The Free Spirit Movement and the Inquisition
Many people associate the inquisition particularly with witch hunts, but it is very important to realize that the gnostics as represented by the Cathars and Albigenses and later the long-lasting Free Spirit movement of the Beguines and Begherds suffered just as much as the so-called witches. Again this was a movement espoused significantly by women but it was also a movement of gender and sexual reunion. In lamenting the repression by patricarchal authority of femininity it is essential to realize that the reunion of freedom between the genders was repressed just as severely.
Witch Trials (Walker 1076-1090)
Witchcraft was allowed through the first half of the Christian era. It was not called a "heresy" until the 14th century. In 500 A.D. the Franks' Salic Law recognized witches' right to practice. In 643, an edict declared it illegal to burn witches. In 785, the Synod of Paderborn said anyone who burned a witch must be sentenced to death.
The first major witch-hunt occurred in Switzerland in 1427. The persecution of witches reached its height between 1580 and 1660, when witch trials became almost universal throughout western Europe. (Grollier)
No certain figures exist for the exact number of people who were killed but some scholars put it as high as four million. Significantly, 85 percent of those killed were women, varying in age from young children to old women. Certainly some of these women were witches or thought they were, but by far the larger number were victims of false accusations based on an excessive misogyny sanctioned by Christianity. (Young)
Traditional theology assumed that women were weaker than men and more likely to succumb to the devil. It may in fact be true that, having few legal rights, they were more inclined to settle quarrels by resorting to magic rather than law.
Geographically, the center of witch-burning lay in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, but few areas were left untouched by it. No one knows the total number of victims. In southwestern Germany alone, however, more than 3,000 witches were executed between 1560 and 1680. Not all witch trials ended in deaths. In England, where torture was prohibited, only about 20 percent of accused witches were executed (by hanging); in Scotland, where torture was used, nearly half of all those put on trial were burned at the stake, and almost three times as many witches (1,350) were killed as in England. Some places had fewer trials than others. In the Dutch republic, no witches were executed after 1600, and none were tried after 1610. In Spain and Italy accusations of witchcraft were handled by the Inquisition, and although torture was legal, only a dozen witches were burned out of 5,000 put on trial. Ireland apparently escaped witch trials altogether. (Young)
The chronicler of Treves reported that in the year 1586, the entire female population of two villages was wiped out by the inquisitors, except for only two women left alive. A hundred and thirty-three persons were burned in a single day at Quedlinburg in 1589, out of a town of 12,000. Henri Boguet said Germany in 1590 was "almost entirely occupied with building fires (for witches); and Switzerland has been compelled to wipe out many of her villages on their account. Travelers in Lorraine may see thousands and thousands of the stakes to which witches are bound." In 1524, one thousand witches died at Como. Strasbourg burned five thousand in a period of 20 years. The Senate of Savoy condemned 800 witches at one time. Param stated that over thirty thousand were executed in the 15th century. Nicholas Remy said he personally sentenced 800 witches in 15 years and in one year alone forced sixteen witches to suicide. A bishop of Bamberg claimed 600 witches in 10 years; a bishop of Nancy, 800 in 16 years; a bishop of Wurtzburg, 1900 in 5 years. Five hundred were executed within three months at Geneva and 400 in a single day at Toulouse. The city of Traves burned 7,000 witches. The Lutheran prelate Benedict Carpzov, who claimed to have read the Bible 53 times, sentenced 20,000 devil-worshippers. Even relatively permissive England killed 30,000 witches between 1542 and 1736. The slaughter went on throughout Christian Europe for nearly five centuries.
A directive published in 1599 said judges were bound under pain of mortal sin to execute witches; anyone who objected to the death sentence was suspected of complicity. On one occasion, magistrates of Brescia objected to burning a number of condemned witches without having examined records of their trials. But the inquisitors kept their records sequestered, and the pope declared the magistrates' reluctance a scandal to the faith. "He ordered the excommunication of the magistrates if within six days they did not execute the convicts" (Walker 443).
Some witches even were made to repudiate the more impossible confessions extorted by torture, as a suicidal device: "Through the temptation of the devil I made up that confession on purpose to destroy my own life, being weary of it, and choosing rather to die than live." These abject recitations preceded the trip to the stake, for it was common practice to silence witches on their way to execution, either by wooden gags, or by cutting out their tongues, to prevent communication with the crowd. Inquisitors didn't want to give witches a chance to reveal that they had been raped in prison, the usual practice of torturers and their assistants during preliminary "stripping.'
It can hardly be doubted that a major driving force of all witch hunts was sadistic sexual perversion. Torturers liked to attack women's breasts and genitals with pincers, pliers, and red-hot irons. Under the Inquisition's rules, little girls were prosecuted and tortured for witchcraft a year earlier than little boys - at 9, as opposed to 10 for boys. Witch hunting generally was directed against the female sex, and the abject helplessness of imprisoned and tortured women invariably encouraged sexual abuse along with every other kind of abuse.
From ruthlessly organized persecutions on the continent, witch-hunts in England became largely cases of village feuds and petty spite. If crops failed, horses ran away, cattle sickened, wagons broke, women miscarried, or butter wouldn't come in the churn, a witch was always found to blame. A woman was convicted of witchcraft for having caused a neigh- bor's lameness-by pulling off her stockings. Another was executed for having admired a neighbor's baby, which afterward fell out of its cradle and died. Two Glasgow witches were hanged for treating a sick child, even though the treatment succeeded and the child was cured. Joan Cason of Kent went to the gallows in 1586 for having dry thatch on her roof, which sparked when burnt (Walker 1078).
The Evil Book of the Dominican Inquisitors
The Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Sorceresses), appeared in Germany in 1486 and became the authoritative handbook describing the activities of witches and how to convict them. It was written by two Dominican Inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. The mysogyny of this text is hysterical in tone and its authors are fixated on sexuality. Its publication in 1486 helped to accelerate the killing of so-called witches in three ways: (1) by increasing the number of people who could be accused of witchcraft, (2) by increasing the geographical area of the persecution to include most of Europe, and (3) by focusing attention especially on women. (Young 79)
"There are also others who bring forward yet other reasons, of which preachers should be very careful how they make use. For it is true that in the Old Testament the Scriptures have much that is evil to say about women, and this because of the first temptress, Eve, and her imitators; yet afterwards in the New Testament we find a change of name, as from Eva to Ave (as S. Jerome says), and the whole sin of Eve taken away by the benediction of Mary. Therefore preachers should always say as much praise of them as possible. But because in these times this perfidy is more often found in women than in men, as we learn by actual experience, if 2nyone is curious as to the reason, we may add to what has already been said the following: that since they are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft. ... And proverbs xi, as it were describing a woman, says: As ajewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion. ... But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deccives. For Cato says: When a woman weeps she weaves snares. ... And it is clear in the case of the first woman that she had little faith; for when the serpent asked why they did not eat of every tree in Paradise, she answercd: Of every tree, etc.- lest perchance we die. Thereby she showed that she doubted, and had little faith in the word of God. And all this is indicated by the etymology of the word; for Femina comes from Fe and Minus, since she is ever weaker to hold and preserve the faith. And this as regards faith is of her very nature; although both by grace and nature faith never failed in the Blessed Virgin, even at the time of Christ's Passion, when it failed in all men." (Malleus Maleficarum 44.)
"To conclude: All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable. See Proverbs 30: There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, a fourth thing which says not, It is enough; that is, the mouth of the womb. Wherefore for the sake of fulfilling their lusts they consort even with devils" (Malleus Maleficarum 47).
The Malleus Maleficarum, said the accused witch must be "often and frequently exposed to torture. If after being fittingly tortured she refuses to confess the truth, he [the inquisitor] should have other engines of torture brought before her, and tell her that she will have to endure these if she does not confess. If then she is not induced by terror to confess, the torture must be continued." If she remained obdurate, "she is not to be altogether released, but must be sent to the squalor of prison for a year, and be tortured, and be examined very often, especially on the more Holy Days."
Doctors, Midwives and Healers
The Malleus Maleficarum served to put a large number of women into immediate jeopardy by stating that the activities of midwives can reveal signs of witchcraft. "That Witches who are Midwives in Various Ways Kill the Child Conceived in the Womb, and Procure an Abortion; or if they do not this Offer New-born Children to Devils." At this time in history the great majority of births were attended by midwives, women familiar with childbirth and herbal cures. In other words these women were healers. They were also the confidants of women who wanted to have children and those who did not want children, so they had some knowledge of birth control and abortion. They were experts in sexual matters in a society dominated by a celibate clergy that had confounded sexuality with devil worship. Once the Malleus Maleficarum made the association of midwives with witchcraft these women could be brought before the Inquisition for questioning. Few were found innocent. Thus begun, the witch burning craze continued into the eighteenth century. (Young 79)
Below: A Basque witch applies flying salve of tropanes (Rudgley)
Up to the 15 th century, women's "charms and spells" were virtually the only repository of practical medicine. Paracelsus said witches taught him everything he knew about healing.' Agrippa von Nettesheim thought witches superior to male practitio- ners: "Are not philosophers, mathematicians, and astrologers often inferior to country women in their divinations and predictions, and does not the old nurse very often beat the doctor?" Scot observed that a male "conjurer" was permitted to cure disease by magic arts, whereas a woman was condemned to death for doing so (Walker 1082).
Officially, women were often forbidden to do any kind of healing. In 1322 a woman named Jacoba Felicle was arrested and prosecuted by the medical faculty of the University of Paris for practicing medicine, although, the record said, "she was wiser in the art of surgery and medicine than the greatest master or doctor in Paris." Witches were convenient scapegoats for doctors who failed to cure their patients, for it was the "received" belief that witch-caused illnesses were incurable.
When the church declared war on female healers, healing became a crime punishable by death if it was practiced by a woman. Women were forbidden to study medicine, and "if a woman dare to cure without having studied, she is a witch and must die." Alison Peirsoun was so famous as a healer that the archbishop of St. Andrews sent for her when he was sick, and she cured him. Later he had her arrested, charged with witchcraft and burned."
The Pagan Origins of Witches
The extent to which pagan religion, as such, actually survived among the witches of the 16th and 17th centuries has been much discussed but never decided. Dean Church said, "Society was a long time unlearning heathenism; it has not done so yet; but it had hardly begun, at any rate it was only just beginning, to imagine the possibility of such a thing in the eleventh century." In 15th-century Bohemia it was still common practice at Christmas and other holidays to make offerings to "the gods," rather than to God.
European villages still hid many "wise-women" who acted as priestesses officially or unofficially. Since church fathers declared Christian priestesses unthinkable, all functions of the priestess were associated with paganism. Bishops described pagan gatherings in their dioceses, attended by "devils ... in the form of men and women." Pagan ceremonies were allowed to survive in weddings, folk festivals, seasonal rites, feasts of the dead, and so on.
But when women or Goddesses played the leading role in such ceremonies, there was more determined suppression. John of Salisbury wrote that it was the devil, "with God's permission," who sent people to gatherings in honor of the Queen of the Night, a priestess impersonating the Moon-goddess under the name of Noctiluca or Herodiade.
Martin of Braga said women must be condemned for "decorating tables, wearing laurels, taking omens from footsteps, putting fruit and wine on the log in the hearth, and bread in the well, what are these but worship of the devil? For women to call upon Minerva when they spin, and to observe the day of Venus at weddings and to call upon her whenever they go out upon the public highway, what is that but worship of the devil?"
The Dominican Johann Herolt declared in the 15th century: "Most women belie their catholic faith with charms and spells, after the fashion of Eve their first mother, who believed the devil speaking through the serpent rather than God himself... [A] ny woman by herself knows more of such superstitions and charms than a hundred men."
Scholars aren't sure how much pagan religion survived in the form of actual group worship, at the beginning of the era of persecution. Pico della Mirandola's La Strega (The Witch) described a cult in northern Italy where a pagan Goddess presided over sexual orgies; she was said to bear a close resemblance to the Mother of God." Another group at Arras was said to have centered on "a prostitute" called Demiselle, or The Maiden. Her consort was the Abbot of Little Sense, otherwise known as the Prince of Fools, a composer and singer of popular songs-in other words, it was a cult of minstrelsy.
Fear of Witches
Pope Innocent declared that witches could blast crops and domestic animals, cause disease, prevent husbands and wives from copulating, and in general "outrage the Divine Majesty and are a cause of scandal and danger to very many. " Churchmen took it upon themselves to carry out God's vengeance, which developed into a hideous nightmare artificially hastening the Day of Judgement. They fostered the public delusion that witches were engaged in a vast secret plot, under the devil's guidance, to overthrow the kingdom of God on earth. They created and embellished the concept of the black mass, and made laymen believe it frequently occurred, whereas it was largely a fraud supported only by spurious "evidence" from the torture chamber.
Persecutors said it was heretical to consider witches harmless. Even in England, where witches were not burned but hanged, some authorities fearfully cited the "received opinion" that a witch's body should be burned to ashes to prevent ill effects arising from her blood. Numerous stories depict the persecutors' fear of their victims. It was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner's face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal leprosy. Inquisitors' handbooks directed them to wear at all times a bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch's eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches' prison.
Scot said witchmongers gave the witches as much power as Christ, and even more, when they claimed witches could raise the dead, as Christ raised Lazarus; they could turn water into other fluids, like wine or milk; they could control the weather, the crops, animals, men; they could see into the past and future. Reading of witches' trials, he said, you shall see such impossibilities confessed, as none, having his right wits, will believe." Churchmen, however, viewed the impossibility of witches' miracles as perfectly good ground for believing them, "because the performance of the impossible proved that demons were at work."
Dr. Blackstone, England's ultimate authority on jurisprudence, wrote: "To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of Witchcraft and Sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the revealed Word of God in various passages both of the Old and New Testament; and the thing itself is a truth to which every Nation in the World hath in its turn borne testimony."
When skepticism about witchcraft seemed to be on the rise, John Wesley cried bitterly, "The giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the Bible. " Calvin and Knox also protested that denial of witchcraft meant denial of the Bible's authority.
As late as the 1920s a rector of four parishes in Norfolk could still write: "If I were to take a census of opinion in all four villages I am certain that I should find a majority of people seriously professing belief in witchcraft, the policy of the 'evil eye,' and the efficacy of both good and evil spells."
In the 1940s, Seabrook estimated that "half the literate white population in the world today believe in witchcraft"; and the nonliterate nonwhite population attains a much higher proportion. A Gallup poll taken in 1978 showed that ten percent of all Americans believe in witches.
Sorcery and Witchcraft
The church distinguished between sorcery, which was generally acceptable, and witchcraft, which was heresy. Von Nettesheim's books of sorcery were published under church auspices, accompanied by a statement of ecclesiastical approval; indeed, his instructor in magic had been John Trithemius, an abbot. What the distinction between sorcery and witchcraft boiled down to was that men could practice magic, women could not.
In Central and South America, "heathen" natives were tortured and burned for crimes against the true faith, such as not believing in it. Mayan scribes in Central America wrote: "Before the coming of the Spaniards, there was no robbery or violence. The Spanish invasion was the beginning of tribute, the beginning of church dues, the beginning of strife." Catholic fathers of the mission of San Francisco burned many Indian "witches" before the tribes were sufficiently subdued to accept God's word. Missionary teams included an inquisitor.
All the aspects of witchcraft crossed over to the Americas with European colonists. In the reports that in Spanish and French territories cases of witchcraft were under the jurisdiction of church courts, and no one suffered death on this charge. However the church also technically remained free of blood in Europe causing civil courts to pass sentence. In the English colonies about 40 people were executed for witchcraft between 1650 and 1710, half of them in the famous Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
Aftermath and Implications of the Inquisition and Witch Trials
Witch trials declined in most parts of Europe after 1680; in England the death penalty for witchcraft was abolished in 1736. In the late 17th and 18th centuries one last wave of witch persecution afflicted Poland and other areas of eastern Europe, but that ended by about 1740. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782. The Inquisition remained active until 1834.
The institution and its excesses have been an embarrassment to many modern Christians. In anti-Catholic and antireligious polemics since the Enlightenment (for example, Voltaire's Candide), the Inquisition has been cited as a prime example of what is thought to be the barbarism of the Middle Ages. Despite all efforts at understanding the institution in the light of social, political, religious, and ideological factors, today the Inquisition is generally admitted to belong to the darker side of Christian history. (Grollier)
Even in the present century, Catholic authorities have tried to present the Inquisition in an undeservedly flattering light. Cardinal Lepicier, expressly supported by Pope Plus X, declared the church's reign of terror was right, just because the church did it. "The naked fact that the Church, of her own authority, has tried heretics and condemned them to be delivered to death, shows that she truly has the right of killing.... [W]ho dares to say that the Church has erred in a matter so grave as this?" (Walker 447).
Leland wrote: "When people believe, or make believe, in a thing so very much as to torture like devils and put to death hundreds of thousands of fellow-beings, mostly helpless and poor old women, not to mention many children, it becomes a matter of very serious import to all humanity to determine once for all whether the system or code according to which this was done was absolutely right for ever, or not" (Walker 447).
The cultural backgrounds of the past and current generation political dictators provides interesting material for speculation. Mussolini, Franco, Salazar, Hitler, Peron and almost without exception the Latin-American dictators were or are Roman Catholics, at least in their education and upbringing. And Stalin had considerable training for the priesthood of an equally dictatorial church. Confronted with such facts one is compelled at least to ask himself what kind of causal sequences are here suggested... In both Islam and Christendom the naive believers have over long periods been taught that it vas their duty to slaughter the unbeliever, or whoever refused to accept their particular version of divine guidance (Walker 448).
It is unsettling to realize that such powers for mischief could yet be revived. The edicts that established the Inquisition have never been repealed. They are "officially still part of the Catholic faith, and were used as justification for certain practices as recently as 1969." Julian Huxley deplored the "pestilent doctrine on which all the churches have insisted, that honest disbelief in their more or less astonishing creeds is a moral offense ... deserving and involving the same future retribution as murder and robbery." In his opinion, the worst visions of hell would seem pale beside a comprehensive vision of Christianity's gory history. Such history should be remembered, on the old principle that those who cannot remember their history are condemned to repeat it (Walker 448).
Marguerite Porete - The gnostic Mirror of Self-realization
Perhaps more significant in spiritual history and certainly more steadfast than Joan of Arc, was the Beguine Marguerite Porete and her Mirror of the Simple Mind, a 'gnostic' work in the vision of the the Free Spirit movement which describes the realization of Christ-nature in the realization of God in full power in the living self in visionary peak experience.
Mirror of the
Simple Soul was extremely popular throughout Europe and
translated into many languages. Marguerite like Joan was burned
at the stake, around 1310 tried on the basis of her writings as
a heretic. Really it is to Marguerite we should turn to if we
want to understand the full meaning of the violent collision the
Inquisition represented, for she stands as a light of illumination
and realization to male and female alike in steadfast confirmation
of the vision of natural enlightenment and complete freedom of
spirit which unites male and female alike in the spontaneous knowledge
of the divine.
Joan d'Arc (c1412-1431) Saint and Witch of God (Holland-Smith)
Through her visions and voices Joan came to believe that she was called by God to drive the English out of France and she set out to do so. At the time of her first visions, when she was about thirteen years old, France was engaged in both a civil war and a war with England. Though initially successful in her military exploits Joan was eventually captured by the British who turned her over to an ecclesiastical court to try her as a heretic and a witch.
Since Joan had grown up in a peasant family with stronger ties to the folk religion of her region of France than to the orthodox church that would judge her, she was particularly vulnerable. This complicated religious background came out during her trial when she admitted she may have danced with other young girls at a 'fairies' tree which was located near a spring believed to heal sickness. In their minds, Joan and her neighbors were just doing what they had done for generations but, for the church, these were pagan practices. This is brought out in the excerpts when she is questioned about her Godmother who was said to have seen fairies.
Joan was accused of three crimes. The first involved her "voices: 'voices she said came from St. Catherine and St. Margaret but which her inquisitors thought were coming from evil spirits. Essentially Joan was convicted of witchcraft because she listened to these voices, in other words she consorted with the 'familiar' spirits associated with witches, the fairies of the Celtic Tradition. Secondly, she refused to submit to the authority of the church saying her voices had a higher authority. Her third crime was that she, a woman, dressed as a man.
Her final trial and burning
On 28 May, the judges went to the prison and found Joan dressed in male clothing. They asked her when she had put it on and she replied that she had just done so.' They asked her why, and repeated the question several times, receiving a different answer each time. First she said that she had done it from her own choice, because 'she liked men's clothing better than women's'. Then she said that 'she had put it back on again because it seemed more proper' in a prison staffed by men. Later she claimed she had done so 'because they had not kept their promise, that she might hear mass and receive the body of the Lord and be taken out of chains, but if they would promise that she could go to mass and be taken out of chains, she would do all the church required' . . . but the chief reason (in her own scale of motives) she kept to herself, till someone asked her the key-question had she heard her voices since last Thursday?
'Yes. They had said God was warning her through them that she stood in great danger of perdition because she had made that abjuration and renunciation in order to save her life: she was damned for having done so. Till last thursday,' she added, 'her voices had told her what to do and she had done it. And on the scaffold itself, the voices had told her she had answered the preacher most boldly: he was a false preacher, and said that she had done several things which she had never done . . .' She had to mention their praise of her, to salve her pride and self-respect-and perhaps to give herself a moment to steel herself for what she had to say next which would inexorably entail her execution. Manchon, the clerk to the court, stolidly took it down: 'Item: she said that were she to say that- 'If I were to say that God sent me, I shall be condemned. But God really did send me. Since Thursday, my voices have been telling me that I have done and am doing a great injury to God by making myself say that what I did was not well done ... All I said and abjured, I did for fear of the fire.' A little later, she claimed that she had never intended to renounce St Catherine and St Margaret, and repeated that what she had said, she had said for fear of the fire, adding that if she had repudiated them, it had been 'contrary to the faith'. Finally, in a phrase in which defiance and despair seem blended in equal measures, she said that she would rather do penance (by dying) than remain in prison any longer. If she could not have the world back as it had been, with her voices, her friends, encouraging her, praising her, applauding her, she would rather be dead.
At Rouen Castle there were only enemies and, by persuading her that she should defy Cauchon, putting on a man's clothes once more, her voices betrayed her into their hands. Cauchon wasted no time. The following evening he himself read this account of the action he took into the trial record:
"On Tuesday 29 May we, the Bishop of Beauvais, caused the doctors and other clergy in great number to come together in the chapel of the archbishop's palace. And we revealed to them that the said Joan . . . [had abjured the previous Thursday but] now, persuaded by the devil, said that in the night [following] and for several nights thereafter . . . her familiar had retumed to her and said many things to her; and similarly that she was not satisfied with female clothing and had resumed male clothing, finding that acceptable. And the previous day the Lords judges, having heard a rumour, had returned to her and seen her in male clothing again and reminded her what was in ... her abjuration. The judges then deliberated on these new crimes and their votes were recorded ..." (Holland-Smith).
"In all forty judges voted. Some ruled her 'presumptuous, contumacious, disobedient, and without hope of life in this world'. A few - including some of those who might have been most inimical towards her, the Englishmen expressed regret at having to find her relapsed and said that she ought to be remitted to secular justice with recommendations of mercy. According to Martin Ladvenu who was waiting in the crowd outside the chapel Cauchon was delighted with the result. Coming out of the meeting he called to a group of Englishmen standing there, 'Farewell-farewell "Il en est fait!"-which might mean 'That's done for her!'." (Holland-Smith).
An essential element in her myth is illustrated by the opposite reactions to her of this man and his superior. Magnets attract and repel. During the course of the trial Magistri, the vice-inquisitor, felt his repulsion growing day by day till he feared her as much as Cauchon hated her, but by the time of her execution Ladvenu and his fellow Dominican Isembart de la Pierre were ready to follow her anywhere. By his own account, de la Pierre actually did follow her to the very edge of the fire.
In deciding that she was a relapsed heretic this latest court was admitting that the church had failed with her and the devil had won: there was nothing for it but to admit the defeat and rid the world of the danger of contamination by her. The church itself could not execute her. She was to be 'remitted to secular justice'. Secular justice showed how it intended to deal with her by spending the night building a suitable pyre for so notorious a witch, setting up a stake and building a low stone barricade around it, so that the wood could not fall in on her and quicken her death.
According to Ladvenu she was allowed to make her confession to him and receive holy communion, just as though she had been a Christian in good standing and not about to be declared an exconlinunicate heretic and bumed to death. She had been begging to be allowed to do so ever since her trial had begun. She 'received the body of Christ humbly and devoutly, and with so many tears . . .' Why was she allowed this mercy? The reasons were never disclosed, though it was against all the precedents in such cases.
She had always had a horror of fire and now broke down crying piteously doloreusement et piteousment, "Alas that I should be treated so horribly and cruelly; that my whole body, never yet corrupted, should today be consumed and burned to ashes! Ha! Ah! I would rather be beheaded seven times, than thus be burnt. At that moment Cauchon came in, when she said instantly "Bishop, I die through you".
There are several accounts of Joan's last hour. They are not all compatible in detail, but the general course of events is clear. Early in the morning, Joan was brought out from Rouen Castle, walking in the middle of a company of soldiers, wearing a penitential gown and the mitre of the condemned. She was led to the Old Market, where soldiers were keeping a great crowd back from the scaffold and the platform erected for official witnesses, assessors and judges. Many of those who had taken part in her interrogation were there, together with Robert Gilbert 'Chapel Deacon to our Lord the King (Henry VI)' and the kings secretary, John Tressart. At about nine o'clock Nicolas Midi began to preach on the theme of the corporate nature of the church and the danger that infection would spread unless cauterized, taking his text from 1 Corintbians, 'If one member suffers, all suffer with him'. The sermon was followed by explanations and justifications of what was about to happen and then Cauchon read the final sentence - the second 'definitive sentcnce' Joan had heard against her in a week:
"We, Peter, by divine mercy the humble bishop of Beauvais- And we, Brother John Magistri, vicar to the inquisitor into the faith - being competent judges in this case- in as much as you, Joan, called La Pucelle, have been found to have fallen back into various errors and crimes of schism, idolatry, invocation of devils, and other misdeeds, ... we judge that whereas once in full possession of your mind and with faith unfeigned you withdrew yourself from those errors ... as is recorded in a paper by your own hand, you did thereafter fall immediately back into them as a dog will return to its own vomit - a fact we record with great sorrow- for this reason we declare you to have incurred the sentence of excommunication in which you were formerly embroiled, ... and by this sentence ... we rule that like a rotten limb you be cut off and rejected from the unity of the church and we remit you to secular justice, the which we beg to deal with you gently and honorably whether it be by loss of life or of some limb." (Holland-Smith).
"There the preliminaries ended, and the church having abandoned any further responsibility for Joan's body or soul, Cauchon, Magistri and the other judges left the platform with Joan standing there, apparently silent and still incredulous'. this was the moment from which her voices had swom that she would be spared. 'And the Bailiff of Rouen, an Englishman, being there, commanded with no further trial, and without giving any sentence against her, that she be led to the place where she was to be bumed - the which command being heard by the said Joan, she begin to cry out and groan so pitifully that she moved the people and all who were there to the point of tears.' 'She uttered pious and devout lamentations and invocations of the blessed Trinity and the blessed and glorious Virgin Mary and all the blessed saints of paradise ... asking people of every sort, of her own party as much as other, most humbly to forgive her, and asking also that they would pray for her, forgiving them the evil that they had done her.'" (Holland-Smith).
In front was a board painted with the words "Jehanne who called herself laPucelle, liar, pernicious, deceiver of the people, sorceress, superstitious, blasphemer of God, presumptious disbeliever in the faith of Jesus Christ, boastful, idolatrous, cruel, dissolute, invoker of devils, apostate, schismatic and heretic."
English hands seized her and roughly propelled her towards the scaffold where the stake and faggots were waiting. Instead of the crown of thorns, a tall paper cap like a mitre was placed on her head, bearing the words "Heretic, relapsed, apostate idolatress". Meanwhile they bound her to the stake and some of the English laughed as she called in a loud voice on St. Catherine, St. Michael and St. Catherine. "Ah Rouen! j'ay grant paour que tu ayes a' souffir de la mort!"
'And immediately,' Manchon adds, 'the bailiff ordered that the fire should be set. And this was done.' It has always been held against the bailiff that he hurried Joan to her execution immediately the church had relinquished her into the custody of the state. So the second of the Dominicans attending Joan that morning, Isembart de la Picrre, told the commission for her rehabilitation'The lay judge pronounced no condemnation to death or the stake ... She was handed over to her executioner, and devoted to the fire [the judge] saying "Do your duty" without any other sentence.'
As it was, thanks to the stone parapet around the stake, Joan took long enough to die. 'She asked for a cross and hearing this an Englishman who was there made a little one ftom wood at the end of a pole which he gave her' Ladvenu said. This she first kissed and then put against her breast, between the flesh and her gown. By Isembart de la Pierre's account, 'she bore witness to so great and astonishing contrition, and made utterance in words so devout and catholic that she made the vast crowd present weep, and even the Cardinal of England and many English'.
"Moreover, he said that he 'being beside her there till the end she asked him humbly to go to the nearby church and bring the cross, and that he held it standing before her till her death, before her eyes so that she could see it always and unceasingly. Then as flames crackled and rose, she called out loudly and repeatedly on Jesus; her head sank forward, and it was the last word she was heard to pronounce. The executioner said that the fire was so hot he could not stand near enough to hasten the end. She choked on the smoke; because of the wall, the heart and other parts did not burn." (Holland-Smith).
"Secretary Tressart cried out, 'We are lost: we have bumed a saint.' 'And it was,' Secretary Manchon wrote, 'a wonderous cruel thing.' So cruel, in fact, to all the eye-witnesses that they were overcome by it, and reduced to near hysteria. None of the accounts tally because none of them were seeing what happened, though they were all watching. Strange things were seen to happen. The name of Jesus leaped written across the flames, and an English soldier who had sworn to throw a faggot on the pyre declared that he saw a white dove fly out of the flames and wing away in the direction of France. Jean Alespee wished openly and with tears that his soul might be where he belived hers to be. That no possible doubt could exist that the witch was dead - for the English greatly feared a rumour of her escape might arise the executioner was ordered to part the flames and show her charred and naked body hanging on the stake." (Holland-Smith).
"Afterwards, they remembered what they imagined they had seen, or wished (as in the case of Isembart's cross) that they had done to help her. When the fires had died down, the ashes and unburned remains were collected meticulously and thrown into the Seine, by the executioner, so that there should be no relics for use either in religious or magical practices. 'And many people of property as well as common people,' Manchon noted, 'muttered much against the English.' And the executioner became very frightened and very contrite, saying he was damned, having burnt a saint, and that God would never forgive him." (Holland-Smith).
The English knew they were right to have executed Joan-but they did not expect anyone else to believe it. They would have preferred Joan not to have relapsed into heresy-although that made her execution certain-because once she had so relapsed, once she was ready to die defending her voices, the whole question of whether she was 'from God' or not was re-opened for those willing to think that a church court, directed by the English, could make a mistake. Their only hope of scotching the rumour that Joan's voices were genuine (and thefefore her king also genuine) was if she could be shown to have repudiated them at the end. They used Joan's manifest anguish in her last hour for that purpose. The irony is that though they were justified, they failed. In the very long term, the verdict of orthodox Catholics was both that Joan's voices were genuine revelations, and that it was Cauchon and and his associates who were disloyal tothe church.
The story leaves us with "all its deeper implications unexplained. It arouses many questions, which if we could answer them would carry us far along the road to a solution of many mysteries. ... She makes us think she makes us question; she uncovers dark places where we may fear to look. Does God on occasion manifest Himself by direct methods? Is the visible world the only world we have to consider? Is it possible for mortal man to get into touch with beings from another world? Is it possible that unearthly guidance may be vouchsafed to assist our human fallibility? Is it possible that certain beings are born with a sixth sense, a receptivity so far beyond, that in order to explain it we take refuge in such words as miraculous or supernatural?
She was finally canonized in 1920 and remains a symbol of the far right and a protest symbol of those opposed to them.
In remembering the burning of Joan and her ironical canonization, we should recognise that the true vision of realization came earlier and in great steadfastness from Marguerite Porete, who remains the inspiration of freedom of spirit to us all.
The Little Flagellant Flower who tried to Take Jesus Down from the Cross
Saint Therese of Lisieux, (1873-1897), is one of the most popular saints of the Roman Catholic church. Born Therese Martin, one of nine children of a devout Catholic family, she entered the Carmelite convent at the age of 15. Her life was marked by its simplicity and goodness, and after her death her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul (1898; Eng. trans., 1958), aroused great interest. Known as the "Little Flower of Jesus," she was canonized on May 17, 1925, and her shrine at Lisieux has become a major place of pilgrimage (Grollier).
St Therese de Lisieux entered the Carmelite order at the age of fifteen and died after a hard life in religion at the age of 24. She writes in her autobiography: "And above all I wished to be a martyr! Martyrdom! it was my youthful dream, and in the little Carmelite cell this dream grew in inner strength. I don't long for only one kind of torment. I long for them all. Like you, my divine bridegroom, I would like to be whipped and crucified.... Like St. Bartholomew I would like to be flayed, to be plunged into boiling oil with St. John, to be torn by the teeth of wild beasts like St. Ignatius of Antioch, so that I could be found worthy bread for God. With St. Agnes and St. Cecilia I wished to offer my neck to the executioner and with Joan of Arc to whisper the name of Jesus while burning at the stake" (The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. The Story of a Soul, trans. John Beavers New York: Doubleday, 1989 209). (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 292)"
"During my postulancy certain external penitential practices that were customary in our convents struck me as very hard. But I never gave in to my aversion. It seemed to me as if I saw the Crucified in the Garden of the Cross looking down at me with a pleading look and begging [Therese's emphasis] for these sacrifices" ( Beavers 223, Ranke-Heinmann 293)). Another former Carmelite nun described how she had to whip herself on her hips once a week and every day on Holy Week for as long as it took to recite a penitential psalm. After Holy Week she could no longer sit or lie down.
Nine years after entering the Order, she died of tuberculosis. The story is told of the 'little Therese', that once when she was sick with a high fever, she tried to remove the nails from a crucifix to save Jesus (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 275).
Masochistic Images in Women's Experience - Sara Maitland
A Shrine to those who have suffered Death by Exorcism
In the little town of Klingenberg in the 1970s a supposedly possessed girl student was exorcised upon recommendation of the Bishop of Wurzburg. Herbert Haag in 'Helpless in the Face of Evil?' quotes another bishop: "If the evil one does not exist, then man alone is responsible ... Can God have created man such a monster? ... No he can't because he is love and goodness. If there is no devil then there is no God." Haag notes: "The bishop seems to have forgotten for the moment that according to the Church's teaching, the devil too is a creature of God ... and therefore God has made a monster after all".
On 24 April Der Spiegel quoted the following words from the Hamburg Bildzeitung: "The public prosecutor awarded the four accused [of participating in the lethal exorcism] a lesser degree of accountability - because of their deep religious faith." (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 59-60).
Unjustifiable Homicide: The Death Penalty
Amnesty International and the death penalty
A fatwah against the death penalty:
In Eden YHVH 'elohim, the LORD God said Gen 2:17: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." But when Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the original sin, the Lord God commuted the death sentence Gen 3:17 "And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast ... eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground".
The death penalty is hereby commuted for all time.
Let he who has not lived cast the first stone - Chris King.
In 1210 Innocent III ordered the Waldensians, who were against the death penalty to swear the following oath if they wished to return to the Catholic church: "Concerning the secular authories, we assert that they can carry out a blood judgement without mortal sin, so long as they proceed to impose the death penalty not out of hatred but out of justice, not rashly but with due reflection". In 1985 Cardinal Joseph Hoffner wrote "The holiness of the divine order proved its power even in this age through the death penalty" (Ranke-Heinmann 270).
"Christianity is a religion that glorifies one execution - the execution of Jesus - because the Church sees in it an act of redemption through blood. Thus for Christians the death penalty is the prerequisite for their redemption. The death penalty has been, as it were sanctified as the instrument of this redemption. God is the supreme advocate of the death penalty, since he condemmed his son to death and willed his crucifixion as the means of this redemption. But of course the death penalty had to be instituted some time before Jesus arrived to make the redemptive death of Jesus possible. Thus all people executed before Jesus are the prerequisite, the precursors, the pinoeers of his redemptive death" (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 270).
God is no hangman. God mourns this death. The dreams of God's compassion are not deviant fantasies. They are the truth even if in the reality of the world they remain dreams (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 274).
3000 men and 50 women wait on death row. In 1995 there were 56 executions, the highest since 1957. Last year there were just 45 partly because of legal hurdles. Texas, the state with the highest rate of executions is in the band of nine states with the highest homicide rate. By contrast North Dakota with the lowest homicide rate has no death penalty. The deterrent effect is thus questionable at best.
Neither does the death penalty save the tax-payer money. Professors Philip Cook and Donna Slawson of Duke University, using North Carolina established that each death sentence cost the taxpayer $2.6 million more than keeping a convicted killer in prison for 20 years to life. The 72% of americans who say they support the death penalty are thus condemming themselves to$7.8 billion in execution tax.
The choices in the death penalty are the devil and the deep blue eugenic sea. Cruel and grevious punishment is diabolical, but a quick easy death by injection raises the spectre of culturally-eugenic dispatch of political prisoners and couter-cultural elements on grounds humane execution is an acceptable social weeding-out process. It is significant that the first such executions in China were committed on people guilty of drug peddling, not murder.
Death by Electrocution
A bolt of smoke and flame shot from a convicted killer's head when he was put to death in Florida's electric chair yesterday (Mar 97), despite appeals for mercy from Pope John Paul. The Pope also appealed before Christmas to the Governor of Virginia for clemency for Joseph O'Dell. The 15cm multi-coloured flame flashed from the right side of Pedro Medina's hooded head, flickering for several seconds as the stench of burning flesh filled the room witnesses and prison officials said. "Smoke spilled through the vents into our witness room" a witness added struggling for words to describe the experience "It was not good at all" Kathryn Stoner-Lasala, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Cape May, New Jersey said "If the people of the state of Florida want to know what God thinks about their obsession with the death penalty, they need look no further than Pedro Medina. This was not God's judgement on Pedro, it was his judgement on the execution".
In 1990 Jesse Tafaro had a similar malfunction and convulsed for four minutes as his executioners turned the current off and on three times. The three-legged oaken chair was built by prisoners in 1923 and uses a three-cycle 2000 volt current.
The first electric chair execution was in 1890 of William Kemmler at Albany, New York. A State Comission had been asked to apply science to death, disliking the bloodshed of the guilotine, believing electrocution was the most humane method (Steve Jones).
There was a competition between Thomas Edison's low voltage DC system which would only transmit a mile from the power station and Westinghouse's high voltage AC. Edison lobbied for the electric chair to be powered by AC to stress the competitor's lethality. Westinghouse funded the prisoner's appeal. Edison himself showed how to wire up a pair of generators to ensure a lethal voltage. The experiment was a disaster. The current was passed for seventeen seconds, but Kemmler started breathing again. Horrified the executioners used a second jolt, and he died, literally roasted to death. Edison though was not discouraged. He arranged that the current be passed into jars of salty water into which the conedemmed man's hands dangled. In one case a young man stood up after electrocution only to be reprieved for a week until the equipment was improved.
Cruel and unusual punishments are supposed to be banned under the US constitution.
Assisted Suicide and Involuntary Euthanasia in Australia and Holland
24-1-97 CANBERRA - A 69-year-old man has become the third Australian to commit suicide under the Northem Territory's euthanasia law, a euthanasia supporters' group said yesterday. The National Coalition for Voluntary Euthanasia said on its intemet site that the man, who had asked not to be named, had been suffering from terminal stomach cancer and died on Monday using a computerised lethal injection system. The man's death follows those of fellow cancer patients Bob Dent, 66, and Janet Mills, 52, who used the Northem Territorys law to end their lives in September and on January 2 respectively. A spokesman for the National Coalition for Voluntary euthanasia, Dr Robert Marr, said the latest death showed that medical specialists were becoming more comfortable using the controversial law. Mrs Mills held a news conference in early December in order to plea for a specialist to come forward to supply the approval she needed. Dr Marr said the specialist was very happy to sign the form for the latest death. All the safeguards had been met and it showed the law was worldng well. Under the euthanasia law, which came into effect in July last year, a terminally ill person needs the signatures of a doctor, a psychiatrist and a specialist before going ahead with the procedure. The law sparked an outcry and the federal Parliament, which subsequently passed a bill to overtum it.
Janet Mills was suffering from a rare type of cancer which causes the skin to disintegrate. Her last words were "peace at last" as she used a computer-driven device to self-administer a lethal dose of drugs. An alliance of church and civic leaders are leading a legal and parliamentary battle to quash the Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. She dies beside her husband and son. "I hope that anyone else wishing to use this act does not have to go through such a long battle to find a doctor to help them. The whole thing was very hard on me and my family " she said. "I believe that euthanasia is the greatest thing for people who are sick with no chance of getting better. Its a wonderful idea and it stops people from suffering when they don't need to. I hope this law survives and is able to help others like me who have found the suffering has become too great"
26-3-97 Some called it a day of shame and others said it was one of Australia's finest hours. The Senate was both praised and pilloried for overturning the right-to-die law. Its 38-33 vote on Monday night throwing out the Northern Territory's euthanasia legislation was attacked as an intolerant, arrogant and cowardly move which trampled on territory lights. The territroy now plans to seek full statehood to remove an anomaly which prevents it having full control of its own decision. Supporters lauded it for treating human life with reverence, and stressed the need for improved palliative care for the terminally ill. Prime Minister John Howard, who supported Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews' bill, conceded his was probably a minority opinion in the community. "Once you start down the path of legally sanctioning a positive act to terminate somebody's life you have so altered the character and mores of our society that you wonder what the next step will be"
The architect of the NT legislation Marshall Perron, blamed Mr Howard for facilitating "this prostition of self-government" and said: "The territory has been stepped on by big brother." The architect of the "death machine" used so far by four people, Alice Springs computer enthusiast Des Carne, declared it a day of mourning and shame." One politician who led the charge against the bill spoke of the need to accept "that pain and suffering are part of the rich tapestry of human experience and that we have no business attempting to alter that weave".
Meanwhile, the Dutch Government yesterday proposed new measures in an attempt to stem an upsurge in assisted suicide. Between 1990 and 1995 the number of people requesting assisted suicide rose by 33 cent in the Netherlands, reaching an estimated 3600 in 1995, according to a Government study published late last year. Some 80 per cent were cancer patients who probably had less than a week to live.
However a further 950 seriously handicapped babies, patients in a coma or old people suffering from senile dementia were put to death without explicitly requesting it. Euthanasia is currently permitted at the insistent request of a patient suffering intolerable pain and with the concurrence of a colleague of the patient's attending physician. This raises a worrying spectre that euthanasia can be used against the will or knowledge of a disabled person to terminate their life prematurely - a spectre which could become another inquisition in a future eugenic world.
Prof David Richmond, Auckland School of Medicine, consultant in services to the elderly, notes that apart from Germany before the Second World War, the only country that has a lengthy experience of the practice of euthanasia is Holland. The definitive report on its use and practice is the report of the Dutch Attorney-General, the so-called Remmelink report, published in 1991. That report shows that despite legislated guidelines, more people suffer involuntary euthanasia (are killed by doctors without their request or permission) than are administered euthanasia on request. The real moral dilemma is that the Dutch legal and medical systems have colluded to allow this to go on and apparently see no moral issue in it; this in what we assume to be a civilised country. "As a physician specialising in the health of the elderly, I am only too aware of the pressures, both overt and covert, that some families place on their elderly relatives to take actions that are not in their best interests". In Holland, that includes requesting euthanasia.
The Dutch admit is not possible to be totally sure how much, involuntary euthanasia is practised in their country because many doctors (anonymously) admit to falsifying death certificates. Can our local commentators in fact point to any legislation that is proof against circumvention?
Professor Henk Jochemsen, director of the Lindeboom Institute Centre for, Medical Ethics in the Netherlands, concluded a recent critique of euthanasia in his country with these words: 'It is astonishing that so many people in the Netherlands do not seem to realize how much the present situation corrodes the basis of our constitutional state.'