The distinction between magical and religious practices is in the context

[The distinction between magical and religious practices is in the context. A big difference between traditional Catholicism and fundamental Protestantism is that Catholicism comfortably embraced the magical traditions of the people while Protestantism advocated a return to original Christianity (by the Book) and strictly rejected the magical elements of Catholicism. Of course, Faust’s embrace of magic was sinful by either standard. In England, Anglicanism was designed as a “middle way” between Catholicism and fundamentalist Protestantism to keep everybody equally happy and unhappy.

Used in magic, apart from protecting the magician and punishing the demon, holy water superficially sanctifies the act and compels the lower spirits. On the other hand, attempting to compel God to do anything is sinful. That would include charms and prayers. After all, if He wanted something to be a certain way, that’s the way it would be. He knows everything—you think He needs people wheedling favours all the time?

Charms and blessings were often a sop to the ignorant peasant folk who didn’t understand Christianity and wanted to keep with the old pre-Christian and superstitious ways. When a field was sowed, they wanted the traditional pagan blessing. The priest would go along with it, but with Christian touches. Fortunately, if you were just an ignorant peasant, nobody expected much of you. Without being able to read, and having no Bibles, regular folk were pretty much ignorant of the fine details of Christianity and all they knew was what the priest said, and that was in Latin which they didn’t understand. They just pretty much did what the priest told them to do. If your opinion actually mattered, or you stuck your head out, and they wanted that head, once the interrogations started, Christianity could be a maze in a minefield.

Then around the time of Faust, with the printing press and affordable translations of the Bible into common language, people learned how to read and read the Bible. They were surprised at what was and wasn’t in it. Even today, that’s common. Who’s the Devil? What about Mary? Where’s the Pope in the Bible? Why’s he so rich? They got pretty upset, because they felt they’d been misled by the Church. Hence, Protestantism. That’s when the heads really started to roll. Anyway, this is about holy water….]

From Wikipedia:

“Holy water is water that has been blessed by a member of the clergy or a religious figure. The use for cleansing prior to a baptism and spiritual cleansing is common in several religions, from Christianity to Sikhism. The use of holy water as a sacramental for protection against evil is common among Anglicans and Roman Catholics.”

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Protection against evil
Saint Teresa of Avila, by Rubens, 1615

‘Catholic saints have written about the power of holy water as a force that repels evil. Saint Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water and wrote that she used it with success to repel evil and temptations. She wrote:

“I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like Holy water.”

In Holy Water and Its Significance for Catholics Henry Theiler states that in addition to being a strong force in repelling evil, holy water has the twofold benefit of providing grace for both body and soul.’


“In Catholicism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and some other churches, holy water is water that has been sanctified by a priest for the purpose of baptism, the blessing of persons, places, and objects, or as a means of repelling evil.”


“The use of holy water in the earliest days of Christianity is attested to only in somewhat later documents. The Apostolic constitutions, which go back to about the year 400, attribute the precept of using holy water to the Apostle Matthew. It is plausible that in earliest Christian times water was used for expiatory and purificatory purposes in a way analogous to its employment in Jewish Law. Yet, in many cases, the water used for the Sacrament of Baptism was flowing water, sea or river water, and it could not receive the same blessing as that contained in the baptisteries in the view of the Roman Catholic church.”


“Sprinkling with holy water is used as a sacramental that recalls baptism. Holy water is kept in the holy water font, which is typically located at the entrance to the church (or sometimes in a separate room or building called a baptistery). Smaller vessels, called stoups, are usually placed at the entrances of the church, to enable people to sprinkle themselves with it on entering. In recent years, with the concerns over influenza, new holy water machines that work like an automatic soap dispenser have become popular.

In the Middle Ages the power of holy water was considered so great that in some places fonts had locked covers to prevent the theft of holy water for unauthorized magic practices. The Constitutions of Archbishop Edmund Rich (1236) prescribe that “Fonts are to be kept under lock and key, because of witchcraft (sortilegia). Similarly the chrism and sacred oil are kept locked up.”

In Catholicism, holy water, as well as water used during the washing of the priest’s hands at mass, is not allowed to be disposed of in regular plumbing. Roman Catholic churches will usually have a special basin (a Sacrarium) that leads directly into the ground for the purpose of proper disposal. A hinged lid is kept over the holy water basin to distinguish it from a regular sink basin, which is often just beside it. Items that contained holy water are separated, drained of the holy water, and then washed in a regular manner in the adjacent sink.”

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