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Was the Orthodox Church ever involved in witch trials?


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#1 Daniela S.

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Posted 07 November 2013 - 01:51 PM

Greetings to All,

    I often hear people bring up the persecution, torture, and execution of witches as a criticism of Christians in general. What is the history of the Orthodox Church concerning both "official" witch trials and mob attacks of presumed witches? Did these things ever have the approval of the church? I have assumed that only the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches supported these acts. Am I misinformed? Can anyone suggest an Orthodox book or article on the subject?



#2 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 07 November 2013 - 02:23 PM

I don't know of any book about this but 'witch-hunting' - as much by secular authorties as by any church - was really only a western practice which was contrary to Christian principles (that any genuine delusion by a person that she was a witch should be dealt with by repentance, confession, and perhaps also exorcism).  I have never heard of 'the persecution, torture, and execution of witches' in the Orthodox East.



#3 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 12:02 AM

Most of the persecution of "witches" by the western church is overly exaggerated. Actually persecution of witchcraft was much worse by pagan cultures and it was Christianity that put an end to much of it. An interesting book on the subject is "Atheist Delusions" by David Bently Hart, published by Yale University Press.



#4 Daniela S.

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 01:59 AM

Thank you very much.  I should have worded it "people accused of being witches".  Perhaps that would have been more accurate. I read recently that the Orthodox church does not "believe" in witches as defined by the superstitious. I did not know that much of the persecution was exaggerated or was actually done by pagans. I would say that it is very common for non-believers to bring up the witch hunts as "proof" that Christians do not have truth in their Tradition. I'm never quite sure how to respond (or if I should respond).This is the second time this week that the book "Atheist Delusions" has come up in my path, and I'd never heard of it before. I think I'll read it. Thanks again.



#5 Kosta

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 04:03 AM

How is that proof? In the Byzantine empire I haven't heard much about witches. In the near eastern world there were concerns over people that claimed they can control demons. Even in middle eastern culture there's a belief in a category of demons called ginniwhere we get the word genie from.

#6 Daniela S.

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 05:03 AM

The fact that "witch hunts" occurred in many areas, and that some Christians participated in them, definitely does not prove that there is no Truth in our Tradition. However, it is a conclusion that many people come to, especially here in New England where it is common to hear the Salem witch trials brought up in conversations about Christianity. As a child I was taught that the Puritans were Christians and that they burned "witches" right here in our state, so I'm sure many others who grew up here were taught that as well.  Most people here have never heard of Orthodoxy, and would count these deeds as part of the history of all Christendom. Would it be correct to say that in most situations where there was "hysteria" concerning "witches", that it was due to superstition, and that if Christians were involved they were Christians who acted in a way which would never have been encouraged pastorally by the Orthodox church at the time?  Please know that I am not arguing against what anyone here has said. I am very ignorant when it comes to Church history, and I really don't know how to answer these questions.  

    Dear Kosta, I have heard a little bit of the ginn in Islam before, but I don't understand how they relate to my question. Forgive me, but can you please explain?



#7 Kosta

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 07:37 AM

Demonology was always popular subject matter in the east. In the early church many believed demons would hinder the souls of martyrs from reaching heaven, the fallen angels would turn the martyrs into demons where the saints would  simply be stuck wandering the earths atmosphere forever (demon= wandering spirit). The ginn is simply an arab extension of the abundant near east superstitions on demons.

 

The Bogomils of the 10th century were believed to control demons. In the Alexiad the princess Anna Komnene describes how the Bogomil leader was sentenced to death by fire.  The guards were instructed just to touch his garments with the fire and not burn him on a stake just incase he indeed had the power to call upon a demon who would pluck him out of the fire, and in turn make this heretical sect even more popular.

 

The Gypsies have been known to be able to cast curses, and to this day pride themselves on having this talent and even making people 'unclean'.

The concept of witches wasn't what the East dealt with, afterall in the near-east the belief is that anyone can cast the evil eye even subconsciously. You ever googled the "Goreme Air Museum" in Turkey? They are monastery caves of the byzantine empire that have well preserved frescoes and icons. The thing is most of them have the eyes gouged out of the paintings. This is because the muslim turks believed the saints on the icons could give them the evil eye curse and were terrified of them.

 

The thing I find about the people in new England that your describing is the lack of cultural understanding found among those elites. People have their own beliefs and supersitions across the globe. Does anyone in New England call those thousands of American royalists that were murdered for siding with England during the Revolutionary war as a witch hunt that disproves the effectiveness of democracy? Was it a witch hunt in 1960's China's during the cultural revolution where believers in Feng Shuei were persecuted? 

 

So yes, there was superstition and in some cases it was simply an attempt to stamp out heresy. Would this happen in the east? Probably not as the gypsies are still around. By the way gypsies have been persecuted (both by governments and by the people of those communities they inhabit) but not because of witchcraft (there superstitions of having the ability to curse would fall under witchcraft) its because their annoying (and that's being nice about it).


Edited by Kosta, 08 November 2013 - 07:41 AM.


#8 Kosta

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 08:49 AM

The fact that "witch hunts" occurred in many areas, and that some Christians participated in them, definitely does not prove that there is no Truth in our Tradition. However, it is a conclusion that many people come to, especially here in New England where it is common to hear the Salem witch trials brought up in conversations about Christianity. As a child I was taught that the Puritans were Christians and that they burned "witches" right here in our state, so I'm sure many others who grew up here were taught that as well.

 

 

My whole point is that people tend to be surface thinkers.  Its not Christians that participated in the witch hunts, it was their very own british kin.  The people they are criticizing are their own ancestors, their very own culture, their grandparents, its the very culture which they originate from. Its more a reflection of british superstition. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian its simply more ammunition for me to be critical of western culture.


Edited by Kosta, 08 November 2013 - 08:53 AM.


#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 01:25 PM

I am deviating, but I don't know what is meant by the expression, 'western culture' or even if it exists.  If it means the way societies are arranged in the countries most represented here - Australia, Britain, Canada, and the USA - then when I compare Britain with other countries with which I am familiar, I thank God daily that I am here..



#10 Kosta

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 06:42 PM

Andreas, there you go. The people Daniela is referring to reside in a part of the country that was formed by the Puritans and other British protestants. If I start ridiculing those british colonists,then those same new Englanders will defend them as being the fathers who laid the foundation of Massachussetts. The people involved in those witch hunts are their ancestors and they share the same heritage. Its all perspective.

If wiki is correct at all, I can blame the renaissance or the enlightenment for the witch hunts as it says the fear of curses and demons began after the 1500"s in the west. Or I can even support the witch hunts which don't seem to be out of the ordinary for 17th century colonial America,

Edited by Kosta, 08 November 2013 - 06:47 PM.


#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 07:16 PM

I would not place any faith in a site which asserts that the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were to blame for witch hunts.  But that is a separate matter from modern western culture.



#12 Kosta

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 10:59 PM

The site doesn't say that, I'm the one saying it. According to the info, the belief and fear in witchcraft began in the 1500's . Then I can argue that the great schism was the catalyst and the renaissance is to blame. As I said the Salem witch hunts were more justified than the execution of all the colonists that sided with the royal crown and did not want secession from Britain. That's a fact that democracy supporters executed all royalists after the American revolution. Regardless all this took place by the great grandparents of those doing the criticisms in the OP

#13 Alice

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 07:37 PM

I don't know about witch trials, but I do know that there are many witches secretly operating to this day in Russia,Southern Italy, Greece, etc...

 

Perhaps one good that came out of the 'witch trials' of the west, was that it discouraged the demonic fascination with evil spirits and the power the witch or his or her 'client' feels in being able to control and destroy another's life...and thus, today, while in general, witches and witchcraft, are considered a silly superstition and hysteria of the past in the West, unfortunately, it still continues in earnest, in the East..


Edited by Alice, 09 November 2013 - 07:44 PM.


#14 Phoebe K.

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 08:31 PM

by some they are considered superstition, but from bitter experience I know that there are those in the west who still practice magic.

 

 It is mostly dabbling teens but some go on out of sight mostly.  And as Christianity wains more people turn to magic to fix their problems or try and predict the futcher, prediction is a big industry in some places.

 

Many see the witch triles as a product of the politics of the time, and do not see magic as dangouras but rather harmless fun, or a way of getting what they want in life without the hard work, or with less hard work.

 

Phoebe



#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 11:15 PM

There is certainly witchcraft practised in England these days.  In Russia, there are 'wise women' whom many consult, in Moscow, not just the villages.  I don't think they are witches; in fact, it's hard to know what they are.  They can - so many believe - tell about a person's character and life from a photograph.  These women are not popularly considered to be necessarily outside the Church or to use spells and such like, but they can tell - so many believe - if someone with malevolent intent has put some sort of evil on the person about whom they are asked for an opinion.



#16 Alice

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 11:27 PM

Dear Andreas,

 

If you read the biography of the contemporary saint, St. Matrona of Moscow, you will see that witchcraft is mentioned in more than one part of the book. Infact, in one instance, a male witch comes to her and asks her (!) to pray to save his dying child who he has done witchcraft on...

There is also a chapter in the book, ' Everyday Saints and other stories' by Archimandrite Tikhon that speaks of witchcraft as we understand it.

These stories do not describe 'wise women', but practitioners of the occult who are able to wreak demonic havoc on people's lives.

The saints, Saint Cyprian and Justina are the patrons of those who seek deliverance from witchcraft.

So much of this cavorting with demons is done, atleast in Greece, and from what I can ascertain in Russia, not for personal gain, but out of pure malice and jealousy. Much of the revival of witchcraft came to the Greek people with the refuges who went there after the Smyrna catastrophe...it seems that it was fairly common knowledge or practice (?) in the Greek community there.

 

Alice


Edited by Alice, 09 November 2013 - 11:30 PM.


#17 Kosta

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Posted 10 November 2013 - 01:15 AM

Witchcraft which I define as the belief in being able to cast curses, creating potions, trying to communicate with demons etc, certainly has a history. There could be something behind it or it could be superstition. To this day its VERY common in poor african vilkages to blame disease and plagues that the community is inflicted with on the rival villagers witch doctors. That they are under a strong curse because of tribal conflict and rivalry involving their witchdoctors.. Some even blame the AIDS epidemic on witchcraft.

Probably a few in here who are familiar with Greece , have witnessed gypsy youngsters entering a church and yelling profanities. This is not just kids behaving unruly. In roma culture this is a form of cursing and making unclean a religious temple. My opinion, whether It is gypsy "moreme" curses or telling the future from a coffee cup as all superstition. Mild cases of Vaskana may have some merit, but not to bring upon death or anything.

Then there's darker things as well. But to answer the OP, it shows the lack of cultural understanding among today's college educated elites.

Edited by Kosta, 10 November 2013 - 01:16 AM.


#18 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 November 2013 - 08:44 AM

As Alice says, witchcraft and forms of shamanistic paganism are rife in Russia; it is against the evil supposedly cast by these that the 'wise women' purport to give advice.  Many Russians, including those who are highly educated and in the Church, give credence to these things; in fact, people I know have told me that I display a western mentality in dismissing all such things as superstitious nonsense.  Can, in fact, witches bring evil upon a person by colluding with demons?



#19 Daniela S.

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Posted 10 November 2013 - 01:47 PM

Greetings to All,

    I posted this question because I was trying to find the correct way to answer people in defense of true Orthodox Christianity when they assume that all Christians in the past supported things such as burning people at the stake and subjecting them to extreme measures in order to root out "witches". Perhaps these things have been exaggerated by historians, but nevertheless they happened, many of them were done by people identifying as Christians and supposedly "in the Name of God", and they amount to murder and torture, in my view.  I would truly like to know if there is a history of these things being done by Orthodox Christians before I give a false defense to someone.  Forgive me, but it seems that the conversation has gone far from the original question, and I still have not really heard an answer to the question. I do not mean to trivialize or dismiss the problems of becoming involved in dark practices or the occult, but it really doesn't help answer the question posed by people who claim the Christians do not practice the love of Christ which they preach. Please forgive me if I have offended anyone or misspoken.



#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 November 2013 - 02:05 PM

"I would truly like to know if there is a history of these things being done by Orthodox Christians before I give a false defense to someone."  I infer that the consensus here is that there is no such history in the Orthodox world.






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