The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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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.


  1. Fascinating, Barry. I tend to agree with you, although I will pose a question: how long do you think Christianity would have survived without the institution of the church? There is still the debate that Catholics are not Christian, and yet, without them, it's very possible, even highly likely, Christianity would have become an extinct religion, or perhaps a less prevalent one.

  2. Great question "New." I don't think the Catholic Church would have become extinct. It probably would have had to compete though with Arians, Donatists, Chaldeans, Greek Orthodox and many other small sects, much like they had to do a thousand years later with Protestant sects. Their advantage was that western Europe, as opposed to the east, was basically pagan and without a foundation in monotheism, not to mention theology, until conquered by Rome. It was the state that brought the new religion to the conquered people. Without Roman military power at the service of this hierarchical (and thus politically comfortable) church, it would have been unable to successfully fend off and eradicate the myriad of "heresies" that sprung up over the next thousand years. The Church would have been different but, in my opinion, Christianity would have survived due to the zeal of its faithful.