Interestingly, the historic case of 1868 in England that first defined obscenity — known among lawyers as the Hicklin decision — evolved out of the prosecution of a pamphlet describing how priests were often so sexually aroused while hearing women’s confessions that they sometimes masturbated and even copulated with their repentant subjects in the confessional.

Gay Talese
Thy Neighbour’s Wife

attention to religion

March 8, 2020

I’ve been greatly criticized for the attention to religion that I give in the books, but I’ve been criticized, on the whole, by people who haven’t read the books. My attitude to religion is that religion is a most interesting and extraordinary human phenomenon. I’m fascinated by it, interested in it, and at some points critical of it. And the points when I become critical are the points when politics come into it, and religion acquires political power — political with a small “p,” for example, within the confines of a single family, or Political with a large “P,” on a national or international scale.

When religion gets the power to tell people how to dress, who to fall in love with, how to behave, what they must not read, what they must not wear, all those things, then religion goes bad….Religion is private thing, and a fine thing and a good thing, as long as it remains private. As soon as it becomes public and political, it’s dangerous.

Philip Pullman
Interview for NPR 14th February 2017

…new printing techniques made it possible for pornographic engravings of gatherings of nude witches to become best-sellers from about 1500 through the height of the witch hunt Terror. This art drew on the repressive sexual fantasies of the demonologists, inquisitors, and learned professors, who were obsessed with the notion of witches having sex with devils, and with punishing women. They developed a whole story about the painfulness of this sex, the devil’s member being ice-cold, and its involuntary nature, the witches being nothing more than slaves of the demon. The demonologists also drew on ancient stereotypes of heretics holding orgies which involved ritual humiliation, especially kissing the devil’s anus. This they claimed was the confirmation rite of a satanic cult. It was all purely the invention of elite men.

This highly sexualized diabolist ideology drove the witch hunts. The old witch persecutions which had gone on for centuries at a lower rate were escalated by a papal decree in 1256 allowing the Inquisition to use judicial torture. This then spread to secular courts. It was this practice of torture that fueled the witch craze, and slashed the ability of accused witches to resist totalitarian force. A key feature of torture-trials was compelling the accused witches to parrot back the diabolist ideology with all its violent sexual fantasies. The torture would not stop until they did. The trials are full of interrogators barking, “Say it! Tell the truth! Tell how you went to the witches’ assembly and had sex with devils!” Most resisted at first and eventually gave in to stop the terrible pain, although some held out unto death.

The torture quickly went beyond the rack and strappado and water torture to torments of iron and fire directed at the sexual parts. Since the judges and torturers assumed witches were guilty of apostasy and whoring with the devil, they were beyond any protection and could be subjected to anything their captors pleased. This certainly included rape and verbal abuse, but new mechanical refinements were devised, such as the Pear, a pointed metal implement which the torturers heated, thrust into a vagina or rectum, and then screwed open inside the victim’s body. Breast-rippers were another form of torture, often carried out in public, just before the burning of a convicted “witch.”

By the late 1500s a new doctrine of devil’s marks provided a pretext for “searching” women’s bodies, especially their female parts, for marks which were taken as “evidence” of a diabolical pact. Sometimes the witch-finders stabbed suspected witches with needles or bodkins. Or they called a flap of the inner labia, or skin tags which are common on older women, to be a “witch’s teat” suckled by the devil. Unofficial forms of torture would of course include rape by jailors, torturers and officials.

The woman-hatred of all this is obvious. What we have to remember is that this history of dungeons, chains, sexualized torture, ritualized rape and coerced submission had a massive impact on European civilization (and then on its colonies and slave-states) over centuries. Why should we be surprised to find that this deeply violent sexual conditioning has burrowed deep into the cultural unconscious?

 Max Dashu

Interviewed by Gariné Roubinian for
Rain and Thunder Feminist Journal (December 2007)

God & man

March 1, 2020

In the beginning man created God in his own image…

Religion and politics

March 1, 2020

When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.

Frank Herbert
Dune

Sex

January 12, 2020

Sex is the sacred song of the soul; sex is the sanctuary of Self.

Aleister Crowley
The Book of the Law

Heinrich Kramer, the author of the Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of Witches, the 1487 treatise on witchcraft, was not a man who thought highly of women. In the sixth of a series of questions, Kramer asks “Why is it that Women are chiefly addicted to Evil superstitions?” After all, he notes, most witches are women. His answers to his question are predictable and familiar: women are naturally inclined toward wickedness, their intellects are childish and weak, they gossip too much, they are feeble in mind and body, they are lustful, they are deceitful, they have weak memories, they need governance by men but resent and resist it, they tend toward hateful jealousy. Even in the Bible, Kramer reminds us, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of rape when he wouldn’t satisfy her sexual demands. Women: you just can’t trust them.

Heinrich Kramer wrote his treatise after he was kicked out of town for his obsessive attentions to the sex lives of the women of Innsbruck, particularly the sex lives of women who refused to attend his sermons. The Malleus Maleficarum is his justification for his behaviour, and he advances the claim that witchcraft, once viewed as a minor offense, is actually heresy, a much graver crime. The punishment for heresy was to be burned alive. His treatise, with the help of new technology, spread his ideas far and wide and helped kick off the witch hunts that took place in the early modern period throughout Europe and lands colonized by Europeans. The vast majority of convicted witches burned, hanged, or drowned over this several-hundred-year period were women, often older single women, and they were killed by the tens of thousands.

Kristen Hanley Cardozo
How Lolly Willowes Smashed the Patriarchy by Selling Her Soul to Satan

Night truly fell

December 8, 2019

Spirits and gods were woven into the fabric of ancient life not because of a lack of scientific knowledge,  but because our ancestors lived in the larger world;  one not designed by humanity.  It was a bristling place, it was Nature entire, with all its merciless peril and untamed wonderment. The shelter that our ancestors forged from the living real was far thinner than the bubble within which modern humanity moves. What’s more, the ancients comprehended this far more readily than modern folk do. The fierce, unveiled wilderness was just outside the door of those houses of wattle and daub. Night truly fell in those fire-lit villages. Darkness meant something to our ancestors.

Today we have lost this connection because we are quite literally addicted to light. We have washed out all developed areas with constant artificial illumination. Darkness is now often little more than an ambient backdrop to our nocturnal activities.

Richard Gavin
The Moribund Portal: Spectral Resonance and the Numen of the Gallows

the moon and lunar power

November 21, 2019

The contemporary image of the witch incorporates detritus from many religious sects over many millennia. Like the wall of a Crusader castle in the middle East, it rests upon a foundation of remnants from a variety of periods. Like Hecate and Diana, the witch is associated with the moon and lunar power. Like Aphrodite and Venus, she can make love potions and fly through the air. Each attribute of the witch once belonged to a goddess.

Erica Jong
Witches

The Power of the Witch

November 10, 2019