A Frenzy Of Witches
If in any quest for magic, in any search for sorcery, witchery, legerdemain, first check the human spirit.
– Rod Serling
Thaumaturgy: From a Greek word meaning “miracle-working,” applies to any performance of miracles, especially by incantation. It can also be used in reference to things that merely seem miraculous and unexplainable, like the thaumaturgy of a motion picture’s illusions (aka “movie magic”), or the thaumaturgy at work in an athletic team’s “miracle” comeback. In addition to thaumaturgy, we also have thaumaturge and thaumaturgist, both of which mean “a performer of miracles” or “a magician,” and the adjective thaumaturgic, meaning “performing miracles” or “of, relating to, or dependent on thaumaturgy.”
There is no season with more significance to those who call themselves witches than Halloween, although this was not always the case. Before the publication of Malleus Maleficarum in 1487, witchcraft was part of common life, a metaphysical science descended from a nature-based faith much like the Wiccan religion practiced today. While witchcraft was proscribed by law and the Catholic Church, the punishment seldom amounted to more than being sentenced to a day in the stocks.
The author, Henrich Kramer, was not held in high esteem by the church and was repeatedly sanctioned for sexual allegations and misconduct. In 1484, Kramer attempted to prosecute several women he accused of witchcraft in Innsbruck. This resulted in his being exiled from the city. Some texts suggest that he wrote Malleus Maleficarum as an act of self-justification.
The acts of torture and state-sanctioned murder that followed in the next several centuries are a result of judicial authorities using Kramer’s book as a guide. The criminal act punished by the Inquisition wasn’t witchcraft, but heresy. It is significant that the title “Maleficarum” is in the feminine tense. While a man could be a witch, the great number of victims were women, referred to as: “malefica.”
Kramer’s work essentially characterized the “witches” as being pawns of Satan and having engaged in six activities: they entered into a pact with the Devil, had sexual relations with Satan, and used aerial flight to attend Black Masses, which were presided over by Satan himself. Further, they practiced Satanic magic and were guilty of having slaughtered babies in their rites.
Accordingly, the act of witchcraft was elevated to “crimen exceptum,” a criminal act of such severity that normal judicial conduct was not applicable.
With this history in mind, it becomes easier to see how witches riding brooms, luring children with sweets into enchantment, and being magicians of most sincere malevolence became part of the mythology surrounding Halloween.
Strixology: the genre devoted to writing about the dangers and genuine nature of witches and witchcraft.
Heresy: a belief contrary to orthodox religion.
Malefica: in contemporary use, an adjective, Latin based, used about black magic. Of a harmful, noxious, or injurious nature; wicked, nefarious, evil.
Crimen Exceptum: a crime so exceptional that the established rules of justice need not be applied to it.
Stocks: wooden or metal devices with foot holes used as punishment until the beginning of the 19th century.
Pillory: related to stocks. A wooden framework with holes for hands and feet. Those imprisoned were sentenced to a proscribed period of incarceration. The device deliberately exposed the victim to public abuse and vilification.
No household object is more associated with magic than a mirror. The earliest myths relate to the belief that the reflection seen in the mirror is not a mere representation, but shows the soul of the person, temporarily separated from the body and mind. Ancient rituals exist in which one could ask questions and divinations of the soul, which might be answered. If the mirror image broke apart, bad luck ensued. Likewise, if any harm or injury was suffered by the reflection, the owner of the image would suffer equal threat. This led to the art of catoptromancy (also known as scrying), the practice of using a mirror for divination. In turn, this belief evolved into mediums using crystal balls to foretell the future.
Mirrors are believed to ward off witches and witchcraft, most often in the form of “witch balls.” While most popular in the previous century, it is a still a somewhat obscure custom to wear small mirrors on one’s hatband to protect against enchantment.
Conversely, the mirror is one of a witch’s tools. A witch mirror has a frame on only three sides, which allows them to foresee the future and look across great distances. One of the black magic arts is referred to as “overlooking.” This refers to looking over a person’s shoulder into a mirror. A victim’s soul can be captured and used by a sorcerer to control the body that remains.
The connection of the human soul and the mirror is lost in antiquity, but it has endured until this day. Vampires show no reflection as they have no soul. Less known is the remnant that remains after soul loss or soul theft. In either case, the person suffering from this condition doesn’t throw a reflection.
Catoptromancy: divination by mirror or crystal gazing.
Scrying, Scryer: as above, a common term as opposed to the metaphysical reference.
Witch balls: a hollow sphere of plain or striated glass hung in cottage windows in the 18th century to ward off evil spirits but later often posed on top of a vase or suspended by a cord.
Overlooked: to look on with the Evil Eye, bewitch.
Attribution: Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering, Malleus Maleficarum by Kramer, Sprenger. A Delusion Of Satan by Frances Hill.