A recent article in the Smithsonian discusses the scale of witch hunts in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries. A total of 3,141 men and women were accused of practicing witchcraft, and we know from the Authorized English Version’s (a.k.a. The King James Bible) translation of Exodus 22:18 the penalty for witchcraft is death.
The map itself is worth looking at for the scale of the thing and the names of the accused.
Other than the academic interest why is this noteworthy?
It shows us a tendency in human beings to turn other people into things to be hated and thus destroyed. This is what happens when religion is allowed dictate civil policy. This is what happens when something becomes so identified with evil it can be used to condemn any thing. This is what happens when people want to blame the ills of their society on someone else.
The vast majority of the accused, mostly women, were only guilty of acting weird. Some not even that.
A label became a weapon that could destroy lives. It happened several times in the US. In the 50s the accusation of being “communist” was a death sentence for any career. In the 80s large swathes of culture were labeled “satanic.” Parts of our society still weaponize labels. I say parts only in as much as different groups use different words. These terms become loaded with so much meaning that even those who use them cannot fully define them. You might say you would never burn someone at the stake or the like but accepting the labels embolden those who would do violence or commit crimes against a person for what they are called.
What labels do you use to dismiss people? What ideas do you reject because someone uses a buzz word to describe them?
How do you make witch hunts possible?