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May 22, 2008

Comments

ajesquire

"It was not always a case of hysterical superstition run wild, sometimes it was more likely just a case of vendetta. Like in the post-war years, if you wanted to ruin someone, you just started a rumor that they were a communist sympathizer. No evidence necessary"

Or, for a more contemporary example, if you're in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq and you want to exact revenge or ruin business competition, you turn them in as "al-qaida", and off to Gitmo they go. No evidence necessary.

Tim J.

Oh, DO stay on topic, please. This is not a War on Terror debate.

Brian Day

Or, for a more contemporary example, if you're in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq and you want to exact revenge or ruin business competition, you turn them in as "al-qaida", and off to Gitmo they go. No evidence necessary.

Oh, please. First, the US has no troops in Pakistan so accusing someone as AQ there means nothing. What are the Pakistanis going to do, drive them to the border and say, "Here. Take these people off of our hands."?
Next, please provide data that all it takes is a snitch to send someone off to Gitmo. It takes more than a rumor to have someone classified as an enemy combatant.

Eric

If the accusation’s raison d'être is only one of personal animus, it still needs hysterical superstition run wild to make the threat potent. Moreover, it seems we’ve moved well past the idea that burning witches is restricted only to Christians. This episode from Africa tends to confirm everything Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have been writing about the nature of any sort of faith in the supernatural.

Tim J.

There, now, see? That's better.

Wrong, but on topic, at least.

Brian Day

Oh, DO stay on topic, please.

Tim J.,
My apologies. I should know better than to feed the trolls.

Tim J.

A big hint about why Dawkins and Hitchens, et all, would be wrong about witch burning being evidence that religion somehow unhinges people can be found in my post.

In brief, people are just highly un-hingeable, religion or not. McCarthyism - the Red Scare in general - is an example of what could be called a Secular Superstition. People don't really need that much to make them behave irrationally. Wrong information, multiplied by fear leads to panic and all manner of nutty or dangerous behavior.

The net is rife with secular superstitions. Look at Snopes.

Heck, look at Global Warming.

Matheus F. Ticiani

Dear Tim J.

After all the research that has been done recently, such as the breaking of the Venona Code, it turned out that the "Red Menace" (soviet influence within the US), far from being a superstition, was even bigger that McCarthy himself could imagine.

Matheus F. Ticiani

...than McCarthy himself could imagine.

Amy P.

This episode from Africa tends to confirm everything Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have been writing about the nature of any sort of faith in the supernatural.

How many millions of people of faith are there in the world (and the history of the world)? Of those, a relatively small minority across all spectrums has committed such atrocities.

Meanwhile, the godless secular governments preferred by Dawkins, Hitchens and the like have been responsible (directly or indirectly) for the deaths of 100 million people in the 20th century alone.

Tim J.

I don't know about that, Matheus, but none the less, there are any number of such instances that could be given... times when people acted on baseless fear (religious belief not withstanding).

I can't bring myself to congratulate anyone for not burning witches, if they don't believe in witches.

People jumped out of windows and patrolled around with guns in response to Orson Welles' radio play of War of the Worlds, and that didn't involve belief in the supernatural one way or another.

Shaka Zulu

everyone knows that only Christians burn witches.

Perhaps that's why the news reports don't mention the religion of the Kenyan perpetrators, as "everyone knows" that Kenya is mostly Christian.

"Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, Muslim 10%, indigenous beliefs 10%, other 2%. Note: A large majority of Kenyans are Christian, but estimates for the percentage of the population that adheres to Islam or indigenous beliefs vary widely."

Of course, I was later told by another reporter that it wasn't Christians who burned witches. It was the Catholic Church that did that, he said.

Shaka Zulu

People jumped out of windows and patrolled around with guns in response to Orson Welles' radio play of War of the Worlds, and that didn't involve belief in the supernatural one way or another.

For those who don't believe in the supernatural, the actions of those who do believe can often be put in the same boat: irrational behavior. It's the believers who claim a distinction.

Tim J.

Sources? Evidence?

Matheus F. Ticiani
I don't know about that, Matheus, but none the less, there are any number of such instances that could be given...

I didn't disagree with your comment, just wanted to offer some trivia information regarding one of your arguments. Something that has already been mentioned here and that would illustrate is the more than 1,000 people trampled by the crowds during Stalin's funeral.
And by the way, I never new whether or not you got my reply to the e-mail you sent me.

Matheus F. Ticiani

...illustrate your point... Sorry!

Mary

Belief in witchcraft is found in just about every society, except modern industrialized ones and hunters-and-gathers. And most of them have witch hunts.

David B.

This episode from Africa tends to confirm everything Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have been writing about the nature of any sort of faith in the supernatural.

The truth can often lead to a different reaction from different people. Believing in the 'supernatural' doesn't mean one is insane. Yes, belief opens up new avenues for the unbalanced to explore new idiocy within themselves, but this is not the point of the Christian Faith, nor is it the normal course of its adherents. One with an agenda could find a dozen different causes for someone's craziness, and the argument is very often based on a personal bias.

Leo

I wonder what neo-Pagans in the 'developed world' make of this story? If one believes in the efficacy of magic and witchcraft, there could be circumstances when killing someone who used witchcraft to harm others might be legitimate self-defence. Witches might support some witch killing.

Belief in the efficacy of magic did not spring from Christianity. Magical beliefs are Pagan/Animist and predate Christianity.

We observe that humans can effect change. "Primitive" people attributed will and agency to natural forces and objects. Sometimes to the extent of anthropomorphizing rivers and trees. These 'personalized agencies' were often capricious and unpredictable eg floods, and had to be propitiated/bribed (ie the opposite of Grace).

We easily understand that one human might bear malice towards another and the possible motives. Impersonal and abstract answers (ie blind natural laws) might be intellectually satisfying but tend not to satisfy vulnerable emotions following a tragedy.

But 'impersonal' explanations are not intellectually satisfying to those without sufficient knowledge of the impersonal mechanisms. Especially if that mechanism is counter-intuitive or complex.

Without scientific knowledge, which is easier to believe: my child is ill because tiny creatures I cannot see, entered their body and overwhelmed other invisible 'cells'; or, that an unpopular strange woman cursed them? A 'witch' is a more obviously tangible, observable and simple cause than bacteria.

Humans find it easier to personalize blame to the point of scapegoating specific individuals than 'blame' complex abstract causes. It is easier to blame Jews, Al Gore or other visible persons than 'complex economic factors' etc.. The tabloid media tend to personalize a complex issue to find a 'hero' or 'villian'.

Until a couple of hundred years ago most people in Europe found it easy to blame witches. Today, many people in rural Africa have not had the benefit of basic literacy let alone been 'brainwashed' by science education about bacteria as a cause of disease.

Belief in magic and magicians/witches preceded the idea of an omnipotent loving creator who designed the laws of nature. Belief in a rational creator of physical laws was one of the intellectual conditions which led to the development of modern science.

Elijah

Witches making bright kids dumb? Dang, I think they've hit my neighborhood too! Wait 'til I find them!

bill912

"Belief in magic and magicians/witches preceded the idea of an omnipotent loving creator who designed the laws of nature."

The Bible says otherwise.

ASimpleSinner

No one who loves to bring up the Inquisition ever seems to care to discuss the witch burning epidemic in Northern (Protestant) Europe (or the Cromwellian penal system)...

Good to remember the witches!

Vince C

I don't know if it relates, but this whole conversation reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

"I conclude then, that though the differences between people's ideas of Decent Behaviour often make you suspect that there is no real natural Law of
Behaviour at all, yet the things we are bound to think about these differences really prove just the opposite. But one word before I end. I
have met people who exaggerate the differences, because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief
about facts. For example, one man said to me, "Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the
Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we
did-if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return
and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the
death penalty, then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may
be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You
would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house."

Glinda

That's a cute story by C.S. Lewis, but as Tim J reminded, it's not simply "differences of belief about facts". Even then, "witch" was a socially acceptable label used to mask a vendetta or grievance, not always a word used to reflect actual belief about facts, as there was "no evidence necessary."

SDG

That's a cute story by C.S. Lewis, but as Tim J reminded, it's not simply "differences of belief about facts". Even then, "witch" was a socially acceptable label used to mask a vendetta or grievance, not always a word used to reflect actual belief about facts, as there was "no evidence necessary."

There is still an irreducible "belief about facts" factor, though. If nobody believed that the word witch signified something real, its use in a vendetta or grievance would be unlikely to be effective.

I forgot.

You have to protect the innocent and also make everyone lose all enchantment with evil.The worst mistake of the inquisistion is to have stopped it.

Now that witches exist...
If you believe that there are demons, then you must by consequence believe that they have their human agents.

Both angels and men are social creatures. They form societies.

Now there are good angels and bad ones, better known as demons.

Angels and demons are always trying to excert their influence on people. Angels promote things for the triumph of the Church. The devils crazily try to destroy Her. Saints are the soldiers of God consciencely.

Now there are those who consciencely give their lives to the service of evil. And the demons, who being angels, which have a collosal amount of power, share it with their angents.

Sleeping Beastly

Just wanted to make a few points:

1. There are, as a matter of fact, many people who claim to practice witchcraft. Some of them are believers, and others are charlatans. The late Anton LaVey claimed to be both at once- I'll leave you to decide whether to take at face value the claims of an admitted satanist.

2. In some parts of Africa, being a witch or wizard is a profession. Real or not, these people advertise their services, and collect money for spells and curses and charms. It is not unusual for people to hire witches or wizards to do everything from cursing their enemies to increasing the length of certain body parts.

3. I would not be surprised to learn that every single victim of this violence had been plying a trade as a witch, and collecting money for the very services for which they were killed.

My sympathies in this case are with both the killers and the victims. I myself used to meddle in the occult, and I am very grateful that I was given the freedom to live, and eventually convert, rather than being burned at stake. I also wonder whether I would even have started my dark dabbling if such a crime were punishable by death.

Please pray for everyone involved, and hope they are all granted the same grace and forgiveness we wish for ourselves.

Aristotle

It is a myth that witches were commonly burned at the stake.

They were not burned; they were hanged.

Miffed

"It was not always a case of hysterical superstition run wild, sometimes it was more likely just a case of vendetta. Like in the post-war years, if you wanted to ruin someone, you just started a rumor that they were a communist sympathizer. No evidence necessary"

Or if you are a male, it just takes a rumor that you are a stalker/pedophile/harasser/rapist. No evidence needed.

Glinda

If nobody believed that the word witch signified something real, its use in a vendetta or grievance would be unlikely to be effective.

As long as there's an "if", there'll always be room for the power of imagination. And as long as the word "witch" has been used and remains in use, it will continue to signify "something real" to someone.

It is a myth that witches were commonly burned at the stake. They were not burned; they were hanged.

Was it ever "common"? These "witches" were burned, not hanged, officials said. And speaking of "official," is it true that "In 1184, the Roman Catholic Synod of Verona legislated that burning was to be the official punishment for heresy. This decree was later reaffirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, the Synod of Toulouse in 1229, and numerous spiritual and secular leaders through the 17th century."?

SDG

And as long as the word "witch" has been used and remains in use, it will continue to signify "something real" to someone.

And my point stands.

And speaking of "official," is it true that "In 1184, the Roman Catholic Synod of Verona legislated that burning was to be the official punishment for heresy. This decree was later reaffirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, the Synod of Toulouse in 1229, and numerous spiritual and secular leaders through the 17th century."?

Let us suppose that it is true. Did you mean to rebut Aristotle's comments about the execution of witches, or were you changing the subject?

Glinda

And my point stands.

Your "point" is your "if", which stands as long as you imagine.

Let us suppose that it is true. Did you mean to rebut Aristotle's comments about the execution of witches, or were you changing the subject?

Neither. I asked a question in furtherance of what is "commonly" reported vs what is "offical." If I were interested in rebutting Aristotle's comment, I could have cited, for example, the Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 762, which states in regard to executions for heresy, "burning at the stake being commonly employed for this purpose."

SDG

Your "point" is your "if", which stands as long as you imagine.

It wasn't. My point was your response.

If I were interested in rebutting Aristotle's comment, I could have cited, for example, the Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 762, which states in regard to executions for heresy, "burning at the stake being commonly employed for this purpose."

With enough imagination, you could pretend that such a response would rebut Aristotle's comment.

David B.

Glinda's still mad Dorothy killed the her sister. :-)

(Just kidding, people. If 'Glinda's' name is Glinda, awesome. I'm just being light-hearted)

Glinda

My point was your response

Great, then you agree my response stands.

With enough imagination, you could pretend that such a response would rebut Aristotle's comment.

I might also rebut Aristotle's statement ("They were not burned; they were hanged") by pointing out that while in England and Scotland "witches" were often hanged and not burned, this was not the case everywhere. In other places, "witches" were strangled before being burned, or wet leaves were placed on the fire to asphyxiate the victim before burning. Burning was reportedly incorporated to prevent resurrection of the body. In Sweden, "witches" were beheaded and then burned, not hanged at all. And in some parts of Germany, they were beheaded or drowned, not hanged or burned. And of course Africa, where for example the 11 "witches" in the report were burned, not hanged.

But like I asked before, whether burned or hanged or drowned or however, was execution of "witches" ever "common"? It's been said that more women were executed for infanticide than for witchcraft. And of those tried for witchcraft, the overall conviction rate was reportedly around 50-55 percent -- low as criminal prosecutions went in those days. Even upon conviction, death was not the inevitable outcome. In Spain, for example, reconciliation with the Church was the norm. Of course, in some other places, death was the usual sentence.

Glinda's still mad Dorothy killed the her sister

If you remember, at the end, Glinda led the Munchkins in a joyful dance.

SDG

(Just kidding, people. If 'Glinda's' name is Glinda, awesome. I'm just being light-hearted)

Witch and gnostic troll have two distinct smells, David B. Can't you tell? ;-)

Great, then you agree my response stands.

At the expense of your earlier point, perhaps.

I might also rebut Aristotle's statement

"Also" seems to presuppose having previously rebutted Aristotle's point. Since you hadn't done so previously, it's not clear that you can "also" do so now.

If you remember, at the end, Glinda led the Munchkins in a joyful dance.

If you remember, she didn't, at least not "at the end" of the 1939 film, or the 1900 book.

Jared Weber

_Inquisition_ by Edward Peters.

READ IT (it you haven't already ... or even if you have).

...

As to the rest of this ... it has, for the past few years, been my prayer that those who--due to lack of personal experience--are sceptical as to the existance or efficacy of witchcraft and the occult, remain sceptical.

Glinda

At the expense of your earlier point, perhaps.

With enough imagination, you can imagine anything.

"Also" seems to presuppose having previously rebutted Aristotle's point. Since you hadn't done so previously, it's not clear that you can "also" do so now.

You might "also" note the word "might" (i.e. possibility rather than certainty) that preceded the word "also". As to what I might "also" do that I haven't done previously, I might "also" (i.e. in addition to whatever else I might do or have done) cook dinner while singing a song, whether I've previously done so or not.

If you remember, she didn't, at least not "at the end" of the 1939 film, or the 1900 book.

I might also remind, I'm not talking about fiction.

Maureen

Re: burning

IIRC, in Renaissance/Enlightenment law, burning at the stake was generally the penalty for "petit treason" (as opposed to high treason, against the king or such, which got you drawn and quartered while still alive, or other fun things). Subversive acts against any authority was considered something that could undermine the Divine Right of Kings (and the Centralization of Taxes and Power, and the Gradual Elimination of Pesky Nobles, both of which could be good or bad).

Hence, someone who murdered his rightful superior, or a family member who murdered the head of the household, was burned for petty treason. Likewise, heresy was considered to be petty treason (for causing unrest in the state and betraying others through false teaching). Likewise, witchcraft came to be considered petty treason.

But in early medieval Europe ("the Dark Ages"), the Church largely threw its weight into protecting accused witches (who were routinely killed in pagan society) as well as actual pagan priests and priestesses. The rationale was that, since the false gods weren't real and since demons were relatively powerless losers when confronted with God's name, it showed a lack of faith in God if one killed witches. Witches were only to be punished for their physical actions (physically killing or stealing) and not for any alleged magical ones.

I'm no jurisprudence scholar, though, so it could all be utterly wrong.

Mary

Even then, "witch" was a socially acceptable label used to mask a vendetta or grievance, not always a word used to reflect actual belief about facts, as there was "no evidence necessary."

so what?

I bet that could be said about a lot of criminal accusations.

Mary

Incidentally, I recommend the Witchcraft and Magic in Europe series for anyone who is interested in the topic.

Glinda

so what? I bet that could be said about a lot of criminal accusations.

I bet "so what" can said about that too. I bet most anything "could be said." For example, it's been said that the courts routinely showed notable restraint and caution when trying witchcraft suspects, with judges and inquisitors seemingly quite concerned to reach fair verdicts. It's even been said that some of the most ferocious witch hunters were also some of the most cultured patrons of contemporary learning. And, of course, it's also been said that many were raving lunatics.

SDG

With enough imagination, you can imagine anything.

Yes, your demonstration of this point has been more than persuasive.

I might also

You might also begin any sentence you like with those words; given your established usage, it would seem unlikely to be worth anyone's time finishing the sentence.

Glinda

it's not clear... it would seem...

Just your imagination running about in its own fog. That's all it is! You've always had the power to go back. Whenever you wish. Are you ready now?

Tim J.

"As to the rest of this ... it has, for the past few years, been my prayer that those who--due to lack of personal experience--are sceptical as to the existance or efficacy of witchcraft and the occult, remain sceptical."

Just a note to address Jared's point... I remain open to the possibility of modern-day witches. I will say that - in Western societies - likely the vast majority even of people who call themselves witches are not, just as most of the new pagans aren't really pagans, but (as C.S. Lewis noted) "apostate puritans".

But if one believes in demons, it is hard to dismiss the idea of witchcraft. If it didn't exist, then the prohibitions against it in scripture would be kind of pointless.

Of course, I do believe in trolls, Glinda.

SDG

Just your imagination running about in its own fog. That's all it is! You've always had the power to go back. Whenever you wish. Are you ready now?

Heh. You're (possibly deliberately) confusing looking at fog (me) with being in (or even simply being) fog (you). Since pretty much all you've ever done around here is generate (or embody) fog, it's not surprising.

BTW, if you remember (and you might not, since you evidently haven't watched it recently), Glinda is just about the only notable character in Oz without a real-world counterpart. So when Dorothy does go back, everyone else is still there, still real… but not her.

Mary

For example, it's been said that the courts routinely showed notable restraint and caution when trying witchcraft suspects, with judges and inquisitors seemingly quite concerned to reach fair verdicts.

Not the courts in general. The Spanish Inquisition and the Inquisition in Italy. That's why they had so few executions for witchcraft. When rules like theirs were taken up by other countries, they also stopped burning so many witches.

This, of course, is a historical statement on which useful evidence is available. See, for instance, the Witchcraft and Magic series I mentioned.

Glinda

You're (possibly deliberately) confusing looking at fog (me) with being in (or even simply being) fog (you). Since pretty much all you've ever done around here is generate (or embody) fog, it's not surprising.

Whatever fog you see is nothing more than your own breath.

Glinda is just about the only notable character in Oz without a real-world counterpart. So when Dorothy does go back, everyone else is still there, still real… but not her.

Stop breathing and look in the mirror.

Not the courts in general.

Yes, that too has been said.

SDG

Whatever fog you see is nothing more than your own breath.

Said the fog-breather, breathing fog as he spoke.

Stop breathing and look in the mirror.

Stop breathing? Well, yes, someday I will. And when that happens I will look into a mirror, of sorts. And so will you. And all the fog will be blown away.

David B.

If you remember, at the end, Glinda led the Munchkins in a joyful dance.

Joking!


Witch and gnostic troll have two distinct smells, David B. Can't you tell? ;-)

I may not be able to while I have this nasal problem. I only sniff 50% of a normal person. ;-)


P.S. Stop breathing and look in the mirror.

The above response is nonsense, if I do say so myself. It has no connection to anything in this 'discussion.' Sorry, but I had to say it.

SDG, you're smart enough to need no advice from me, but I nevertheless think you're wasting your time with this 'Glinda.'

SDG

SDG, you're smart enough to need no advice from me, but I nevertheless think you're wasting your time with this 'Glinda.'

Yes. I am smart enough to know that, and have for a long time. (And Glinda is smart enough to know that I know it.) Thanks, friend. :‑)

Elijah

David B.,

Eh...which 50% of a normal person do you sniff? And what about abnormal people? How much of them do you sniff?

Okay, I'll try to stop being annoying now.

David B.

Elijah,

Eh...which 50% of a normal person do you sniff? And what about abnormal people? How much of them do you sniff?

I specifically worded my post to make the impression you received. :-)
I don't sniff people, (at least, not on purpose!) so everybody can breathe a sigh of relief! I'm not going to be sniffing around for you! Or am I??? Mwa hah ha ha ha! :-D

Mary

Glinda is just about the only notable character in Oz without a real-world counterpart.

Only according to Hollywood. Folks really should read the book.

SDG

Only according to Hollywood. Folks really should read the book.

Indeed. Of course, in the book none of the Oz characters have "counterparts" in Kansas, because the whole Oz adventure is unambiguously real. Thus, e.g., when Dorothy returns, she naturally finds her house gone and Uncle Henry rebuilding it. (One could choose to salvage the movie on this point by supposing, e.g., that Glinda swirling her magic wand behind Dorothy's head undoes the destruction of the house... but it's hard to explain the relationship between Hunk, Hank and Hickory and Dorothy's three friends in Oz, etc.)

And of course in the book the Good Witch of the North who meets Dorothy on her arrival is not Glinda, who actually turns out to be the Good Witch of the South. And the Wizard is both more of a Humbug, and also less. In many ways it's a more interesting story, as great as the film is. I wish someone would do a really good, faithful adaptation of the book that completely sidestepped remaking the movie... but that seems rather unlikely.

materfamilias

Regarding famous witch trials, I recommend the book Salem Possessed, in which a historical anthropologist shows that the families of the accusers and the accused were from different parts of Salem and were involved in land disputes. That's a very rough summary, but it makes very interesting reading.

labrialumn

Then there is the recent Sci-Fi adaptation _Return to Oz_. Comments?

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