parents converted to Christian Science when she was fourteen. One can see the influence of this early exposure to Christian Science in all her work. Christian Science does not view Jesus as simply a moral exemplar, rather his healing works, as well as his own victory over death and the grave, are regarded as demonstrating that all the ills and limitations of the mortal state can be overcome, in proportion, as one gains the mind of Christ, i.e. an understanding of one’s true spiritual status. This requires a penetration beyond material appearances into a spiritual order of being, one that traditional Christian orthodoxy associates with a heaven in the hereafter, but that Christian Science considers to be scientifically demonstrable in human life. This theme of recognising the oneness of the magical and the physical would echo through Fortune’s work for all her life. The melding which she sought is remarkably similar to an underlying principle of shamanism, i.e. that the spiritual has a real and demonstrable effect on daily life, especially in use for healing. Many of the practices which she, and her community, undertook are equivalent to those discussed by Vitebsky1 in his overview of shamanism. Most notably, she was not only a solo practitioner but the centre of a community, on whose behalf she acted.

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Dogmatic Religion Is A Bitch

Dogmatic religion is a bitch. It destroys the very core of people.

Humans are social creatures. So when our cherished others share with us that it is possible to know the love of a perfect being, to be enfolded in the bliss of union with it, if only we follow some rules, we naturally strive to seek this perfection. But the rules are the thing. When we submit to rules we want to know that they are justified. That they will be efficacious. But dogma, the insistence on unquestioning faith, does not give us such reassurance.

Any dogmatic set of rules is functionally unattainable in the long term because of the power of doubt. Dogmatism is not a natural part of what it is to be human. We thirst for understanding. And, while there is a great truth in not being a slave to the why of things, in sometimes accepting things as they are even though we cannot yet understand them, we will never cease completely to ask why.

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