The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Flight of the Sorceress, Q&A, Part 5 - Hypatia's murderer and the Alexandria pogrom of 415 A.D.

Q.        Your account of the murder of Hypatia lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria. Where does that come from?

A.        It is not my account. It is an accurate historical account that is confirmed by various sources, not the least of which is Bishop John of Nikiu. Bishop John was a Roman Catholic historian (a Coptic Egyptian cleric) who lived in the late Seventh and early Eight Centuries and wrote a work called the Chronicles. In it, he recounts, with obvious glee, Hypatia’s murder and gloats that Cyril rid Alexandria of idolaters. By the way, his Chronicle addresses the Muslim conquest of Alexandria. If it were Muslims who destroyed the library, you can bet it would have been mentioned in the Chronicles, but it does not.  Bishop John was the Glenn Beck of his day. He wouldn’t have spared the Muslim conquerors such bad publicity if they had destroyed anything as significant as a great library. Just reading John’s Chronicles, you get a sense that the Muslim conquest must have been a welcome relief from the dour religious repression of the Church. At that time, they were so much more tolerant of other religions and ideas, you can’t help rooting for them.
Q.        Your book includes a subplot involving the Jews of Alexandria. Why did you feel that this topic should be included in the story?

A.        At the time of the story, Jews made up approximately one-quarter of the population of Alexandria. They were an integral part of the political and cultural fabric of the city. And the Roman Catholic Church was quite concerned about their influence on society, particularly arts and letters. It was here in Alexandria that the Church’s vilification first took on proportions that led to one of the earliest pogroms against the Jews —certainly the largest after the diaspora. It happened close in time to the murder of Hypatia and the persecution of the Nestorian Christian sect. I fudged the chronology a bit because the pogrom in fact preceded the murder but I didn’t find that author’s license to be historically significant. The fact was that the Roman Catholic Church, by this time, was using the Roman army to consolidate its power, demanding that its version of Christianity was the only permissible theology. Anyone, whether Christian, pagan or Jew, who dissented was marked for destruction. I think the book faithfully recounts the equal opportunity repression of differing points of view and its ultimate consequences to civilization and human progress.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Of Witches, Wizards and Sorcerers, Flight of the Sorceress Q&A, Part 4

Q.        At the beginning of The Flight of the Sorceress you have several quotes from the Bible admonishing people to not tolerate sorcery, wizardry and witchcraft. What is that all about?

A.        I find it interesting from the point of view of our current debate concerning Biblical literalism; the belief that the Bible is the literal word of God. If you believe in literalism, you’ve got to believe that we live in a world populated by sorcerers, wizards and witches. And you’ve got to believe that God wants you to burn them or stone them to death. That’s where literalism takes you. It’s not just some antiquated belief system. At the end of the road, it promises a holocaust. Do you know what the etymology of wizard is? It originally meant “wise one,” someone with an education.

Q.        What inspired you to make your heroine a sorceress?

A.        A sorceress or sorcerer was someone who was essentially a chemist —someone who could make potions. For millennia, women especially Celtic women were versed in concocting herbal remedies. One of their professions was to be a healer. (Among the other important, but not exclusively female professions, was as magistrates. They were also known to be fierce warriors.) They knew how to make poultices, to mix medicinal remedies. To the ignorant, this was some sort of magic. And the Church used the fear that is the handmaiden of ignorance to maintain power. I’ve read estimates that during the Middle Ages millions of women and men, but primarily women, were murdered as witches and sorceresses. We have no idea what the numbers were in the Dark Ages but they had to be staggering. Obviously vast numbers of women, particularly the unmarried ones, widows, those deemed expendable, were driven out of society and into the wilderness. We have only to look closely at the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales to see the distorted image of women living in the woods supposedly mixing devilish brews to kill children to see the power of the church-borne mythology that resulted in a gender-based genocide. It’s the same kind of propaganda that they used against the Jews, the blood libel. You want to rile up the ignorant, accuse your victim of murdering children, particularly for satanic reasons. I couldn’t think of a better heroine for a novel in this period than a woman accused of sorcery, and that turned into Glenys of the Silures.

Q.        You seem to have a very cynical view of Christianity. Why is that?

A.        I’m sure some people who read the Flight of the Sorceress will think that. That’s because it’s easy to confuse Christianity with the institution of the Church. In the Flight of the Sorceress there are plenty of Christians who are also victims of the Church. When Constantine ordered his legions to paint crosses on their shields and adopted the slogan “In hoc signo vinces —By this sign conquer” he changed Christianity. It was no longer the teaching of Christ that counted, but the strength of its armies. Priests became the equivalent of commissars, or mullahs.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


“A read that will keep you turning the pages!”
“The Flight of the Sorceress is meticulously researched and beautifully portrayed….Willdorf’s prose brings the moment alive. The themes explored in this book, of prejudice and power, are deftly interwoven with the beliefs of the time. The conflict manages to educate and compel at the same time and you can’t help but feel for these women, who are so grossly over-matched but who still do not give up.
“This book is a rare look at a time and place not often seen in historical fiction and is a read that will keep you turning the pages!” Historical Novel Review, by Vanitha Sankaran, author of Watermark. Read the entire review at

“Locks you in for the ride”
“The Flight of the Sorceress locks you in for the ride and delivers a blend of historical fiction and fantasy. The Sorceress is an enlightened mind… her tenacity will impress you, but it is her will to flourish that will make you want more.” Ransom Stephens, author of The God Patent.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Flight of the Sorceress Q&A, Installment 3, What ever became of the library in Alexandria?

Q.        In The Flight of the Sorceress, you say the Roman Catholic Church, or a mob of its monks destroyed the library in Alexandria. Aren’t there other explanations that are equally as credible?

A.        There are basically five theories of how the library at Alexandria got destroyed. The first is that Julius Caesar did it accidentally while burning up the Egyptian navy. The second involves a claim that Roman Emperor Aurelion did it putting down a rebellion around 300 A.D. The third is that it was destroyed by a tsunami in 361 A.D.  The fourth is that it was done by Christians in either 391 A.D. or 410 A.D. The fifth is that it happened during the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 A. D.  The first dates of around 48 BCE and 300 A.D. are flawed because there is a mountain of evidence that the library existed after that. The Romans may have caused damage but the library carried on. The third date is equally suspect. The tsunami killed a lot of people who wandered out into the Mediterranean fascinated by how the sea retreated and were swept up in the ensuing flood. But we know that most of the city survived. The libraries (there were two large ones) were very sturdy buildings. Besides that, the city was full of scholars at the time, yet no record remains of either library being damaged, much less their total destruction.  We know that Hypatia’s father Theon was the librarian there during his lifetime and he lived long after the tsunami. History records that Hypatia was the last librarian of the library. And though she was a renowned scholar, none of her work survived her. How come? The Muslims are an unlikely perpetrator, given that at that time they were the creators of great libraries and we have them to thank for the preservation of much of what we know about classical knowledge. Beyond that, there is no claim by any of the early Catholic historians that the Muslims did it. I think that the absence of a historical record that might dispense with many of these theories points the finger squarely at the guys who wrote the surviving history at the time, and coincidentally they were the most likely culprit because they had a modus operandi for the destruction of pagan knowledge. They were the top book burners well into the Nineteen Century. Even after that, they had something called an Index of banned books. The Roman Catholic Church has a pretty blatant record of skewing history. (They played a lot with the ancient texts when they put together the Vulgate Bible.) On top of that, they had the big three: motive, means and opportunity. None of the other suspects come close.

Q.        Can you give us an example of what you mean by the record of the Roman Catholic Church skewing history?

A.        Sure. I have give example in the Flight of the Sorceress. In Augustine’s City of God, he claims that the Visigoth barbarians were in such awe of Christianity when the sacked Rome that they left the Christian churches alone, respected the sanctuaries. He ignores the fact that the Visigoths thought of themselves as Christians. They were of a sect called Arians who believed that Christ was human, because he suffered and died. They saw him as holy and a son of God, but not an immortal one, rather a corporeal manifestation of God. To Augustine, they were not Christians, but that they were some sort of heathen who suddenly found respect for God is simply not a valid explanation for why they honored sanctuaries. In the next breath, he claims that pagans were hypocrites for professing Christianity in order to avail themselves of the sanctuaries. It apparently never occurs to him that having some sort of religious test to save a life is even more un-Christian and hypocritical. Read the Chronicles of Bishop John of Nikiu to see what I mean about skewing history. 

And speaking of sanctuaries, it bears consideration that Christian monks had what is known as the "benefit of clergy" which means they were immune from prosecution by civil authorities. Being a monk was a safe haven for thugs and scoundrels, plus you got absolved of your sins just by saying "I'm sorry, God." It should be no wonder that they were employed to terrorize the population into converting to Christianity. And when you did convert, rather than get harassed or worse, you paid a tithe. As a protection racket, it makes the Mafia look minor league.