Friday, December 6, 2019

Witches and Vampires

The below are pieces of my treatise "Dark Shamanism" from by book "A Writer's Guide to Spirit Journey's, Fairies, and Witches."

Article by Ty Hulse

Dark Shamanism and the Cannibal Spirit Journey

Cannibalism and the consumption of blood have been associated with shamanism all over the world. This isn’t to say that even the majority of shamanistic traditions include such ideas, rather, it’s to point out they are common enough to show up in traditions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. One of the foremost experts on witch mythology and folk religion, Emma Wilby points out that indigenous cultures often associated shamanism with cannibalism. She goes on to quote Ste’panoff’s encounter with Tuvans shaman’s that would proudly clam to have eaten several people himself, yet not enough to be a “great shaman.” Further:

It has long been recognized that psychophysical compulsion is a feature of most shamanistic traditions, typically emerging in the context of possession and initiation (in the latter case, acceptance of the shamanic vocation often being likened to profound surrender to an overwhelming force). Anthropologists studying dark shamanic traditions have noted that similarly compulsive urges underpin the shaman’s need to journey in subtle body to hunt down and consume human flesh. In this respect, with regard to his random killing sprees at least, the shaman is believed to be fundamentally innocent of the murders he commits.

Keep in mind that despite the danger posed by such shamans they were often tolerated within their communities, for their devouring of life gives them the power to help their community and protect it from the greater dangers of other shamans or human eating spirit sand deities. In order to do this latter job the shaman would need to befriend these cannibalistic spirits in order to steer them in specific directions. Further, such dark shamans would often leave their villages and only devour the enemies of their people, at least until they died at which point their spirit might no longer be able to tell friend from foe. Again, Wilby quotes Ste’panoff that:

In Siberia, shamans’ cannibal practices are not seen as a bad habit of a particular category of ‘‘evil’’ or ‘‘black’’ shamans, or as a lapse contradicting their benevolent mission of healing. Rather, it looks like an inevitable expression of what makes them shamans. Humans are just one of the numerous objects of their appetite, besides hostile spirits and simple presents of meat and alcohol . . . the shaman’s body is from birth (as opposed to by will) an active channel, and that is why, traditionally, ‘‘devouring’’ is not precisely understood as a ‘‘bad action’’ from an ethical point of view.

In this context, even when a shaman is lynched or ostracized the process may be strangely devoid of blame, with Ste´panoff, noting that in Siberia, ‘‘Cannibal shamans are killed or abandoned in order to preserve lay people rather than as a kind of punishment.’’ From this perspective, dark shamanistic traditions are sustained by the profound fatalism that thrives in any preindustrial culture required to endure a high incidence of sickness and death.

Ste’panoff’s and Wilby’s observation is that societies that had to endure a high incidence of death and fear of their own destruction almost all developed dark shamanism is likely true. After all, the peoples of Siberia, South America, and South East Asia all suffered conquest by foreign armies and rampant plagues before anthropologists began recording their religious beliefs. It shouldn’t be surprising than that stories of shamanism in Europe cropped up during the darkest days of the medieval eras. In Chipley Lavicek’s book “The Black Death,” he quotes a writer who lived through the plague;

In many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And they died by the hundreds, both day and night, and all were thrown in those ditches and covered with earth. And as soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with ear that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any dead, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world.

Such a world produced fatalistic notions related to magic and witchcraft. Eramus as quoted by Niehoff (1966) stated that:

Life, in a sense, is cheaper among many of the underprivileged people of the world because they have a much higher expectation of death than we do. If no one is to be blamed or made the scapegoat for illness and death, as is the case in areas where witchcraft is greatly feared, fatalism will probably be common.

Witch hunts can be a survival mechanism by communities who feel powerless. Yet, it’s interesting to note that the most famous witch hunts in history didn’t occur during horrific plagues or other massive tragic events, but after them. The greatest growth Europe had experienced in over five hundred years occurred between 1400 and 1500, the very time when witch hunts began to rise and the “Malleus Maleficarum”, the  manual of witch persecutions was written. These events occurred a hundred years after the Black Death and after much of the violence of the medieval era had petered off (thus the reason for the explosion in population).  McGowan (1994) similarly points out that Rome’s witch hunt against Christians occurred during what was generally “a rather stable and successful period, that of the Antonine emperors.” During this time of relative stability, the Roman’s began accusing the Christians of learning to heal sickness using human blood, and of holding wild celebrations with orgies in the presence of donkey headed spirits, during which they would drink blood and eat human flesh. One can’t help but notice the similarity between such tales and stories of later witch’s sabots. This similarity exists because the idea that there were cannibalistic and dark witch figures is an ancient one in Europe. Christian’s likely didn’t engage in these activities any more than the people burned as witches did in later times. What’s important to take from this is that during times of relative instability and suffering people started to believe that members of their community were engaged in dark shamanism, but they accepted this because they believed that these ‘wicked witches’ were necessary for their survival.

Again Wilby’s article states that

Kieckhefer notes that in central Italian trials from the fifteenth-century women accused of being bloodsucking witches were ‘‘regularly if perhaps not professionally engaged in the mediation of supernatural powers’’—mediations that could include love magic, assault sorcery, and healing.

As Briggs has argued, ‘‘the relative acceptance of witches who doubled as healers must be one partial explanation for the reluctance of families and individuals to press home what were effectively murder charges.’’ For some, the witch’s protective abilities may have been seen as a communal asset worth tolerating…
Magic has long been associated with death and cannibalism in Europe. According to Richard Sugg, in 25 A.D. an epileptic patient might drink blood from a wounded and dying gladiator. “He and other suffers, we are told, were wont to drink from gladiators’ bodies.” Sugg’s book also points out that this history of drinking blood for its magical properties lasted into the modern era. “In Germany and Denmark, poorer citizens paid whatever they could afford to drink human blood at execution scaffolds. “Skulls too were powdered as a medicine, and these skulls needed to come from people who died a violent death. Such procedures weren’t performed in back allies, but by the permanent doctors and chemists of the early modern and even Victorian eras.”

The idea of deaths association with power goes back even further, certainly the Celts seem to have sacrificed people in order to obtain victory in war. Dr Horton in an interview with The Independent states that; the evidence for cannibalism (among British Celtic sacrificial victims) is irrefutable.” Interestingly enough the remains of these eaten sacrifices are mixed with the remains of dogs, who are grim reaper figures in Celtic tradition, leading people as they do to the land of the dead. It shouldn’t be surprising then that later witch Sabbaths often included dogs in Britain or that these were the most common familiars of witches.

Iping-Petterson (2011) stated that violence was believed to create an energy by people performing sacrifices. Violence and torture were often part of sacrificial rituals. Such violence was community sanctioned because it benefited the community as a whole. It was believed that victory against enemies, safe buildings, and abatement of disease couldn’t be obtained without such violence.

Blood especially was believed to have magical properties. Matteoni (2009) points out that;

the witch was likened to a supernatural creature, the vampire, and was considered a bloodsucker… According to the Italian philosopher of the Renaissance, Marsilio Ficino, human blood naturally attracted human blood. The old women, called witches, were believed to drink the children’s blood to have their youth back... Blood was, then, considered as a remedy for old age and decay…