Although I didn’t grow up reading science fiction or fantasy books, I’ve always loved TV shows about witchcraft or cat woman. They are quirky, fun, frightening, charming and a lot more. That’s until I read this book “Witch, A Tale Of Terror”. Suddenly my happy witch meal becomes un-chewable and unappetizing when I know that the innocent fantasies about witches and cats and magics were once used for persecution and murder. Not that I didn’t know their existence. I did, but I thought its scale was negligible and no real malice was involved unless in rare circumstances. I was quite mistaken. It was in such a scale and so prevalent. Witch hunt lasted for 300 years from 1450 and finally petered out in 1750. During the height of the witch era, each of the major cities, like Paris, could burn up to several hundred witches every year.
The spread of witchcraft was actually hastened by the churches and governments which intended to stamp out witches and witchcraft, not knowing that the trial process, the torture, and the forced confession only helped to increase the mass hysteria.
Although it is not explicitly stated in the book, I get the impression that most of these people accused of witchcraft were sick people who suffered from seizures, poor people, homeless people, and women who were old and considered ugly. The last one is particularly upsetting to me since as women grow older, the discrimination against them pile up even more. We all know that the beauty standard causes a lot of harm to women, but none so extreme as labeling old women witches and burning them. So beauty is not only an ideal we want to live up to, it’s also a murder weapon–if you are not beautiful, you have no right to exist.
As witch trials became more and more prevalent, it spread from the people of underclass to the general society. Neighbors’ quarrels, spats between employers and hired hands, children’s fantasies, bad dreams. Almost anything could set off the witch alarm and start a witch hunt. Also it was believed that a witch doesn’t act alone. So forced confession usually brought out many relatives and friends as co-conspirators or accomplices.
- A girl praised a neighbor’s baby and two days later, the baby died. The girl was accused of being a witch and executed.
- An old woman had a quarrel in a market. She stormed off. And a thunderstorm followed. So the woman was accused of witchcraft and burned.
- An ill tempered old lady had a black cat as pet. She was accused of being a witch, causing illnesses and death in the village. She, her husband, and her daughter were all killed.
- A silly school teacher involved her students in a witch story. The next thing she knew, all 50 children started to act weird and told stories of witches. The magistrate was alarmed and wanted to jail all 50 children. Their parents were so desperate to save their kids that they made up stories about the school teacher as a witch, causing the school teacher to flee.
- A witch finder, Matthew Hopkins, traveled throughout villages of Scotland to identify witches and he caused hundreds of death of innocent people. Eventually he abused his power too much and people started to suspect that Hopkins was a witch. They captured him and burned him.
Incidents like these are numerous and a lot of the trial material are historical records being kept in different cities. I just can’t imagine people could do such things, but what do I know?