Notes: Episode 9, The Witch Trials (Part 1)

As with every show, I’ll list any corrections or clarifications here. If there’s anything I’ve overlooked, please contact me by email or in the comments and I’ll edit the notes to reflect the new information.


7:00 – I promised to iterate further on the connections between midwifery and the Sabbat and never really got around to it, even in part two. There were a number of things linking the two: midwifery was considered “hidden” knowledge as celibate male priests had no practical experience with it, and there’s a natural reverence and mysticism that tends to accompany birth. However, with a high infant mortality rate and a need for closure, midwives were often accused of causing miscarriages or stillbirths intentionally through maleficia in order to use the child’s body for their rituals. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that they likely had some knowledge of abortion as well, as well as crude contraception which could lead to accusations of causing sterility from men. Basically as soon as you include an infanticide component in your lore about witches, whoever is closest to infants ends up being accused.


11:52 – I neglected to mention that the woman in the centre of the circle holding the candle was often supposed to have done so by grasping her ankles and having the lit candle inserted into her anus. This is another example of the anti-human symbolism used around the Sabbat; not only does it reduce a person to the role of a candlestick, but does so in the most degrading and repulsive way the scholars inventing the mythology of the Sabbat could think of. Often the stories of the Sabbat seem less like a cohesive tradition and more like a design-by-committee version of the most shocking and offensive thing possible, and thus ends up being equally funny and off-putting. I probably forgot to mention it because I was tired of talking about anuses on my history podcast.


19:05 – It was inaccurate of me to claim that the various heretical groups were looking to separate from the Church. It’s true that the Waldensians and Cathars tended to see themselves as separate communities, but that had less to do with beginning a new religion and more to do with believing themselves to have a different and more nuanced understanding of it. For them it was similar to, for example, joining the Franciscan Order as a monk, in which you are still Catholic but have additional tenets and vows to abide by. Their tenets simply happened to be isolation and a different understanding of corporeal reality. Likewise, Martin Luther was not a separatist but rather a reformer, at least at first; he wanted to foster what he saw as important changes within the Church. It was only after his excommunication and realization that the Church was unlikely to meet his demands that Luther began seriously considering the creation of an alternate Christian church. Of course, the Church did see all heretical groups as having separated themselves by default.


28:46 – The issue of the relationships within the Holy Trinity is known as Filioque, referring to a word added to the Nicene Creed by the Roman Catholic Church. This word (meaning from the Son) changes the meaning of one specific section: when the Eastern Orthodox Church says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, the Roman Catholic Church says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This suggests superiority of Christ over the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit could not exist without Christ, while the Orthodox Church considers them coequal. Anything more nuanced than that is far too theological for this forum. Suffice it to say that it was both a jarring difference in beliefs and a matter of administration – the Western Church added the word without consulting the Eastern Church, who considered it a break in communion. All of this is really interesting to lots of people, I swear.


30:18 – Okay, so Dualism. The main issue with the philosophy is that to claim the entire physical world is evil means one of two things: either God created something evil, or Genesis was incorrect and the world wasn’t created by God. Neither of these are consistent with orthodox Christianity. There are also many other objections, depending on the specific beliefs of the Dualist sect you happen to be talking about; most of them reject the papacy, the sacraments, or even procreation, while others have gone so far as to call the God of the Bible evil and say that he created the world as a temptation or distraction, and claim that there is another God who concerns himself with only spiritual matters and is the true path to salvation. The Waldensians specifically focused much less on the Dualist aspects of their beliefs than their very literal reading of Christ’s teachings (poverty, service, etc). Not every Dualist sect that existed was something out of The Da Vinci Code. Really, though, you can’t introduce this duality of natures without painting yourself into a corner as far as Christianity is concerned.

34:48 – I had a really hard time tracking down how many Waldensians there were, especially at the time they were being hunted and killed; the order has been around in many forms for nearly a thousand years, and there are still people who identify as such today. Their beliefs are quite different from those of their 12th century spiritual ancestors, though, having been rolled in with the Calvinist movement of the Reformation. Best I can do is an estimate of a few thousand.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *