Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The Devil's Dominion (III): Doing the Devil's Dirty work
The Holy Inquisition at work: From left - Accused witch is suspended after being disembowelled, atheist has hot cinders poured onto his torso as his feet are roasted, heretic about to have his tongue, ears, eyes cut off - then fed to him.
In the first instalment we saw how Aquinas in De Malo, opened the flood gates for creative Hell and Satan phantasmagorias by constructing a whole Satanic cosmology- peopled with imps, wights, demons and Devils .This left the door open for the subsequent dispossession of heretics and infidels (as agents of Satan) as well as their methodical torture at the hands of the Inquisition. Before examining the warp and woof of the latter, we need to probe inside the antiquated brains of these zealots, and ascertain what drove them to the horrific tortures they employed to try to "save" fellow humans from Hell.
A word of warning first, you will have to shake off all 21st century pretensions and mindsets, and make an effort to briefly go inside the mind of a barbaric, primitive human. (Of course, the grasp of Hell through the centuries still has claimed many of these mind slaves, even in this century!)
Generally, throughout the Middle Ages, the belief persisted that the female was closer by far to the demonic hordes, by virtue of her enhanced carnality. Indeed, the demise of male virtue as well as mental power could be traced to female wiles, and what better way to enhance them than using a herb like savin (given by a witch)
Probably the most powerful impetus to searing Satan searches was to Satan-mania was the Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer (Dean of Cologne University) and Jacob Sprenger (Dominican Inquisitor General of Germany). This was the book which gave the prescriptions for exposing those possessed, or under the influence of familiars or witches or other demonic entities (succubi, incubi) under a Bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII.
In each case, for each type of witch, apostate, heretic or possessed soul – the book gave the formula for extracting the truth. Worse, was how easily a poor innocent woman could be suspected of being a witch since the threshold criteria given were so law (M.M., p. 68).
For example – Kramer and Spengler gave Roman Catholic Canon–based reasons why any one of the following place a woman under suspicion of being a witch, and hence ripe for torture to learn which demons she is consorting with:
i)Her spouse is unable to “perform the carnal act”
ii) A female friend is prevented from conceiving or miscarries after she conceives.
iii) Possession of specific herbs such as “savin” which is used to obtain influence over an unsuspecting man.
The last of these reinforced the existing superstitions that women were the actual carnal “channels” for Satan into the world. It was likely St. Augustine (based on his original Manichean ties ) who first propounded the belief that females were “vessels of the Devil”, since it was within their wombs that the devilish flesh sprouted.
Given the “evidence” of any one or all of these the accused witch could be apprehended and subjected to “the question”. This meant usually prodding her flesh with special instruments to locate the mark of “the Beast” (666) or any similar mark usually associated with the Devil. If a first pass wasn’t enough gradually more pressure and torture would be applied, usually ending up in some sort of disfigurement being found eventually and attributed to the Devil. According to author Peter Stanford (‘The Devil’, 1996, p. 162):
“Witches and warlocks provided an easy target for the Church, intent on rallying the faithful with a bout of demonization”
This motive is easily born out by the first words in the instructions for the M.M.
“Mind that witches generally deny the question”
Hence, denial is invoked as the first evidence. As the questioning proceeds the poor wretch will variously have hot coals inserted into her vagina, cow vomit poured down her throat, and her intestines slowly removed …until she yelps and confesses to being a witch and agent of Satan. Then, having said the magic words, she can be led to the special bonfire prepared for her. Or indefinitely suspended from a rotating shaft and left for the vultures to feast upon (see image).
Males, for their part did not entirely escape suspicion either. Espousing atheist or heretic tracts or opinions was certain to earn the purveyor a seat before the Inquisitors. From there, it was usually a short step to accusing them of either being warlocks, or if no evidence for that was obtained, then at least having intercourse with succubi.
According to Sprenger and Kramer (M.M., pp. 26-27) Succubi were demonic entities that assumed the form of a beautiful woman. Once the entity made contact with human semen, it became possible for it to engender demonic babies. (Recall in the earlier instalments how demon manpower became a metaphysical issue, since it was originally believed each human had to have a specific demonic tempter, as well as a "tormenter" if consigned to Hell. Since thousands of humans died each hour, and most were believed to have gone to Hell, but only 2,000 original Demons existed - the need for extra hands was clear)
The authors vigorously take on doubters (p. 27) when they note:
“In spite of the contention of some that devils in bodily shape can in no way generate children, ….it cannot be altogether false according to Aristotle in his 6th Ethics, and at the end of the de Somno et Uigilia”
Here we have a first hint of the concept of demon reproduction, in order to keep up with the expanding human populace- especially the portion destined for Hell. Obviously, if the world began with only 2,000 demons, imps and Devils, they would never be able to keep up with the temptation burden as the human population increased to hundreds of millions then billions.
If, for example, the demonic hierarchy population stayed fixed at 2,000 then when the human population hit 6 billion each demon would have 3 million humans (each) to try to tempt into a Hell bound act each day – by dividing the labor equally. Given a uniform load, each demon would only have about 0.028 seconds per day for a Hell bound temptation. This isn’t even enough time for a demon to fart. Thus, a way had to be found to increase the demon population.
According to the witch hunters (M.M. p. 27)
“because succubi can work transmutations in semen”
Then human semen was all the evidence the Inquisitors needed to marshal circumstantial evidence for the human male having had intercourse to bring demonic babies to life. The next step merely entailed finding a mark that a succubus may have left.
From there, if there was resistance especially, it was but a small step to the major torture or execution, usually the Iron Maiden. The device (in the shape of a large maiden) featured two doors which could be opened to enable the victim to be put inside. The whole interior was fitted with long, iron spikes so that when the doors were closed, the spikes were driven into various parts of the victim’s body. Generally, two entered his eyes, others pierced his back, chest and abdomen and impaled him in such a way that he didn’t die at once but in a lingering agony. When death finally relieved the poor wretch of his agonies, a trap door opened to allow the body to drop into the water below.
What the Malleus did was to provide the fodder of Devil mania not only to Catholics but to the merging Protestant sects too. For they found the book equally useful in applying “the question” to those suspected of witchery, as Oliver Cromwell found in England. The amazing thing is that this mania prevailed despite the fact that Dante has written a more sophisticated portrayal of Hell hundreds of years earlier. A good reason it was ignored is because the Church found it more useful to retain the fire-cartoon version, to expedite its "work" and stoke more fear on the part of the infidels, apostates and heretics.
Meanwhile, whole new roles for the Devil were laid out by the leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. In his ‘Teufelsbucher’ or Devils’ Books, written from 1545- 1600, he laid out the whole warp and woof of how the Devil involved himself in human affairs.
The demonic aspect was that according to this “first Protestant’ the Devil was involved in everything that made life worth living: dressing up, food, party going, dancing to poetry, drama, writing. The Devil was behind virtually all the vices and manifestations of the world. Especially sex! The other bottom line made clear is that Satan was not to be trifled with or taken lightly.
Of course, the Catholic Church held the "trump" cards on all matters to do with Satan and his manifestations in witches, apostates and others.
This is extremely important: because without the ability to impute demonic associations, the Inquisition never would have commenced. But precisely because an extravagant cosmology of demons had been invented (and was constantly being added to) the Church Fathers believed that had ample material to go after anyone they regarded as s threat to their power.
In his excellent monograph The Inquisition of the Middle Ages,( 1954), Henry Charles Lea - in his chapter 'Subjection of the State'- notes how papal bills and direct threats were used to subvert and co-opt all state, civil authorities. To render them useless to oppose the will of the Inquisition.
One such bull was Ad extirpanda (ibid., p. 33) issued by Innocent IV on May 15, 1252, which was:
"a carefully considered and elaborate law...to establish machinery for systematic persecution as an integral part of the social edifice in every city and every state”
Each ruler or magistrate thereby became an extension of the Church itself, and could apply bans, imprisonment, property confiscation or outright punishment to those deemed "heretics", "witches" or "infidels" and do it in the name of the Holy Inquisition. One might say that with the signing of this Papal Bull, the Inquisition of the Middle ages formally began. And with it, the further aggrandizement and exaltation of the Devil.
This also meant that punishment in extremis could be delegated to the state, on behalf of the "Holy Inquisitors". It is conservatively estimated that on this basis, for each heretic the official Church put to death, at least 12 to 20 were put to death by the states bound under the imperatives of the bull, as extensions of the Inquisition.
In his revealing book The Peril of Faith, Martin L. Bard estimates that counting all such executions, plus executions directly following from extreme tortures, plus witch burnings (which killed over 100,000 in German alone) more than 3 million perished over all the years of the Inquisition - from its start in the 13th century, to when the Spanish Inquisition finally folded in the 19th century. By proportionate statistics, this represents a comparative number of innocents slain that is roughly a factor three greater than all the Jews incinerated in the Holocaust. (Taking into account the population statistics during the inquisitional centuries vs. the global population statistics from 1940 on). Uncounted are all those innocents who suffered cruel, barbaric tortures, and then were released - only to die subsequently from tetanus, gangrene or other severe bacterial infection.
Numbered among these were many women, who were branded as aiding and abetting "familiars" or discoursing with heretics. Note it was Urban's bull Ad extirpanda that officially sanctioned torture at the discretion of the Inquisitors, and left open the degree to which it could be carried out.
Let's get a look at some of the 'near death' tortures which actually led to many more deaths than originally registered:
i) 'The Spanish Chair' - the heretic is strapped into a heavy iron chair with arm rests- his neck and arms held into place by iron bands that cut into the flesh. The feet were then shackled into iron stocks, and one at a time roasted with a brazier. To prevent the feet from burning too quickly, they were constantly larded with oil or fat.
ii) Shattering rack. Like the normal rack, except ropes aren't used but the various extremeties, arms legs, are held in place by wooden stocks. The arrangement is such that the various joints are fully exposed. The Inquisitor then wielded an immense wooden gavel and one by one, brought it down with both hands on each exposed joint, shattering each in turn. Usually this began with the hands, arms, then down to the knees, and finally the ankles. By the end, if found "innocent", the person could barely summon the energy to crawl away on his or her belly.
iii) Breasts - one or both - chopped off of females accused of "consorting with familiars" or of aiding and abetting the escape of a heretic.
In all of the human slaughter that ensued over centuries, one point continued to elude the ecclesiastics: while all the poor wretches that were claimed to be possessed by Satan, or acting as his agents – by selling their souls to him – were viciously mangled or burned by the hundreds of thousands, NOTHING was done that actually eliminated the demons-devils that caused it! Thus, the raving genocide at the hands of insane churchmen only succeeded in killing duped or deluded (or fearful) humans. In effect, as Lauran Payne puts it (op. cit. p. 105):
“So what the church actually accomplished in its centuries own war with Satan was to deliberately kill its own troops”
Thus, the enormous irony of it all: all the greatest minds such as Anselm and Aquinas never conceived of a way to kill devils, only one human or other.
Payne again (ibid.):
“This had to be Satan’s greatest triumph, and it was an obvious one: 1,000 years after the hierarchy of Hell was publicized, the same lords, demons, wights, imps and fiends were carried on the rosters. Thousands and thousands of humans had been put to death, but no sooner was one victim roasted to ashes than his possessing devil turned up somewhere else, inhabiting another human victim”
Sadly, if there's a moral in all this, we doubt today's Hellfire preachers and Hell benders will learn it.