The Burning Times:
Who were the
Perpetrators and their Victims?
Is it Still Happening Today?
The period popularly known by Pagans of all persuasions as "The Burning Times", is the period in history which began roughly in the thirteenth century, and reached its height in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During this time, the established Church committed terrible atrocities against those who were suspected of Witchcraft. The murder of anyone is bad enough but when such things are done in the name of God, that act becomes particularly grievous and disturbing. Jesus Himself prophetically saw such a day when He said: "...a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." (John 16:2).
Who were the Perpetrators?
It should be said at the outset of this article that true Christians utterly condemn the murder of anybody, be they Witches, Pagans, or anybody of any religious belief or non-at all. Those who claim to be Christian and kill others are simply not Christian, despite them labelling themselves as such. Indeed, the Bible even warns us that false Christians will come and attempt to bring shame upon the message of the Gospel of Jesus (e.g. 2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:13, 26; Galatians 2:4; 1 John 3:15, etc.). True Christianity does not seek to harm its neighbour, but rather seeks to obey the commandment of Christ which states: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:31). True Christians have had a life changing experience with Jesus Christ and would certainly seek to distance themselves from all violence, hate, and persecution of others. With that said, it must also be emphasized that this does not mean that Christians agree with the beliefs of Witches and Pagans, but this in no way means that they hate them. Unfortunately, many Witches perceive any critique or objections to their beliefs by Christians as a "Witch hunt" and an act of intolerance. This is not the case. Loving one's neighbour also means loving them enough to tell them that they are wrong. Sometimes this is very hard to do as many will not accept it and misunderstand the messenger as a persecutor.
Who were the Victims?
There are a number of issues that many Witches may have been unaware of regarding the Burning Times. This period of history is often presented as a time when Witches were persecuted by Christians. As was mentioned above, those who were engaged in this practice were not Christians. The established Church had been infiltrated by corrupt ungodly men who used the Christian label as a cover for violence and to serve their own depraved appetite. This, of course, still happens today in some parts of the world. But what is even more startling is the fact that it was not only those whom they labelled as "Witches" who were put to death. Another group also suffered. Who were they? True Christian believers! While the established, visible, Church became secularised, apostate, and ungodly, true believers separated themselves, but then found themselves being savagely persecuted in the process. That other Christians were also persecuted, along with many other groups, by the Church is acknowledged by authorities in the Pagan communities:
"All the religious and magical practices on which the Catholic Church did not bestow its blessings - other Christian sects, Paganism, and magic, - were now lumped together. Whatever their aims and virtues, they were declared to be Devil worship...Despite fierce attempts to persecute those Christians whose views did not accord with Catholicism, the heretical sects which later transmuted into the Protestant movement flourished and grew strong." (Vivianne Crowley, Wicca, (Revised and updated ed.), pp. 19-20, emphasis added).
Judy Harrow admits that...
"most of those who were persecuted and cruelly murdered were Christians, many were unpopular or even weird. Some may have kept some of the customs of folk magic." (Judy Harrow, quoted in Wiccan Wisdom Keepers, p. 98, emphasis added).
Amongst the Christian groups who were burned at the stake and killed in numerous other ways were such communities as the Waldensians, the Lollards, early English Baptists, etc. Well known Christian leaders, and individuals, such as William Tyndale was strangled and burnt at the stake in 1536. His "crime"? - Translating the Bible into English! Other prominent reformers who were burnt at the stake, by an ungodly and evil organisation masquerading as "God's Church", were such people as: Thomas Cranmer, John Rogers, Roland Taylor, John Hooper, Robert Ferrar, John Bradford, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, John Philpot, etc. (the list could go on and on). Even those who died a natural death, such as Martin Bucer, and Bible translator John Wyclif, had their graves exhumed and their remains treated with contempt.
Another issue that many modern day Witches may be unaware of is that those who were labelled "Witches" during the Burning Times, were most probably not Witches in the modern sense of the word (certainly not Wiccans who originated with Gerald Gardner in the 1950`s). At the most, it can be said that those who held to anything that could be considered even remotely like that of Witchcraft, were those into "folk magic". Judy Harrow admits that those who were slaughtered during the Burning Times...
"...did not practice the same religion we practice today..." (Judy Harrow, quoted in Wiccan Wisdom Keepers, p. 99).
Of course, it is entirely possible that hereditary Witches passed their craft down from that time until modern day, but this is difficult to prove. Phyllis Curott has observed that:
"This statement flies in the face of the myth of our origin that many have subscribed to for a long time. There have been some thorough and carefully researched work published recently that challenges the belief that modern Witchcraft is a historically unbroken, organized, hereditary tradition that can be consistently traced back to a golden era of matriarchy and worship of a single Great Goddess. However, there have always been individuals who claim they were initiated in traditions which remain hidden behind veils of secrecy - and there may indeed be hereditary traditions waiting for a safer time to emerge. The fact is that the origins of much of our current practice can be traced back to the creative genius of Gerald Gardner who surfaced publicly in England in the late 1940's and early 1950's" (Phyllis Curott, Witch Crafting, pp. 5-6).
Is there a Modern Burning Times?
Many Wiccans, Witches, and Pagans, state that the Burning Times are still here, and point to instances of prejudice, intolerance, and even violence, against Pagans. Of course, such action against Pagans is certainly unacceptable. However, many Pagans will often extend the term "Burning Times" to anyone who would raise objections, or questions about their beliefs. I do not feel that this is fair and think that everyone should have the freedom to disagree in areas of belief, but to do so in a fair and respectful manner. If any group of people are allowed to go unchecked then unacceptable behaviour and practices would be the order of the day in each and every situation and chaos would result. Indeed, even Pagans themselves will acknowledge that there are even unscrupulous Pagan groups that need to be challenged. For example:
"Not every group that claims to be Wiccan is competent or ethical. Some groups may be sexually exploitative or use drugs or wine irresponsibly. Some have authoritarian leaders who can fully live up to the popular image of a "cult" in terms of mind control and exploitative labor. Some practice baneful or coercive magic, bringing the inevitable psychological and karmic rebounds to participants. There are lots of ways for covens to be rotten, and slipshod practitioners are also less cautious about working with kids. Your young friend may fall prey to them." (Chas S. Clifton (ed.), Modern Rites of Passage: Witchcraft Today, Book Two, 1994, p. 95).
Many Pagans may have had first hand bad experiences with churches, or professing Christians. This is, of course, very unfortunate. However, it may be worth mentioning a few points regarding this. Firstly, it may be that the Church that they have had a bad experience with is not operating in the humility of Christ and is just as "cultic", as the above mentioned groups in the last quotation (please note: The writer of this article does understand that most Witchcraft groups and covens are not cults. Follow this link for definitions on the meaning of the word "Cult"). Unfortunately, some Churches sadly fall into this category, but it must be stressed that such one's are not operating in the true Spirit of Christian discipleship. Thankfully, most Churches do not fall into this category. Many Pagans and Wiccans tend to look at the sins of the Church and use this as justification to turn away from following Jesus Christ. On account of this many have, sadly, missed Jesus altogether. However, the Bible never tells us to fix our eyes on what the Church is, or is not, doing but rather to `fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith' (Hebrews 12:2). Secondly, it should be noted that not everyone who attends a Church is a true Christian. There are many, who for various and varied reasons, attend Church of a Sunday, and may call themselves "Christian", but are not actually Christians. It is easy to focus on such individuals when their life does not conform with Christian principles and then tar everyone with the same brush. Thirdly, it must be confessed that even true Christians are by no means perfect. Christians still have a sin nature which, sadly, causes them to fail at times - we are all human.
The Burning Times were therefore a sad reality of history. However, it was not true Christians that persecuted those accused of Witchcraft, as they were persecuted themselves, by an evil and apostate Church masquerading under the banner of Christianity. Even those who fitted the more expected idea of what a Witch was, were often not real Witches, certainly not in the modern sense of the word. Are the Burning Times still here? Wherever people use religion as a mask for violence and evil you will also find those who fall victim to the Burning Times.
For more interesting articles on the above subject see:
Falsehoods of the Burning Times, By Arthur Hinds.
This article is written by a Pagan. It challenges the claim of the numbers of Witches who were killed during the Burning Times.
The Burning Times: The extermination of Witches and other Heretics.
This article is written by an organisation that is neutral/supportive of Witches.
| Home Page | Religious Groups | The New Age Movement | The Occult, Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism, etc. | Apologetics | Theology | Spiritual Abuse | Ethics & Issues | Links to Other Sites |