Astrology and Witch Hunting

witch trials

On the Tricks of Demons

In his 1563 book, On the Tricks of Demons, Johann Weyer, a Protestant physician, questioned the capacity of old peasant women to fly on broomsticks and become the sexual consorts of demons. He wrote, “Love men, kill errors, fight for the truth without any cruelty.” This sober, sincere and rather kindly man wondered if many of these poverty stricken old ladies were not just suffering from depression (melancholia) and mental illness; issues more than exacerbated by the prolonged torture they would suffer at the hands of their interrogators.

This appeal to sanity and compassion was not enough to stay the hands of Jean Bodin, whose On the Demonic Madness of Witches is an extended critique of Weyer’s appeal for moderation. Bodin points out how torturing and burning these old women was nothing compared to the eternal damnation that awaits them and which the general public, witness to this orgy of violence, needed rerminding of! Near his death, Bodin published Drama of Universal Nature (1597) in which he wrote: “There is nothing in the world…pleasanter to behold, or which more deliciously revives the mind, or which serves us more commodiously, than order.” The feminine is the antithesis of this dubious “order.”

“All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable,” says the Malleus Maleficarum and as Brian Easlea in his sensitive and considered book Witch Hunting, Magic and the New Philosophy writes, “Whatever else it is, the Malleus Maleficarum is a misogynists’s textbook.” This triumph of misogyny was published by two Dominican friars in 1486 in which it was argued that God allows a certain amount of evil in order to celebrate the triumphant response of the righteous in stamping out the cursed sections of humanity; more often than not, the feminine. The tricks of Demons tolerated in order to incite the treats of the righteous; a process for which they argue there can be no due legal process because of the inherently satanic nature of the accused…

Lack of due process has a long and unhealthy history. In this case the feminine has no answer, no rational defense because all such possibility has been removed as impossible anyway. The impossibility of self-defense is a key component of the truama of persecution. To defend oneself is only to speak the devil’s language; to ‘confess’ will end the torture but offer no redemption. Weyer was not alone in noticing that after a few days of torture many old peasant women were prepared to sign off on anything.

The “order” that Bodin celebrates seems more like the trick of a demon than anything else; for anything that does not ascribe to its cruel purity is inhuman – a true double-speak as its vision of purity is stunning in its rejection of our humanity. The specific nature of the attack against the feminine is spealled out by Easlea:

“Tertullian told women that ‘God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway.’ Origen castrated himself. Lactantius held that Eve had been the agent of the Devil. St. John Chrysostom declared the ‘women taught once and ruined all…’”

All humans are sinful; women are by default only a hair’s breath away from a contract with the devil. From that perspective the trick of the Demon is to overcome the hair’s breadth. From our eyes the trick of the Demon has occurred already; in offering a world-view so saturated with hate to become something taken so seriously by so many, for so long. A view of diabolical hatred that has not even left the world fully to this date. One tricksy Demon.

Astrology as Heresy
When I was at the Norwac conference this May in addition to teaching I did several readings in which a pattern emerged. The great majority involved some issue of persecution or fear of rejection from others. Some of these stories related directly to the patriarchal dominance of the feminie explicitly, including its introjection by the feminine (a mother wanting to disinherit her own daughter for the sake of her sons, for example). Others involved a more general sense of being haunted, as in: “if I express my true nature, my true potential, what will become of me?”

In ruminating on this recurrent theme I was struck by the sense that it had occurred before; I had been aware of this theme running through people’s charts at astrology conferences a number of times. Then it hit me. O.K. – there has been a lot of traumatic persecution throughout history. And I am a karmic astrologer who is going to be more plugged in to these kinds of themes than most . But it occurred to me that astrologers as people are more likely to have had exposure to this theme than most…

Why? Well these are poeple attracted to forms of knowledge that might explain their own true nature or the nature of life itself. These are people prepared to look outside of the mainstream for that knowledge. They are the natural heretics. Furthermore, writes Easlea on the series of Christian heresies of the era:

“There is an important feature of these heretical movements that must not be overlooked, namely the ‘disproportionate’ role in them played by women. ‘Almost all the medieval sects from the Manicheans to the Waldenses, the Donatists to the Cathars’, Keith Thomas notes, ‘received to a marked degree the support of women and welcomed them, sometimes as influential patronesses, but more often than not… as active members on a basis of practical equality’.”

This is maybe even why these Gnostic Christian ideas were so virulently wiped out by that sociapoathic arm of the church; the Inquisition. In that, they allowed the over-throw of Bodin’s much loved “order” including the adamic right over Eve.

On national women’s day in Serbia, I taught a workshop in Belgrade to a room of twenty-five women. I have taught workshops in the states with only female attendees. Is there a hidden depth to the old astro joke – if you need some peace and quiet at an astrology conference go to the men’s room?

In a keynote speech at Norwac a couple of years ago, Richard Tarnas called astrology the “gold standard of superstition” in our culture. I have read books on the history of science in which they compare an idea to that of ‘believing in’ astrology in order to show its irrationality and stupidity. Even the phrase “believing” links the issue to that of doctrine and therefore of heresy. I wonder sometimes if the heretics of old do not gather together at astrology conferences; to make sense of this world and to heal old wounds and share.

In a culture that has predominantly rejected higher meaning, the thing with superstition is that the superstitious and the heretical holds some of what the mainstream trajectory abandoned. Here terrible ironies abound. An old herbalist who might have helped people with their aches and pains is tortured and burnt at the stake, with those she helped in the crowd cheering as she burns. This creates prfound complexes (what Stanislav Grof called Systems of Condensed Experience) within the Soul having to do with the impulse to creatively evolve and the impulse to serve others. Modern day astrologers face an issue of feeling a greater knowledge that might aid people leading them out to a public which they also fear will reject and ridicule them. So many gifted students of astrology struggle to pratice their love and skills for this art out in the world. It is easy to dismiss this issue as a purely socio-economic one but is it as simple as that?

Astrology at the Stake


The other issue that arises from the traumatic heritage of doctrine and heresy is the battle of ideas. Reading argument and counter-argument in the chapter On the Existence of Witches in Easlea’s book one is struck by the lengths that people will go to to maintain their position on things. People would seeming rather die, or in this case, mass murder others, than give up their vision of the “truth”!

Whether the ideas presented in this blog are accepted on any level; as prior-life memories, as remnants of the collective unconscious in which we all live or simply as memes of our past evolution, we can see that the past trauma (of ‘sin’ and of punishment of that ‘sin’) when it informs the history of ideas it will only add fervour to already heated debates. In William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, the worst people facing the end of things are those full of “passionate intensity”. The best incidentally, “lack all conviction”.

When we come together as a community, in our diverse and various interests, we can acknowledge that the importance of people’s vision of astrology might be even more important to them than other interests or hobbies. Perhaps partially because of the marginalized role astrology plays in our society. Yet I suggest that this passion at times is linked to the residue of memories, of collective unconscious identifications, with debates of doctrine and heresy that reach back through the centuries. Debates that – far from being dry and dusty affairs – were thick with the cries of human suffering and the history of man’s brutal treatment of his fellow. This shade of memory can play across our minds and hearts even now.

The thing to watch out for would be the tricks of demons! Those parts of us that confuse the intensity of the karmic past with the need to be right at the expense of another. I wonder if holding these past contexts in a certain contemplative light would allow us to contextualize important debates within our community; from traditional to modern forms, to psychological and technical approaches – with a mutual respect and acknowledgment that maybe most, if not all of us have worn the badge of heretic before and that there might be solidarity in that knowledge.

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