Canon Episcopi - Witchcraze! Persecution of Witches

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Canon Episcopi
Witchcraze! Persecution of Witches

The Canon Episcopi, one of the first official documents of the Roman Catholic Church regarding witchcraft, was attributed to the Council of Ancyra in 314 CE, however no known document appears prior to the tenth century. Many modern scholars think Bishop Regino, who presented it in 906, actually wrote it himself but ascribed it to earlier sources for credibility.

According to the Canon, no such thing as “witchcraft” exists because only God can possibly have power over humans. Anyone claiming to be a witch or of seeing or experiencing witchcraft is deluded. Furthermore, anyone believing in witchcraft is by definition practicing Paganism and can be prosecuted for heresy.

In early Christian Europe, witchcraft was officially considered an illusion. Those who believed in the possibility of witches were ordered to do penance. The whole concept of witches was described as a Satanic delusion. At that point in history, it may have been perceived as important to deny the reality of witches because they were linked to Pagan female deities like Abondia, Diana, Freya, Herodias, and Hulda: hence denying the witches’ power was inherently denying the power of their deities.

The Canon Episcopi was incorporated into Church law in the twelfth century. It was generally understood that night flight and transformations didn’t occur on the literal level.

By the fifteenth century, witches were accused of worshipping Satan and witchcraft was no longer considered an illusion. Among the most influential voices against the Canon Episcopi was Thomas Aquinas, who wrote that magicians perform miracles through personal contact with demons.

The Canon Episcopi was the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church regarding sabbats until, in December 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull Desiring With Supreme Ardor, stating that witch hunts were a necessity and emphasizing the realities of witchcraft. The Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1486 at which point, witchcraft, the witch-hunters’ version anyway, was officially perceived as real.

Rather than saying the Canon Episcopi was wrong, Church officials explained that Satan had exploited the document to encourage proliferation of witchcraft: a new army of witches had arisen, more powerful and dangerous than ever before, and so new, drastic measures were necessary.