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Give us Jehane to Burn or Drown!

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2014 10:48 pm    Post subject: Give us Jehane to Burn or Drown! Reply with quote

Much to the scorn of people like Richard Littlejohn, the fair minded and soft hearted objected to Roald Dahl's children's book, 'The Witches', because the witches were made out to be evil. Historically, people accused of witchcraft were not evil. They were victims.They had been accused of an impossible crime.

One thing's for sure. If your neighbours' scientific test for your witch credentials is to throw you into a river on the understanding that if you drown, you're innocent, and if you float, you'll be executed, they're going to get rid of you one way or the other.

Much as I disliked Margaret Thatcher, I was a bit uneasy about the jingle,'Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!' last year. I impatiently told myself to grow up. The witch craze in Europe was so long ago, it could not matter any more.

But in much of the world it is not over. Only the other day a 45 year old woman in Paraguay was convicted of witchcraft by a tribal court. She was then tied to a stake, shot full of arrows and burnt to death.

In Papua New Guinea people are often lynched for allegedly being witches. This is also common in South Africa. The accusation is often made in India. In Saudi Arabia, not long ago, a man was formally executed for witchcraft because he had literature in the Eritrean alphabet.

How confident can we be in Europe that we have put all this behind us? Not at all confident!

Pentecostal Christians of African or African Caribbean origin in Britain often accuse children of being witches.The children are sometimes battered to death or dismembered.

What about white native British people? Has the Age of Reason dawned for them? No.

In his 'Pie and Mash' internet videos, the offbeat anti-child abuse campaigner, Bill Mahoney, sniffed round Haute de la Garenne. He then wandered down the street, looking at ornaments in people's windows and gardens. If he saw a human figurine, he said, ''That's witchcraft!''He wasn't joking.

So what about in Cymru, where people are secularising fast? Have we put belief in witches behind us? No.

I have a friend with bad paranoia. She was worrying about another woman's mental ill health. Some irresponsible nitwit told her that the woman had been sent mad 'by the witches who live next door.'

I had to field an agitated phone call about witches. She demanded,''Why did people burn them at the stake if they weren't evil?'' I said,''Well, why did people put Jews in gas ovens? Does it mean the Jews were evil, or does it mean the people who did it were evil?''

''Well, what about that book,' The Tiger, the Witch and the Broom Cupboard?'', she shouted,''The witch in that was evil.'' I asked, ''Do you mean 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'?''

On getting an affirmative answer, I said,''Well, Judy, that's a fantasy novel. Narnia doesn't exist. However many times I've been in a wardrobe, I've never found the way to Narnia!"

At her sixtieth birthday party, Judy was still harping on like this. She stated in a matter of fact way that her brother's tinnitus had been caused by a witch's curse.

I demurred, and said with what I took for impressive gravitas that Christians had murdered thousands if not millions of alleged witches but there was no evidence that witches had done Christians any harm at all, one of my favourite mantras.

Judy quickly punctured my self assurance. She has a genius for making you look a fool with well timed bathos. ''Well, they caused my brother's tinnitus'', she said stolidly. Another guest said it was more likely to be caused by standing too near the stage at rock concerts.I remarked that medical text books probably didn't cite witchcraft as a cause of tinnitus. I don't think either of us did any good.

Some might think neither Bill nor Judy are typical citizens. Perhaps they have lost touch with reality. Maybe, they are in a state like the guy who tried to stab the ex-Beatle George Harrison just before the turn of the millennium because he thought he was a witch.

Judy has been detained in a mental hospital for over a year now, but belief in witchcraft can be a cultural thing with otherwise sane people. I've known a Jehovah's Witness who believes implicitly in witchcraft.

A relative of mine in rural Wales told me she knew why she had recently been ill with frequent vomiting. Her neighbour had bewitched her. She know the neighbour was a witch because her spirit guide had told her so.

I really think this is a cultural phenomenon,not mental illness. And if the whole culture shares these beliefs that is terrifying. It is only a tiny step from thinking your neighbours are witches to setting them on fire. As Voltaire said, 'if we believe absurdities, we will commit atrocities.'

Contrary to what we might expect, there was little witch persecution in the Middle Ages. It was only with the coming of the printing press that persecution took off. Mass produced copies of 'The Hammer of Witches' spread the craze through Europe. Now, inflammatory rhetoric can be spread by the internet.

It's true that 'The Hammer of Witches' was full of deranged misogyny. But it has been alleged that not only were most of the victims female. At least in the British Isles, most of the accusers were women too.

For some reason or none, all the people I've met who have believed in witchcraft have been women. An awful woman in Africa has single handedly caused a witch craze by producing internet videos accusing babies and children of witchcraft.

A truly exasperating claim by some academics is that we should not say that all accused witches were innocent. For all we know, they may really have tried to cause harm by supernatural means. Yes, dear academics, they might have done. And if they did, their neighbours should have been glad that they were using such ineffective means. It is not possible to do anyone good or harm by supernatural agency. The universe does not work like that.

We should remember that clergymen often pronounced curses on all sorts of people from the pulpit. They obviously wanted a monopoly. It's a case of 'My magic is good; your magic is bad.'

Last edited by marianneh on Tue May 02, 2017 5:50 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 10:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very Happy

My first reaction is to wonder out loud as to when Republicans in Wales are going to be accused of witchcraft by Democrats in Wales ... I am happy to admit to some original sourcery in the sense of going back to the thoughts of Rousseau, Voltaire, Hobbes, Spinoza etc ...

... but more seriously, given the fashion for Neo-Paganism ( and I don't mind a bit of poetry and pantomime for the purposes of people expressing their sense of the world, especially their morality and ethics ) is it not possible that people are beginning to think in the same woolly-minded way that is given over to sensationalism that they are not interested in reality, since television is so much more alluring ? E.g. if snuff-videos do exist and certainly there was that phenomena of filming on mobile phones people running up to vulnerable strangers and slapping them as supposedly a practical joke, is not burning witches to be placed in the same category ?

Surely it is about finding somebody whose fate is considered to be of no consequence, typically historically a woman or a child, who can be abused for the purposes of a gratifying public spectacle ? What about pornography : whilst some would argue that the women involved are in control and doing it for a living, surely what the actresses portray are women being used as accessories to masturbation not human beings participating in mutual acts of pleasure ? Since pornography is more or less the main source of information for both male and female teenagers about how to conduct their sexual lives, isn't their whole conception of sexuality being founded upon the dehumanisation of women in the same way that the " witchification " of women was - or is - conducted ? If snuff-videos exist, are they not the exact counter-parts of medieval witch-burnings etc, and pornography as their pre-cursor the counter-part of the medieval church's teaching that women are the lustful ensnarers of men and basically evil - an entertaining idea for those seeking a cheap sexual thrill, but fundamentally a dangerous idea when it enters into a paranoid mind driven by the frustrated frightened sexualities of immature people e.g. it was not historically men who made allegations of witchcraft but women who were either jealous or jostling for their economic opportunities, being dependent upon men partly by the biology of our species as mothers and partly by the way in which that became institutionalised in property rights being vested in males who were competing to control the means to live - and to procreate : hence women themselves became male property ?

I think that you might well argue that the women who were burnt for sport in mediaval society were done so for the same reasons why people bash down nettles or throw stones into ponds - that weeds are a threat to an economic resource ( in crops ) or that stones are an inconvenience ( in a field ) and of no value other than to provide a moment's brief entertainment. The witchcraft craze in Germany took place after wars had disturbed the economics of society and women were competing with each other for the main economic resource - men. Those not securing a husband and resorting to selling themselves as prostitutes were an economic opportunity for those who conductd whore-houses and an economic threat to those whose husbands were lured to spend money there. Women too old to be profitably prostituted and otherwise dependent and not exploitable were the typical victims of the witch hunters, murdered in the medieval equivalent of the snuff-video but with the added adantage that they might be the possessors of property which could be seized and divided as the main object of the exercise after the spectacle was over. On the other hand there is also the figure of the virtuous and attractive younger woman who has refused to be prostituted and is punished by the revengeful spurned so-caled lover ( ! ) and as an example to those who refuse to accept themselves to be property to be disposed of either in marriage or in a brothel ( and the medieval church actually had brothels.)

As ever, what underlies what is argued to be politically legitimate is as often as not an economic opportunity e.g. pornography and prostitution.

The business of alleging that people are " witches " is above all a crowd-puller and a money-spinner : just go and visit Glastonbury's gift shops !
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