Early church fathers gravely discussed the nature of demons and their powers. Augustine devoted many chapters of The City of God to them. He condemned rites aiming "to cleanse the mind by the invocation of devils." [Book 10,10] His De Doctrina Christiana also forbade consulting demons, advancing the notion of pact with demons. This idea later assumed a deadly importance in the witch-hunts.
The original Greek word daimon meant a guardian spirit or divinity. Hellenistic and Roman literature is full of references to women who invoked these beings, especially Thessalian, Thracian and Sicilian witches who were reknowned for their magic arts. Churchmen also believed in the efficacy of magic, but they opposed any invocation of pagan deities in the belief that they were evil. Ascetic monks in the Syrian and Egyptian deserts fought against the spirits who appeared to them, and explained their forbidden sexual fantasies as temptations by female demons. Medieval priests' belief in succubi began with them.
The priesthood drew other ideas about demons from the Jewish apocryphal Book of Enoch, which recounted how great angels rebelled against God and fell from heaven. The Latin name for the prince of these expelled angels was Lucifer ("lightbringer"). Theologians made him into an anti-god subsuming everything pagan, heretical and rebellious. In the 1200s and 1300s, the Church persecuted heretics as "Luciferans."
In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is the "Adversary." The name Satan appears frequently in the Christian testament. Greek christians translated this name with their word diabolos, "accuser." This became Latin diabolus, Spanish diablo, French diable, English devil and German teufel. Early christian art often represents the devil with animal attributes associated with pagan spirits, especially reptiles, bats and goats.
Another important thread runs through the imperial Church's conception of the Devil or demons in general. The Epistle of Barnabas called the devil "the Black One." [Russell, 114] Church historian Theodoret claimed that a black demon had tried to prevent a Syrian bishop from burning down a pagan temple. [Cohn, 68] For St Jerome, blackness was linked with the devil. [Russell, 114; Wedeck, 93] St Macarius the Younger saw demons "like foul Ethiops" flying around some monks. [Lea, MTHW 67] and a demon cast out of an image in the Acts of Barthomew is described as "like an Ethiopian." Pope Gregory "the Great" wrote that black demons carry the evil off to hell. [McColloch, 61]
As early as the 4th century artists painting the temptation of St Anthony show the devil as a demonized black man, and naked black devils appear continually in major works of religious art such as the Book of Kells, the Stuttgart Gospels, and various Spanish manuscripts. [Francoise, 189]
Conversely, the clergy frequently used whiteness as a symbol of moral purity. In Ireland the christianized Brehon laws described Patrick as "the man of the white language," while Irish sources shortly after his time refer to "the black laws of paganism." [Condren, 62, on white language] A racist association of blackness with evil became embedded in Church symbolism, and over centuries it spread across Europe.
[Graphic: Black devils in the Radzivilskii Chronicle, Ukraine, c 1050]
Abbot Caesarius of Heisterbach wrote that the devil appeared "in the form of a black man." [Grimm, 993] Johannes Monachus' 11th century Book of Miracles depicts the devil as a "dark Ethiopian," surrounded by many other "Ethiopians," demons who fled howling at the mention of the christian god. [Wedeck, 100-1]
All this flew in the face of the fact that Ethiopia had one of the world's oldest christian communities, centuries older than that of Germany. Other clergymen drew an African connection for the devil from the opposite end of the continent, writing that he resembled a Moor. In Spain, mozarabic manuscripts portray a Moorish devil locked in hell.
The equation of darkness with evil was slow to take hold among the peasantry. In many areas the common people still worshipped a Black Goddess, and managed to bring her under the church roof despite its racist theology. The peasants conceived devils in terms of their own forbidden animal spirits and fantastic creatures. They had a special affection for their herb-garlanded, animal-eared Green Men, gargoyles, dragons, mermaids, horned and winged beings, male, female and even hermaphroditic centaurs. All of these were sculptured into churches by anonymous common stoneworkers, the original freemasons. But they were peripheral to the orthodox imagery, which included demonized Africans, triumphant Ecclesia and degraded Synagoga, and a panoply of patriarchs.
[Graphic: Bestialized image of the African: as a devil-cauldron in which the damned are boiled, at Bourges cathedral]
As early as 1022, the Church executed people for worshipping black "devils." A group of heretics were arrested at Orléans, with some clergy among them. The very murky record says that they had been led astray by a peasant who offered them great strength and that the "devil" appeared to them "in the guise of an Ethiopian." They were said to have visions and to be transported to faraway places, to carry torches in procession and chant the names of "demons." [Moore, 9-10]
Some of this lends itself to the declaration of Balduin of Thérouanne that the heretics secretly worshipped pagan gods. But the clergy also accused them of worshipping the devil in secret underground hideouts, where they put out the lights and abandoned themselves to orgies. They said that the children conceived in these blowouts were burned, and blasphemous host wafers made out of their ashes. This powder had the power to turn people into Manichaeans. [Russell, 313fn42, considers the writers making wild allegations of child-sacrifice, orgies and devil-worship -- Paul de Saint Pere de Chartres and Adhémar de Chabannes -- "good" sources, while Balduin is "much less reliable."]
After centuries of disuse, the Church prelacy had revived the old Roman smear of outlawed groups as ritual murderers who held orgies in secret conventicles. It had been applied to devotees of the women's mysteries, then to the Jews and early christians, then to christian heretics, especially Manichaeans.
The study of early christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesaria and Jerome of Milan led to the resurrection of ritual murder and orgy charges in France. Around 1050, the Byzantine Michael Psellos claimed that the Euchites burned children and ate food made from their ashes, and that heretics held orgies. [Russell, 93, gives credence to this smear.]
Diabolism was evolving into the main tool of churchly repression. The diabolist blood libel would provide an effective formula for persecution in the coming centuries. It was useful against both internal and external "enemies," whether pagans, heretics, Jews and witches in Europe, or against dark peoples in Africa and Asia.
Scapegoating of the Jews had already begun, with pogroms at Rouen, Orléans, and Limoges (in 1010), in Mainz and other Rhineland cities (1012), and in Rome. In 1066, a Spanish crowd killed a large number of Jews and crucified Joseph ibn Nagrela, and Frankish knights who had come to fight the Moors sacked the Jewish quarters. [Poliakov I, 36; II, 96]
Copyright 2000 Max Dashu
Invasions Under the Cross
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