Skip to content

Witchcraft in literature and life (coffee klatsch)

7 July 2017

At our literary coffee klatsch this morning we discussed witchcraft in literature and life, but we didn’t nearly exhaust the subject, so we decided to to continue the discussion next time.

The reason for discussing it was that Duncan Reyburn had published a contribution in a book on witchcraft and demonology, but the book cost far more than most of us could afford, so we asked him to tell us a bit about it and his approach to the subject. I was also struck by the difference between his bibliography and mine in an article on witchcraft 20 years earlier. I dealt with all this in an earlier article, so I won’t repeat it here.

NeoInklings Literary Coffee Klatsch: Duncan Reyburn, David Levey, Janneke Weidema, Tony McGregor.
Cafe 41, Arcadia, Tshwane

Duncan’s contribution to the books was about how King James was a being really nasty when he wrote his book Daemonologie in 1597. He interprets it in the light the work of  René Girard (1923-2015) and especially Girard’s concept of mimetic desire.

If people imitate each other’s desires, they may wind up desiring the very same things; and if they desire the same things, they may easily become rivals, as they reach for the same objects. Girard usually distinguishes ‘imitation’ from ‘mimesis’. The former is usually understood as the positive aspect of reproducing someone else’s behavior, whereas the latter usually implies the negative aspect of rivalry. It should also be mentioned that because the former usually is understood to refer to mimicry, Girard proposes the latter term to refer to the deeper, instinctive response that humans have to each other.

Duncan said that just as King James believed that witches wanted him dead, so he wanted them dead, and vice versa. King James recommended the persecution of witches because he believed that witches were conspiring against him. King James also did not have any clear conception of demons. He believed that witches were inspired by Satan, and there was no hierarchy (or “lowerarchy”, as C.S. Lewis calls it) of evil. There was just Satan and the witches, with no demons in between.

Janneke said that this recalled the Calvinism of her youth, which flattened the hierarchy of the church, so that there were just elders and people. She said this was correlated with literacy — as more people learned to read, they became less reliant on a clerical class.

I recalled reading a book by John Buchan (an imperialist and member of Milner’s Kindergarten) called Witch Wood. I read it a long time ago, and have not seen a copy since, but as I recall it, the good Calvinists went to church by day and practised witchcraft by night, but saw no conflict, because they were among the elect, predestined to be saved, so nothing they did could affect that. I suspect that Buchan’s understanding of the matter was about as accurate as his picture of African Independent Churches in another novel, Prester John, which was, however, probably accurate in the picture it gives of the views of such churches by British civil servants in the conquered Transvaal Colony.

Janneke Weidema, Tony McGregor, Val Hayes, Steve Hayes, Duncan Reyburn — literary coffee klatsch, 6 July 2017

King James wrote his Daemonologie in 1597, at the height of the Great European Witchhunt. People whose minds are saturated with modernity like to refer to those witchhunts as “medieval”, but they were not, they were modern, and arose in the Early Modern period. It is interesting that in the current period, when much of Africa is in transition from premodernity to modernity, there has also been an increase in witchhunting.

Charles Williams, one of the original Inklings, wrote Witchcraft, a history of Christian responses to witchcraft, and noted how the attitude to witchcraft completely changed in the early modern period. Previously it was considered heretical for Christians to believe that witches could harm people, because it showed a lack of faith in Christ, who had conquered evil. In Early Modern Europe, however, it became heretical not to believe that witches could harm people. Earlier, people who made false accusations of witchcraft could be punished, but in Early Modern Europe failure to accuse could be interpreted as a sign of being a witch. Witchcraft came to be seen as a huge satanic conspiracy against church and state. As Charles Williams puts it:

The Salic law of Charlemagne decreed that anyone who was convicted of witch-cannibalism should be heavily fined, but also that anyone who was found guilty of bringing such an accusation falsely should be fined an amount equal to one third of the other… The secular governments of centuries earlier had been wiser; they had penalized the talk as much as the act. The new effort did not do so; it encouraged the talk against the act.

Christianity came into a world in which witchcraft was already known and feared as evil. For many pagans, the only proper penalty for witchcraft was death. Again, as Charles Williams put it:

Before Christendom began, magic, with its lower accompaniment of witchcraft, preoccupied the whole Roman Empire; we have forgotten the darkness out of which we came. It was as popular as it was perilous. It was certainly regarded by the authorities as a public danger, but, on the whole, action against it was taken only by private persons in lawsuits or by the government in suspicion of treason.

In much of premodern Africa, witches were regarded as incorrigible, and the only way of nullifying their power was to kill them. Nearly all evil, sickness, accidents and other misfortunes, were regarded as being caused by human malice — witchcraft. There were spiritual or religious specialists who could smell out who was responsible for a particular misfortune, and the English translated most of the words for these specialists as “witchdoctors” — doctors who could remedy the evils caused by witchcraft.

Christian missionaries from late modern Europe and North America could not cope with premodern notions of witchcraft, and so saw their mission as modernising Africans (they called it “civilising”) to show them that such notions were false and out of date. It was African independent church groups like the Zionists who recontextualised the Christian gospel back into premodern terms to show how it could deal with African problems rather than modern European ones.

We briefly discussed the way in which, in English usage, “witch” has come to be seen as mostly female, while the male equivalent are called “wizards”, as in the Harry Potter stories. Perhaps we can talk about that more next month. Some did a bit of Googling on cell phones, but I think the following is more helpful:

What really is a witch? One answer lies in the roots and development of words. ‘Witch’ derives from the Old English wicca (pronounced ‘witcha’ and meaning male witch) and wicce (‘female witch’, pronounced ‘witcheh’) and from the word wiccian, meaning ‘to cast a spell’. Contrary to common belief among modern witches, it is not Celtic in derivation, and it has nothing to do with the Old English witan, ‘to know’, or any other word relating to wisdom. The explanation that witchcraft means ‘craft of the wise’ is false…

‘Wizard’, unlike ‘witch’, really does derive from Middle English wis, ‘wise’. The word first appears about 1440, meaning a ‘wise man or woman’; in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it designated a high magician, and only after 1825 was it used as the equivalent of ‘witch’ (Russell 1980:12).

For others who were there, if you think I missed something important, or got something wrong, please clarify in the comments section.

Till next time…

A Review of “The Chapel of the Thorn” by Charles Williams | A Pilgrim in Narnia

5 July 2017

A review of The Chapel of the Thorn by Brenton Dickieson

An Unpublished Poem by Charles Williams. Charles Williams wrote The Chapel of the Thorn in 1912, though it was never published. Once thought lost, this Williams’ play has finally been brought to print by Inklings scholar Sørina Higgins.

I had the opportunity of seeing this mportant and neglected Charles Williams dramatic poem move from archival space to finished book.The original text is housed at the Wade Centre in Wheaton, IL.

By a chance encounter I was working beside Higgins as she began to open up this century-old text with the hope of publishing it Head tilted forward as if in prayer, left hand hovering over a magnifying glass, Higgins worked with Williams’ neat handwriting. It was a manuscript complicated with age, his own edits, and the comments of his beta reader, Fred Page. Thus began the two-year process of transcribing, formatting, checking, editing, introducing, and producing The Chapel of the Thorn.

Anyone who has attempted Williams’ later poetry knows that there are challenges ahead. Even his supernatural pot-boilers—relatively popular in the day—can be a little obscure at times. It is true that in both the novels and the poetry, Williams’ characters are clear and the narrative arc is discernable. He can paint scenes with vividness and heighten expectation even for the tentative reader. Still, the gap between reader and writer often remains.Charles Williams writing

The Chapel of the Thorn has none of that distance. For any reader who enjoys Shakespeare or Arthurian literature, Thorn is completely accessible. Written in formal iambic pentameter with even-handed archaisms, I was immediately drawn into the story of The Thorn. The setting is a coastal village in late Roman Britain. The village sits on the historical crossroads between paganism and Christianity. The land is officially Christian, but there is a power struggle still at play between king and Church.

The villagers attend the local Christian church, and the women are typically devout. The men, however, only pretend to Christian piety while they maintain their devotion to paganism, their love of the old druidic stories, and their practice of keeping sex slaves—mistresses who satisfy the male and are an economic trade unit in the village.As the title suggests, the tension focusses around the little village chapel. It is the home of a sacred object, a thorn from the make-shift crown that attended the crucified Christ’s brow (or perhaps it is the entire crown itself).

The village priest, Joachim, is the protector of the relic and seeks enjoyment of Christ in its contemplation. The villagers see it as a thing of power, but their main interest in the chapel is that it is the resting place of their ancient hero, who will one day rise again. Attendance to religious service, then, is a façade for some and mystical encounter for others. The tender balance of past and present, paganism and Christianity—held together by a silent truce of hypocrisy and doublespeak—is threatened when a nearby Abbot, a monk of tremendous secular and personal influence, comes to the village to remove the relic to a more accessible place of pilgrimage. While Abbot Innocent pretends to public interest alone, it is a power play at a far deeper level. This unusual triangle fuels both the poetry and the plot.

There are other storylines woven into this short play, and yet I never found that the stage was too crowded. The most slippery aspect of the play is the very thing that gives it enough interest to read a second time: what is the motivation of the characters? The Chapel of the Thorn begs at questions of authenticity and hypocrisy with well-drawn characters that pull us into their own storylines.

Sørina Higgins has done a great service in bringing this text from the hallowed halls of the archives to our nearest bookstore. But she has done more than this. Added to her own critical introduction are essays by Grevol Lindop and David Llewellyn Dodds—really the two other scholars to have produced work on The Chapel of the Thorn. These three engaging thinkers tell us the history of the text, but also assess the poetry itself and link Thorn to Williams’ other works. We see in Thorn, for example, the beginning of Williams’ interests in the hallows and Arthurian legend—interests that will be central themes in Williams’ popular novels and narrative poetry.The result of Higgins’ work as editor and producer is a book that re-begins a delayed conversation, continuing a journey that was aborted long ago. In this way she extends the work of an archive, giving us all the chance that I have had: to sit with the manuscript before us, head tilted forward as if in prayer, our pencil hand hovering over a notepad as we try to discern the many layers of this almost lost Charles Williams treasure.

Source: 2017 Mythopoeic Awards Finalists and A Review of “The Chapel of the Thorn” by Charles Williams | A Pilgrim in Narnia

There’s more to the original post than just the review of The Chapel of the Thorn, so I urge you to follow the link and read the rest of it as well.

Inside Prince Caspian

3 July 2017

Inside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to NarniaInside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to Narnia by Devin Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read Prince Caspian at least 5 times, and when I found this book in the Alkantrant library I wasn’t expecting much. Prince Caspian is a fairly straightforward children’s story based on a theme common to many fairy tales — an evil usurping king who suppresses the true heir to the throne, is eventually deposed and the rightful ruler is restored. How much can you say about that that isn’t said in the story itself?

But Devin Brown has quite a lot to say about it, and a lot of what he says is quite illuminating. It makes me want to read his earlier book, about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, if I can find a copy anywhere. At the time I first read it, in September 1965, I was struck by the parallels between the White Witch’s rule in Narnia, and the Vorster regime in South Africa (though Verwoerd was Prime Minister, Vorster was Minister of Justice, and was turning South Africa into a police state). The raid of Maugrim the wolf, head of the Witch’s secret police, on the home of Tumnus the faun had many parallels with the Security Police raids of those days, and the statues in the witch’s castle represented for us the banning and detention without trial of opponents of the National Party regime.

Those themes, while not absent from Prince Caspian, do not appear quite so strongly. What had always struck me most strongly about Prince Caspian was Lewis’s attitude towards pagan myths and deities. In Prince Caspian they are not the enemy, but are part of the army of liberation.

What Devin Brown brings out most strongly, however, is Lewis’s anti-racism, and the parallels between the policies of the usurper Miraz and the apartheid ideology. Miraz’s policy is based on Telmarine supremacy, with all others being banished to the woods (read “homelands”).

In another blog post, Mere Ideology: the Politicisation of C.S. Lewis, I noted attempts by American libertarians to coopt C.S. Lewis to support their political and economic ideology, based on that of Ayn Rand. But Devin Brown (2008:215) shows that Rand’s ideal of selfishness is the Philosophy of Hell:

While Caspian expresses regret for allowing Peter to fight on their behalf, exclaiming “Oh why did we let it happen at all?” Glozelle and Sopespian have purposely manipulated Miraz into accepting the challenge. The two lords, Miraz, and by extension the rest of the Telmarine army exemplify what Screwtape calls “the philosophy of Hell”. Screwtape explains that, according to this philosophy, “my good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. ‘To be’ is to be in competition.'”

That is capitalism (Rand’s “unknown ideal”) in a nutshell. Socialism, on the other hand, is based on the fundamental notion that cooperation is a better basis for economic life than competition.

Brown also draws parallels between the anti-colonialism of Prince Caspian and that of the Oyarsa of Malacandra’s comments to Weston in Out of the Silent Planet. The Telmarines are colonialists. They entered Narnia from outside, conquered it, and ruled it for their own benefit. The natives (Old Narnians) were marginalised and had no rights under Telmarine rule. After the War of Deliverance Aslan gives the Telmarines a choice: they can renounce their privilege and live with the same rights as other Narnians (echoes of the Freedom Charter: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”) or they can leave and go back where they came from.

Saying this may make it sound as though Prince Caspian is allegory, but it is not. As Carpenter (1978:30) wrote:

Lewis wrote to Tolkien on 7 December 1929, after reading Tolkien’s poem on Beren and Luthien, “The two things that come out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of a myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader.”

So Prince Caspian suggests incipient allegories to me that would not have occurred to C.S. Lewis or Devin Brown, and it was written before the Freedom Charter had been drawn up. It may have suggested other incipient allegories to Devin Brown, living in the USA. One that occurs to me is the parallel between Narnian schools under Miraz’s rule and Sheldon Jackson’s educational policies in Alaska.

But what Brown brings out most clearly is that the oppressive rule of the Telmarine supremacists brings uniformity but not unity, and that true community and freedom is found in the diversity and equality of the Old Narnians, whom Caspian joins, thereby becoming a race traitor in the eyes of the Telmarine supremacists. The themes that Brown brings out most strongly are Lewis’s emphasis on diversity and environmentalism before they became popular causes twenty years after he wrote.

Brown also notes many other literary allusions, to Shakespeare, Tolkien, and other authors.

There are a few minor flaws. At one point Brown notes a typo in his edition of Prince Caspian, where Trumpkin refers to something that happened three days earlier as happening “this morning”. Two pages further on he has typos of his own, where he refers to Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, and has Lewis writing about “microbes” when what Lewis actually wrote about was macrobes.

I would be interested in knowing whether Brown has written more about the later Narnia books. I re-read The voyage of the Dawn Treader after seeing the film, and blogged about it here. I’d be interested in seeing what he had to say about that.

One reason for reading this book is that I’m thinking of writing a sequel to my own children’s book Of Wheels and Witches, and I thought it would help me to get in the mood. It has done that, perhaps much more effectively than lots of the “how to” books and blog posts about writing for children, because it analyses what makes a successful children’s novel.

Shameless self-promotion: Of Wheels and Witches is available free during July 2017.

View all my reviews

The Enid Blyton story

28 June 2017

The Enid Blyton StoryThe Enid Blyton Story by Bob Mullan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why read a book about a children’s author whose only adult novel was rejected by publishers?

Others who have written children’s books have also written for adults, or their children’s books also appeal to adults. But Enid Blyton’s books only really appeal to children. Adults might read them as part of a research project to analyse their appeal, or to criticise their shortcomings. It is very rare for adults to read them purely for enjoyment.

I read some of Enid Blyton’s books as a child, and enjoyed them. I suppose, as this book points out, that they gave me a taste for reading. But as an adult one quickly becomes aware of their limitations.

book[The Enid Blyton Story[ is in part a biography of Enid Blyton, but it is rather annoying in that rerspect, as [author:Bob Mullan] tries to psychoanalyse her as he goes along, speculating about motives, conscious and unconscious, for her behaviour at various points.

It also gives an account of her works, with copious illustrations of the covers and internal illustrations of her books. There is little comment on these, but that might have been more interesting than the attempts to analyse Enid Blyton’s guilt feelings about members of her family. The styles of clothing worn by the children in the illustrations changes over the years, but there are no comments on this.

There are plenty of criticisms of her works as well, which are included in the book, but, as Bob Mullan points out, Enid Blyton did not write for critics, she wrote for children.

I was also quite surprised by the wide range of books she wrote. I never read any of her school stories, and was hardly aware of them. I’d seen some of the titles, and no doubt had seen Enid Blyton‘s name on the cover of some of them in bookshops, but it had never really sunk in that she was the author. I never read the Noddy books either, and the “Famous Five” didn’t appeal to me.

The first Enid Blyton book I read was The Secret of Kilimooin, which I borrowed from an older friend, and the first one I owned was The Mountain of Adventure. I went on to read several other books in those series, but none of them seemed as good as the first two. Perhaps, as the critics say, it is because Enid Blyton is limited in her range of plots. She does write to a formula, and in reviewing The Shack the most apposite description I could think of for its beginning was that it was Enid Blytonish.

So what makes a book “Enid Blytonish”? Perhaps it’s the kind of irrelevant detail of preparations for going on holiday, and the descriptions of food, which neither move the plot forward nor set the scene. Perhaps nowadays it would be called food porn. So if the plots are a bit thin and the dialogue is stilted, what is it about Enid Blyton’s books that appeals to children?

And I think Mullan concludes that the main appeal is story telling. Children aren’t great literary critics. It doesn’t matter so much how well or how badly the story is told, as long as it is told. It is adults who get hung up on style and vocabulary. I doubt whether any child, ever, spoke like Enid Blyton’s characters, but children tend to overlook that, unless, perhaps, very dated or outlandish slang is used.

And I think one can even learn something from Enid Blyton’s books. In The Mountain of Adventure she undoubtedly caricatures Welsh people, but from it I learned that there were Welsh people, and that there was a force of gravity that kept us on the earth. In The Secret of Kilimooin I learned that there were people of very different cultures in the world, and some of the difficulties of communication between them. So even Enid Blyton can widen children’s horizons.

View all my reviews

The death of liberalism in the West

16 June 2017

The news item was perhaps overlooked when the headlines were dominated by the Grenfell Tower fire and the shooting of a politician in the USA. But The Guardian told the story Tim Farron quits as Lib Dem leader | Politics | The Guardian:

Farron says ‘remaining faithful to Christ’ was incompatible with being party leader after repeated questions over his faith

He made a statement, which is worth reading in full, which shows just how anti-Christian the British media have become.

Farron resigns as Lib Dem leader:

From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.

At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith. I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.

Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit. The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.

There have been similar things in the USA, where Christian groups have been cold-shouldered from anti-war marches because they are anti-abortion, and from anti-abortion marches because they are anti-war.

Tim Farron goes on to say:

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.

There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.

Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.

In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

So it seems that there is no place for liberals in the Liberal-Democratic Party in the UK.

Tim Farron

The Wikipedia article on Tim Farron notes “Among political observers, Farron is widely seen as being of left-leaning political position. In a September 2016 interview, he identified the Liberal Democrats under his leadership as being centre-left.”

It seems that what the journalists questioned him on was not his political policies, but his religious beliefs. The Guardian article cited above noted that such things might be asked of someone of any religion, but I wonder if London’s Muslim mayor faced similar questions.

The anti-Christian attitude of the British media seems also to be reflected in recent statements by US  politician Bernie Sanders. I think that is rather sad, because I thought that Bernie Sanders would have made a better US president than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Is It Hateful To Believe In Hell? Bernie Sanders’ Questions Prompt Backlash : The Two-Way : NPR:

A low-profile confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week raised eyebrows when the questioning turned to theology — specifically, damnation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont pressed Russell Vought, nominated by President Trump to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, about his beliefs.

This is somewhat different from the Tim Farron case, because Russell Vought is no liberal, but if this report is to be believed, Bernie Sanders is no liberal either.

Bernie Sanders

It is difficult to know how accurate media reports are, but according to reports I’ve read, Vought supported his institution, Wheaton College, in its decision to sack another teacher for supporting Muslim civil rights. If Sanders had questioned Vought on that action, I’d have no quibble with it, but he didn’t, he chose to attack Vought’s theology and to misinterpret it, and it is doing that that he is similar to those in the UK who attacked Tim Farron for his theology.[1]

All this shows up the biggest flaw in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis. Huntington maintained that civilisations were based on religion, and that the religion of the West was Roman Catholic Christianity, but these events show that it is not: the established religion of the West is Secularism. I’ve said more about this in other articles, where I explain why I believe that Secularism is a religion, and why I think it has become established in the West: Christianophobia and Secularism in Europe, and Militant atheists, Christianists, and the idolatry of the West.

As a missiologist (student of Christian mission as a phenomenon) I’m well aware of the history of Western Christian missions to other parts of the world in the 19th century, which very often involved cultural imperialism, cultural clashes, and destruction of cultures. One result of missiology (mission studies) is that many Christians have become aware  of the errors of the past, and are much more sensitive about such things. Not so the 21st Century missionaries of Western Secularism, who go barging into other people’s cultures with the same crass insensitivity, and alienate people as a result.

In the history of England (and later Britain) conformity to the Established Church was enforced by laws which only really began to be relaxed in the 19th century. And now they are being reintroduced to enforce conformity to the new Established Church of Secularism.

Here’s a comment on Tim Farron’s stepping down from a Muslim liberal leader:

People of faith might think that their values can’t coincide with liberal values. But the truth is that liberalism is the most likely to uphold their right to practise any faith. As someone who defines themselves as both Muslim and liberal, I believe that our freedoms extend to anything as long as they don’t violate the freedoms of others.

As far as I’m concerned, for example, you can wear whatever you want: face veil, miniskirt, burkini, bikini. It really is your own choice. In fact, this shows in the Lib Dem manifesto, which was the only one of the main three to mention upholding the freedom to wear cultural and religious dress.

I’m a liberal, and once I was a Liberal, a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, which was forced by the South African government to disband in 1968 because it was non-racial. It was also non-denominational. It espoused a political programme and policies which people of different religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds could support and work for together, regardless of their reasons for supporting those policies.

My reasons for supporting those policies were theological. I was a liberal because I was a Christian, not in addition to being a Christian or in spite of being a Christian, for reasons I have explained here and here. And that is why the story of Tim Farron saddens me. That he felt he had to step down indicates that the Lib-Dems in the UK are both anti-Christian and anti-Liberal.


Orthodox Anthropology: human beings or human persons

12 June 2017

There seems to be a theological dispute among bishops which has me rather worried since I read about it in this article Human Beings or Human Persons? | Public Orthodoxy:

One of the liveliest exchanges at the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in June 2016 concerned which Greek words should be used in Council documents to refer to humans: anthrōpos (“human being”); or anthrōpino prosōpo (or simply prosōpon) (“human person”). The main protagonists in this debate were, in the anthrōpos corner, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), and in the prosōpon corner, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas), supported by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). While this episode may seem to be an intra-Greek linguistic spat, the theological stakes are very high.

For me, the main theological points are these:

For Vlachos, it is unacceptable to identify and name humans as persons, since this appears to put them on the same level as the divine Persons. So humans must be thought of simply as anthrōpoi (human beings); they do not, in Christos Yannaras’ terminology, have a personal “mode of existence” analogous to the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

The position of Metropolitan John Zizioulas and Metropoluitan Kallistos Ware, however, seems to be this:

…a refusal to attribute personhood to human existence downgrades humanity. This is not fidelity to patristic anthropology, but rather its betrayal. The Fathers sought to elevate humanity by stressing that humans are created in the divine image, with the potential for union with God (theosis), and not mere pawns subject to impersonal and implacable destiny or the gods. If the notion that all humans are persons is not acceptable, still less acceptable would be the idea that humans are individuals (atoma), since this gives rise to selfish individualism, contrary to commandment of love. If humans are neither persons nor individuals, they are mere anthrōpoi, interchangeable and expendable specimens of homo sapiens. This is a reductionist view of humanity: humans as solely anthrōpoi are not unique persons of infinite value, as they are considered in Orthodox anthropology and Orthodox personalism. This theology, contrary to the spirit of patristic anthropology, plays into the hands of contemporary secularists, for whom humans are nothing more than intelligent animals.

And it is their view that I find myself most in sympathy with, perhaps because one of my first teachers of Orthodox theology was Father John Zizioulas, before he was raised to the episcopate, back in 1968 at a seminar or Orthodox theology for non-Orthodox theological students.

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos and Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon

Now I find this all very confusing, not least because I read a book by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos called The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, and if this article is correct, I must have completely misinterpreted it, because I interpreted it in the light of what Christos Yannaras, in his book The Freedom of Morality, said about the human person.

I’m not a Greek language fundi, and part of the argument seems to be about the meaning of Greek words, which I also seem to have misunderstood. I took the Greek anthropos to mean the same as the Zulu umuntu, which means a human person. The English word for that is man, which has to do double duty, because it is also used to translate the Greek aner and the Zulu indoda, which mean an adult male human person. Some feminists and Western theologians would deprive us of the first meaning, saying that it is impermissible, which means that there is no English equivalent for anthropos or umuntu, and if I read this article correctly, there is no Greek equivalent for umuntu either, because anthropos means something less than umuntu..

Here follows a rather large chunk of my doctoral thesis on Orthodox Mission Method, in which I tried to explain Orthodox anthropology and Orthodox ecclesiology (in part for the benefit of my Reformed promoter). But, if I have read the article correctly, it will probably need substantial revision in the light of what these bishops are saying. Is it heretical, or based on mistaken linguistic premisses, or what?


Orthodox ecclesiology sees the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. In the West, “catholic” tends to be understood as meaning “general” or “universal”, whereas in Orthodox ecclesiology it is understood more as meaning “whole”. In Roman Catholic ecclesiology “the church” tends to be seen as monolithic, as a single body throughout the world bound in unity through the Pope of Rome. The local church is part of the whole, it may be described as a certain part of the single monolith, but is not at all separate from it.

In Congregational ecclesiology “the church” is essentially the local church, and the “catholic” church is the sum of all the local churches — the whole is the sum of the parts. These two images of the church, as a monolith or as a pile of pebbles, are not the only ones in Western Christendom. There is the “connexional” ecclesiology of the Methodists, the “presbyterian” ecclesiology of many Reformed churches, and the “episcopal” ecclesiology of the Anglicans. There is also a tendency to see the term “church” as referring to a denomination or sect, so that one can speak of the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and so on, as if these were all parts or “branches” of the universal church.

All this is foreign to Orthodox ecclesiology. In Orthodox ecclesiology, and indeed in the New Testament, there is no conception of the church as a “denomination”. The term “church” refers either to the local church, or to the universal church. The relationship between them is not seen either as that of a part to the whole (and therefore incomplete if separated from the whole), nor as a pebble in a pile of stones, independent, complete in itself, and self-sufficient.

A more accurate image is that of holography, pictures created by laser technology, where if the picture is divided into two, one does not have two half pictures, but two whole pictures. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but the completeness of the whole resides in all the parts. One could almost say that the part encompasses the sum of the wholes. The local church, led by its bishop, is “catholic”, that is, whole and complete, yet it is not independent, as in the congregational model, but interdependent with the other local churches.


In Orthodox anthropology too, this holistic understanding is found. In Western philosophy, theology and politics, a distinction is often drawn between the individual and society. In liberalism, for example, the individual is seen as primary. The law and society should be structured in such a way as to protect the rights of the individual. Larger groupings, such as “society” or the state, are simply made up of collections of individuals. The whole is the sum of the parts. In fact in Western individualism the whole is sometimes seen as being less than the sum of its parts. There is a kind of nominalism, in which the collective bodies are seen as less real than the individuals that make them up. But there have also been philosophies and worldviews that have seen the individual as simply a part of a larger whole. Society, or the state, have been seen as primary. In totalitarian ideologies, such as fascism and communism, the welfare of the individual must be subordinated to the welfare of the whole. The larger group is primary, and the individual is simply a part of the whole.

In Orthodox anthropology, however, neither the individual nor society has much meaning on its own. Orthodox anthropology distinguishes strongly between the individual and the person. A person is more than an individual, a person is in relationship to other people (see Lossky 1973:121f). It is these relationships that make up society, as a larger whole. The “isolated individual” is incomplete. Eastern Christianity is communal: “it is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Eastern Christianity sees the Church and the person as a reflection of the relationship between the Persons of the Divine Trinity (Bajis 1991:6). As a Zulu proverb puts it: Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu — a person is a person because of people. Yannaras (1984:22) notes:

In everyday speech we tend to distort the meaning of the word “person”. What we call “person” or “personal” designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms “person” and “individual” as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, “person” and “individual” are opposite in meaning. The individual is the denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative comparisons and analogies.

Chiefly in the field of sociology and politics, the human being is frequently identified with the idea of numerical individuality. Sometimes this rationalistic process of leveling people out is considered progress, since it helps to make the organization of society more efficient. We neutralize the human being into a social unit, bearing the characteristics, the needs and desires, which are common to all. We try to achieve some rationalistic arrangement for the “rights of the individual” or an “objective” implementation of social justice which makes all individual beings alike and denies them personal distinctiveness.

This view of man in numerical, quantifiable terms is in many ways a characteristic of modern urban and civilised society. The very size of cities makes it easy for people to be anonymous, to disappear into the crowd, and to relate to people only in a functional way. In small towns and villages, and even more in rural tribal society, people may have multiple relationships to each other. I might know the name of the person who works at the check-out counter at the supermarket, not merely from a label attached to their clothing, but because I meet them in other settings and situations. A recent job advertisement in a newspaper called for a “Human Resources Superintendent” for an industrial company. The implication is that people have simply become another “resource” in the production process, and such dehumanising terminology is scarcely questioned (Sunday Times 1995-07-24).

In Orthodox anthropology, persons relate to one other in much the same way as local churches relate to the universal church. The person is not an individual, a numerical unit, the smallest unit or component of society, which cannot be further divided (Vlachos 1999:16-17). The person, the hypostasis or prosopon, is the bearer of human nature, and thus in a sense represents the whole as well, without losing personal distinctiveness.

The truth of the personal relationship with God, which may be positive or antithetical but is nevertheless always an existential relationship, is the definition of man, is mode of being. Man is an existential fact of relationship and communion. He is a person, prosopon, which signifies, both etymologically and in practice. that he has his face (ops) towards (pros) someone or something: that he is opposite (in relation to or in connection with) someone or something. In every one of its personal hypostases, the created nature of man is “opposite” God: it exists as a reference and relation to God (Yannaras 1984:20-21).

When God gave the ten commandments to Moses, he did not hide his identity or that of his audience behind a string of impersonal passives, like our constitutions and statutes. The commandments do not say “Adultery is not to be committed”, but “Thou shalt not commit adultery”.

If you accept the ten commandments, you are not accepting one code of principles among many, you are not acquiescing in a general disapproval of murder; primarily you are committing yourself to a God who has a purpose and a judgment and who reveals that purpose to his people, part of which purpose is that you should not deny your neighbour’s God-given permission to live. Accepting the ten commandments is an act of faith in the living God, not of approval of an ideal way of life. They are not man’s idea of what God wants; they are God’s own word, addressed to man, second person singular (Davies 1990:2).

When God spoke to Moses, he spoke not to Moses alone, but to the whole people of Israel. Moses, as a person, could nevertheless represent other persons. “The person is not an individual, a segment or subdivision of human nature as a whole. He represents not the relationship of the part to the whole, but the possibility of summing up the whole in a distinctiveness of relationship, in an act of self-transcendence” (Yannaras 1984:21).

It is in the light of this that Orthodox ecclesiology must be understood. In the Divine Liturgy, the priest as a person represents the community to God and God to the community. The priest is the ikon of the community towards God, and the ikon of Christ to the community — not in the Western sense of being a “mediator”, as something apart from both the community and God, but as a person who is a person because of people. In English, something of this is retained in the word “parson” that is sometimes used for the parish priest — a word that is etymologically related to “person”. In Orthodox theology the bishop thus not only “leads” the local church, but represents it. “Where the bishop is, there the church is”, said St Ignatius.

In some African societies, this conception of one person as a representative of the community is also found — even to the extent that a single person is regarded as a community (Ogbonnaya 1993:120). There is a sense in which the king is the people. The king is the king because of the people. This is very different from the Western concept of absolute monarchy, which developed in the early modern period, in which the king was set over the community he ruled. It is also different from Hitler’s “Führer principle”, which has the connotation of a car and driver — the driver being different in quality from the car. In Zulu society, for example, the inkosi (a word that is variously translated into English as “king”, “chief” or “lord”) is a member of the community, and its representative. He is part of that which he represents.

When Christianity stopped being persecuted, Christians tried to transform human society into an image of the kingdom of God. The institution of the Roman emperor was to be transfigured, so that the emperor was to represent the people, to be the one person who stood for the people, the Tsar was to be the “little father”. The extent to which this transformation was achieved is a matter of debate among theologians. The point here is that it is related to the Orthodox understanding of the human person.

This view of human nature, of Christian anthropology, is almost incomprehensible to many Western theologians. This can be seen, for example, in a tutorial letter sent out by the Faculty of Theology of the University of South Africa to students, instructing them to avoid the use of the word “man” to mean a human being of either sex, but to use it only to refer to male persons (Saayman 1995:2). The concept expressed by the term “man” is missing from the consciousness of most Western theologians. Western theology has no need of a singular term for a human person that can also represent the plural, and therefore sees no harm or incongruity in censoring and suppressing that term, and insisting that is must be used only to refer to males. Such attempts to impose Western theological categories by such bodies as the World Council of Churches are seen by many Orthodox Christians as arrogant cultural imperialism, though those who participate in such ecumenical bodies are often too polite to say so, or express their criticism in guarded terms (see e.g. Veronis 1990:269). Others, however, use it to illustrate their understanding that “ecumenism” is a heresy, and a device for destroying Orthodoxy.

A human person is not simply a part of a greater whole, nor an individual in isolation apart from the whole, but contains within himself or herself the whole. A person is always a person in community, is a person because of people.


So much for my thesis, in which I even quoted Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, though I apparently misunderstood him entirely.

So I’m hoping for some comments from Orthodox theologian friends — where to from here? And where did I go wrong?

An academic generation gap?

5 June 2017

Duncan Reyburn recently posted a link to a book, Philosophical Approaches to Demonology, in which he has written a contribution, concerning which he says that it is “about how King James was a being really nasty when he wrote his book—titled, “Daemonologie”—back in 1597. My philosophical approach is rooted in the work of the late, great René Girard.”

I was interested in this because some years ago I wrote an article on Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery, While Duncan seemed to be viewing the topic through a macro-closeup lens, focusing on one book by one man, mine was more of a wide-angle view, though sometimes zooming in on the Zionist Christians of southern Africa.  In spite of these differences, however, it seemed that we were dealing with the same topic. King James VI of Scotland (I of Great Britain), was one Christian and Duncan covered his approach, I looked at a few more approaches.

I was quite surprised, then, to discover that in our bibliographies there was not a single work in common.

Perhaps this indicates a kind of academic generation gap. My article was published in 1995, whereas Duncan cites several works published after 2000, which obviously weren’t available to me. Even so, it still surprises me. Does knowledge get completely recycled every 20 years or so? Does that mean that I’m now completely out of touch?

Here are the two bibliographies:

Witchcraft Bibliography


Philosophical approaches to Demonology — contribution by Duncan Reyburn

Alison, James. 2001. Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments, Catholic and Gay. New York: Crossroad Publishing.

Collins, Brian. 2014. The Head Beneath the Altar: Hindu Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

The Politics of Possession 269

Crossan, John Dominic. 2012. The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. London: Harper One.

Farneti, Roberto. 2015. Mimetic Politics: Dyadic Patterns in Global Politics. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Garrels, Scott R. 2006. “Imitation, Mirror Neurons, and Mimetic Desire: Convergence between the Mimetic Theory of Rene Girard and Empirical Research.” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Culture and Mimesis 12–13: 47–86.

Girard, René. 1965. Deceit, Desire and the Novel, trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Girard, René. 1977. Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory. London: Continuum.

Girard, René. 1986. The Scapegoat, trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Girard, René. 2001. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Girard, René. 2008. Evolution and Conversion. London: Continuum.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 2009. The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Hamerton-Kelly, Robert. 1993. The Gospel and the Sacred. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Levack, Brian P. 1992. The Literature of Witchcraft. Garland: University of Texas.

Palaver, Wolfgang. 2013. René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, trans. Gabriel Borrud. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Pavlac, Brian A. 2009. Witch Hunts in the Western World. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Stewart, Alan. 2003. The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Stuart, James. 2011. “Daemonologie (1597).” In The Demonology of King James , ed. Donald Tyson, 221–283. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications.

Teems, David. 2010. Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible. London: HarperCollins.

Tyson, Donald. 2011. The Demonology of King James I. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications.


Christian responses to Witchcraft and Sorcery by Stephen Hayes

Adler, Margot. 1979. Drawing down the moon: witches, druids, goddess-worshippers and other pagans in America today. Boston: Beacon.

Anderson, Walter Truett. 1990. Reality isn’t what it used to be. San Francisco: Harper.

Berglund, Axel-Ivar. 1976. Zulu thought-patterns and symbolism. London: Hurst.

Bosch, David. 1987. The problem of evil in Africa: a survey of African views of witchcraft and of the response of the Christian church, in Like a roaring lion, edited by Pieter G.R. de Villiers, vide de Villiers 1987.

Cohn, Norman. 1975. Europe‘s inner demons: an enquiry inspired by the great witch-hunt. London: Sussex University Press.

Comaroff, Jean & Comaroff, John. 1991. Of revelation and revolution: Christianity, colonialism and consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Daneel, M.L., 1990. Exorcism as a means of combating wizardry: liberation or enslavement?, in Missionalia, Vol. 18(1) April. Page 220-247.

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. 1993. The lost beliefs of Northern Europe. London: Routledge.

de Villiers, Pieter G.R. (ed.). 1987. Like a roaring lion: essays on the Bible, the church and demonic powers. Pretoria: C.B. Powell Bible Centre.

Ellwood, Robert S. 1973. Religious and spiritual groups in modern America. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Fox, Robin Lane. 1987. Pagans and Christians. New York: Knopf.

Hillgarth, J.N. 1986. Christianity and paganism, 350-750: the conversion of Western Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hunter, David E. & Whitten, Phillip. 1976. Encyclopedia of anthropology. New York: Harper & Row.

Hutton, Ronald. 1991. The pagan religions of the ancient British Isles. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kiernan, JP. 1987. The role of the adversary in Zulu Zionist churches, in Religion in Southern Africa Vol 8(1), Pages 3-14.

Levack, Brian P. 1987. The witch-hunt in early modern Europe. London: Longman.

Luhrmann, Tanya M. 1989. Persuasions of the witch’s craft: ritual magic in contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McCord, James B. 1951. My patients were Zulus. New York: Rinehart.

Murray, Margaret Alice. 1973. The god of the witches. London: Oxford University Press.

Parrinder, Geoffrey. 1958. Witchcraft: European and African. London: Faber & Faber.

Pomazansky, Michael. 1994. Orthodox dogmatic theology. Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

Saul, John Ralston. 1992. Voltaire’s bastards: the dictatorship of reason in the West. New York: Free Press.

Schmemann, Alexander. 1973. For the life of the world: sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Stewart, Charles. 1991. Demons and the devil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Trombley, Frank R. 1993. Hellenic religion and Christianization C. 370-529. Vol 1. Leiden: Brill.

Williams, Charles. 1959. Witchcraft. New York: Meridian.

Wilson, David. 1992. Anglo-Saxon paganism. London: Routledge.

Wright, William Kelley. 1941. A history of modern philosophy. New York: Macmillan.

What does it mean?

Though the differing bibliographies seem to indicate that there is no common ground, at least on the subject of witchcraft and demonology, fortunately Duncan and I have common ground in a wider sphere: we have both read G.K. Chesterton, though Duncan is far more of a fundi on Chesterton than I am, and has also written a book on Chesterton.

Or perhaps it is not so much a generation gap as an interdisciplinary one. The blurb for the book in which Duncan’s contribution was published, Philosophical approaches to demonology, reads:

In contradistinction to the many monographs and edited volumes devoted to historical, cultural, or theological treatments of demonology, this collection features newly written papers by philosophers and other scholars engaged specifically in philosophical argument, debate, and dialogue involving ideas and topics in demonology. The contributors to the volume approach the subject from the perspective of the broadest areas of Western philosophy, namely metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and moral philosophy.

Since the philosophical approach is so strongly contrasted to all other approaches, including my historical-theological approach, perhaps one cannot expect a common bibliography.

But I like to make connections. I like to see how different approaches can throw light on a phenomenon, and so I favour a more interdisciplinary approach. I’ll therefore be putting some of the books that Duncan lists on my “to read” list. And it bothers me somewhat that the philosophical approach seems to be proudly isolated from all other approaches. I’d be interested in reading some of the other contributions. but the price, even of the electronic version of the book, puts it way out of my league.

Also, the book focuses on demonology rather than witchcraft, and for much of history, and even Christian history, they were largely separate phenomena. King James I/VI lived in a place and period when witches and demons were most closely linked  in people’s minds, That could also help to account for the difference in the bibliographies.

That leads to another aspect of witchcraft that I haven’t mentioned yet — the literary. Witches played an interesting role in contemporary theatre, most notably in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It could be interesting to compare King James’s treatment of witchcraft with Shakespeare’s, and there’s an interesting blog article about Shakespeare’s approach (from which I also borrowed some of the illustrations): Are the witches in Macbeth evil?

Coming down to more recent times, we have the role of witches in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, where the links with demons are fairly tenuous. Lewis’s contemporary Dennis Wheatley made a much stronger connection between witchcraft and satanism, though his writing slides over into the horror genre. Lewis’s fellow Inkling Charles Williams wrote about satanists in some of his novels.

One finds an entirely different understanding of witches in the Harry Potter books, in which witches are assumed to be female, and the male equivalents are “wizards”. Though English does not have gendered nouns in the same way as Greek, French, German or Russian, J.K. Rowling treats “witch” as feminine and “wizard” as masculine.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s books also feature wizards, who, far from being linked with demons, are on the side of the angels; in fact, as we discover if we read The Silmarillion, they are angels, until they go over to the Dark Side, that is. In The Hobbit there is also the witch-like figure of the Necromancer, who is male.

So I think there is quite a lot more that could be said about this, and perhaps we can discuss it at our next Neoinklings coffee klatch on 6 July 2017, when we hope Duncan Reyburn will be with us to introduce it from the starting point of his article.