The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


And so it came to pass that Constantine became Emperor. 

The next thing he does is issue an Edict of Tolerance. All religions within the Empire were now supposed to be safe from state persecution. But that was a fig leaf. All along Constantine angled to give Christians the edge. He thought it might be a good idea dangle the prospect of Christianity becoming the state religion for Rome. After all, if he could get these “Christians” to believe that Rome was scheduled to become God’s Kingdom on earth, he’d have himself a bunch of zealots willing to die for Rome. And the name, Roman Catholic was born.

One of the things that Constantine wanted was a Church that he could work with. He wanted Christian soldiers. So he needed a church behind him that could take care of making sure those soldiers toed the line. So a few years later (325 A.D.) with Constantine’s approval, a bunch of newly legitimized Christian bishops held a meeting in the town of Nicea in Asia Minor. At this conclave, they endorsed a church structure that they knew would please their patron. The clerics cooked up a church hierarchy that looked a whole lot like a military institution. There’d be the Commander-in-Chief, the Pope. Then there’d be a “general staff” of cardinals. The archbishops would be like commanding generals out in the field and they’d exercise their power through a web of senior officers (bishops). Priests were their junior officers, but officers nonetheless. And the masses, well they were the grunts.

Since they were thinking army, it followed that there had to be both rules (lots of them) and discipline. That required offenses to be defined and proclaimed. The doctrine of the Trinity was proclaimed the only true dogma. So now you’d have your heresy. And since the church would mirror a military organization, you’d have a proscription against debating dogma as handed down through the chain of command. Whatever the turd was, once the pope and cardinals sent it down through the plumbing the junior officers and grunts would just have to eat it or taste fire. You’d have blasphemy and sins.

The Roman ruling class was a very male-dominant, military-cultish bunch. Whether they were military or religious, most Roman men don’t see much benefit in having women around with power over them. And so the Nicean bishops took the opportunity to declare war against women. They made it illegal for priests to have sexual relations with women out of marriage. They erected a whole bunch of barriers to priests getting married. The decreed that women couldn’t be priests. Only men could dispense the sacraments. They worked overtime to cut women out of any possible civil exchange where a female might give an order to a male. And they promoted this ethic to the grunts as gospel. And from that time forward Christianity adopted misogyny as integral to its dogma.

By the time Constantine passed away, Rome still wasn’t quite ready for the Full Monty when came to Christianity. There were just too many adherents of the old paganism. In some places like the Celtic lands, women had been healers, magistrates and soldiers since time immemorial. Eradicating these inter-gender customs and relationships that were offensive to the new Roman Christianity was going to take some time and dissembling. And so Constantine, consummate politician, never bothered to convert to Christianity (unless you believe convenient post facto accounts claiming that he, like the Bronx racketeer Dutch Schultz, accepted Jesus in a deathbed baptism.)

But even if he did undergo the deathbed conversion number, it is pretty clear that the Jesus Constantine would have “accepted” was not the turn-your-other-cheek guy. He wasn’t the same dude who drove money-lenders out of the temple. Constantine’s Jesus never would have cooked up an argument about rich men finding it more difficult to get into heaven than a camel passing through the eye of needle. No, Constantine wasn’t a tree-hugger Christian. He was a warrior-emperor who needed an army that would fight and he turned to the only people willing to fight and die for a cause. He cynically welded their cause to his, gave swords to the “Christian” adherents of the “Prince of Peace” and set them on their way to world-ruling. 

The Edict of Tolerance was supposed to apply to all religions, but it turned out that Christians, who most benefited from it, given that previously they were the plat du jour for the Imperial lions, quickly dumped the toleration ruse the moment they got the upper hand. (Much in the way Hitler dumped democratic elections once he got control of the government.) In 380 A.D., they got themselves a fairly unbalanced emperor, Theodosius.

And when the Pope asked, “Hey Empy, you wanna do me a favor? You wanna declare Roman Catholicism the state religion? I do you a favor. I say ‘render unto Ceasar’ all of the time, and before you know it Empy, you got yourself a bunch of fightin’ fools on your side.”

Theodosius responds, “Yeah, sure.”

They have a deal. Between 381and 391, Theodosius lets the dogs out. He passes decrees against pagan sacrifices. It becomes a capital offense for pagan priests to do their thing. He dismantles pagan congregations and destroys pagan temples. He confiscates pagan valuables. He cancels pagan holidays, prohibits pagan worship even in the privacy of one’s own home and institutes new decrees declaring pagan practices to be a form of witchcraft punishable by death.  

Now the good a peaceful Christians squander what Roman military resources remain to crush pagan worship, to watch their backs as they provoke and attack Jews and to enforce their decrees of heresy against dissenting Christian.  Not coincidentally, in the two decades that follow travel becomes less safe in the western half of the empire. Barbarian brigands flourish. Roman property in the provinces gets plucked like ripe fruit. Vaunted Roman law is ignored. Roman infrastructure, its roads, bridges and aqueducts start wearing out and not being replaced. Rome’s leaders —increasingly ineffectual, vapid, slothful, and venal —fight among themselves for power that grows weaker and more worthless year by year. No one dares speak out against the Roman Christianity without fear of persecution by the military power of the state.  (Is all this sounding eerily familiar?)

It’s now 410 A.D. There’s this Visigoth barbarian guy named Alaric, who notices all of these things. He’s a Christian, but not a Roman Catholic. He’s pretty pissed off and he’s got a slew of pissed off men with him. It seems that Emperor Honorius, one of Theodosius’s sons, had a panic attack and thought that some of his own legions were out to get him. Maybe he was right. We’ll never know because he managed to actually bump off 30,000 of his own army. But the rub is that these 30,000 dead soldiers had a lot of relatives and friends in other Roman legions. That, and the fact that soldiers don’t particularly like getting stabbed in the back by their own people, meant Honorius had a big problem. They come together under Alaric and are soon bearing down on Rome like a herd of Hannibal’s pachyderms, in full gallop.

Honorius, who it turns out enjoys playing with roosters (really) finally looks up, smells the elephant feces and pulls his last troops, bureaucrats and clerks out of Britannia. “Look to your own defenses,” he tells the Brits as his legions wave goodbye to the startled Britanno-Romans taking a lot of ships and military supplies with them. Four centuries of fucking with the local tribes are over. Adios.

So, a lot of underhanded things already had come to pass by the time Glenys begins reading that Draconian edict of the Vortigern — nailed to the portal of the decaying pagan Temple dedicated to Sulis Minerva —that deprived women human rights and a right to a livelihood much in the manner that Jews were similarly de-humanized under the Third Reich. And when Glenys, a woman in what now has been decreed a man’s profession, is made the scapegoat for a stillbirth, it is clear that she is going to be persecuted. There has been a tragedy. There must be a wrongdoer and it sure isn’t going to be the husband. In such cases, it is helpful to have a sacrifice— to make an example.  The priest will condemn Glenys as a witch, a sorceress.  He will assure the people that “God wants such people to be stoned to death.” And the fearful masses will light their torches, brandish their pitchforks and get set up for a good old fashion stone-the-witch festivity.  

Throughout the ragged empire, Glenys, and women like her will soon be on the run, underground, harassed, stoned, burned, cast out into the cold, shunned.
And their victimization will not cease for more than a millennium. Millions of women will be put to the fire, or stoned. It is the dawn of the Dark Ages.

1 comment:

  1. Great summary. I still have fears of being persecuted.