Sunday, February 5, 2006

Sunday February 5, 2006

Filed under: General — m759 @ 11:00 AM

Catholic Schools Sermon

For those who might be tempted today, following yesterday’s conclusion of Catholic Schools Week, to sing (for whatever reason) “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead”–

Here, from his classic Witchcraft (first published by Faber and Faber, London, 1941, reprinted by Apocryphile Press, Berkeley, CA, Oct. 1, 2005) is Charles Williams on the strong resemblance between witchcraft and the rituals of the Church:

Charles Williams on
Witchcraft and the Church

From Witchcraft, 2005 Apocryphile edition, pages 77-80–

[77] … The predisposition towards the idea of magic might be said to begin with a moment which seems to be of fairly common experience– the moment when it seems that anything might turn into anything else.  We have grown used– and properly used– to regarding this sensation invalid because, on the whole, things do not turn into other things except by processes which we realize, or else at least so frequently that we appreciate the probability.  But the occasional sensation remains.  A room, a street, a field becomes unsure.  The edge of a possibility of utter alteration intrudes.  A door, untouched, might close; a picture might walk; a tree might speak; an animal might not be an animal; a man might not be a man.  One may be with a friend, and a terror will take one even while his admirable voice is speaking; one will be with a lover and the hand will become a different and terrifying thing, moving in one’s own like a malicious intruder, too real for anything but fear.  All this may be due to racial memories or to any other cause; the point is that it exists.  It exists and can be communicated; it can even be shared.  There is, in our human centre, a heart-gripping fear of irrational change, of perilous and malevolent change.
    Secondly, there is the human body, and the movements of the human body.  Even now, when, as a general rule, the human body is not supposed to mean [78] anything, there are moments when it seems, in spite of ourselves, packed with significance.  This sensation is almost exactly the opposite of the last.  There, one was aware that any phenomenon might alter into another and truer self.  Here, one is aware that a phenomenon, being wholly itself, is laden with universal meaning.  A hand lighting a cigarette is the explanation of everything; a foot stepping from a train is the rock of all existence.  If the first group of sensations are due to racial fear, I do not know to what the second group are due– unless indeed to the Mercy of God, who has not left us without a cloud of witnesses.  But intellectually they are both as valid or invalid as each other; any distinction must be a matter of choice.  And they justify each other, at least to this extent, that (although the first suggests irrationality and the second rationality) they both at first overthrow a simple trust that phenomena are what phenomena seem.
    But if the human body is capable of seeming so, so are the controlled movements of the human body– ritual movements, or rather movements that seem like ritual.  A finger pointing is quite capable of seeming not only a significant finger, but a ritual finger; an evocative finger; not only a finger of meaning, but a finger of magic.  Two light dancing steps by a girl may (if one is in that state) appear to be what all the Schoolmen were trying to express; they are (only one cannot quite catch it) an intellectual statement of beatitude.  But two quiet steps by an old man may seem like the very speech of hell.  Or the other way round.  Youth and age have nothing to do with it, nor did the ages that defined and [79] denounced witchcraft think so.  The youngest witch, it is said, that was ever burned was a girl of eleven years old.
    Ordered movement, ritual, is natural to men.  But some ages are better at it, are more used to it, and more sensitive to it, than others.  The Middle Ages liked great spectacle, and therefore (if for no other reasons– but there were many) they liked ritual.  They were nourished by ritual– the Eucharist exhibited it.  They made love by ritual– the convention of courtly love preserved it.  Certainly also they did all these things without ritual– but ritual (outside the inner experience) was the norm.  And ritual maintains and increases that natural sense of the significance of movement.  And, of course, of formulae, of words.
    The value of formulae was asserted to be very high.  The whole religious life ‘as generally necessary to salvation’ depended on formulae.  The High God had submitted himself to formulae.  He sent his graces.  He came Himself, according to ritual movements and ritual formulae.  Words controlled the God.  All generations who have believed in God have believed that He will come on interior prayer; not all that He will come, if not visibly yet in visible sacraments, on exterior incantation.  But so it was.  Water and a Triune formula concentrated grace; so did oil and other formulae; so– supremely– did bread and wine and yet other formulae.   Invocations of saints were assumed, if less explicitly guaranteed, to be effective.  The corollaries of the Incarnation had spread, in word and gesture, very far.
    The sense of alteration, the sense of meaning, the [80] evocation of power, the expectation of the God, lay all about the world.  The whole movement of the Church had, in its rituals, a remarkable similarity to the other rites it denounced.  But the other rites had been there first, both in the Empire and outside the Empire.  In many cases the Church turned them to its own purposes.  But also in many cases it entirely failed to turn them to its own purposes.  In many cases it adopted statues and shrines.  But in others it was adopted by, at least, the less serious spells and incantations.  Wells and trees were dedicated to saints.  But the offerings at many wells and trees were to something other than the saint; had it not been so they would not have been, as we find they often were, forbidden.  Within this double and intertwined life existed those other capacities, of which we know more now, but of which we still know little– clairvoyance, clairaudience, foresight, telepathy.

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