Ancient Greece

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A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 6:27am in

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

‘I’ Report on Conviction of Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn as Criminal Gang

First a piece of good news. Yesterday’s I for 8th October 2020 reported that a Greek court had convicted the Golden Dawn of being a criminal organisation. This was the Golden Dawn that’s a neo-Nazi outfit responsible for violent attacks on immigrants, left-wing activists and the murder of rap singer, not the Golden Dawn, which was an early 20th century occult society. Although the latter did briefly have Aleister Crowley, the Beast 666 and the ‘wickedest man in the world’ as a member.

The ‘I’s report on page 25, by Derek Gatopoulos, runs

A Greek court has ruled that the far-right Golden Dawn party was operating as a criminal organisation, delivering a landmark verdict in a marathon five-year trial.

The court ruled that seven of the party’s 18 former legislators, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organisation, while the others were guilty of participating in one.

As news of the guilty verdicts broke, cheers and celebrations erupted among the crowd of more than 15,000 people gathered in an anti-fascist rally outside the Athens courthouse.

A small group among the crowd threw Molotov cocktails and stones and police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

The marathon trial had been assessing four cases rolled into one: the 2013 fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, physical attacks on Egyptian fishermen in 2012, and on left-wing activists in 2013, and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organisation.

The 68 defendants included the 18 former legislators from the party that was founded in the 80s as a neo-Nazi organisation and rose to become Greece’s third-largest.

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the verdict “ends a traumatic cycle” in the country’s public life.

The three-member panel of judges also delivered a guilty verdict against Giorgos Roupakias for the murder of Mr Fyssas. prompting applause in the courtroom and among the crowd.

Roupakios had been accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wound to Mr Fyssas. Another 15 defendants – none of them former legislators – were convicted as accomplices.

Outside the courthouse, Mr Fyssas’s mother, Magda, who had attended every session over five years, raised her arms and shouted: “Pavlos did it. My son!” All five people accused of attempted murder against the fishermen were also found guilty, while the four accused of attempted murder in athe attacks against left-wing activists were found guilty of the lesser charge of causing bodily harm.

“Today marks a huge victory for justice and respect for Greece and the entire world,” said Eva Cosse of Human Rights Watch. “It sends a strong message that hate crimes are not and should not, be tolerated in a democratic society.”

There was never any real doubt that the Golden Dawn were a neo-Nazi organisation, although they denied it. They took as their symbol the angular design used in ancient Greek friezes which resembles a series of interlinked swastikas. Whenever they were asked about it and its similarity to the Nazi symbol, they claimed instead, quite rightly but disingenuously, that it was an ancient Greek design. They also celebrated the ancient Spartans. They were the ruling Herrenvolk of the Greek city state of Sparta, a society geared to war. Babies were examined after their birth to make sure that they had no physical defects or malformities. Those who failed the test were brutally disposed of by being thrown into a nearby cavern. Archaeologists have chillingly discovered the bones of a large number of infants, presumably the victims of this cruel custom. Beneath the Spartans themselves were the Helots, the state slave class, the descendants of the city’s original inhabitants whom the Spartans had conquered and enslaved. One day each year normal laws were suspended to allow the Spartans to treat the Helots however they liked, up to and including murder. In its militarism, enslavement, eugenics and racism it very much resembles the Nazis and their horrific Third Reich.

One of the internet news organisations a few years ago made a documentary about the Golden Dawn. They interviewed the Egyptian fishermen and other extra-European immigrants, who’d been attacked by them. I don’t doubt that the austerity imposed on Greece by the EU contributed to the organisation’s rise. We were taught at in Geography at school, when we studied the Third World as part of the ‘A’ Level course, that extreme poverty leads to political extremism and racial and ethnic conflict as different groups fight over resources. Apart from attacking immigrants themselves, the Golden Dawn also attacked and tore down their stalls in the local markets. They also gave out food parcels, but only to ethnic Greeks. It’s excellent that the organisation and the murderous thugs running it have been successfully prosecuted.

Zelo Street put up a very good piece about the Golden Dawn’s conviction, pointing out that it poses something of an embarrassment for the Spectator, its editor, Fraser Nelson, and board chairman Andrew Neil. Because the magazine, itself heading rapidly towards the far right, published a piece by Greek playboy and jailbird, Taki, praising the Nazis. Way back in 2013 Takis had written in his column that

Golden Dawn came into being because of PC, poor Greeks at times getting fewer benefits than African illegal immigrants. Then GD became very popular with certain poor Greeks while it defended them from being mugged by Albanian criminals and drug dealers, and for safeguarding older folk after bank withdrawals”.

He also claimed that they weren’t Nazis, but just good, patriotic Greek boys who were just rough. No, I think it’s quite clear they really were Nazis. And murder and violent assault goes far beyond being a little rough.

When people complained about Taki’s article, Nelson responded by saying

Our readers like diversity and well-written pieces that they disagree with. We have no party line”. This prompted Sunny Hundal to ask if they had any limits at all. Could they write pieces praising Hitler? Well, they haven’t so far, but Taki did write another piece stating that the real heroes of D-Day were the German soldiers, who fought to the death against overwhelming numbers. This is particularly remarkable considering the brutality and atrocities committed by the Italian Fascists and the Nazis during their occupation of Greece. Nelson defended this piece by arguing that “People like reading well-argued pieces with which they might disagree”. Well, you wonder. You wonder if the problem is that actually, at least part of the Speccie’s readership do agree.

The Street wondered how Nelson can defend publishing such stuff praising the Golden Dawn and excusing their violence, while claiming any complaints about it simply came from the PC brigade and invoking free speech. The Street concluded

‘After the verdicts were handed down in Athens today, Fraser Nelson should have stopped and thought. And then he should have resigned his post. But he won’t.

Because that would require principle. And he hasn’t got any. I’ll just leave that one there.’

Well, yes. It should at least have given Nelson pause. But it won’t stop him. He’s been publishing Taki for years, despite frequent complaints about his anti-Semitism. And doubtless Nelson will continue printing pieces by him. The Spectator’s a Tory magazines, and the publication of such pieces by Taki suggests that many of the rag’s readers have the same attitude towards Blacks, Muslims and Jews as those the blogger Jacobsmates found on internet sites for supporters of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson.

But remember, there’s supposed to be no problem with racism and anti-Semitism in the Tory party, who deal with it promptly, unlike Labour.