Isn’t it strange, don’t you think, that the three major world religions whose followers have created more mayhem, caused more anguish and been responsible for more bloodshed should have all originated in the Middle East? Judaism whose ancient prophets with their direct communication to their God were a horror story in themselves; followed by Christianity, good start maybe with the man himself but no improvement after that, followed by Islam. Nuff said.
Will mankind never be free from superstition? Not only of the religious kind with all its multitude churches, denominations, sects and beliefs, every one of them claiming to be the only holders of eternal truth, but in other ways as well? And here I am referring to the belief in witchcraft.
In England in 1612 the belief in witches and the paranoia it evoked was endemic. James l was on the throne, living in fear of a Catholic rebellion in the aftermath of the Guy Fawkes' gun powder plot. The king had a reputation as an avid witch-hunter and wrote a book called ‘Demonology.’ In it, he wrote: "Children, women and liars can be witnesses over high treason against God." This influenced the justice system and led to the nine year old Jennet Device being the key witness in the notorious trial of the Pendle witches in Lancashire in which she accused her mother and other members of her family resulting in ten people hanged. Previously children under fourteen were considered too young to be witnesses though today, thanks to Jennet and the Pendle witches, a child as young as three has been a witness.
Jennet was calm and convincing in her testimony against her mother, grandmother, brother and neighbours. Standing on a table she said, "My mother is a witch and that I know to be true. I have seen her spirit in the likeness of a brown dog, which she called Ball. The dog did ask what she would have him do and she answered that she would have him help her to kill.”
"At 12 noon about 20 people came to our house - my mother told me they were all witches."
Jennet named six people whose names she knew and her mother and her brother James, who also denounced his mother, but Jennet then turned on him saying he had been a witch for three years and she had seen his spirit kill three people.
Of course the Pendle affair was not the only notorious trial. There was Salem in Massachusetts and after the Civil War terrifying witch hunts continued for two years between 1645 and 1647. Perhaps the most ghastly figure to emerge was the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. The hunt for witches was of course a good way of making money and getting rid of troublesome Catholics.
Belief in witchcraft is dead then you think? Think again.
After my previous remark about albinos and witch-doctors in East Africa, malignant witches according to some do exist. I believe in South Africa the witchdoctor is still very much feared. But what set me off even more is that in the Northern regions of Ghana there are six “witches camps” holding over 1000 accused women and 700 children subject to the most inhumane treatment.
Someone please reassure me we are living in the 21st Century.