Torture and mythology, the pincers and the book, these were the essential machinery of the European witch craze. Out of hallucination and suggestion was created a terrible empire of darkness which then acquired a life and momentum of its own, independent of outside forces. By the mid-seventeenth century the documentation was so immense, the evidence so complete,the authorities so confident in their mutual corroboration, the penalties of non-conformity so great, that the return to sanity might well have seemed impossible.

Witch hanging. 1678. England

Witch hanging. 1678. England

A new church had been established, more universal than Catholicism or Protestantism, and all the forces of tradition, custom, discipline, and vested interest joined to sustain it. How could skepticism or sense prevail against so powerful a system? Even a challenge seemed impossible. The thing, it must have seemed, was final. It had come to stay. Or so weak men must have argued. So they always do, against any prevalent folly.And yet, as it happened, they were wrong. Even in the hour of triumph the monstrous system of persecution against witches that began in 1484 began to crumble; now here, now there, the opening cracks appeared. It was in the 1640′s that the persecution reached its height in England. Puritan England where even notables Sir Francis Bacon and John Selden, two of the greatest lay minds in the country, had to be careful to frame their skepticism and critique in discreet, orthodox terms.

Witch Hunters

Witch Hunters

As the rage for denunciation spread, whole families were exterminated, whole parishes depopulated. In Trier in 1585, when the Archbishop had aroused himself, two villages were left with only one female inhabitant apiece. And as the population shrank, so the executioner swelled in prosperity and social status. At Trier, he was almost the status of a nobleman and his wife vied with the aristocracy in dress and luxury. At Schongau in Bavaria, he rode about in state with his wife, two servants and a supply of needles to prick at potential witches creating an increasing supply of victims. In England the Cambridge Platonist and rational theologian Henry More was perfectly ready to believe not only that his own urine smelt of violets but that an old man had sailed over Shelford steeple by night and tore his breeches on the weathercock.

Witch Torture

Witch Torture

England of the 1640′s were the days when Matthew Hopkins, the notorious ”witch finder general”, spread terror all through East Anglia, and the greatest holocaust of witches ever known in England, twenty-nine in a batch, took place at the Chelmsford Assizes. And yet within a few years the reaction set in. Quite suddenly the tide began to ebb. In France witch burning was already in decline when Colbert, in 1673, abolished the charge of ”sorcellerie sabbatique”. The climate of opinion had changed. Even in Germany, where the prince-bishops burned away in corners for another century, the scale of operation was insignificant; the Archbishop of Salzburg’s bonfire of ninety-seven witches, in 1679, is the last of the great burnings. The empire of darkness had begun to rot inwardly. The clergy were on the defensive, almost hysterical in their last despairing cries, banking on the difficult to conquer popular pressures in especially rural areas and the more backward fiefdoms. The enlightenment was at hand.

Compendium Maleficarum, Guazzo

Compendium Maleficarum, Guazzo

How could it have happened? How does it happen that a closed ideological system, seemingly watertight, self preserving and self-perpetuating, and fortified with multiple interests, suddenly weaken and crumble.The question is of obvious general interest. In countries like Iran, they have become the orthodoxy of the learned, the piety of the devout and have led to wholesale purges for crimes scarcely less ridiculous than the execution of innocent people, tortured into confessions of witchcraft.

At best, clerical discipline could only have limited the persecution to ”true witches” In the Dark Ages, the Roman Church converted pagan gods into Christian saints; in the middle ages it converted its radicals, its Anabaptists, into new orders of monks and friars; and now it did much the same with sorcery. In the Mediterranean lands those who supposed themselves levitated into the air were not burned as witches but canonized as saints. This did not mean the mythology of discredited. The Catholic Church clung fast to its belief in witches but action at least, was regulated. The intellectual foundations of the persecution remained intact. To end it, it must be proved that there were no true witches, and this meant an intellectual revolution.

''Matthew Hopkins, England’s most notorious witch-hunter, centred his activities in Essex and the surrounding counties. Despite his short career - he started only in 1645 and died in 1647 - it has been estimated he managed to condemn over 200 people to death. At first he was received enthusiastically, but by 1646 his influence was declining, partly due to the exposure of his methods in John Geule’s Select cases of conscience touching witches, 1646.''


atthew Hopkins, England’s most notorious witch-hunter, centred his activities in Essex and the surrounding counties. Despite his short career - he started only in 1645 and died in 1647 - it has been estimated he managed to condemn over 200 people to death. At first he was received enthusiastically, but by 1646 his influence was declining, partly due to the exposure of his methods in John Geule’s Select cases of conscience touching witches, 1646.''

What was needed was an anti-clerical revolution, a revolt of lay reason against the new cosmology of the Church. This eventually prevailed, first in the Protestant countries which had a lay middle class such as Holland and England, and gradually the winds of lay reason blew increasingly southward rotting the orthodoxy where the Church was weakest and most divided. This is probably the ultimate comfort in this squalid story of collective, organized lunacy and cruelty.

When we read of men like Nicolas Remy and other supposedly liberal, humane and learned men, hanging and burning old women with the conscientious zeal of saviors of society, we realize how completely an artificial system of nonsense, once established, can take possession even of thinking and rational people. There is a temptation to wonder whether perhaps today our minds may not be equally imprisoned, though in other prisons, from which only the cranks whom we persecute will ultimately save us. For it is not only churches that manufacture myths and win assent for them.  Past example has shown that political parties can do the same. On the other hand, the history of the witch craze also shows the limitations of delusions. It is just unfortunate it took almost two hundred years for reason and common sense to have prevailed.

Evil starts in the mind of those who have no real feelings, no empathy for the suffering of others, who think they are above the rest of humanity, and who can see only a very small portion of the world. It’s these kind of humans who end up as nazi-camp-guards, witch-hunters and those who brainwash and send out suicide-bombers. So I’ll call them ”witch-hunters” for the rest of this article. They are the ones who can easily live with causing innumerable deaths and sufferings, because ”God wants it” ”It’s all for the cause”, ”Some people will have to be sacrificed” and ”I only followed orders” We know how many millions the nazi’s killed, The medieval witch-hunts are estimated to have cost millions of deaths, mainly women. This is evil on an un-imaginable scale! …Veiling: Women veil ”because God wants you to be modestly dressed” If and to what extend a woman chooses to veil, is between her and God. In reality. But not to the witch-hunters: veiling up to the most unhealty extremes is a requirement: if you don’t submit you go to hell. To the with-hunters veiling is between other women and them! They choose to interpret modest dress not as covering from the chest to the knees, but to be covered completely in black drapes. Because this way you can ”Express yourself as an individual and not as a sexobject”…Yeah, right.witches11

What it actually means that the world (and the child) is made very aware that any girl from about 11 years onward is a sexual object and therefore needs to be covered from the eyes of men. Thereby proclaiming insistently: Sexual object passing by!
And we all know how that works out: I’ve heard from Saudi women how they can’t even do their household shopping with toddler in one hand and a shopping bag in the other, fully veiled, and they are still harassed regularly in a manner which would get the perpetrator arrested in the ”Decadent West” ( Clouddragon)”

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