December 19th, 2002

Europe's Inner Demons

Right now, I'm reading Europe's Inner Demons. Written by Norman Cohn, who also wrote (among other texts) the excellent The Pursuit of the Millennium (an examination of millennial religious belief in Europe from the end of the Roman Empire to the great Anabaptist commune in Münster in the 1530's), it examines the origins of the great witch hunts of the 15th through 17th centuries. He traces the genesis of the modern concept of the witch--as a woman who, by virtue of deals with demons or even Satan often involving some form of seduction, acquires occult powers--as product of a fusion of two separate factors:

  • At the level of grand state politics, the cynical maneneuverings of authorities who drew from Classical lore to produce charges against their political enemies (the Knights Templar, for instance) which would set them beyond the pale of humanity and incidentally allow their wealth to be confiscated.

  • At the level of the village and traditional folk culture, a belief only imperfectly recorded in the presence of witch-craft, whether in the form of the night-witch or in the more common form of maleficium, the age-old practice of folk magics relating to fertility (human and agricultural) and health, for good and for ill.

The impetus behind the early modern period's campaigns of witchcraft, then, in Cohn's view, came about when the two cultures--the Great and Little Traditions of European civilization--ended up fusing, the result being campaigns against village witches (self-identified and otherwise) because of their anti-Christian and anti-human conspiracies.

It's interesting.


I ran into taem while I was at work today. Had a nice chat about science-fiction and our favourite authors, which is cool. I borrowed Charles de Lint's Someplace to be Flying on 's recommendation. So far, it looks good.

I just finished Morris Zaslow's The Northward Expansion of Canada, 1914-1967. This book examines the increasing integration of the northern territories of Canada into the Canadian mainstream, whether by mass settlement by Euro-Canadians in the more fertile areas of the subarctic (Peace River tract on the Alberta-British Columbia frontier, clay belt on the Ontario-Québec frontier), resource extraction (mining, forestry, oil), or simply the establishment of federal and provincial government bureaucratic control over the indigenous populations in the far north.

It occurs to me that northern Canada's experience--determined by its marginality, its perennial underpopulation (and division of this population between resentful native minority and recent-arrived and often temporary non-native majorities), its hostile environment--could inform a fairly interesting space-colonization setting: Baffin Island might be cold, but at least (unlike a terraformed Mars) you can breathe the air.

Emiliana Torrini

I'd just like to confirm that, yes, the Italian Björk Emiliana Torrini did sing the closing tune to The Two Towers. I downloaded this track, along with a dozen or so others, via KaZaA. If anyone wants it, just E-mail me and I'll burn them a CD-R copy.
  • Current Music
    Howard Shore, "Gollum's Song" (sung by Emiliana Torrini)