It is very interesting to learn and share the truth about witch-hunting in both a historical and modern context.
A witch is usually thought of as an old hag who has mystical powers and puts them to use with poisons or a curse.
She practices her craft with sorcery, black magic and an uncanny knack for fortune-telling.
Witchcraft is often called the disease of astonishment when people have strange fits or see things nobody can.
A witchdoctor is trusted to give advice and guidance on a certain problem while the wicked witch tends to meet a sticky end and get burnt at the stake.
So we have our origin and soruce for ‘wicked witch’. Whenever we light the ‘wick’ on a candle, we are burning something or someone who has done bad things.
According to old English anyway.
The essence of being a witch is that you need not have done any moral or legal wrong. You just need to believe like a witch and have red eyes, ginger hair and a whole load of freckles.
Then you the witch stand accused by the local community you serve of witchcraft in a witch-hunt driven by moral panic, mass hysteria, financial gain, jealousy and greed.
The root cause for this will likely be an epidemic outbreak, social unrest, religious extremism, poverty or just a basic lack of education.
Anyone who resembles a witch is a wrongdoer in any society and is considered only worthy of the wrath of puritan secularity and the whip of public penance.
You do not have to be a witch from yesteryear to be regarded as a witch in the modern era and to stand accused of wrongdoing. Trial by Media and social media will attend to that.
The classical age of ‘witch-hunting’ came in the medieval era of the fifteenth sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
It culimated in 1692-93 with the Salem Witch Trials centred around an expanding but distrustful migrant community in colonial Massachusetts America when twenty people were trialled and executed, fourteen of them women.
It was not until the Age of Enlighenment in the early nineteenth century that we saw a decline in the popularity of witchcraft as a practice and in the act of witch-hunting as a result.
Despite the sophisticated and developed modern world in which we live in the twenty first century, witchcraft is still practiced in many under-developed countries.
As an example, in India and Cameroon, witches are still hunted, trialled and executed, alsobeit, not by the ‘letter of the law’. Traditional beliefs in superstition die hard.
A witchdoctor can still today ply his trade, trying to help save the life of someone dying from an incurable disease, reconcile a broken marriage or enable a frustrated couple to conceive a child.
The modern era of ‘witch-hunting’ is very different. We are no longer talking about witches and witchcraft as in centuries past but about social oppression and an invasion upon or a curtailment of personal freedom.
So let’s reflect on a few situations where a witch-hunt can be said to have happened, either actually or figuratively:
The Salem Witch trials in Massachusetts of the late seventeenth century
The Spanish inquisition 1478 – 1834 affecting freedom of choice about a religion
Purge of American communists during the Cold War in the 1950s
Execution of so-called communists in Indonesia in 1965
Extermination of Jews by the Nazis during World War Two
Social cleansing of new nation states previously part of the former Yugoslavia
Spanish Civil War 1936-1939
Conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot in England 1605
The English Civil War in the 17th century – Parliament v Monarchy
Oppression of human rights to live with and marry someone of a different religion.
Community restrictions on two people living together or to who are not married
Social and Media ‘name and shame’ public smear campaigns
Vigilantism by national Governments in the name of counter-terrorism
Alienation of those who have made disclosure of truth in the public good (eg Edward Snowden)
Manipulation of humanity by the media to believe only what is reported
Neighborhood Watch over-regularisation (receiving a polite/or maybe not so polite warning letter from the Community Leader for not complying with the community regulations to mow the front lawn at least once a week)
Whistleblowing on colleagues at work for taking home supplies
Welcome then to the real world of witch-hunting where everyone is out to get something. Everyone is a witch and everyone is witch-hunted.
It’s a wicked world.