Two Stories About Evil: Christianity and the Creation of Witches

  • Graham Solomon
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 65)


Evil is something personal: it happens to me. That you suffer evil is something I can only know by analogical inference or by empathy. But we all know what evil is. It is not a philosopher’s abstraction, it is real, it isfelt. Feeling is of importance here: only creatures capable of experiencing pain can suffer evil. I do not here refer to painful pinpricks, the disappointment of unrecognized achievements, or the sorrows of a lost love. What I have in mind is an evil presence, an immediacy of pain so sharply defined as to be seemingly inexplicable. In Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov Ivan says to Alyosha:

Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle ofinvading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains.2


Analogical Inference Guardian Angel Innocent Civilian Witch Trial Witch Hunter 
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  1. 2.
    Translated by Constance Gamett (New York: Vintage, 1995), p.238Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    I realize that present winds of doctrine dictate the use of ‘Her’ in this context. But both of the stories I am reviewing are stories about a male God — Christianity has always been a patriarchal story, in whatever version it is told — as we all know. Personally, I have no stake in God’s gender. The hermaphroditic Monas of the hermeticists has as much appeal as most.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    It is said that in the 16th Century the average male urbanite received as new information, over a lifetime, about what is contained in a single daily edition of The New York Times. It is important to remind ourselves of the fact that in the period we are concerned with, reliable information was about as scarce as good plumbing.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    There was never a witch craze period in Jewish history. Torture was a common feature of trials of witches in the 16th and 17th centuries, but judicial torture to obtain confession is unknown in Jewish legal procedures. Furthermore, in cases involving the possibility of capital punishment, Jewish law disallowed the confession of guilt on the part of the accused. Such confession was of course often the only evidence in witch trials.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    The infamous Malleus Maleficarum of Kramer and Sprenger is a good example of a failed attempt to harmonize the theological and the personification stories.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Johann Weyer, physician to the Duke of Cleves and critic of the witch hunts, estimated the number to be 7,409,127 commanded by 79 princes of darkness. A formula much in favor: multiply the Great Pythagorean Number (the Decad) by 6--1234321 x 6= 7,405,926. 6 because the number of the Beast of the Apocalypse is 666 (Revelation). Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    It is of passing interest that this estimate is thought to be based on the composition of a Roman military legion Actually, a Roman infantry legion consisted of 10 cohorts, each with 300 to 600 men. Demonological arithmetic is quite fascinating!Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Solomon
    • 1
  1. 1.Wilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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