Sabbath (witchcraft)

From Academic Kids

In Christian folk lore the Sabbath (or witch Sabbath to some people) is the name given to gatherings supposed to have been celebrated by Satanists, witches and warlocks to honor the Devil, offend God, Jesus, the sacraments, the cross, and perform unholy rites.


The Sabbath in history

Although allusions to Sabbaths were made by the Catholic Canon (law) since about 905, the first book that mentions the Sabbath is, theoretically, Errores Gazariorum (1452). In the 13th Century accusation of participation in a Sabbath was a serious accusation. Some allusions to meetings of witches with demons are made in the Malleus Maleficarum (1486). Nevertheless, it was during the Renaissance when Sabbath folk lore was most popular, more books on them were published, and more people lost their life when accused of participating. Commentarius de Maleficius (1622), by Peter Binsfeld, cites accusation of participation in Sabbaths as a proof of guiltiness in an accusation for the practice of witchcraft.

What is said about the Sabbath vs. what is known

There is no agreement among authors on what actually happened during a Sabbath, and much of what was written about them may be more the product of torture and the imagination of Inquisitors than fact. Let us start with what was said:

The Compendium Maleficarum (1608), by Francesco Maria Guazzo, aka Guaccio, Guaccius is a book published by an Italian priest with some illustrations of what he imagined could be a Sabbath, and gives a description of it; a brief summary can be cited as an example: "the attendants go riding flying goats, trample the cross, are made to be re-baptised in the name of the Devil, give their clothes to him, kiss the Devil's behind, and dance back to back forming a round". According to Hans Baldung Grien (ca 1484-1545) and Pierre de Rostegny, aka De Lancre (1553-1631) human flesh was eaten during Sabbaths, preferably children, and also human bones stewed in a special way. It was also said by some authors that salt, bread and oil were prohibited because the Devil hated them, meanwhile different testimonies told about delicious dishes. Other descriptions add that human fat, especially of non-baptised children, was used to make an unguent that enabled the witches to fly; it was also believed that witches could fly by themselves, ride a broom, or be carried by demons to the place of the meeting. Many of these characterizations were made about other suppressed Christian sects and Jews; see blood libel and conspiracy theory. The most common belief on which authors agreed is that Satan was present at the Sabbath, often as a goat or satyr, and many agreed that more demons were present; other belief said that sometimes a person could offer his/her own body to be possessed by some demon serving as a medium (see demon possession). It was believed that the Sabbath commenced at midnight and ended at dawn, beginning with a procession, continuing with a banquet, then a Black Mass, and culminating with an orgy in which non-marital or sexual intercourse with demons in male or female form was practised. Hallucinogens were cited as means to favour sexual climax and sometimes alcohol was mentioned.

According to folk lore, the Sabbath was most often celebrated in isolated places, preferably forests or mountains. Some famous places where these events were said to have been celebrated are Briany, Carignan, Puy-de-Dome (France), Blocksberg, Melibäus, the Black Forest, (Germany), the Bald Mount (Russia), Vaspaku, Zäbern, Kopastatö (Hungary), and more, but it was also said that Stonehenge (England) was a place for Sabbaths. In the Basque country the Sabbath (there called Akellarre 'field of the goat') was said to be celebrated in isolated fields.

Concerning the dates on which the Sabbaths were to be celebrated there is no agreement among authors. Some hypothosized they would take place during the night of the Sunday before the time the Christian mass was celebrated, some authors disagreed telling that Satan was less powerful on holy days.

Very little is known about what really happened in a Sabbath, if any actually were held before the 20th century. As some inquisitor wrote, "the acts of the witches/warlocks are only known by us for the confessions they make when tortured". All the descriptions about the Sabbaths were made and published by priests, jurists and judges who (theoretically) never took part in these gatherings, or written in the acts of the tribunals that carried out the processes. All of them were based on the confessions under torture made by people accused of practising witchcraft, or hypothosized by witch-hunters. No voluntary confession was taken as valid, for, according to the Christian belief regarding heresy and witchcraft, people who practised either one or the other only could say the truth under torture, for that was the only way to oblige the helpers of the Devil to speak the truth, so all formal questioning and confessions were made under torment. It is a matter of fact that commonly persons lie and say what they think the interrogator wants to hear to stop suffering; from the accounts, we know leading questions, to which the victim could just say "yes", were common; the answers were suggested to the prisoners because the church had a previous conception of what was a Sabbath. Refusal to answer was taken as a proof of guiltiness, and very few accused could prove themselves innocent; the best hope was for a quick death due to co-operating. As many people suffering insanity was said to be demon-possessed and interrogated on the subject, it is easy to imagine the kind of answers that could be obtained. The use of hallucinogen drugs, often extracted from plants, was known since ancient times, rotted rye is strongly hallucinagenic as well as deadly, and people who consumed these substances could have given descriptions of their hallucinations more than any other thing.

In retrospect, the description of the Sabbath seems to be more the product of the imagination of people influenced by ignorance, fear, intolerance of heresy or heathenism, drugs and insanity than a reality.

Sabbath folk lore today

Some fundamentalist Christian sects today are very hostile regarding contemporary paganism which they equate with devil-worship. They identify pagan or Heathen festivals as Sabbaths as described by folk lore (see also Wheel of the Year). They also cite similarities they perceive between the presumed Sabbath rites and the ceremonies of shamanistic rites of Asia and spiritualist African religions, such as the Orisha cult of the Yorůbá, and of their New World derivatives (Voodoo, Santería, Candomblé, etc.). During these ceremonies — which are held late at night in isolated places — the priests get possessed by spirit-gods (the Orisha), amid convulsions and grimaces; and then perform ritual dances in their honor. Both men and women may be priests. The ceremony ends with a ritual banquet with specific foods. Each Orisha who is to be incorporated must be summoned in advance by the animal or bird sacrifice; the blood is poured on the Orisha's icon, certain parts (head, feet, some organs) are offered to the spirit, and the rest is cooked for the banquet.

The Sabbath in art

Famous painters like Luca Signorelli have been inspired by the Sabbath folk lore, but perhaps the most known on the subject is Goya.

See also

de:Hexensabbat ]]


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