I wonder if trick-or-treaters will be coming to Christine O'Donnell's house this weekend. She would be a particularly scary neighbor for many reasons, witchcraft being the least of them.
I was curious about the witchcraft persecution so I looked for some sites. I found some interesting stuff about European history, including my favorite period, ca. 1150-1300: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/witchhistory.html
During the period I have studied, I learned about the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar Heresy. The Cathars were "heretics" who believed what is pretty much accepted by the fundamentalists of today: God & Satan are engaged in a war. They lived in the South of France, and they were stinking rich. They also had highly developed musical and poetic artistry, which also made them suspiciously un-Christian.
The Albigensian Crusade put an end to Catharism, supposedly. The Dominican Order had the charge of ensuring that only "correct" theology was available to Europeans. They apparently didn't care about the Eastern Orthodox Church or the North African & Middle East versions of Christianity. This probably wasn't a racist decision. *wink wink*
So under the guise of the Albigensian Crusade they could slaughter them and plunder their wealth, and then when they were through with them they went after the Muslims with a goal of taking over Jerusalem... and plundering the wealth of anyone in their way. Hey, in a Holy War you can pretty much do anything. In the Middle East there were Christians, but they were rather brown, spoke the wrong languages, and wore funny clothes, so they deserved to die. Killing Christians isn't wrong if they live in a desert. They also didn't deserve to be rich, so the fine knights of Europe brought back goodies when they were through.
What makes this period interesting to me is the art and culture that spread throughout Europe as those with the means to escape settled in Northern France and Germany. And contact with the learned Arabs of the Middle East brought Greek philosophy and mathematics to the nascent universities of Europe. If not for them there might not have been a 13th-Century Renaissance in Paris.
Back to witches... Superstitious people who want to stay in power can believe or be made to believe almost anything. Not surprising considering the general stupidity of 99% of humanity.
But here's a scary statistic: Over the 160 years from 1500 to 1660, Europe saw between 50,000 and 80,000 suspected witches executed. About 80% of those killed were women.
Why would tens of thousands of women be more scary than their fathers, brothers, and husbands? Apparently, whenever things don't go your way, you can blame women you don't like and kill them to set things right. Connect them to an inconvenient thunderstorm or a tragic death in the community and voila! You're safe again! If they are practitioners of "traditional medicine," that's a good reason, too. And if they're mentally ill, they're possessed by devils and that's reason enough.
Today, "witches" are imprisoned in Africa. Praise be to the missionaries who brought Christianity to the heathens of Africa! People who wouldn't dream of resurrecting this superstition and its resulting murder, are going to Africa and other countries spreading the "Good Word." And this is the result.
You'd think that Christians would be on the forefront of putting an end to the persecution of the "witches" of Africa, considering the embarrassment of their history with this. After all, most are either mentally ill and thus deserving of pity, or practitioners of native healing "arts" and thus great targets for being "saved." But no, guess who is coming to the rescue? Secular Humanists!
http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/malawi-group-wants-witches-released-20101009-16cgg.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/14/dozens-jailed-witchcraft-malawi-women
Most of the "witches" are elderly women, and children are the witnesses against them! WTF???
This is a perfect evolutionary tactic - dispose of the infertile women who are dragging down the community and put the next generation in charge even if it means putting words into their mouths.
...but oops... children aren't immune either: http://www.unicef.org/wcaro/wcaro_children-accused-of-witchcraft-in-Africa.pdf
SO ... is anyone safe from witchcraft hysteria? Anyone at all....?
Let's look at the evidence: Cathars, traditional healers, people we don't like, senile old women, a few old men, even children: victims
Adult men who are in positions of power: immune
If witchcraft really were a supernatural or heretical act, wouldn't men in positions of power be the first ones to go to witchcraft school? Why rely on trials, stoning, burning and mob violence to ensure nobody messes with their mojo? Just whip up a few incantations and put a hex on your enemies and then....
oh wait.... they do that. It's called "prayer." Apparently it's not as powerful as the incoherent babbling of senile old women.
If I lived in their world I'd be scared, too.