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The pantomime of pardoning witches Their descendants are clinging on to past trauma

Agents of the devil? The Crucible/20th Century Studios

Agents of the devil? The Crucible/20th Century Studios


April 17, 2023   6 mins

On the surface, there was nothing extraordinary about the lives of John and Joan Carrington. He was a carpenter in his late forties with a small estate, mostly eaten up by debts, in the town of Wethersfield in Connecticut. She was his wife and mother to their daughter, Rebecca, and son, John junior, from a previous marriage. But in February 1651, the couple was charged with “familiarity with Satan, the great enemy of God and mankind”, with whose power they had performed “works above the course of nature”. Both were found guilty, sentenced to death and hanged at Hartford.

Today, a stone’s throw away from the site of their execution, the General Assembly of Connecticut is debating a resolution to exonerate 11 women and men convicted of witchcraft in Connecticut between 1647 and 1663. So far, 17 members of the Assembly have backed the resolution, but the bill must yet pass through both chambers. And this is far from certain: there has been more resistance here than in neighbouring Massachusetts, where in 2001 all the Salem “witches” were exonerated by the House of Representatives. The fear in Connecticut, as Republican senator John Kissel put it, is that a precedent would be set; that we would “have to go and redress every perceived wrong in our history”. Similar concerns have been expressed elsewhere. A journalist writing in the Scottish newspaper The Herald worried that pardons vilify accusers and that “we should not judge people for living in the past”.

In some ways, this precedent has already been set. In 2006, Grace Sherwood, a Virginian planter’s wife, was pardoned for allegedly bewitching livestock and crops, and there have been similar rulings in Germany, Switzerland and Catalonia. In March 2022, Scotland’s then First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, apologised for the persecution of 4,000 people as witches, describing it as “injustice on a colossal scale”. For their part, Scottish campaigners for exonerating witches cited their parliament’s Historical Sexual Offences Act, which in 2018 retrospectively decriminalised sodomy. And the Connecticut campaigners have indicated how inspired they’ve been by developments in Scotland.

Yet, it remains reasonable to ask: how can we exonerate a crime that modern society no longer believes exists? This is a question not just of history, but of jurisprudential ethics. An empirically supported understanding of “the great witch-craze” should inform questions of whether we need to act, and if so what to do. Are we quashing what now seem like unsafe convictions of witchcraft or offering modern pardons for contemporaneously just ones?

If a crime is to be pardoned, we surely need to define the crime. The Connecticut resolution says only that the “witches” were “falsely accused” — but doesn’t say what exactly they were falsely accused of. In Scotland, Sturgeon’s apology stated that so-called witches were “killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable or in many cases just because they were women”. Accused witches often fitted that profile, it’s true, but that wasn’t why they were accused. It’s hard to comprehend this fully but the reason was usually that people believed them to be dangerous agents of the devil. When the people of Wethersfield accused the Carringtons of using satanic power to perform “works above the course of nature”, we should probably assume that they meant it. Nor were the accused exempt from suspecting others of witchcraft: some, even without duress, believed they had become witches, deliberately or simply because witchery was in their blood. After all, the concept was firmly established in law, theology and custom, and then in specific cases impelled by furious emotions, given that these alleged deeds were not just unnatural but prejudicial to the lives and livelihoods of struggling communities.

If we are to exonerate convicted witches, we must ensure that the process is historically rigorous. It undermines the enterprise if, say, we set out to pardon five million people tried for witchcraft when, in fact, we have evidence for only around 100,000. We should know that our ancestors were surprisingly sceptical and wary about pointing the finger, and that across continental Europe about half of trials resulted in acquittal. In England and Connecticut, it was more like 75%, owing to the caution of judges and juries about passing guilty verdicts where the proof for this most secretive crime amounted to little more than hearsay.

It’s also important to realise that most witch trials arose not from hysteria or malice but from historically specific collisions of social and economic crises, polarised religious and political mentalities, and the anxiety and terror fomented by these conditions. When it hanged its first witch in 1647, Windsor, Connecticut, was in the grip of a flu epidemic. This wasn’t blamed on witches, but a five-fold increase in mortality that year made people exceptionally fretful and eager to appease God by purging sinners from their midst. Historians try to understand our ancestors objectively but also on their own terms. Otherwise, we risk flattening out the moral landscape of the pre-modern and the backward export of our own attitudes and values.

We might also ask who the exoneration of witches is for. Is it a public crusade or a private one? The dead don’t care and it’s hard to imagine their ninth-generation descendants feeling the same pain as the Salem families who, in the decade after the witch panic, successfully petitioned to restore their reputations and be awarded compensation. The motion to pardon Connecticut’s “witches” states its purpose thus: “that although these accusations, prosecutions, trials and executions cannot be undone or changed, no disgrace or cause for distress should attach to the heirs of those persons.” These heirs and their supporters are seeking to right wrongs they have come to feel personally by retrospectively identifying with the suffering of their forebears. Appearing before Connecticut’s judiciary committee, Dr Beverly Kahn of Fairfield, a descendant of a “witch” executed there in 1653, declared that her ancestor “acted nobly” and that living relatives “deserve to have the name of Goodwife Knapp cleared”. Commenting on the Connecticut campaign, Sara Jack, whose ninth great-grandmother was accused of witchcraft, has said that these women were “heroes, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, just like we have today… And we know, for certain, that none of them were covenanting with the devil”. Yet for all their talk of historical trauma, it goes without saying that the exoneration campaign concerns the feelings of the living rather than those of than the dead.

There is another route to a similar, and perhaps better, end. A bronze statue of Grace Sherwood stands on Independence Boulevard in Virginia Beach, and scores of other monuments and plaques can be found around the Western world. Public memorials might seem like a passive form of redress, but at least by remembering the dead in the context of their own times they let them rest in peace, and, like the Cenotaph and other great war memorials, invite quiet contemplation. The Steilneset Memorial in Vardþ, Norway, is a dramatic architectural installation, designed (partly by the artist Louise Bourgeois) to commemorate the execution of 91 people there in 1621. But it’s done in such a hauntingly abstract way that we are transported to a place between the past and the present where meaningful memories are created. Perhaps the victims of witch-hunting need imaginative recognition from this and subsequent generations more than they need clean sheets at law.

At the same time, the success of public commemoration projects like Steilneset, which has attracted thousands of visitors, is not an argument against pursuing legal initiatives filed under individual names. Every execution for witchcraft, every life destroyed and family bereaved, was a tragedy, and deserves to be acknowledged as such. John and Joan Carrington of Wethersfield were not walk-ons in a costume drama: they were real people, with hopes and dreams, who had emigrated to America in the 1630s to build new lives, only to become fatally ensnared in a web of adverse circumstances spun from the hostility of their neighbours.

We should be glad that people still care. It’s never a bad thing to shine a light on intolerance and cruelty, however long ago it happened, and formal pardon campaigns are a valid way to achieve this. As Jane Garibay, the State Representative who proposed the Connecticut exoneration resolution, remarked: “To me, that’s an easy thing to do if it gives people peace.”

But in the end, we are better at saying what we want — the exoneration of “witches” — than why. Why witches, and not, say, heretics or traitors guilty of no more than exercising freedoms of conscience, thought and speech? Why not every victim of torture, once standard procedure on the Continent, or the countless minors hanged for petty theft? The answer, I suspect, is straightforward. Memory, like morality, is subjective: a relationship with our ancestors, and a lop-sided one given they have no say. History, though obviously about the past, is produced and consumed in the present. Each generation holds a mirror to modern times, demonstrated most vividly by our choices. The lives of John and Joan Carrington may not have been extraordinary in 1651 — but in 2023, they certainly are.


Malcolm Gaskill is Emeritus Professor of Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia, specialising in the history of witchcraft. His most recent book is The Ruin of all Witches: Life and Death in the New World.

malcolmgaskill

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Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
1 year ago

We sit in judgment over our ancestors. They were so foolish! We are so wise! We have science! They had superstition!

What we forgot is that our instincts and susceptibility to superstition are unchanged. The law curtails the lynch-mob, but our predilection for judging and condemnation survives intact – only the tools have changed.

Working in a war zone taught me one thing: that no culture is immune from the propensity to commit atrocities; and there, but for chance and the grace of God, go I. I’ve been lucky: raised in an age of plenty in a country of plenty. Had I been less fortunate, I might easily have been that sorcerer or that vigilante neighbour, happy to see my erstwhile friend writhing in the flames to propitiate a vengeful God.

Now, we have cancel culture. I have no doubt that if the law permitted it, we would hang our latter-day ‘witches’, starting with JK Rowling. One senses that the Law is the only thing standing is the way of a lynching.

Selwyn Jones
Selwyn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

It’s an irony, isn’t it – the great witch hunters of today attacking the witch hunts of yesteryear; and to those who point out the oddity and redundancy of this enterprise, they shout “Witch!”

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
1 year ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

“They had superstition!” And we have the Trans Orthodoxy. So who are the real dummies?

Selwyn Jones
Selwyn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

It’s an irony, isn’t it – the great witch hunters of today attacking the witch hunts of yesteryear; and to those who point out the oddity and redundancy of this enterprise, they shout “Witch!”

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
1 year ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

“They had superstition!” And we have the Trans Orthodoxy. So who are the real dummies?

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
1 year ago

We sit in judgment over our ancestors. They were so foolish! We are so wise! We have science! They had superstition!

What we forgot is that our instincts and susceptibility to superstition are unchanged. The law curtails the lynch-mob, but our predilection for judging and condemnation survives intact – only the tools have changed.

Working in a war zone taught me one thing: that no culture is immune from the propensity to commit atrocities; and there, but for chance and the grace of God, go I. I’ve been lucky: raised in an age of plenty in a country of plenty. Had I been less fortunate, I might easily have been that sorcerer or that vigilante neighbour, happy to see my erstwhile friend writhing in the flames to propitiate a vengeful God.

Now, we have cancel culture. I have no doubt that if the law permitted it, we would hang our latter-day ‘witches’, starting with JK Rowling. One senses that the Law is the only thing standing is the way of a lynching.

David Mayes
David Mayes
1 year ago

“Why witches, and not, say, heretics or traitor”
Because these pardonings are feminist performances designed to shore up the feminist reading of history as being a rolling tyranny of the patriarchy and so to refresh the guilt feelings of contemporary men for their gender’s sorry history.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago
Reply to  David Mayes

Of course many men were of the accused and executed and many women were among the accusers (though as with the times the hanging judges were all men)
.It wasn’t about gender politics so much fear and socio-economic positioning


Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

It wasn’t about gender politics then, but David is right, it is now.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Indeed our modern witch-finder generals would have a field day condemning such witches as J K Rowling and Kathleen Stock who get the main brunt of opprobrium for spouting dangerous heresy about men not being able to transform themselves into women by simply declaring themselves as such.Those medieval witches had free speech but there were consequences.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Indeed our modern witch-finder generals would have a field day condemning such witches as J K Rowling and Kathleen Stock who get the main brunt of opprobrium for spouting dangerous heresy about men not being able to transform themselves into women by simply declaring themselves as such.Those medieval witches had free speech but there were consequences.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

Will you be quiet please !
As David Mayes suggests, it’s really nothing to do with pardoning witches. You can’t go around stating ‘obvious’ truths and injecting nuance and facts, it muddies the waters and dilutes the virtuous crusade against MODERN DAY witches warlocks

..(and JK, obviously, but then she is a TERF, so that amounts to about the same thing).

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Judging by the thumbs down, I see someone from the other side of the pond is awake, Americans not doing irony and all that.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Judging by the thumbs down, I see someone from the other side of the pond is awake, Americans not doing irony and all that.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

It wasn’t about gender politics then, but David is right, it is now.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

Will you be quiet please !
As David Mayes suggests, it’s really nothing to do with pardoning witches. You can’t go around stating ‘obvious’ truths and injecting nuance and facts, it muddies the waters and dilutes the virtuous crusade against MODERN DAY witches warlocks

..(and JK, obviously, but then she is a TERF, so that amounts to about the same thing).

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago
Reply to  David Mayes

Of course many men were of the accused and executed and many women were among the accusers (though as with the times the hanging judges were all men)
.It wasn’t about gender politics so much fear and socio-economic positioning


David Mayes
David Mayes
1 year ago

“Why witches, and not, say, heretics or traitor”
Because these pardonings are feminist performances designed to shore up the feminist reading of history as being a rolling tyranny of the patriarchy and so to refresh the guilt feelings of contemporary men for their gender’s sorry history.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

There is something deeply wrong with a society that values correcting past wrongs above challenging the present day wrongs that surround it.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

The recent jailing of a partially sighted woman for three years, for shouting at a pavement riding cyclist in Huntingdon was an interesting example.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

The Republic Toylitte of Nu Britn.. or U niversal K haos…

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

Yes the witch magically did not allow the cyclist to stop but caused her to swerve into oncoming traffic. It was a voodo shout. She should be grateful that she was not executed as a witch for her satanic powers.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Indeed, the 77 year old divinely inspired cyclist, wasn’t even wearing a helmet, and somewhat perversely decided to swerve into the traffic rather than apply her brakes.

Tomas de Torquemada or even Girolamo Savonarola would have loved it!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Indeed, the 77 year old divinely inspired cyclist, wasn’t even wearing a helmet, and somewhat perversely decided to swerve into the traffic rather than apply her brakes.

Tomas de Torquemada or even Girolamo Savonarola would have loved it!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

The Republic Toylitte of Nu Britn.. or U niversal K haos…

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

Yes the witch magically did not allow the cyclist to stop but caused her to swerve into oncoming traffic. It was a voodo shout. She should be grateful that she was not executed as a witch for her satanic powers.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Yes. Are none of these people concerned about the present-day witch-hunts in Africa? People are having to flee places like East Congo, children are being killed, but let’s concern ourselves with long-dead people who are, no doubt, happy that they have received an apology. Are the present persecuted to wait hundreds of years to receive an apology and be content with that?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

What is the hunt subscription please? Does one have to pay ” cap”? when does the Hunt meet? Can one park easily at the meet?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Ahhh.. The East Congo… Can’t find it on my Baileys Directory?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Ahhh.. The East Congo… Can’t find it on my Baileys Directory?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

I fear you are exhibiting a neo-colonial attitude to the witch-finders of the Congo they are merely exercising their traditional customs and beliefs that have equal validity to our oppressive notions. In any case we can have no valid argument against the practice given our own past prejudices against witches.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

We do have a valid argument: that we have emerged from a darker period and now recognise that our forebears were in error, and correspondingly those in the Congo now are equally wrong.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

Any apologies available for Jews exiled from nearly every country in the world back in the day…and not allowed to set foot in others to this very day. Exiled from their own ancestral homeland many, many times by various occupiers & now by would be occupiers in the PA!

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago

You’re absolutely right, but not sure why that’s addressed to me?

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago

You’re absolutely right, but not sure why that’s addressed to me?

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

Any apologies available for Jews exiled from nearly every country in the world back in the day…and not allowed to set foot in others to this very day. Exiled from their own ancestral homeland many, many times by various occupiers & now by would be occupiers in the PA!

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Tituba was innocent…it was the Reverend’s daughter that was guilty!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Tituba? do you tune it with your nipples?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Tituba? do you tune it with your nipples?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

are the terrier men allowed to dig for the witches?

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

We do have a valid argument: that we have emerged from a darker period and now recognise that our forebears were in error, and correspondingly those in the Congo now are equally wrong.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Tituba was innocent…it was the Reverend’s daughter that was guilty!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

are the terrier men allowed to dig for the witches?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

What is the hunt subscription please? Does one have to pay ” cap”? when does the Hunt meet? Can one park easily at the meet?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

I fear you are exhibiting a neo-colonial attitude to the witch-finders of the Congo they are merely exercising their traditional customs and beliefs that have equal validity to our oppressive notions. In any case we can have no valid argument against the practice given our own past prejudices against witches.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

The recent jailing of a partially sighted woman for three years, for shouting at a pavement riding cyclist in Huntingdon was an interesting example.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Yes. Are none of these people concerned about the present-day witch-hunts in Africa? People are having to flee places like East Congo, children are being killed, but let’s concern ourselves with long-dead people who are, no doubt, happy that they have received an apology. Are the present persecuted to wait hundreds of years to receive an apology and be content with that?

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

There is something deeply wrong with a society that values correcting past wrongs above challenging the present day wrongs that surround it.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago

Funny the falsely accused women (there were of course many men falsely accused and hanged) are to be assumed “Hero’s” and some of them likely were (Rebecca Nurse) but to make such a sweeping assumption simply because they were patently falsely accused is to forget that many of these folks would never pass todays retroactively applied litmus tests
. such as they would be likely considered white supremacists and religiously intolerant by todays standards to say nothing of how they would have treated homosexuals or transgendered folks
 Is the speaker so sure they were hero’s or are some moderns just projecting today just as many of the accused were projected on then
.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

ZZzzzzzzzzzzz…..yawn.. bore.. tedium… sad….

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

ZZzzzzzzzzzzz…..yawn.. bore.. tedium… sad….

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago

Funny the falsely accused women (there were of course many men falsely accused and hanged) are to be assumed “Hero’s” and some of them likely were (Rebecca Nurse) but to make such a sweeping assumption simply because they were patently falsely accused is to forget that many of these folks would never pass todays retroactively applied litmus tests
. such as they would be likely considered white supremacists and religiously intolerant by todays standards to say nothing of how they would have treated homosexuals or transgendered folks
 Is the speaker so sure they were hero’s or are some moderns just projecting today just as many of the accused were projected on then
.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

Pardoning the dead is about as rational as the practice of the Church of the Latter Day Saints retrospectively christening remote ancestors into their religion. We benefit from the ancestry research involved but it all makes as much sense as pardoning witches, homosexuals and those shot for cowardice, The past is another country and we are different people who will, no doubt, be harshly judged for the irrationalism of “hate “ crimes in turn by our descendants although hopefully perhaps they might be rational enough by then to cast aside such magical thinking and concentrate on righting their contemporary wrongs.

Equally irrational, of course, is the contemporary condemnation of past activities that were considered perfectly acceptable in their time such as slavery. As there is no clamour for the reintroduction of the legal practice of slavery in any of our societies, except, of course, from ISIS, it is an entirely pointless exercise apart from the desire to demonise along racial lines those whose skin colour is similar to some of the slavers of the past and to extract contemporary benefits for some others along “racial” lines. It is an exercise that rational descendants should regard as irrational but which hopefully they will not waste their time in dishing out retrospective sentences or pardons to mark our stupidity.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

It’s surely sufficient to acknowledge the past, so as to at least try to learn from it, rather than – as you rightly say – seeking to redress past wrongs which cannot be undone.

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To learn what lessons from the past? More importantly, who is doing the teaching and what is their agenda?
Do I detect a hint of an apology for de-colonisation activism in your comment?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

No.
Or at least you may well be trying to do, for reasons known only to yourself.
Do you agree, or not, that unless the past is recognised and acknowledged, it’d be rather more difficult to learn lessons from it?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

No.
Or at least you may well be trying to do, for reasons known only to yourself.
Do you agree, or not, that unless the past is recognised and acknowledged, it’d be rather more difficult to learn lessons from it?

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To learn what lessons from the past? More importantly, who is doing the teaching and what is their agenda?
Do I detect a hint of an apology for de-colonisation activism in your comment?

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Perhaps we should charge the descendents of slaves the cost of bringing them into civilisation & for bed & board + education & health services provided to thethe slaves LESS the amount due to them for their labour!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

It’s surely sufficient to acknowledge the past, so as to at least try to learn from it, rather than – as you rightly say – seeking to redress past wrongs which cannot be undone.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Perhaps we should charge the descendents of slaves the cost of bringing them into civilisation & for bed & board + education & health services provided to thethe slaves LESS the amount due to them for their labour!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

Pardoning the dead is about as rational as the practice of the Church of the Latter Day Saints retrospectively christening remote ancestors into their religion. We benefit from the ancestry research involved but it all makes as much sense as pardoning witches, homosexuals and those shot for cowardice, The past is another country and we are different people who will, no doubt, be harshly judged for the irrationalism of “hate “ crimes in turn by our descendants although hopefully perhaps they might be rational enough by then to cast aside such magical thinking and concentrate on righting their contemporary wrongs.

Equally irrational, of course, is the contemporary condemnation of past activities that were considered perfectly acceptable in their time such as slavery. As there is no clamour for the reintroduction of the legal practice of slavery in any of our societies, except, of course, from ISIS, it is an entirely pointless exercise apart from the desire to demonise along racial lines those whose skin colour is similar to some of the slavers of the past and to extract contemporary benefits for some others along “racial” lines. It is an exercise that rational descendants should regard as irrational but which hopefully they will not waste their time in dishing out retrospective sentences or pardons to mark our stupidity.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

I think we should round up descendants of the the Romans (crimes against the Britons) Saxons (against Romano-Britons), Vikings (against the Saxons) and Normans (against the Franks, and then the Saxons)…oh and also the Britons/Celts for genocide the Palaeolithic hunter gathers they displaced….in fact, I’m going to pop down to the local police station and hand myself in – guilty by genetic association on all counts. This is all completely moronic

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

I think we should round up descendants of the the Romans (crimes against the Britons) Saxons (against Romano-Britons), Vikings (against the Saxons) and Normans (against the Franks, and then the Saxons)…oh and also the Britons/Celts for genocide the Palaeolithic hunter gathers they displaced….in fact, I’m going to pop down to the local police station and hand myself in – guilty by genetic association on all counts. This is all completely moronic

Eamonn Toland
Eamonn Toland
1 year ago

The lesson we should be drawing from Early Modern witch-hunts is that a new communications technology (the printing press) facilitated hysteria that had a profound effect on social norms, overturning elite bans on witchcraft persecution that had been in place for nearly a thousand years, throughout the “Dark Ages”. The free exchange of ideas brought the Reformation and great scientific advances, but it also allowed fake news to spread like wildfire.
The Hammer of the Witches, or Malleus Maleficarum, was written by a Dominican Priest named Heinrich Kramer in 1486, around the same time that Leonardo da Vinci was sketching helicopters. Kramer had been expelled from his post in Innsbruck for attempting to mount a witch trial. The local bishop had described him as senile and crazy. Since the time of Augustine the idea that someone could cause illness or crop failure had been scorned, and Canon Law forbade execution for sorcery, backed up by secular courts including that of Charlemagne. Attempted lynching was suppressed. Although anti-Semitism had been a feature of persecution after the Black Death in the fourteenth century, witch-hunts had almost disappeared.
Malleus Maleficarum was a sort of Witch-Hunting For Dummies, a manual for how to find, interrogate and kill witches, who Kramer argued were more likely to be women. Kramer acknowledged that superstitious fears of sorcery had been ridiculed for centuries, but he said that legal bans on persecution didn’t apply to “modern” witches, who were clearly malevolent. Tabloid-style woodcuts featuring lurid images of their depravity stoked fears at a time of volatile climate change in the Little Ice Age. Despite being quickly condemned and intellectually demolished, the book became an instant best-seller for the next 150 years, second only to the Bible.
Probably 60,000 people, more than 70% of them women, were executed in the Renaissance and early Enlightenment, more due to Kramer’s misogyny than a fear of female fertility. Risk factors included mental illness, handling food, interacting with strangers and financial independence – female innkeepers were more likely to be killed than mid-wives, as were women who had fallen out with their neighbors. If we truly want to honor their memory, we would do better by being vigilant in challenging lies and misinformation on social media today that relies on innuendo instead of evidence, than in issuing some sort of performative pardon,

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Eamonn Toland

Wasn’t it also a rather stimulating ‘spectator sport’ for many, during a time when public entertainment was rather limited?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

I can only image the dream and utter joy of following the hounds in full cry, over the turf of some intra M25 golf course, pursuing with wobbling black tight clad ” computer says no” 21st century call centre, receptionist, and other witches… Tally ho!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

I can only image the dream and utter joy of following the hounds in full cry, over the turf of some intra M25 golf course, pursuing with wobbling black tight clad ” computer says no” 21st century call centre, receptionist, and other witches… Tally ho!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Eamonn Toland

Wasn’t it also a rather stimulating ‘spectator sport’ for many, during a time when public entertainment was rather limited?

Eamonn Toland
Eamonn Toland
1 year ago

The lesson we should be drawing from Early Modern witch-hunts is that a new communications technology (the printing press) facilitated hysteria that had a profound effect on social norms, overturning elite bans on witchcraft persecution that had been in place for nearly a thousand years, throughout the “Dark Ages”. The free exchange of ideas brought the Reformation and great scientific advances, but it also allowed fake news to spread like wildfire.
The Hammer of the Witches, or Malleus Maleficarum, was written by a Dominican Priest named Heinrich Kramer in 1486, around the same time that Leonardo da Vinci was sketching helicopters. Kramer had been expelled from his post in Innsbruck for attempting to mount a witch trial. The local bishop had described him as senile and crazy. Since the time of Augustine the idea that someone could cause illness or crop failure had been scorned, and Canon Law forbade execution for sorcery, backed up by secular courts including that of Charlemagne. Attempted lynching was suppressed. Although anti-Semitism had been a feature of persecution after the Black Death in the fourteenth century, witch-hunts had almost disappeared.
Malleus Maleficarum was a sort of Witch-Hunting For Dummies, a manual for how to find, interrogate and kill witches, who Kramer argued were more likely to be women. Kramer acknowledged that superstitious fears of sorcery had been ridiculed for centuries, but he said that legal bans on persecution didn’t apply to “modern” witches, who were clearly malevolent. Tabloid-style woodcuts featuring lurid images of their depravity stoked fears at a time of volatile climate change in the Little Ice Age. Despite being quickly condemned and intellectually demolished, the book became an instant best-seller for the next 150 years, second only to the Bible.
Probably 60,000 people, more than 70% of them women, were executed in the Renaissance and early Enlightenment, more due to Kramer’s misogyny than a fear of female fertility. Risk factors included mental illness, handling food, interacting with strangers and financial independence – female innkeepers were more likely to be killed than mid-wives, as were women who had fallen out with their neighbors. If we truly want to honor their memory, we would do better by being vigilant in challenging lies and misinformation on social media today that relies on innuendo instead of evidence, than in issuing some sort of performative pardon,

Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
1 year ago

“A journalist writing in the Scottish newspaper The Herald worried that pardons vilify accusers …”
You can’t make this stuff up.

Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
1 year ago

“A journalist writing in the Scottish newspaper The Herald worried that pardons vilify accusers …”
You can’t make this stuff up.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 year ago

Probably ignoring a component of this, the politically-Leftist orientation of many women playing at being witches today, and their consequent urge to get their due portion of credibility suffering points that the victim-mentality Left uses to keep score in its endlessly evolving hurt-by-Western-culture sweepstakes. Would like to see a review of the people bringing these initiatives to state assemblies.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

My thought was that Nicola Sturgeon’s action was to protect herself! 🙂

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

My thought was that Nicola Sturgeon’s action was to protect herself! 🙂

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 year ago

Probably ignoring a component of this, the politically-Leftist orientation of many women playing at being witches today, and their consequent urge to get their due portion of credibility suffering points that the victim-mentality Left uses to keep score in its endlessly evolving hurt-by-Western-culture sweepstakes. Would like to see a review of the people bringing these initiatives to state assemblies.

Thor Albro
Thor Albro
1 year ago

“formal pardon campaigns are a valid way to achieve this.”

No, they are not. The implication of these pardons is that we are STILL so barbaric that only the wise and compassionate efforts of connected activists can bring us out if the darkness. This is sanctimonious lecturing – a power game. These campaigns are an insult to not only ourselves but our ancestors who struggled to be better people and further perfect civilization.

Even as these persecutions were happening, the reform and atonement had begun. By 1697 the Massachusetts legislature had declared a “Day of Fasting” to commemorate the victims.

Thor Albro
Thor Albro
1 year ago

“formal pardon campaigns are a valid way to achieve this.”

No, they are not. The implication of these pardons is that we are STILL so barbaric that only the wise and compassionate efforts of connected activists can bring us out if the darkness. This is sanctimonious lecturing – a power game. These campaigns are an insult to not only ourselves but our ancestors who struggled to be better people and further perfect civilization.

Even as these persecutions were happening, the reform and atonement had begun. By 1697 the Massachusetts legislature had declared a “Day of Fasting” to commemorate the victims.

Bruce Rogers
Bruce Rogers
1 year ago

Like this. I suppose present day exoneration for past injustice is just the flip side of present day condemnation of historical persons and events.

Bruce Rogers
Bruce Rogers
1 year ago

Like this. I suppose present day exoneration for past injustice is just the flip side of present day condemnation of historical persons and events.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

At this rate we’ll end up blaming Jews for killing Jesus.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

No, just the Sanhedrin.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

No, just the Sanhedrin.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

At this rate we’ll end up blaming Jews for killing Jesus.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

The modern and exponentially growing equivalent come in two forms… The ” computah sez no” and ” Hai will terminate vis cawl ju to hew bein herfensyffe”
– i.e. you disgree- call center crone, and the real life equivalent, normally black tights clad and resembling a lard filled bin liner, behind a computer at places where one is paying for a service that will do everything in their satanic “peower” to ensure cannot and will not be honoured and / or delivered.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

The modern and exponentially growing equivalent come in two forms… The ” computah sez no” and ” Hai will terminate vis cawl ju to hew bein herfensyffe”
– i.e. you disgree- call center crone, and the real life equivalent, normally black tights clad and resembling a lard filled bin liner, behind a computer at places where one is paying for a service that will do everything in their satanic “peower” to ensure cannot and will not be honoured and / or delivered.

ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
1 year ago

It is wholly consistent with the totalitarian mindset of the “Liberal left” that they concern themselves with such things. They need a constant supply of enemies, and they need to control the narrative. What better than these distant wretches about whom in truth, we know almost nothing and upon whom we can project almost anything, with no fear of contradiction or reply.

ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
1 year ago

It is wholly consistent with the totalitarian mindset of the “Liberal left” that they concern themselves with such things. They need a constant supply of enemies, and they need to control the narrative. What better than these distant wretches about whom in truth, we know almost nothing and upon whom we can project almost anything, with no fear of contradiction or reply.

Elizabeth Higgins
Elizabeth Higgins
1 year ago

Next up: Reparations

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
1 year ago

Maybe instead of exonerating the past victims of the non-crime of witchcraft, people should just stop celebrating and mocking the suppposed evil of women by impersonating witches on Halloween and turning their past persecution into inane entertainment like “Bewitched” et al. It would be unimaginable to ridicule the victims of other historical atrocities by subjecting them to jocular mockery. Why not focus instead on the many thousands of women and children in Africa today who are being persecuted and killed as witches?

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Betsy Warrior

I suggest that you resist the current temptation of reducing early-modern witchcraft trials to misogyny. It’s true that more women than men were accused by that time (unlike earlier times), often by other women, but very few people believed that all witches were women–or that all women were witches. I won’t go into the psychological or sociological factors that generated the pervasive fear of witchcraft after the fourteenth century, but I will try to provide some historical context.
Europeans, both in Europe itself and in America during the early modern period, really were threatened and therefore had real reasons to be afraid. But they didn’t always identify the threats correctly or react to them wisely, let alone realize that all of these threats were symbolically linked at an underlying level.
Islam was an overtly aggressive and threatening civilization, having already conquered Spain. Under the Ottoman Turks, Islam were now conquering much of eastern and southern Europe, reaching the gates of Vienna by 1683.
Moreover, Christendom itself was fragmenting internally by heresies even before the Protestant Reformation. The latter was only the most successful of many heretical groups that had rebelled after the fourteenth century against what had been the “catholic” Church–and therefore, apart from anything else (good or bad), the foundation of religious, social, economic and political stability. Before the late eighteenth century, after all, there was no such thing as a secular state to foster tolerance and guarantee order. Those accused of witchcraft were in any case by no means the only heretics (and some of them actually believed in heretical doctrines). And they at least had trials, many of which resulted in acquittals. The Cathars (a.k.a. Albigensians) had been simply exterminated in the thirteenth century.
Increasing anxiety over those heretics within led to increasing suspicion of infidels within–that is, Jews. The Jews had always lived apart, as a semi-autonomous state within the larger state, sometimes by law and usually by choice. Sometimes, Jews and Christians lived in peace with each other. At other times, usually during crises, Jews were either expelled or murdered. At all times, Jews were, at the very least, mysterious and therefore possibly threatening “others.”
Add the Black Death to this highly combustible mixture of threats and perceived threats. It began in 1348 and returned at least once in every generation for several hundred years. And add to that outbreaks of leprosy. The result was something like panic or mass psychosis.
When witches were the targets, other outsiders were usually left alone–and vice versa. But all were accused of very similar crimes, which made them interchangeable as targets. Ultimately, the crime was always conspiring with satanic forces to overthrow the religious, social, economic and political order. The more immediate crimes were poisoning the wells (to spread the plague), stealing and ritually killing Christian babies (to eat them and drink their blood for ritual purposes), meeting secretly to attend “black sabbaths” (parodying and thus desecrating the mass), using sorcery (often with the blood of victims as a key ingredient) to cause famines and so on. In short, this was one phenomenon, not many, and its underlying cause had little to do with women.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

great band Black Sabbath