October 26, 2005


Historians and Scholars Produce New Picture of Witches and Witch Hunts, but Questions Remain (PETER STEINFELS, 10/22/05, NY Times)

In a search for historical roots and moral legitimacy, some feminists and many adherents of neopagan or goddess-centered religious movements like Wicca have elaborated a founding mythology in which witches and witch hunts have a central role. Witches, they claim, were folk healers, spiritual guides and the underground survivors of a pre-Christian matriarchal cult. By the hundreds of thousands, even the millions, they were the victims of a ruthless campaign that church authorities waged throughout the Middle Ages and early modern centuries to stamp out this rival, pagan religion.

Robin Briggs, an Oxford historian, is only one of many contemporary scholars rejecting this account. What unites most "common assumptions" about witches, witchcraft and witch hunts, Mr. Briggs writes in "Witches & Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft" (Viking Penguin, 1996), is "one very marked feature," namely "that they are hopelessly wrong."

Over the last two decades or so, he and other historians, along with scholars in anthropology and psychology, have produced quite a different picture, although one leaving many questions unanswered.

Were the Middle Ages the prime period of burning witches, and church authorities the prime persecutors? That is an impression inherited from 19th-century Romantic and nationalist writers like the German folklorist Jacob Grimm and the French historian Jules Michelet.

Filtering dubious sources, including in Michelet's case some that had actually been forged, through their political agendas, they portrayed witches as personifications of popular resistance to political and religious authorities.

The antisocial always deserve persecution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2005 4:09 PM

In other words, the witch-burning scene in Monty Python & the Holy Grail is probably more accurate as history than the feminist/neopagan/Wiccan account.

"She turned me into a newt!"
"A newt?"
". . . I got better."

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 26, 2005 5:45 PM

I hold no brief for witches, but many who post here are "antisocial" by one defintion or another. Should they be persecuted?

Posted by: jdkelly at October 26, 2005 7:56 PM

Don't confuse "asocial" with "anti-social". Then again, who says they (we) were aren't persecuted?

Wierdos of the World Unite!

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 26, 2005 8:18 PM

Yes. I'll light the torch.

Posted by: oj at October 26, 2005 8:19 PM

Whatever. I've got fire sticks. Its almost Haloween.

Posted by: jdkelly at October 26, 2005 9:23 PM

Witches, wiccans, pagans...just some of an endless list of things that when people say they're one, I can safely ignore them.

Posted by: RC at October 27, 2005 2:29 AM

It's kind of sad really. Searching for spirituality anywhere but in a church...

Posted by: Bartman at October 27, 2005 11:01 AM