Wednesday, October 16, 2013

“Hammer of Witches”

Originally written in Latin:
                                                 (Above) Copy of 7th edition from 1520

In passages of The Holy Bible witches are condemned; examples include Exodus and Leviticus, two Old Testament books that make up part of the “Laws of Moses” and the primary history of the Jewish people; most theologians believe they were written sometime during the sixth century BC by several unknown authors.   The passage in Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” and a similar passage in Leviticus 20:27 “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death”, leave little doubt what “true believers” of the faith should do when confronted with individuals they perceive to be witches or wizards.

Saint Augustine of Hippo (present-day Annaba, Algeria), was once an influential theologian in the early Christian Church of the early 400’s; he argued that God alone could suspend the normal laws of the universe.  He taught that neither Satan, witches, nor wizards had supernatural powers or were capable of invoking magic of any type.  Of course, if “witches and wizards” are indeed powerless, logic dictates, that the Church need not concern itself with their alleged spells or other attempts at mischief.

The late medieval Church accepted St. Augustine’s view. In fact the Church of that era felt little need to bother itself with tracking down witches & wizards or investigating ridiculous allegations such as witchcraft.  With this in mind, you might mistakenly conclude that the Church and its leaders had entered into the world of reality or an age of enlightenment.

Sadly, in 1273, a Dominican monk named Thomas Aquinas decided it was time for him to make his case for the existence of God.  His efforts resulted in the Church’s accepted view that the world was full of evil and dangerous demons.   According to Aquinas; sex and witchcraft begin what would become a long association.  Demons were seen as not merely seeking their own pleasure, but intent on leading good men into temptation.  

By the mid 1400’s any supporters of Catharism, the Christian dualist movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, fled to  countries like Germany to avoid a papal inquisition launched against their alleged sacrileges.  Torture inflicted on heretics suspected of magical pacts or demon-driven sexual misconduct led to disquieting confessions. 

Often time defendants admitted to flying on poles or broom sticks and changing themselves into various animals to attend gatherings presided over by Satan who typically appeared in the form of a goat.  Some defendants told investigators that they repeatedly kissed Satan’s anus as a display of their loyalty.  Others admitted to casting spells on neighbors, having sex with animals, or causing storms.  In this way the typical crime of witchcraft began to gain momentum and take shape throughout Europe.

In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII announced that Satanists in Germany were meeting with demons, casting spells that destroyed crops, and performing abortions on mothers to be.  The pope engaged two friars, Heinrich Kramer (a papal inquisitor of sorcerers from Innsbruck, Austria) and Jacob Sprenger, to publish a complete report on the suspected practice of witchcraft.  Two years later, in 1486, the friars published Malleus Maleficarum (“Hammer of Witches”) which once and for all cleared up the old belief that witches were powerless (as was taught by St. Augustine more that a thousand years prior), in the face of God to a new orthodoxy that made it crystal clear that Christians had a responsibility to hunt down and kill witches & wizards. In short the manuscript / report claimed that witches were powerful creatures who could inflict harm on the innocent, which justified death by the most atrocious means imaginable.

This publication for years to come brought about the outbreak of “witchcraft hysteria”; mass executions began to appear in the early 1500s.  For example authorities in Geneva, Switzerland burned 500 accused witches at the stake in 1515.  Nine years later in Como, Italy, witchcraft charges led to as many as 1,000 executions.

Over the 160 years from 1500 to 1660, Europe saw somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 so-called witches executed.  Almost 80% of those killed were women.  Execution rates ranged from a high of about 26,000 in Germany to almost 10,000 in France, 1,000 in England, but only four in Ireland, where cooler heads more often than not, prevailed.

Scotland’s witch-hunting had its roots with the marriage of King James VI (James the 6th of Scotland & James the 1st of England) to Princess Anne of Denmark.  Anne’s voyage to Scotland for the wedding met with a bad storm at sea; she ended up taking refuge in Norway.  Learning of this unfortunate event, James traveled to Scandinavia and the wedding took place at Kornberg Castle in Denmark.  Following a long honeymoon in Denmark, the royal newlyweds met with dreadful seas on the return voyage; the ship’s captain blamed the bad weather on witches.  A bit later six Danish women confessed to having caused the storms (in all likelihood following some serious torture or maybe they were simply dim-wits) that allegedly bedeviled the King; he in turn began to take witchcraft rather seriously.  The newly paranoid James sanctioned the torture of suspected witches in 1591.  The largest witch-hunt in British history resulted, dozens of alleged witches were condemned; in the North Berwick area they were burned at the stake.  More than a hundred years passed before in 1682, Temperance Lloyd, a senile woman from Bideford, became the last Witch to be executed in England.

Practically everyone knows from our history that the “crime” of being a witch was just beginning to surface in British America, hence the Witchcraft Trials of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts are a reality.  A total of 19 human beings were hanged and one crushed to death during that horrendous event.  Several more were imprisoned, including Dorothy (Dorcas) Good; did you know she was only four year old.

Maybe it’s too easy to simply say that the trials or events of 1692 in Salem, MA did not happen overnight. Yes it was years in the making carried out by numerous “religious zealots”, but what have we learned if anything from these actions? Hopefully its not like Samuel Adams (aka Mark Twain) once said, “History does not repeat itself, it rhymes.”   . . . In any event, this Halloween, leave that Witch alone you see standing in the moonlight; otherwise she just might turn you into a toad and youll not be comforted by the fact that witches are seldom burned for that anymore.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Cryptocurrency or where the Hell is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Bitcoin Symbol

A type of digital currency known as Cryptocurrency whose pseudonyms include such unusual names as   “LiteCoins”, “NameCoins”, and “BitCoins” most of which have been associated with illegal online activity such as money laundering or the Silk Road (“the eBay of illicit goods and services”) site the F.B.I. shut down recently (early October 2013) — which was an online black market for illegal drugs, computer-hacking tools, and even contract killings. 

The Silk Road had nearly a million registered users. The Web site refused all forms of payment except Bitcoins, the digital currency “designed to be as anonymous as cash.” At the time of the shutdown Tuesday (Oct. 1, 2013) of the Silk Road web site, it had processed sales totaling more than nine and a half million BitCoins — reportedly worth about 1.2 billion dollars; this action caused the currency’s value to fall by twenty per cent before quickly recovering.

With all of Bitcoin’s impressive transparency, a key piece of the puzzle remains rather cloudy; that being the answer to the question: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

The Bitcoin Cryptocurrency ‘program’, was launched in 2009 (the concept was introduced in a 2008 white paper by a pseudonymous developer who simply called himself “Satoshi Nakamoto”), for the first three years or so, he regularly answered e-mails but then he simply dropped off the electronic grid.    

Satoshi claimed to be a 37-year-old male living in Japan. His language of choice however was English, and he often alternated between British and American spellings and popular expressions, which some say means that he was trying to mask his nationality or the more likely scenario; Satoshi is actually more than one person.

You see, in Japanese, Satoshi means “clear-thinking” or “wise.” ‘Naka’ can mean “inside” or “relationship” and ‘Moto’ is often used to define “the origin” or “the foundation.” Combine the terms (as in ‘Naka-Moto’) and you could conceivably arrive at “thinking clearly inside the foundation.” There’s limited evidence that Nakamoto even exists outside the context of Bitcoin.

Cryptocurrencies (aka BitCoins, etc.) have gradually gained attention from the media and the public; since 2011 interest has increased rapidly, particularly during the rapid price rise of Bitcoins in April 2013.

A loose definition of a Bitcoin is a ‘Cryptocurrency’ where the creation and transfer of BitCoins is based on an open-source secret coding procedure that is independent of any central authority.   Bitcoins can be transferred through a computer or smartphone without the participation of an intermediate financial institution, such as your local friendly banker.  The process, in short can be described as a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system exchange somewhat like cash purchases.   The basic idea seems to be to avoid creating a “paper trail” that will invariably trigger the over site of government tax collecting agencies.

Initially, BitCoins sounds like a good program, but like many other good and reasonable concepts, abuse is unavoidable.  Here’s a novel idea, someone should develop a system of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange; that’ll keep those pesky tax collectors at bay; maybe Satoshi Nakamoto will emerge from hiding and do just that.  No, Wait, that sounds a lot like bartering, I think that’s been done!