To what extent does the Classical Tradition agree with the Scriptural Tradition on the powers witches can wield? The two biggest differences we have from the Classical witch and the Christian Ideal featured in their sacred texts, is definitely the connotation that either receives and, the powers they may or may not have. In the first, witches aren’t seen in a negative light; just as they are in the later doctrine (the word Witch was created by the Christian Faith later on.
Before, they were known as oracles, and in some cases, as humans gifted by pagan deities, or the deities themselves (the case with some of the Greek Goddesses and nymphs, like Hera, Aphrodite and such). Much like the Pagan Gods who were later marked with the Satanic brand, these women, who wielded said unnatural powers that could rival those of the new God (probably more of an incentive to consolidate his power, but this is merely a conjecture. ) were cast out as the Devil’s work. Some of the people who received the brand of practicing witchcraft were necromancers, astrologers, enchanters, charmers, oracle and several others.
With the new power that this religion had in the 15th century, it’s very clear how it would have been easy for them to create this image and cast these people and their beliefs out of the realm of what was considered acceptable. During this time the Inquisition was being carried out, so it was of utmost importance to reveal witches for what they were. The motive? In earlier days, perhaps to assure that no sort of Syncretism was ever utilized with Jesus and Apollo, God and Zeus, or to mix any kind of Pagan God with the Christian Faith.
When we examine the Classical texts and the Bible, any issue would suffice, it become obvious how these two religions were and still are pretty opposite. The way the Gods are 2 depicted, the rituals they perform, even the clothing and customs they adopt to idolize their Gods is very different. Greek and Roman Mythology clearly have a tendency towards those carnal desires, and all others pleasures that are earthbound, while the latter sought to have a more divine connection, on a higher spiritual aspect, leaving the body with all its desires, sins and such tucked in a corner, forgotten (in theory).
These Gods meddled in the lives of humans and demonstrated the kind of emotions that Christians considered to be one the worst things about being human (i. e. being covetous, incestuous, lascivious, vengeful, choleric and many more). During the time of the Inquisition, the term witchcraft gained a new meaning. It didn’t only limit itself to prescribing certain acts of earlier pagan religions as not virtuous, but to be an act of Devil worship. An example of the kinds of negative consequences that would result of consulting witchcraft is the story of King Saul and the Witch of Endor in the book of Samuel 1.
He is the first king, appointed by the prophet Samuel. He has a couple of shining moments when he defeats the Ammonites. He commits his first big mistake not soon after, he spares the Amalekites who are sworn enemies of the Jewish people, as per dictated by God. After he spared the Amalekites, he is tormented by the Lord’s unresponsiveness to his pleas. He is full of doubts, concerning his upcoming battle with the Philistines and their leader, David. When his doubts are not appeased via prophet, a dream and such, he decides to go to this woman, who is also called “familiar with spirits”.
This perhaps is a direct reference to her type of craft, which are psychic abilities. This goes well against his supposed beliefs, as well as those of the people of his kingdom. Once there, she is surprised by his presence. After convincing her, she summons the spirit of Samuel, who delivers grim news about his upcoming battle. He also reprimands him for his actions, and dictates that for this, he and his kingdom have fallen from the grace of God. Saul 3 faints.
The Witch offers him and his court food, which he accepts. The next day, the battle unravels and the prophecy turns out to be true. The idea that relying on witch craft will only bring destruction is prevalent in this text. Now, what powers she may or may not have is up to interpretation. During the time of witch craze in the 15th Century, this text took on a deeper connotation, other than witches are bad news. Her powers, and whether these were the same as the witches from the Classical Age is a big debate. Here, her powers were discredited as being lies, and snares of Satan.
The moment, in which she “resurrects” Samuel, she only wakes his spirit, when the Christian Doctrine clearly states that a resurrection is of body and spirit. Another detail to consider is the fact that the Witch is the only one who can see Samuel’s spirit. This clearly can be made up, seeing how she describes him appearing in a cloak, for example, when kings and such were buried wearing a shroud over their bodies. Saul, perhaps in his confused and desperate state, is convinced of the Witch’s power, and that is where he makes his biggest mistake.
The implication is that the prophecy doesn’t come true because that is what she had perceived; it comes true because of Saul actions. He believed it, so it created a type of placebo effect that caused him to bring about his own downfall. One takes a step back and thinks of what are the implications of what he did, going and consulting a witch; and not only did he meet with her, he dined her food and rested there. This alone would have been a blow to his army, and caused to kind of concede David the victory.
After having spared the Amalekites, a people that stood for paganism and all the other things that they considered to be evil, this had to be the final straw. Saul and his sons die on the battlefield not soon after; so David assumes the throne. Through this text, it’s clear that the power of witches is not real, that they are based on lies and illusions, all work of Satan and his ministers. In stark contrast, Ovid’s Metamorphosis talks 4 vividly of these Classical witches, and their powers. Circe, Sybil and especially Medea, are a few of the examples of women who use magical powers to obtain what they desire.
One of the women who used this the most was Medea, granddaughter of the sun god, Helios. In several of the chapters in the Metamorphosis, she calls upon him, using powers such as invisibility and a dragon drawn chariot. She also uses different potions to turn men and women into animals. Here, their powers are something real, concrete and more importantly, not a pact with the Devil, but a reflection of their relationships with the Gods. Besides possessing these potions, they also utilized wands and charms, like a type of catalyst to use their powers.
The biggest difference is obviously how the use of the powers was perceived. One believed it was the power of the God reflected in humans and the latter believed that it’s the entire opposite. Perhaps marking them as lies and a species of a farce would aid in deterring the typical god-fearing human from using them, like scaring them into submission. And from what history shows us, it was incredibly effective, since we don’t see Pythias walking around and the President doesn’t go to visit an Oracle, to decide what his net military campaign should be.