Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition

Course No. 893
Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
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Course No. 893
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Course Overview

Western civilization is closely associated with reason and science, and with exceptional accomplishment in art, architecture, music, and literature. Yet it has also been characterized by widespread belief in the supernatural and the irrational—with mystics who have visions of the divine, and with entire movements of people who wait in fervent anticipation of the apocalypse.

In addition, Western culture has been the setting for repeated acts of barbarism: persecutions of certain groups such as Jews, or accused heretics and witches.

Why has this been the case?

This two-part series invites you to consider what might be called the "underbelly" of Western society, a complex mixture of deeply embedded beliefs and unsettling social forces that has given rise to our greatest saints and our most shameful acts. The "terror of history," according to Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz, is a deeply held belief—dating from the ancient Greeks to Nietzsche and beyond—that the world is essentially about disorder and emptiness, and that human beings live constantly on the edge of doom.

We see history as terrifying, so we try to escape it. One strategy is to withdraw through transcendental experiences. Another, unfortunately, is to shift our fears onto scapegoats such as lepers, nonconformists, and other outsiders whom we choose to blame for "the catastrophe of our existence," as Professor Ruiz puts it.

The Renaissance as a Time of Magic and Astrology

This course explores the concept of the terror of history through a study of mysticism, heresy, apocalyptic movements, and the witch hunting craze in Europe between 1000 and 1700. You will examine new sources and think in new ways about events in the centuries from the late medieval period to early modern Europe.

You will be introduced to texts with which you may not be familiar, such as the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, the text of Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism. Or the Malleus Maleficarum, The Hammer of Witches, a handbook for identifying, interrogating, and trying witches.

You will view the Renaissance not from the perspective that it was the beginning of modernity but that it was a time when many among the educated were fascinated by alchemy and magic, when the Pope depended on his astrologer, when the learned considered the Corpus Hermeticum—a mixture of magic and astrology believed to date from the time of Moses—to be a more valuable text than Plato's Symposium.

You will consider how social, economic, political, and religious climates—especially during times of change and stress—exerted tremendous influence on the prevalence of irrational attitudes and persecutions. For example, between 1000 and 1700, periods of economic trouble were highly correlated with a rise in apocalyptic fervor. Similarly, religious wars coincided with the persecution of witches.

This course is presented by a teacher who displays both exceptional mastery over, and endless enthusiasm for, his subject matter. Professor Ruiz has been named one of four Outstanding Teachers of the Year in the United States by the Carnegie Foundation.

Particularly valuable is his willingness to add his own perspective, both professional and personal, to his lectures. Whether discussing aspects of ancient mystical practices that were common in Cuba during his boyhood, or offering an opinion on whether witchcraft has ever truly existed, Professor Ruiz makes clear that history is a living thing.

Why Witches and Heretics Were Persecuted

Much of The Terror of History has to do with the concept of the "other"—those who are seen by society as different—often by virtue of their sex, economic status, or beliefs—and are frequently persecuted.

These lectures examine the concept of otherness in a variety of ways and examine how certain groups came to be seen as other. Often, this involved the creation of boundaries, either real or imaginary, between people.

For example, the enclosure movement of the 15th century fenced peasants off their land, and the Reformation created a new religious boundary between Catholic and Protestant. This made it easier to accuse those who were poor, or of the wrong faith, of being heretics or witches.

The witch craze provides a way to view the concept of other as women's history. Misogynistic attitudes and a growing antipathy toward the poor created a kind of profiling of witches. A witch was identified as someone who was a woman, past childbearing age, poor, lived on the edge of town, and often had certain kinds of esoteric knowledge, such as the use of herbal medicines. In Essex, England, 278 of 291 people accused of witchcraft were women, and all were over 40 years old.

You will also consider how authority—frequently an alliance of secular government and the church—used others for its benefit. The Inquisition and witchhunting were a means to create a sense of community and identity for the populations of emerging nations and to enforce orthodoxy.

Methods of execution, such as hanging, drowning, and burning at the stake, provided multiple benefits: spectacle and entertainment, a sense of shared public purpose, and powerful lessons about the fate of those who deviated from accepted norms.

Have we outgrown the terror of history? Is it behind us?

Professor Ruiz suggests that Western culture can be seen as a pendulum swinging between periods of rational thinking and periods of superstition and irrationality. If we look at the 20th century, it was certainly a time of enormous scientific and technological achievements. On the other hand, it was also the most violent century in history.

The pendulum swings. And the terror of history continues.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Terror of History
    A lecture introducing specific themes in Western tradition, and the manner in which men and women in medieval and early modern Europe dealt with wars, plagues, oppressive lordships, and injustice. To understand the pre-modern and modern West, we must understand the different perspectives from which Western men and women looked at the world. x
  • 2
    Politics, Economy, and Society
    This lecture overlooks the social, political, and economic contexts of European mysticism, heresy, and witchcraft between 1000 and 1650. The rise of mysticism and heretical movements in the 12th century and the beginnings of the witch craze in the late 15th century were grounded in local historical contexts: the rise of the nation-state, the end of feudal society, and the formation of new social ties among different classes. x
  • 3
    Religion and Culture
    The discussion of historical context turns to the role of religion and culture in the development of esoteric beliefs and doctrines. The lecture focuses on the religious reform movements of the 11th and 12th centuries, the growth of new forms of spirituality after the Black Death, and above all, the pervasive influence of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation on European mentality. x
  • 4
    Mysticism in the Western Tradition
    A close look at mysticism and the role of mystics in Western European history. The lecture examines the different types of mysticism, the stages of the mystical ascent to God, and the differences between Western mysticism and transcendental practices elsewhere in the world. x
  • 5
    Mysticism in the Twelfth Century
    We turn from a general discussion of mysticism to case studies of mystics and their roles in Christian society. In this lecture, we look at two specific mystics, Hildegarde of Bingen and Bernard of Clairvaux. x
  • 6
    Mysticism in the Thirteenth Century
    Here Professor Teofilo Ruiz examines the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Dante Alighieri, the author of the Divina Commedia. The lecture seeks to place these mystics in their respective historical contexts, and also examines in some detail Francis's reception of the stigmata. x
  • 7
    Jewish Mysticism
    A close and comparative look at one aspect of Jewish mysticism, we examine in some detail the writing of the Zohar, or "Book of Splendor," the main Kabbalistic text of the Middle Ages. We conclude with a review of the impact of Kabbalah on Christian thought and religion. x
  • 8
    Mysticism in Early Modern Europe
    The nature of mysticism in early modern Europe and its evolution as a response to the impact of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. The lecture also examines case studies of the two greatest Spanish mystics of the 16th century, Saint Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. x
  • 9
    Heresy and the Millennium
    An examination of the place of heresy and apocalyptic beliefs in Western Europe between 1000 and 1650. The lecture compares heretical and apocalyptic movements and assesses the significance of these movements in the development of Western culture. x
  • 10
    The Church Under Attack
    The emergence of specific heresies in 12th and 13th century Europe. The lecture explores the social and economic conditions in southern France that led to the rise of heterodox movements. In particular, the lecture describes the beliefs of Waldensians and Cathars. x
  • 11
    The Birth of the Inquisition
    An analysis of the meaning of the Inquisition in medieval culture, and the historiographical debate on whether inquisitorial practices marked a significant shift in the treatment of heretics, Jews, women, and lepers. The lecture concludes with a brief examination of the heresy of the Free Spirit. x
  • 12
    The Millennium in the Sixteenth Century
    The outburst of millenarian expectations in the wake of the Reformation, and the great social and religious upheavals caused by peasant uprisings in early 16th-century Germany. This lecture places these rebellions, and their expectations of a godly kingdom, in the context of religious reform, political antagonism, and cultural change. x
  • 13
    Jewish Millennial Expectations
    The impact on Jewish religious life of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the works of Isaac Abravanel and other important Jewish millenarian thinkers, and the life of Sabbatai Sevi, whose proclamation as the Messiah created great disturbances among the Sephardic Jews in the mid-17th century. x
  • 14
    The Mysteries of the Renaissance
    We move from millenarian movements to a discussion of Renaissance concerns with "deep time," the recovery of what were thought to be the most ancient forms of knowledge. The lecture outlines briefly the different intellectual influences on the development of mysteries: hermeticism, astrology, alchemy, and magic. x
  • 15
    Hermeticism, Astrology, Alchemy, and Magic
    A closer look at the different intellectual traditions competing for the mind of the West in the late 15th and 16th centuries. The lecture looks briefly at astrology, alchemy, and magic, then turns to hermeticism, explaining in detail what the hermetic tradition was and tracing its roots to second-century Gnosticism and astrological lore. x
  • 16
    The Origins of Witchcraft
    The beginning of our lengthy discussion of witchcraft and the European witch craze. This lecture defines and examines the history of witchcraft in the West, then discusses how Christian theologians redefined witchcraft just before the end of the 15th century. x
  • 17
    Religion, Science, and Magic
    A map of the religious and cultural landscape of Western Europe before, during, and after the witch craze. The lecture explores the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, and the Counter-Reformation; the shifting relationships among religion, magic, and science; and the rise of new scientific paradigms in the 16th century. x
  • 18
    The Witch Craze and Its Historians
    A look at the 80,000 to 100,000 people, mostly elderly women, executed because they were believed to be witches. To explain how this came about, this lecture looks in detail at the social, economic, and political changes that took place in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. x
  • 19
    Fear and the Construction of Satan
    An exploration of the nature of fear and how it was used by those in power to strengthen their rule. The lecture proceeds to a discussion of the devil in Western tradition, and concludes by exploring the centrality of Satan in the construction of the witch craze. x
  • 20
    The Witch Craze and Misogyny
    A review of the place of women in the West and a partial feminist explanation for the witch craze, followed by an examination of the writing of the Malleus Maleficarum ("The Hammer of Witches") and the role of this late 15th-century text in laying the foundations for the persecution of witches. x
  • 21
    The World of Witches
    A specific description of witchcraft, drawn from a mid-16th-century source. In addition, the lecture will explore some specific subjects, such as the nocturnal gatherings of witches and accusations of child sacrifices, cannibalism, and sexual excesses. x
  • 22
    The Witches of Loudon
    An outline of the famous witchcraft trial of the clergyman Urbain Grandier in the city of Loudon in France. The lecture uses this case as a lens through which to examine the mentality and sexual mores of early modern Europeans, and concludes with a summation of the history of the witch craze. x
  • 23
    The Witches of Essex and Salem
    An attempt to answer a number of questions on the social history of witchcraft, and to draw a social profile of those who were brought to trial on charges of witchcraft and Satanism by exploring two case studies: Essex, England; and Salem, Massachusetts, in the 17th century. x
  • 24
    The Survival of the Past
    An exploration of the survival of pre-Christian traditions in Europe: Beltane fires, May Day celebrations, mistletoe, maypoles, and other such practices. We conclude with some thoughts on the manner in which the terror of history remains a grim reality in the contemporary world. x

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Your professor

Teofilo F. Ruiz

About Your Professor

Teofilo F. Ruiz, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Dr. Teofilo F. Ruiz is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. A student of Joseph R. Strayer, Dr. Ruiz earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Prior to taking his post at UCLA, he held teaching positions at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York Graduate Center, the University of Michigan, the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris, and Princeton University-as the...
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Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 94.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Misleading This was not one of the better courses. Once I got into it I was able to learn something. Perhaps it is me but I found it dull and uninteresting.
Date published: 2018-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Disjointed but Compelling This is my third course given by Professor Ruiz; the others being “Medieval Europe: Crisis and Renewal” and “Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire”. As I was fascinated by his very different takes in the other two courses, I did not hesitate to purchase this one. As in his other two TC courses, he takes an unconventional view of Medieval Europe, not necessarily outside of mainstream academia, but rather he seems to look this era from a very different slant, rather than straight on. This is rewarding, rather than disappointing. He uses three vastly differing subjects: mystics, heretics and witches and Medieval (and early modern) Europe to present a thesis that could be applied to other periods and other locales. That is that the world is terrifying and our knowledge of the history of the terrifying world leads some to become, essentially, irrational. And for society to react, in some cases, irrationally. Dr. Ruiz makes a compelling case, but one that, (IMO) is not well served by his disparate subject choices. As he states upfront, this course can be seen as three mini-courses. For me, Professor Ruiz is not entirely successful in bridging all three into a seamless whole, even though he makes his case separately in each subject. One reviewer comments that if you don’t understand metaphor, you won’t get this course. I concur, and further think that this course will not be suited for those who just want a set of facts and dates presented in a straightforward manner. Rather Professor Ruiz (or Teo as he wishes to be addressed) gives us his opinions about many things, always telling us this is how he views the world. Teo’s delivery is not suited to everyone. True enough, he does have a few stock, catch phrases that he overuses. I expect that is likely to happen to most who are not reading a prepared script, but are rather following the outline and notes of material that he knows well and I expect that we might get a slightly different lecture if he presented on a different day. Something I find to be a good thing. While I don’t find this course to be quite up to the standards of his other two, this one is well worthwhile. I think that some background of medieval history will be helpful in understanding what Teo is trying to achieve. I am only disappointed that Teo has no more TC courses in the catalog.
Date published: 2018-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mind blowing! I borrowed this from my local library years ago and listened to part of it as research for a paper, now I have purchased my own. I did not find what people refer to as the Mysticism part, boring at all. Ruiz' ability to describe a difficult concept such as mysticism and then discuss why it is pops up in contrast to reason, the types of personalities it pops up in, and whether and how it fits into a culture or not is fascinating stuff. Then you get to the more culturally interesting parts. NB I read some reviews describing the professor's accent as "heavy" I would not describe his that way at all. There weren't any words that I wasn't able to understand or any meanings that weren't clear. I would be a pity to limit your professors to what one reviewer referred to as, "native English speakers".
Date published: 2018-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terror of History I began "The Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition" with no knowledge on the subject. Indeed, my knowledge of European history just covers the basics. I found this course to be fascinating; one in which I learned much more about the history and people of Europe, and how history is remembered.. Professor Ruiz is a man who knows his subject very well, is passionate about it, and passes that enthusiasm on to the listener. He does a fine job of interweaving the social, religious, economic, and political history of the times into a comprehensible whole, and then he ties it all into the present. I came away feeling I had learned about much more than mystics, heretics, and witches. Prof. Ruiz cited a number of books and sources that will help those interested learn even more about the subject. How valuable this course would be to those already having a background in the subject I can't say. To the beginner it was very valuable, and I enjoyed it very much.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really Loved This Course Prof. Theofilo is so engaging. I loved his presentation, and the flow of the course. His observations concerning historical societal "scapegoating" is so relevant to our modern world. I would view another program from this presenter.
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Never thought of it this way Great course. I wasn't sure what to expect when I bought it, but the title seemed interesting. And I found out that the subject matter was as well. I thought the instructor presented the information in a logical, clear manner. I thought the historical context for everything actually made the course as good as it is. I liked his occasional reference to his "students in his college classes." I read someone else's review who commented on the instructor's accent making it difficult to understand. I found that to be no problem whatsoever. A couple of words would be pronounced differently once in a while and he did have a couple of phrases that he used frequently - but those are really non-factors in understanding and appreciating. His taking the time at the end to share his opinion apart from teaching facts was a good segment. So thank you for the effort on this one!
Date published: 2017-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Relevant for Our Own Time This dynamically taught course provides further proof that "the past" is not dead and distant but, rather, continues to shape our current understandings and behavior in ways in which we are unaware. This fascinating course is far more broad-reaching that the title might at first suggest. For one thing, the “terror of history” in its title is not that of the persistent horrific suffering endured by victims of persecutions who are seen as dangerous "others" – although there is, indeed, much of that as a consequence of people being identified as heretics or witches – but, rather, the underlying human angst we all experience when we confront the awesome forces of nature and the fact of our own eventual death. The central theme to Professor Ruiz’s course is investigating how human beings have sought to cope with this terror by creating explanations of, and rituals for, controlling, these realities. While his focus is on the West in the period from the 10th through the 17th centuries, he regularly shows how the beliefs of that period, and the behavior of human beings caught up in great tumult and uncertainty, can be traced both both back to the distant past as well as forward to our own time, helping us to see how intimately our own understandings and explanations of these ultimate matters link us inseparably to even our most distant ancestors. In many significant ways, the past is not all that distant or primitive, and our own age not all that modern or enlightened. We still, for example, have our "scapegoats" upon whom we project our fears and whom we blame for bringing fear and discontent into our lives. Dr. Ruiz illustrates quite clearly how religion and magic have long been intermingled as, in fact, they continue to be today. Even while we might be tempted today to regard – or dismiss – much of this period as characterized by ridiculous superstition and foolish beliefs – he skillfully shows how these earlier humans were less irrational than might at first appear. In light of the revival of nationalist populism in Europe – and similar stirrings in the United States – his discussion of the economic, social, religious and political context within which the pursuit of heretics and the persecution of witches took place is not only very relevant, but also discloses how much we “moderns” are not all that different after all. Just as today’s populist discontents are spurred by transformative changes throughout the world that have left many people to feel alienated, left behind, or disrespected – a world, in effect, in which the change that is occurring is seen as threatening to basic values and to “nationalist” survival – so also did the world of the 14th and 15th centuries experience long-established ideas and institutions challenged by the Reformation, the Renaissance, and increased reliance upon scientific reasoning. A world that had previously understood the boundary between faith and knowledge to be porous, and religious beliefs that included magical elements and scientific methods sometimes using magical formulations, now had to grapple with more rigid boundaries between facts and beliefs, religion and magic, and magic and science. Each lecture of this course left me thinking about it and its reverberations in our own time long after conclusion. Recommended!
Date published: 2017-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent description The professor is phenomenal, a gifted lecturer, a brilliant scholar who explains how the Western world evolved from pagan to modern. He digs deeply into the social roots of history between 1000 and 1700 and looks at every facet of that evolution. A wonderful listen.
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title ties in with the subject This course is similar to other studies I have made so the course had little new to add to what I already knew. I found the course enjoyable because Dr Ruiz presented his course with great enthusiasim and energy.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches I found these lectures and the lecturer somewhat difficult to follow. The few clear stories of individuals were separated by an overload of information that came across as repetitive and unclear.
Date published: 2016-11-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Connections I was a little surprised to see that mysticism, heresy, and witchcraft were all bundled together into a single course -- particularly under the unexpected title "the terror of history". But Professor Ruiz does a creditable job of tying them all together. Substantively, he makes an excellent case, I think, for tying together those three phenomena. I'm somewhat less convinced of his larger sort of metaphysical framework about the terror history. To be fair, I'm not totally sure I understand it; to the extent that I do understand it, I don't find it terribly persuasive. Professor Ruiz seems like an especially endearing and erudite instructor. That said, he is much harder to understand than any of the other Teaching Company instructors I've heard. Sometimes that made it harder for me to follow the lectures, especially as I listen on the subway where there's a lot of ambient noise. I listened to the audio, and I have a feeling that on a couple of occasions, he was making reference to quotes that were displayed but not recited for the listener. In any case, there were a few instances in which I was sort of waiting to hear a quote that never came; possibly it had been provided earlier and I'd missed it. I hope this doesn't sound negative. I thought the course was wonderful, and it has inspired me to do quite a bit of reading on my own.
Date published: 2016-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vital course to understanding our human history Professor Ruiz delivers an outstanding lecture series that is brilliantly insightful, frightfully interesting, and essentially vital, and connects the many facets of human civilization to the combined Terror that all humanity coexists with.
Date published: 2016-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from So much to learn So far, this is a good course. I am not finished listening to it all but I am surprised at how much background info there is to witch history. Several people commented on the Profs accent. It is sometimes hard to understand but not as bad as people made it out to be. He does talk on the faster side of average lecture speed. (My other course to compare it to is the Meditation course, so that might just be the other extreme)
Date published: 2016-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Endorsing HipCampUs review What HipCampUs wrote below expresses what I feel about this course. Here are a few additional comments. This is one of three courses by Prof. Ruiz that I have purchased. Although I noticed his Spanish accent, his ability to communicate in English is fluent, profound, and poetic. I purchased the audio download, which worked well for me. I did not notice any problems with audio quality. I have a paperback Historical Atlas of the World which provided helpful geographical context. As far as I can tell, very few other Great Courses professors make any attempt to understand and communicate any part of the multifarious history of misogyny. I appreciate the efforts of Prof. Ruiz to illuminate one aspect of this history. I also enjoyed his focus on mysticism, especially his personal mystical experience in the first lecture. I had not thought before about early mysticism having been articulated only by the elite when only the elite were literate; we don't have first person accounts of what illiterate mystics believed or practiced. He also showed how awareness and fear of the ephemeral nature of life have been used against scapegoats by various political or religious authorities for their own ends. This is a very important observation of a phenomenon that continues to this very day.
Date published: 2016-04-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from some interesting parts, but can be quite tedious The lecturer is enthusiastic but his heavy accent makes it difficult to listen and comprehend what is being said. I was also disappointed that there was too much emphasis on witchcraft and not enough emphasis on esoteric movements like Hermeticism. Also i was hoping for more information on Gnostic movements such as the Bogomils. Knights Templar, freemasonry, rosicruitioinism were not mentioned while the Catholic and witchcraft theme was repeated endlessly, This course could be reorganised and presented with a native English speaker to improve it.
Date published: 2016-02-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Unfortunately, the lecturer was hard to understand I am a 75 year-old with hearing problems. It appears that the course was mostly about Catholicism and its treatment and ideas about non-belief and the consequences thereof. It was also very depressing.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Science Behind the Superstitions From the get-go, reminding us that monotheism is a uniquely Western concept in a wide world of religious views, Professor Ruiz offers a look at history that is only "biased" in its being dispassionately scientific. He bluntly trods along saying things like, "Look - regardless of your views on Christianity as it is today - women were marginalized in both society and the church until an aristocratically-born woman named Hildegard of Bengin (the 12th Century equivalent to a modern-day doctor) wrote some interesting books on medicine and then turned to writing about her many spiritual "visions". People liked those visions and adopted them into their everyday thinking, and now Mary and Eve have a larger role in the Church." He does this strictly for accurate historic context - avoids speculations about Faith or God or his own personal views on the mystical (until he discusses his personal views on Wicca near the end) - and then he goes about explaining how "witches" came into being and how they were used by nation-states, religious powers, and individuals, mainly to exercise political goals, but also in a world of strict religious dogma, to let out a great deal of repressed anger, jealousy, greed, hate, bigotry, sexism, and humanity in general. The course starts out kind of dry and as others have said, moving fast and loose through history, but as he gets to the parts about witches and "heretics" of many types, the foundation proves worth it, and for me it triggered some fantastic - even revelatory - ponderings about how little human beings have changed over a thousand years (and how grateful I am that belief systems and political regimes can and do change). Replace "witches" for any minority in a climate of paranoia and fear, and a lot of the same political posturing and lower-class mentalities start to echo across time (McCarthy, Japanese internment camps, and anti-Muslim fanaticism are the more benign examples - so proud to be an American by comparison - but there's still genocide, ethnic "cleansing", and general fear-mongering happening today). Basically, if they're different, and can't fight back, GET'EM!!! Scary and fascinating, but not exactly an endorsement for anyone practicing Wicca or any other religion; Professor Ruiz clearly takes a scientific (factual) view on both spiritual matters and politics, and though not entirely comforting, it is ultimately fascinating and informative, not to mention highly thought-provoking. His accent didn't bother me (I wish I could sound as erudite in another language), and a slow start notwithstanding, this is a great course, perfect for listening while you drive, walk, or work on mundane tasks. It will harm none, inform and enlighten all, so take the course if thou wilt!
Date published: 2016-01-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just not quite interesting enough... ...for me to overcome the thickness of his accent. Sometimes I really had to struggle to make out what he was saying. I hate to admit it - I mean, he can't help how he speaks - but in the end I gave up listening. Hence the average scores for the course.
Date published: 2016-01-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Brilliant only in part... This is the third course I have taken given by Professor Ruiz, the others being “Other 1492…”, and “Medieval Europe – Crisis and Renewal”. I found both of these courses absolutely brilliant, two of the best within the TGC history course repertoire. I was therefore anticipating hearing the current one. I was disappointed… The course, as Professor Ruiz says himself at the beginning, is really a compilation of three almost independent mini-courses: one on late medieval and early modern mysticism, another on Heresy, and the third on witches. The first part was about mysticism and I honestly did not enjoy it – hard as I tried to. I found it to be really quite unfocused and disjointed – more of a set of small biographies than a general integrative perspective of this phenomenon. Indeed, Professor Ruiz says himself in the course that most of his students find this topic hard to digest and he reassures us as we plod through this material: “don’t worry – the witches are coming soon….”. I found the second part much better. Professor Ruiz is a social historian, and his analyses are always quite profound and interesting. After going through almost all of the Medieval history courses in the TGC, however, I was quite familiar with the material and there were not so many new insights for me here. In particular, I enjoyed Professor Daileader’s treatment of this subject in his wonderful course trilogy on the medieval era. The third and final part of the course, the one concerning witches, was very well done indeed and I enjoyed it tremendously. This was more on par with the other courses I have heard by Professor Ruiz, and contained interesting social and sociological analyses of this bizarre phenomenon. So overall, for me, one part was really hard to plod through, another part was OK, and the final part was brilliant. Obviously I am less than ecstatic…
Date published: 2016-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and spectacular tour-de-force! This is an utterly brilliant course that incorporates and integrates the study of history with sociology, psychology, cultural anthropology, the philosophy of history, and more importantly, critical thinking. It's a remarkable achievement in clearly elucidating and delineating, with the integration of the multiple disciplines listed above, how history, or rather, History, is recorded or 'made'. Take, for instance, the following example: there's a gathering of a large family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, with the two older sons and two daughters, with their respective children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.; a "normal" family with the usual assortment of unresolved issues, minor or otherwise, and some deeper simmering resentments on the part of one member or another. Two months later, it is asked of the "family patriarch" to render a full and true account of the gathering. Okay, simple enough, but wait a minute: what about the perspective of oldest son, or the younger female sibling? What about how the grandmother saw or perceived the gathering? It's highly doubtful that all members of this clan will have the *exact* same impressions and "true" account of what transpired, good or otherwise, during the gathering. And so it is with History except that in the above example we see it as an obvious fact, but with the study of History, this simple and key notion is completely ignored and taken for granted. Who "makes" History? How is historical "fact" and "truth" transmitted through generations? Who decides which "facts" are relevant and others spurious? These are the key concepts that this course eloquently elucidates in the context of religious heresy. I take issue with some comments regarding the esteemed professor's alleged "accent". Regrettably, some cannot hide or suppress their prejudices irrespective of fact and reality. Not only does Prof. Ruiz speak intelligibly and fluently, his vocabulary and eloquence of speech exceeds even native born speakers of english. Thus, I find any suggestion of "hard of understanding his english" both puzzling and absurd.
Date published: 2015-11-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Witch Heretic was Mystical His heavy accent is a distraction as others have noted. Be forewarned. The material covers more than just witches. Defining who or what is a witch or a heretic or a mystic depends on who is doing the defining. This makes the subject matter all the more interesting to me. Many aspects of history that might be glossed over are revealed here in this course. The course contains much that is fascinating. This is the dark side of history.
Date published: 2015-05-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from "In a sense" and other crutches used over and over The course seemed unfocused and unorganized to me. English is not the lecturer's native language and he mispronounces many words, making it hard to understand what he is saying at times. He adds in "e" in front of every word that begins with a "s," so that "state" becomes "estate," "scapegoat" becomes "escapegoat," and "Spain" becomes "Espain." Almost every sentence has some kind or crutch or filler. He puts "in a sense" in front of almost every phrase; after you have heard "in a sense" 10 times in the last minute, it is hard to pay attention. All in all, it was a struggle and chore to have to listen to him.
Date published: 2015-04-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Shows How Ideas on Witchcraft Developed Ruiz does an excellent job of showing how thoughts about witches were grounded in the political and economic developments of the middle ages and the early modern period. He shows how ideas of magic and mysticism were a part of these societies. He concludes by showing how witches were often members of classes or groups that had been marginalized, for various reasons, from society. This is good overall, but he gets bogged down a bit too much in the lectures on mysticism.
Date published: 2015-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent to whet your appetite This course is an excellent introduction to many aspects of spirituality of all sorts, not just the Abrahamic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I only wish there had been more on indigenous mysticism of the aborigines, African tribes, and South & Central America, as well as North American First Nations.
Date published: 2015-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Course of the Best Courses I have listened to this course three times - so far. It is fascinating from beginning to end. I had some basic historical background about this period, but this course made all of the diverse facts coherent. The instructor was very good. I couldn't have been more pleased.
Date published: 2015-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches The lecturer was brilliant. His knowledge of the subject was obviously acquired over a lifetime of research and teaching. Professor Ruiz is a great speaker. Although some complained about his accent, he was completely understandable and there is no problem in understanding him. I would recommend this course to virtually anyone with an interest in the social history he presented in this course. As always he provides requisite background information and quotes from original sources. He is passionate and his lectures gave a real understanding of the conditions of the elderly and the lower classes who were in fact the target of this particular aspect of "The Terror of History"
Date published: 2015-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from before the holocaust This course provides an account of the use of religion in politics and how and why the threats to the authority of rulers were managed . The course recounts in interesting detail how the Church became involved as an advocate for torture and persecution and war . The lectures are filled with captivating detail. The expanded exposure to this topic documents the growth of 'win at all costs' as a strategy for leaders and governments that feel threatened.
Date published: 2014-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Lecturer and Fascinating Topic Prof Ruiz presents a course which deals with the transition from the gradual collapse of Roman governance to the primacy of the Church. His focus on the role of geographic isolation and a notion of time that is jarring to our modern ears left me thinking about this course for some time. I have used some of his notions in my own teaching. This is not a course to which anyone should listen without first developing an appreciation of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. See FX Noble's course on Rome and Deladier on the Early Middle Ages.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought provoking These audio lectures are a combination of medieval (1000-1700 AD) history and philosophy that attempts to explain how those living during this time of social uncertainties and violence came to cope with it all. Prof Ruiz weaves together the dichotomy of views of the educated (able to read and write their views) with the largely illiterate 'masses' (those dealing with word-of-mouth half-truths and rumors). The explanation/descriptions of mystics, while a bit dry, laid the groundwork for understanding the heretics and finally the witches (and other social scapegoats) are mostly developed by the elite and only vaguely understood by the masses. People like Frances of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, and Bernard of Clairvaux (hardly names that roll easily off the tongue...at least my tongue) are shown to have had a very strong influence, not only in their time, but extending far into the 21st century (Dan Brown certainly draws heavily from those types of mystics). But did the masses even come close to understanding their messages, or were those larger-than-life figures just there to somehow bring meaning to their otherwise cruel life (Ruiz's Terror). The real 'meat' of the lectures, however, are the bad guys....the heretics and witches, which provide the masses someone/something to blame for their misery. Much like the masses saw the inquisition of heretics in the 15th century as a test of Christian faith, we see heretics today, mostly on the front pages of the newspapers..."Shiite/Sunni Strife Hits Middle East", or "Branch Davidians Die in Conflagration" (I made those headline up, but you get the idea). And we all know about the witch hunts in the 17th century (think Salem, especially with Halloween coming up) in which as many as 100,000 women (and men) died horrible deaths (burning or hanging) for no really good reason, other than somebody didn't like them. As Ruiz points out, how is that different from the "Red scare" of the 1950's or the current atrocities within Islam (aka beheading for religious disagreements). Oh my, there's a lot of meat here, with plenty left over for future food for thought! Good, not great lectures. Difficult at times (I needed to re-listen to several of the mystics lectures to really get it) but it pays off in the end. Recommend, but only when on sale and you have a coupon or two.
Date published: 2014-09-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not a good course This is my 5th course through The Teaching Company and this is the only one of the five that I haven't finished. I was really excited to take this course based on the content and reviews. I did see some negative ones dealing with his disjointed teaching method and lack of focus but I brushed them off. I really should have listened. I made it to the 7th lecture and turned it off. He took a topic that I enjoyed and bored me to tears. Someone could create a drinking game based on the numerous times he says "I will explain later" and that later never really came. My experience though the The Great Courses has been great and I don't blame them. I'm sure some will enjoy his teaching style but not me. I will avoid any future courses taught by this professor,
Date published: 2014-08-05
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