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“Witchfinding” – a retraction

Under comment pressure from the deeply annoying A_t, and before he says it for me, I realise that “witchfinding” or “witchhunting” are no more appropriate as descriptions of what happened to Harry Stein than they are of what happened during the 1950s when McCarthy was chasing communists. Communists existed. Witches did not exist. But racists also exist. It’s merely that Harry Stein isn’t one. Oh well.

10 comments to “Witchfinding” – a retraction

  • A_t

    aww man.. sorry to have annoyed you! ah well.

    & yeah, depends on your definition of witches, i guess! For the most part those accused of witchcraft were probably just your regular person, and perhaps the occasional pagan worshipper. Certainly no broomstickery! (well, as far as i know anyway… there’s still a part of me that would like to see evidence for a lot more unexplained phenomenae)

  • David Carr

    Isn’t the term ‘witch’ really a generic catch-all term for persons who, for one reason or another, particular societies from time to time have taken a violent dislike to? Just look at what has befallen smokers over the last ten years. Yes, I know smoking is unhealthy but then so is communism.

    Senator Joe McCarthy has always been one of my personal heros. His campaign was actually nothing more than a brave and brief fightback against the kind of people who had spent decades blackballing and hounding anyone with Conservative or right-wing views, especially in the media or entertainment world (where it is still going on)

    But, having said that, if its okay to persecute communists because they are obnoxious and dangerous then it follows that you can persecute racists for the same reason.

    What I do find annoying though is that people (generally on the left) who squeal about ‘McCarthyite’ tactics being used against them are so conspicuously silent about the same McCarthyite tactics being used again racists real or alleged. If political persecution is wrong then it is universally wrong and there can be no exceptions.

  • Witchhunts, or their extreme form, the ‘witchcraze’, where mass accusations were supported until the movement had run its course, tended to occur in border regions of France, Germany or Switzerland where central control was fluid and the legal authorities could be influenced by local opinion.

    As a comparison, more people died in these localities than in spain where the bureaucracy of the Inquisition tended to take a more rational approach to these matters and did not substantiate ‘witchcrazes’.

    What all ‘movements of accusation’ prey upon is a victim that has been judged to have trespassed or transgressed the mores of that society or a portion of that society. It gives great power and authority to those who denounce the victim and the consequences can extend from a permanent slur all the way up to sanctions like exile or death.

    That is why ‘movements of accusation’ like McCarthyism, witchhunts or Stalinist terror should remain unsupported especially in a liberal and democratic society.

    Therefore, as Harry Stein appears to have been accused without proper justification and on ideological foundations without the space to discuss or rebut these accusations, it would be fair to state that he has been denounced.

    I note that A_t also subscribes to the argument that witches existed in late medieval and early modern Europe as an underground Wiccan religion. Since historical evidence does not support this interpretation, the definition of ‘witch’ remains one accused of witchcraft with little supporting evidence. Where the evidence was weighed, as in Spain, witchhunts tended to die out unsupported by the legal institutions.

  • And how about the definition of “witch” that means “one who can turn you into a toad”?

  • Philip Chaston


  • Aaron Armitage


    Wicca was indeed invented in the 1950s. That doesn’t mean there weren’t superstitious practitioners of folk magic.

    So, sorry Brian, witches were real too.

  • Ah pagans. Would you be at all surprised to learn they are a relatively large religious group on the campus of my university? It’s amazing the depths to which people will sink to escape christianity.

  • Well just because these hippy-dippy New Age Pagan folk claim to be witches doesn’t make it so. If these “Wiccans” can show me any of their magic working, then I’ll believe in witches. Until then, I’ll see them in the same light as pathetic people who glorify vampires. “Wiccans” seem in general to be overexcited Buffy fans. There was a time when a children’s author could easily include witches, wizards and goblins in their stories, knowing they would provide entertainment. Now some kids are so dumb they end up trying to become witches themselves and so on, emulating Harry Potter etc. Just goes to show that when people stop believing in God they start believing in anything.

  • Tom Burroughes

    David’s reference to McCarthy reminds me of the famous story of a British actor who, while passing through Immigration at New York’s Idlewild airport in 1950, is asked to sign the usual idiotic visa disclaimer form, which asks the question: “Is it your purpose to subvert, damage or threaten the Constitution of the United States of America, and the freedoms enshrined in said document?”

    He answered, “Sole purpose of visit”.

  • Aritha Ellis Cawthorn

    For one thing, Wiccans don’t stop believing in God, they do, they just believe in a Godess as well. They believe it creates balance. Another thing, most practioners I have met believe the religions dates back to pre-Christian times; they don’t think it was invented in the 1950s. Oh yeah, and the only reason some people don’t see magic is because they have a different definition. You may be familiar with it:it’s the same one featured in Buffy.