The Evil Eye – Alaia Baque

evil eyeMost of us have heard of the evil eye. This superstition holds that one person can cause misfortune or even bodily injury to another person by glaring at them malevolently. The oldest documentation of this superstition is from ancient Greece, but it has occurred frequently over the years in many cultures. Stories of the evil eye occur in the old testament, across Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Spain and Mexico, among others.

It would be easy to dismiss this as nonsense from a bygone era, but belief in the evil eye is still strong even today, all over the world. There’s even an online store that sells almost exclusively evil eye related goods.

All this is fine and dandy of course. Wearing evil eye jewelry is harmless, it’s just a matter of personal taste, right? Yes. Until it isn’t. A belief in superstition and folklore unmitigated by reason and science often leads to dark places and even darker acts.

In August of 2016, in Queens NY, a five month old girl by the name of Alaia Baque, died as a result of fatal injuries that included eight separate skull fractures as well as a hemorrhage in one eye suggesting she’d been violently shaken.

As the story emerged it was revealed that Alaia was a fussy baby, frequently crying. Her father, Jorge, felt Alaia was rejecting him, that she cried most frequently when he was around.

Rather than take the child to a doctor or reaching out to others for help, the parents reported that they rolled a raw egg — in its shell — on the baby’s skin to attempt to discover what the problem might be. Afterward, they cracked it open. They decided the yolk ‘looked bad’ and determined to take the child to a priestess for help.

They took the child to a  priestess (some reports say she was a voodoo priestess, but this does not seem to be corroborated) who purportedly swaddled the child and rolled her about on the ground in an effort to cure her of the evil eye.

The parents accused the priestess of killing the child, but investigators were not convinced. The injuries were consistent with being stomped or hit with a blunt object. The father has been charged and is awaiting trial.

k

The Dark History of Magic: Malleus Malleficarum

malleus malefic arumWitches are an integrated part of our lore, our culture and our stories. We’ve all studied the Salem Witch Trials in school, and who hasn’t heard of Hermione Granger? Shows such as Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch are ever popular, and few women have not dressed as a witch on halloween at least once in their lives –  pointy hat, broomstick and warty nose in all. But these fun fictions aside, magic has a way of bleeding into the real world in violent and unpredictable ways. For witches, this dark history is tightly tied to the Malleus Maleficarum.

Latin for “The Hammer of Witches” (or “Hexenhammer” in German) the Malleus Maleficarum is one of the most infamous and bloody medieval writings on witches, giving us some insight into how women were seen in the fifteenth century, when witchcraft was deeply feared. This book would have made Sabrina the Teenage Witch cower in a corner, as it described the rules and guidelines for identifying, interrogating, prosecuting, convicting, and killing suspected witches.

The History of the Malleus Maleficarum 

The Malleus Maleficarum was written – unsurprisingly – by two religious men. Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, two Inquisitors for the Catholic Church, penned this guide in 1486. It was first read by the masses in Germany in 1487.

Jacob Sprenger was prior and regent of studies of the Cologne Convent. He later became Dean of Cologne University and in 1488, was named provincial of the Province of Germany. Heinrich Kramer was prior of the Dominican House in Schlettstadt in Lower Alsace. In 1474, he became inquisitor for several German provinces. In addition to adding fuel to the witch hunt fire, the Malleus Maleficarum was successful in large part to the reputations of its authors.

In 1484, Kramer and Sprenger were granted the power to prosecute those they deemed to be witches via a papal bull from Pope Innocent VII. The point of the bull was to squash protestant objection to the inquisition. Following the bull, the Malleus Maleficarum was widely adopted as a witch hunting manual by catholics and protestants in Germany, France, and Italy.

It may surprise you to learn that this witch hunting manual was banned in 1490 by the catholic church. There were people in the christian community (mainly scholars and theologians because educated people are always the ones with the most sense) who doubted the existence of witches at all. But the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum so passionately believed they were able to convince the majority of it’s necessity, saying “Whether the belief that there are such beings as witches is so essential a part of the catholic faith that obstinacy to maintain the opposite opinion manifestly savors of heresy.”

The book remained in use for 300 years across the world, especially during witch trials in England and scatterings of Europe. Thanks to his book, the misconceptions and fears about women who acted outside the norm – considered witches – were reinforced and given teeth. These misconceptions became irrefutable truth and gave accusers a tool to act on their fears.

The Malleus Maleficarum was the de facto guide for detecting and persecuting witches, including the rules and procedures by which their torture and death must be carried out. It is difficult to know precisely how many people lost their lives do to this inquisition. Estimates run from 600,000 to as high as 9 million. Whatever the real number is, it can be argued that this is likely one of the most harmful books ever written.

The Malleus Maleficarum cited reasons for accusing and punishing women for witchcraft as varied as:

  • Being old
  • Being a midwife
  • Being Jewish
  • Being a Gypsy
  • Having a weird birthmark or skin deformity
  • Living alone
  • Being mentally ill
  • Owning medicinal herbs

From our modern perspective such a list is nonsense. Most women, including myself, would fall under suspicion with standards such as these. But the fear that is birthed out of ignorance is never all that far away. Consider christian protestors today who believe that feminists are representatives of the devil as an example. Such views are most certainly on the edges of our modern world, science and reason have rightly pushed them there. But such things always lurks there at the shadowy edges.

Use in the USA 

Fear of witches spread all over the world, and was notable especially in the english settlements in America. We all know about the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. We learn about it in school and watch films (The Crucible is one of the best of these in my opinion) and plays based on the horrors that took place there. The Malleus Maleficarum gave these ideas the strength to travel across the sea and take hold of communities in the new world.

It is impossible to tell the exact effect the Malleus Maleficarum had on witch hunting in America. There is little to no documentation now how exactly the manual was used in trials. But it’s not hard to see that it added fuel to the fire. For example, witches were often tortured into confessing or naming other women to be witches. The number of confessed or accused witches grew and grew, which satiated people’s suspicions and quelled doubts. These confessions provided “frightful proofs that the Devil is still alive,” as it was later put in America in the Salem witch trials.

The Book Itself 

This awful piece of literary history is split into 3 sections. Part 1 discusses and defines witchcraft. It claims that women who are witches renounce god and catholicism, have “carnal relations” with the devil, and routinely sacrifice kids to the devil. It also adds in a clever little loophole to combat anyone who disagrees. There’s a bit that basically says that since the bible expressedly states that there are witches, not believing in witchcraft makes you a heretic.

Part 2 talks about all the awful things witches do and how they can be stopped. It targets all the things god-fearing men of the 1400s worried about. It claimed that witches frolic with satan, can ruin crops and kill cattle, and can cast spells against which they had no protection. The authors even made up some examples!

Part 3 is where things get legal. It thoughtfully outlines how to take testimony, how to question a suspect… and then how to torture the hell out of them. It gives rules and guidelines, like how the person being tortured has no right to know who actually accused them to begin with and how judges can lie in order to get the answers they want.

So next time you’re sitting down to watch Charmed, consider the lengths people used to go to to condemn a woman for doing anything they considered outside of the norm for the day. No matter what shenanigans Sabrina gets up to, she should consider herself damn lucky.

k.

 

Learn More:

http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/

http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/mm/

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/cienciareal/cienciareal12.htm

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist257/stephwhit/final/malleus.html

http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/carl-sagan-and-the-malleus/

Naga: The Dragons of Indonesia

In Indonesian and Malay culture, the word for dragon is “Naga” or “Nogo”. “Naga” is also sanskrit for “serpent” and appears in not only Indo-Malaysian myth, but Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The naga is a large part of myth and culture in this part of the world, appearing in countless stories and legends as well as in art and architecture. Nagas of all kinds of forms transcend country lines and religions, and is believed to have originated in the Indo-Malaysian areas. Read more

The Death of Bridget Cleary

Bridget Cleary

I’m not going to lie, being a fantasy writer is one of the coolest possible gigs. Not only do I get to spin my fantasies out onto paper, but I get to spend hours researching some very obscure, and very bizarre, stuff.

In writing Across the Darkling Sea my research took a pretty dark turn – as it so often does when researching magic in folklore. I wanted to steep myself in the mythology of the changelings, but I unexpectedly stumbled on some very real world stories of them instead. One of them is the story of Bridget Cleary.  This is a rough story, be forewarned. Read more

Changelings in Folklore

fairy among flowers
Image from Pixabay.com

It all started with a bit of dialogue. Two lines of conversation between two shadowy, semi-formed figures, with no setting whatsoever behind them.

“What am I, Witch?”

“Child, why do you call me that after so many years? I don’t call you changeling, though indeed you are one.”

I didn’t know who these people were, what sort of a world they lived in, or what story they had to tell, but the idea one of them was a changeling caught hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Read more

Eikthyrnir, The Giver of Water

An image if Eikthyrnir
Found on vallume.deviantart.com

The Eikthyrnir I found on page 321 of a stained tome called The Dictionary of Mythology. The story of Eikthyrnir is likely familiar to some of you, anyone with a fascination in Nordic Mythology will likely have encountered it. It might not be quite as uncommon as the others I’m presenting here in this series, but its imagery is so compelling I had to share it here. Read more

Camazotz, the Destroyer of Life

Camazotz Statue MayanAt the bottom of the Amazon, deep in the belly of an Arapaima, I found this Central American story of the second people, and of the giant bird Camazotz who has a bottomless appetite for the heads of people.

The Mayan gods Tepeu and Gucamatz sought out the help of magic adepts, and through incantation found that man should be made of wood, and woman of the pith of bulrush. They set to work and soon found success, and while able to speak and beget children these wooden people had neither fat nor blood nor intelligence. The gods sent four huge birds to destroy their creation. Xecotcovuch tore out their eyes, Camulotz cut off their heads, Cotzbalam ate their flesh, and Tecumbalam crushed their bones. Read more

Abiku, the Taker of Children

abiku

I make a habit of poking around in the gloomy places of the world seeking stories of monsters, beasts, and mythical creatures. Bookshelves, heavily guarded with bastions of eight-leggeds, weighted with books that’ve not felt the touch of human hands for decades. Perhaps millennia. Strange transitory zones between sea and land with creatures both webbed and legged. In places with darkness so absolute I began to wonder if the sun had yet been birthed or if it were only some strange dream I’d had. And I’ve found things. Read more