Conspiracies and Catholicism: Demons

It’s a staple of horror movies– there is some invisible thing that will get you, destroy your life, take over your loved ones and drag you to hell.  A demon haunts this house!

First, we should probably back up a little– demon and devil are frequently used interchangeably with devil more frequently used for specifically religious uses, and demon for “scary and kind of hopeless.” Religiously, the devil is the chief of the demons, (Diabolus enim et alii daemones, kept popping up while I was trying to find any decent information on this topic) and it’s usually capitalized to indicate the Devil. Originally, demon was more like “supernatural being”– think kami, for those who are into anime and manga, or various location-gods and demigods for those who know their classic mythology. If you’d like to see how you get from δαίμων to “demon,”Dictionary.com is your friend, especially in special uses for various spellings. I’m going to save any further “other powers” geekery for a later article– on to demons!

What are demons?

So, when we talk about a demon, what are we talking about? Besides being the Devil’s henchmen, demons are fallen angels; this means that they are definitely not metaphors, symbols, impulses, or any other way of saying “there are not really demons.” They also are not a synonym for mental illness– any good exorcist is going to check for mental illness as a first step; it doesn’t do anyone any good to avoid treatment in hopes that a ritual will help someone, rather than trying to accurately identify the problem. (I have no idea how frequently mentally ill people are also afflicted by demons–especially when there are so many ways to qualify demonic involvement.) Here’s a longish quote from the Catechism to explain how that works:

II. THE FALL OF THE ANGELS

391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”

392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies”.

393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”

So, demons are definitionally evil, having chosen to throw in against God, and they cannot change now. That throws out a pretty good chunk of the more dramatic “can the fallen angel un-fall” type movies– now for the horror.  I am going to draw heavily from this interview with Fr. Gary Thomas, who you may know from the book pictured above– The Rite.

 What can demons do?

Infestation:

Think like Paranormal Activity or any other “house has a demon” story. No, you don’t try to fix it by putting a video camera in your bedroom and taunting it, nor do you call “Ghost Hunters,” you see about getting your house blessed; talk to your local parish. Get some holy water. See about getting your hands on a book of prayers, linked below. My mind keeps giving me the image of demonic fleas, but it’s not really funny–here is a quote of signs, from  The Rite:

The various kinds of phenomena that can occur in this situation are vast and include unexplained sounds or noises like mysterious footsteps, loud bangs, laughter, screams; the temperature of a room dropping or the feelings of a cold wind with no discernible source; objects disappearing suddenly and materializing in other parts of the house; strange presences felt’ the presence of offensive odors’ interruption of the electric current or the malfunction of electronic devices; pictures that mysteriously bang or fall off the wall; doors and windows that open and close on their own; dishes or other objects levitating and flying about the room.

This cursed activity can be caused by something horrible having happened on the site– crimes, suicides, satanic rituals (yes, including wicca-of-the-month, and probably turn-of-last-century seances, too– it’s a bad idea to invite in unGodly powers, go figure)– or because an infested object is there, or because the demon is there with a human.

Oppression or Obsession:

Two sides of a coin, the former pushed down and the latter wound up; your thoughts are warped in a bad direction; this is when an individual is being attacked by a demon. You can imagine why an exorcist would need to know a lot about psychology– it would be hard to tell mental or emotional attacks by an being with no physical form from a mental disorder. You might think of this as the demon version of a monkey on your back, or maybe being stalked.  Instead of a house being “haunted,” it’s you. I don’t want to belittle this– having a demon attack you is obviously bad, even if it’s not as cinematically iconic as the final type of demonic assault, possession.

Possession:

When a demon can move the victim’s body against their will. (Willingly accepting a demonic possession isintegration.) Their soul isn’t controlled by the demon, but everything else…. This is when the exorcist goes to work, although this is incredibly rare and unlikely to involve green pea soup. Some exorcists have reported physical changes that are not scientifically possible. (A note on the limit of science– you’ve got to be there and set up to get really good data, and somehow I don’t think demons would be willing to cooperate.)

Don’t invite demons in, either actively or by sin, and try to soak your life in spiritually suited everything. The good news is– our Boss is incredibly stronger than theirs; He will win.

© 2014.  Foxfier. All rights reserved.

Conspiracies and Catholicism: Easter Special

Eostre or Ostara

15. The English Months

In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called . . .

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time. Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance. Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…

From De ratione temporum 15. (The reckoning of time, tr. Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press 1988, pp.53-54), full quote and citation courtesy of Roger Pearse’s delightful page.

Read the quote? Congratulations– you know know the whole source of the claims that Easter is a celebration of a pagan festival. The educated guess of the Venerable Bede, a saint and historian who died about 735, based off of the names of the month, which he mentioned as an afterthought in a book about how people talk about time. That’s it. You might find slightly different translations, because over a dozen centuries have passed, but that’s it. No details beyond there were feasts in the same month that Easter falls. (AKA, spring time. I’ll go into that a bit more later on.)

There are later stories that could have their roots in older traditions with personifications of spring fighting winter…or they could be a fairy tale story along the lines of Frozen, with winter being defeated and a wonderful new life starting. (You must admit, Disney laid it on a little thick with the fire and ice metaphor in the character designs…not that I didn’t adore the movie.) It may also be helpful to know that pretty much all the feasts and fasts have female avatars, and the names referenced mean something like “east light.” SuburbanBanshee also has a rather nice look into the background that might contribute to such a mascot, especially with the root of “East” and sun related symbols. She also has another fun post theorizing a link with the heroine Ester. To anyone scoffing at linking to a blog with a studied woman theorizing– please keep in mind that in 732, Bede would’ve been in a similar situation as far as authority to interpret mythology goes; De temporum ratione was not a study of pagan traditions!  Incidentally, the quote at the top is also the only mention of the goddess Eostre; the Ostara form isbased off of it.

English and German are unusual in not calling our celebration of the victory over death some name related to ‘Paschal’, which kind of kills the whole “that nasty Latin speaking Church stole Easter and didn’t even change the name!” theory.

Ishtar

An extremely ancient Mesopotamian goddess with a name that looks a little bit like Easter and Eostre. Unless her name became the word for “east” in ancient German, it has nothing to do with Eostre. She’s somewhat associated with Astarte, Ashtaroth, Inanna and probably a lot more– one encyclopedia even linked her to Isis of Egypt among the other “mother” goddesses. Ishtar was associated with war, sex (prostitution) and fertility of various types, the last of which means that it’s very likely she would have been honored in the spring when the symbols of fertility are all around. I could not find any scholarly association with child sacrifice, although that is a traditional “dark” side of child related goddesses, and the field has a lot of argument even when the bodies of children are found. You may recognize her name because of the famous Ishtar gate– AKA, the one with the dragons. (That creature is actually associated with Marduk, but the images from the Ishtar gate are famous.) Ishtar is said “Ish-Tar.”

Eggs, Bunnies and Flowers

Spring is the time of new life– a return to life. This was, for obviously reasons, associated symbolically with the Resurrection. Given how often God seems to have to repeat Himself before we’ll start listening, Easter may have happened at that time to reinforce the message. So you have symbols of life returning to the earth (flowers, green grass), new life (baby animals such as ducks, chicks, calves and, ahem, lambs) and life in general (eggs and rabbits) associated with the Holy Day. Other symbols come into play– such as the rabbits being white to symbolize purity– and the symbols are often mixed in together– such as the eggs being painted in flower-bright colors, and non-Easter symbols being carried over such as with gold accents or an empty cross draped in flowers or bright cloth.

I hope I don’t have to explain why people like to indulge in treats such as candy and chocolate after 40 days of abstaining and fasting! I have a personal theory that some of the stricter forms of fasting– such as not eating eggs and dairy– contributed to more and healthier young animals the rest of the year, adding to the bone-deep symbolism of sacrifice resulting in good. The egg you don’t eat after Ash Wednesday is the chicken that is laying next winter, and the calf that isn’t weaned until Easter is going to grow up stronger. Easter Eggs of the dyed sort were probably a very welcome treat after a long Lent, and were also very practical!

Pagan Roots

I am not going to go in depth on theoretical contamination due to names having an origin in paganism, because I don’t think that Sunday is any less holy due to the name having root in a personification of the sun. The concept carries over to any other old name. It’s a basic assumption that can’t be either defeated or validated, because it is a starting point for how you view things; I think that Himself put a lot of thematic ‘echoes’ into what came before– the famous God Shaped Hole in our souls, as well as how many miracles echoed those which had happened before. People have a built in love of life, of babies, of life. God has been trying to tell us what is going on since the beginning; it took Him coming down here for us to listen and follow Him in the right direction.

Happy Easter!

Conspiracies and Catholicism is a series of posts about things like albino assassin monks, hidden Bible books, pagan Santas and secret councils— popular culture related to Catholicism, sometimes in unexpected ways. If you have a suggestion for a future article, please leave a message in the comments or email me.  Prior posts availablein the author’s profile.

© 2014. Foxfier. All rights reserved.

Standup routines from Scripture

Now the body is not a single part, but many.

If a foot should say,“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,”it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.

Or if an ear should say,“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,”it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?

If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

But as it is, God placed the parts,each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,”nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary,and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor,and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,whereas our more presentable parts do not need this.  But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,so that there may be no division in the body,but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.

If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers;then, mighty deeds;then gifts of healing, assistance, administration,and varieties of tongues.Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

Source: January 24, 2016

Conspiracies and Catholicism: The Inquisition

Bouncing off of last month’s week’s mention that the Spanish Inquisition didn’t burn witches, I decided I’d talk about what “The Inquisition” is and what they did.

Mandatory reference:

“I didn’t expect some kind of Spanish Inquisition!”

No-one expects The Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise, fear and surprise; two chief weapons, fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency! Er, among our chief weapons are: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and near fanatical devotion to the Pope! Oh, [language removed, you’ve been warned, in case you’re not familiar with Monty Python], I’ll come in again…”

Frequently, “The Inquisition” is used as a synonym for The Spanish Inquisition. This is rather inaccurate for a number of reasons, chief among them being that you could easily argue that The Inquisition is still around, and had nothing to do with the Spanish Inquisition– which actually predates The Inquisition.

The Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition (my super secret source: the Vatican’s own website, in English!) was founded in 1542; renamed the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in 1908 and renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in ’65. If you’re reading this because you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, you might already be familiar with part of this particular theory, because one of the former head of the Congregation is a little bit famous due to what he did after leaving the Congregation– Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Quoting from the Vatican link, the job description is pretty impressive– the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence; describing what they actually do, it says they spread sound doctrine and defend those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines. It’s a little less impressive (or scary) sounding when you remember that the biggest headlines the Congregation has gotten in my lifetime were because they responded to a letter about Harry Potter to say who the authoress should contact, and then only because their head became Pope and there was some misunderstanding about what was said.

(Note: “congregation” here uses a specialized meaning that you could replace with “committee” and not lose the general understanding of what’s meant; I don’t know about my readers, but the only place I hear the word outside of Church titles it means something like “preacher’s audience.”)

The first recognized Inquisition started in 1184, and was focused on Catharism.
From Catholic.com’s Great Heresies tract:

Catharism was a complicated mix of non-Christian religions reworked with Christian terminology. The Cathars had many different sects; they had in common a teaching that the world was created by an evil deity (so matter was evil) and we must worship the good deity instead.

The biggest sub-group was the Albigensians, which you may have heard in association with “the Albigensiancrusade“. (You can probably guess next month’s topic.) Sadly, heresies were nothing new. From the very start there were people taking this or that aspect of the Truth and using it to say what they wanted said, and there had been investigations and punishments in response. Probably even more common were random people just saying false things because they could, in one of the root traditions of the barracks lawyer. Unfortunately, humans being what we are, this sometimes turned out quite poorly. Therefore, to prevent the innocent being punished and the guilty excused, in 1231 the first steps (appointing the Dominicans to investigate and judge if heresies were being spread, rather than local courts…or mobs) were taken to make it so the Church controlled the process entirely. Think of it as one of the early attempts to start to separate Church and State.

It didn’t work.

One example of the failure of the Church to have the control needed to prevent abuse of the accusation of heresy is the Spanish Inquisition.

Yes, the most famous Inquisition is a failure– to have complete control of the abused process.

The conversos had ancestors who were Jews– one Bishop famously added “Mary, mother of God and my blood relative” to the Hail Mary– and they did very well, which led to the traditional anti-Semitism being aimed at them with claims of still being secretly practicing Jews. Somehow, what started out as an envious slander has been taken up as truth and the primary meaning when one reads about conversos, in spite of a lack of evidence of such from the time.

I’m going to quote from a much more in depth article on the Spanish Inquisition, from Crisis Magazine; The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition.

In this early stage of the Spanish Inquisition, Old Christians and Jews used the tribunals as a weapon against their converso enemies. Since the Inquisition’s sole purpose was to investigate conversos, the Old Christians had nothing to fear from it. Their fidelity to the Catholic faith was not under investigation (although it was far from pure). As for the Jews, they were immune to the Inquisition. Remember, the purpose of an inquisition was to find and correct the lost sheep of Christ’s flock. It had no jurisdiction over other flocks.

In the early, rapidly expanding years, there was plenty of abuse and confusion. Most accused conversos were acquitted, but not all. Well-publicized burnings — often because of blatantly false testimony — justifiably frightened other conversos. Those with enemies often fled town before they could be denounced.

And here comes the critical failure of the system: the Pope ordered the Bishops to take over investigations and respect the rights of the accused, and the King basically said “no”. As it happens, this was about the same time as the “convert or leave” order to the (observant) Jews in Spain, and many did convert, with a predictable result on the claims of “secret Jews.”

I have no idea if the rumors are true that the Jews were expelled because the Crown needed the money, nor do I know if the claims that a lot of accusing parties owed the conversos money are true. I cannot find evidence either way. I’ve tried to include every related link from a good source that I could find  for your consideration.

Conspiracies and Catholicism is a series of posts about things like albino assassin monks, hidden Bible books, pagan Santas and secret councils— popular culture related to Catholicism, sometimes in unexpected ways. If you have a suggestion for a future article, please leave a message in the comments or email me at my pen name using gmail’s free service. Prior posts available here.

© 2014. Foxfier. All rights reserved.

Conspiracies and Catholicism: Witchcraft

This installment of Conspiracies & Catholicism seems kind of redundant after last week’s article on magic, but I’m looking more at the “everyone knows” about the Church and witchcraft.

Let me see if I can sum up the archetypal belief:

All through the middle ages, single women– especially if they lived alone or practiced some sort of medicine– were randomly being accused of witchcraft and burnt alive for it. The Inquisition was the main group killing women, and hundreds of thousands were killed by the Catholic Church. Millions died, many of them Pagans.

Does that look about right?

Well, here’s a thumbnail that I promise I really didn’t model that off of:

For example, historians have now realized that witch-hunting was not primarily a medieval phenomenon. It peaked in the 17th century, during the rationalist age of Descartes, Newton, and St. Vincent de Paul. Persecuting suspected witches was not an elite plot against the poor; nor was practicing witchcraft a mode of peasant resistance. Catholics and Protestants hunted witches with comparable vigor. Church and state alike tried and executed them. It took more than pure reason to end the witch craze.

Also, witches were not secret pagans serving an ancient Triple Goddess and Horned God, as the neo-pagans claim. In fact, no witch was ever executed for worshipping a pagan deity. Matilda Gage’s estimate of nine million women burned is more than 200 times the best current estimate of 30,000 to 50,000 killed during the 400 years from 1400 to 1800 — a large number,  but no Holocaust. And it wasn’t all a burning time. Witches were hanged, strangled, and beheaded, as well. Witch-hunting was not woman-hunting. At least 20 percent of all suspected witches were male. Midwives were not especially targeted; nor were witches liquidated as obstacles to professionalized medicine and mechanistic science.  – Sandra Miesel, Medieval historian writing for Crisis Magazine

On a side note, for those who do not want to read the rest of that very good article, it seems Germany was utterly nuts for a while there; a huge portion of the numbers for her defensible claim of “comparable vigor” comes from a couple of folks there*; it might be worthwhile for someone really interested in the subject to find out what all was going on at those times and places– the phrase “prince bishop” worries me a bit, as a purely emotional reaction. I poked around enough to find this history wikia with enough details for someone who’s really curious and has the mind for German history. Apparently, Germany had a big criminal law collection called The Carolina, which required death for those believed to have harmed someone using magic. Good luck trying to tell what area was Catholic or Protestant, and how solidly so; I’ve seen long running anime that were easier to follow – in Japanese. No wonder even experts acting in good will can argue for decades about this stuff.

Speaking of Germany, there’s another question. Alright, so a lady with a master’s on the subject says that broadly speaking, the standard cliches are bunk. How do you explain that Catholic witch hunting manual from Germany?

The Malleus maleficarum was written by two Dominicans about 1486. The principal author, Heinrich Kramer, was widely recognized as a “demented imbecile” by contemporaries. The bishop of Innsbruck thwarted his attempt to convict women there of witchcraft and forced him out of town. The Malleus competed with the Carmelite Jan van Beetz’s Expositio decem catalogie praeceptum, “an icily skeptical treatment of tales of black magic. Of course, exposés never get the circulation of the lurid originals.  –Michael Flynn, author and historical hobbyist

Mr. Flynn is one of my favorites, because of the stories he finds.  (His sense of humor, even on dark topics, is also to my taste.  Your mileage may vary, but I’ll give an example related to the topic.  There was a fellow from the Spanish Inquisition who was brought a self-professed “witch” to try, and he insisted that she prove she could perform the claimed witchy powers; that Inquisitor may have been copying Vincent of Beavius, who is reported to have chased a supposed witch around the room with a stick when she insisted that she was able to pass through keyholes. Look for my article on the Inquisitions at some later point.)

Needless to say, both women were proven innocent of sorcery.

Mr. Flynn’s mention of some of the Pagan activities against witches that had to be outlawed suggests that Germany may have just had some really, really brutal traditions. Another well read, though (oh common curse!) vague on names scholar, who goes by SuburbanBanshee, observes the pattern that when you go way back, witchcraft was only seen as a problem far from the population centers. Christians ended up saving the supposed witches from those who blamed them for whatever horrible thing was going on at the time. Places where folk tradition was not stronger than formal teaching recognized that “witchcraft” and false gods could not possibly be more powerful than God!

Conspiracies and Catholicism is a series of posts about things like albino assassin monks, hidden Bible books, pagan Santas and secret councils— popular culture related to Catholicism, sometimes in unexpected ways. If you have a suggestion for a future article, please leave a message in the comments or email me. Prior posts available here.

Update:

* Footnote: From the comments, in case the system has to be updated/gets lost again; the “equal vigor” thing isn’t the only issue with the Crisis article– Howard wrote an article when it was (re)published about some questionable characterization.

A former sailor's ramblings on anything from family, country and Church through general geek-ness.

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