The Reality of Burning Witches (Trigger Warning)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 7, 2013 — 88 Comments

I fear that some of us living in the developed “first” world have developed a tendency to romanticize the European witch persecutions of the early modern period, a time where between 35 to 65 thousand men and women were killed for crimes of sorcery and witchcraft. It was so long ago that we have taken to fictionalizing the witch-hunts in films like “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” “Black Death,” and “Season of the Witch.” Blurring the line beyond mere romanticization into utter fantasy, a fantasy fed by the very lies used to initially convict those men and women. This fantasy is problematic not only for the way it warps history in the minds of the uncurious, but because witch-hunting has never stopped. The witch-hunts in Europe may have ended generations ago, but in other parts of the world they are still burning innocents.

Kepari Leniata being burnt to death in Papua New Guinea for the crime of "sorcery."

Kepari Leniata being burnt to death in Papua New Guinea for the crime of “sorcery.”

“A young mother accused of sorcery was stripped naked, doused with petrol and burned alive in front of a crowd including schoolchildren in Papua New Guinea, reports said on Thursday. The woman, named by The National newspaper as Kepari Leniata, 20, was reportedly tortured with a branding iron and tied up, splashed with fuel and set alight on a pile of rubbish topped with car tires. According to the rival Post-Courier newspaper she was torched by villagers who claimed she killed a six-year-old boy through sorcery, with police outnumbered by onlookers and unable to intervene.”

The source of that blaze is a woman. A crowd gathered to watch her die, swept up in the hysteria and panic of the accusation. That is what “killing witches” looks like. In Nigeria, another woman, 70-year-old Rebecca Adewumi, was recently killed for being witch.

“Mrs Adewumi was accused of being responsible for the sickness of a local evangelist. She was dragged to the palace of the monarch, where she was forced to drink local concoctions. The concoctions were given to her to make her confess or die within seven days. But after seven days she did not confess or die. Subsequently local thugs stormed her house. They dragged her under the rain and flogged her. According to a family member, her attackers scrapped her hair with broken bottles and used a big scissors to cut her fingers, then placed her on a tyre and set her ablaze.”

The witch-hunts aren’t some relic of the past, they are happening now. Nor is it isolated to the “third” world.

“A teenage boy underwent “unimaginable physical torture” before being drowned by his sister and her partner because they believed he was a sorcerer who was practising witchcraft, a court heard on Thursday. […] Over four days Kristy, who was visiting his sister from France, was tortured with metal bars, wooden sticks, a hammer and a pair of pliers in a “prolonged attack of unspeakable savagery and brutality”, the court was told.”

We live in a strange time. In America we concoct fantasies about killing “witches,” we build thrillers that suppose our own witch-killings were justified, while thousands are killed by mobs in towns and villages across the world.  Surely we should be feeling some cognitive dissonance, but we seem to accept “The Witch” as just like any other fantasy creature: zombies, werewolves, vampires, winged fairies. We make no real connection to how much our fantasy is built on the horror of killing innocents (and the propaganda that fueled it). Nor do we realize that Hollywood is a global business, and that our fantasies about witch-killing might be seen very differently in lands where witch-hunts have not become a relic of history. For modern Pagans and Witches living in countries where these witch persecutions happen, they are in a constant struggle to change a culture of misinformation and dangerous propaganda (South African Pagans are currently circulating a petition to their Human Rights Commission).

Yesterday I wrote about a large number of film projects featuring witches and witchcraft that are being released this year, and that those of us who identify as Witches should start discerning our response to them, because what pop-culture does impacts our collective thinking and beliefs. This is not because these films are about “us,” but because the lines are far blurrier than we realize. That it’s problematic that we are entertained by fake witches being killed while Christian groups in America fund witch-hunters overseas. Meanwhile, the unscrupulous have no problem issuing polemics that deliberately try to blur the lines further between modern religious Witchcraft and the witch-persecutions. We seem to forget that we are not immune to moral panics here too.

I’m not saying we can’t have fantasy witches riding broomsticks and cackling, I’m simply saying that we can’t enjoy them in a vacuum. When we blur the lines between the fantasy witch and the innocent women and men that were killed in early modern Europe, when we make them the villains while witch-hunts rage and people die in places like Papua New Guinea, we have to start examining what we are saying to ourselves through our art. The reality of burning witches is not fun, entertaining, or exciting, it is horrifying and tragic, it should gain the world’s attention and mobilize us into action. The figure of the witch, in fantasy and reality, has always been a dangerous and complex idea and we cannot ignore what we invoke in its name.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Thank you Jason for covering this important issue.

  • Indeed, as incredible as it may sound, Witch Hunts are pretty alive nowadays.
    But it is complicated to find out where can you draw the line between discrimination and the freedom of speech, specially in mainstream movies.
    What would you suggest for example for Hansel&Gretel movie, sue the them?
    Is the picture they give about “bad witches” something intentional?
    Just wondering…

    P.D.: Thank you very much for supporting the petition!

    • I don’t want censorship or litigation, I want us, as consumers, to become more educated and aware of what we are saying to ourselves with these films.

      • That sounds fair enough! I did not say it randomly, some people asked us to denounce the filmakers for discrimination against witches…

        • And personally me thinks the filmmakers should be responsible for their actions… As a DRUID living in the southern states of america me has been told by many so called Christians that my kind was not welcomed here in the south, when I asked the question my kind I was informed you know being a witch. What the film makers did in this film was clearly state all witches are evil and bad and thus should be killed, we see this as kinda like please are you kidding me, while others in other nations whom still believe in this crap look upon it as fact. Thus people whom place this type of hype out there in general population as fun for many whom can see the reality of it being entertainment, for others it is fact they should be held accountable.

          • Well, actually, they portray “good” and “bad” witches, so they don’t actually say “all witches should be killed”, just a few… But, indeed, no witch should be burned or killed “good” or “bad”.
            I just wonder how much does what you tell us in your experience have to do with films, and how much with education. Is it because of films like this, or rather due to the lack of education/information on what witches/pagans/etc really are? Wouldn’t it be more productive to promote the information (positive) instead of fighting the filmakers (negative). And that, considering that the latter will just mean a lot of effort and money invested to obtain no result at all.

          • Northern_Light_27

            The film makers said that? Are you saying this from a Doylist (in-universe) perspective or a Watsonian (the actual intent or import of the writer) one? Are you saying that it’s never okay to have a *character* who feels this way and says so? Have you seen the film?

            What’s been bugging me about both the last post and this one is that it ignores the wider scope when it comes to urban-fantasy type works. Yes, a lot of them feature witches. Of *course* they’re going to feature witches, because they’ve got, when you think about it, perilously little ground to run on when it comes to what to include in their worldbuilding. Let’s set Hansel and Gretel aside for a moment, because it’s different but related. Most of these works, e.g. the Vampire Diaries, the writers want to set in the present-day world. They want them to be objectly not high-fantasy. Dragons and (most of the time) wizards are right out, they tend to ping people as too medievalesque. The writer needs something for her universe that is supernatural, able to conceal itself (because otherwise you can’t have “just like our world but with supes!”), and well-known enough to its audience that the audience will pick up on the tropes used and understand them enough for the writer to play the “our supes are different!” angle in some way. Some will use angels and demons (a la Supernatural), but most of these works will eschew them as too obviously mainstream-religious. So that leaves you… vampires, werewolves, zombies, fairies if the author is ambitious, and… witches. The usual Halloween party lineup. It’s not a lot of running room, only five choices– and usually, most works won’t use all five because it gets too complicated.

            These new fairy tale mashup stories seem to have evolved out of an urban fantasy aesthetic. They, too, don’t seem to want to go fantastic but not full-on high fantasy. They’re going to pull from some of the same tropes as the above. Which means that characters are going to sit everywhere on the “the supes are our friends and we should be completely open-minded toward them” > “some supes are okay, some are monsters” > “supes are dangerous and should be shot on sight” spectrum. If some of your supernaturals are witches, you’re going to have characters who say the line that’s been oft-repeated here. From a Doylist perspective, it makes sense. I haven’t seen Hansel and Gretel, so I don’t know if the movie seems to be endorsing that character’s opinion or producing it uncritically. Given the fact that there are good-witch protagonists too, I’d suspect it isn’t, actually.

            The problem is that there are real witches, too, and what sounds fine to a Hollywood scriptwriter is a Problem for Pagans. Real witches are a conundrum for writers, too. Does pinning a witch character to Wicca make her less fantastic and more realistic, or the reverse? I think that’s why we end up with so many loosely-Wiccanish characters. They want the plausibility of “this is why people accept this character” or “this is how this character hides her powers” but also the flexibility of making the magic fit the universe– if they made the character completely realistic, they lose the flexibility. Personally, I prefer it when they *don’t* tie their witches to the real world, because as said, it’s not just our archetype, but it kind of becomes it if they invoke too many real-world aspects for their witch characters.

            So idk, I think tying this sort of fiction to real-world witch burning is a bit of a stretch. These films and books are popular because modern supernatural *everything* is popular right now (why that is would be a fantastic post all on its own), but the field of possible things you can toss in it is so incredibly limited and right now there’s a ton of exploration of *all* of them just to meet demand.

          • Northern_Light_27

            BTW, I was tired and got my Watsonian and Doylist reversed. The former is the in-universe one.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Fine. I wouldn’t want to see a phenom in Paganism like feminism’s exercises over pornography in the 70s and 80s.

        • Charles Cosimano

          Remember, pornograpy won.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            The First Amendment won.

      • It is always appropriate for Pagans, or anyone else, to express opinions about any form of literature, or films, or journalism, etc. And if we see something that perpetuates negative stereotypes about Pagans, we should have no hesitation about pointing this out. Doing this is the opposite of censorship – it is the exercise of our right to free expression.

        I think the Wild Hunt has done a very good job of showing how this is done the right way.

    • Sorry but right after that statement was the statement all witches are bad there are no good witches kill them all.

      • Which was seriously disturbing

      • Sorry, I am lost there. What do you mean? Haven’t said that! 😀

        • Isabel

          Kelticirishdruid and JoHanna refer to the movie, not your comment.

          In the movie someone says some witches are good, some are bad, and then the answer is, no, there are no good witches, kill them all. Which is problematic, to say the least.

          • Well, then I think that’s going too far. If we are going to criticize a whole movie for what a character says in a certain scene? What about all those movies in which some character rapes or beats someone?
            Yes, of course, in this case the one that does that is seen as the “good guy”, but later, that same guy “learns” that he is wrong and that there are good ones.
            And I am not saying that that portrayal is the best one. But still, I think that criticizing a whole move for that specific character/scene…

            P.D.: And, again, I am NOT saying that the film is helping the “witch-hunt” problem. On the contrary. But I personally think that we shouldn’t use certain arguments if we are not going to apply them evenly to every single movie.

  • Thank You for this Jason. Having been to witch camps in the third world, issues surrounding our privilege living where we do and how that portends a culture that has a false sence of progress are dear to me

  • Chas S. Clifton

    I cannot imagine that anyone who has read witch-trial testimony or letters from the condemned witches of centuries past (some do exist) could be guilty of “romanticizing” that era, which I am sure does have parallels with current events in some African nations.

    • There are indeed many parallels between historical and modern witch-hunts.

  • Kilmrnock

    Altho i myself am a recon , this stuff doesn’t effect me directly , my wife is an Eclectic Witch . This crap in the media does bother me ………..i get a sorta knee jerk reaction of wanting to protect and defend my wife and freinds . We all know how hollywood can effect public perception . My favorite example is Bell, Book and Candle and then TV’s Bewitched . a term that was considered quite vile , and a major insult …….fighting words actualy has been redefined to mean a male witch . the word, term Warlock . That term origonaly meant oath breaker , to a society where in ones honor was rather important being labeled as a warlock was a big deal , ones honor had to be defended .Also origonaly neither term Witch or Warlock carried a sexual distinction now both do , a witch or warlock could be male or female . We had a discussion on one the recon sites i visit and the conclussion was as it didn’t effect us , and those who openly use the term witch should understand its a loaded term . But the recent events in the media vilifying/killing witches once more botheres me quite a bit . Like i said as a recon no big deal to me , but this stuff effects my wife and many freinds of mine that are Witches . The other point of all of this , the recents events in Africa and elsewhere are supported by American Evangelical Churches . That point alone should enrage/upset alot of people . Why hasn’t our wonderful media reported on that . I remember recently last year , i believe , when that so called apostle from one of those radical churches in Africa wanted to come into the US to raise funds for her good work . That very “apostle” was know for abusing and killing so called posessed children in her local area, doing exorcisms . Why isn’t there a major expose on this kind of behavior and support of such by American churches ?Sorry i ranted a wee bit , this crap really bothers me . Kilm

  • Britney Meyer

    Did these cultures always have a thing against witches, or is this a result of evangelism?

    • @facebook-751691973:disqus lives there, so he may be able to answer that 😀 It is, indeed, an interesting question!

    • There are multiple factors involved, but the explosive growth of the most rabid forms of Pentecostalism over the last 50 years is a major one. In fact, it is arguably the single most important factor.

      Another very important thing to keep in mind is that the mass media loves to carry lurid stories about dark-skinned people acting badly, especially when they don’t even have to use words like “superstitious savages” but can still get that back message across.

    • Accusations of witchcraft have always been a part of most traditional African religions, Britney. The European Christian colonization of much of Africa added new layers of both propaganda and prejudice. Witchcraft Suppression legislation still in force in many African states reveal that the drafters sought to suppress indigenous animist religions and practices by stereotyping all such beliefs and magic-religious practices as “witchcraft”. In some African countries evangelical movements have contributed to accusations, notably Nigeria (child witchcraft accusations).

      • Accusations of “Witchcraft”, obviously, only came to Africa with English speaking Christian missionaries. African traditional cultures, like all magical cultures, acknowledgement that magic can be used for harm, and malefic magic is considered criminal activity. Christianity, on the other hand, has always, and quite explicitly, condemned forms of magic that are viewed as “Pagan”, regardless of whether or not any harm is done by such magic.

        The way that traditional cultures deal with malefic magic is very different from how Christians deal with Witchcraft.

        • Linguistically speaking, yes, correct.

        • Britney Meyer

          Okay, thank you. This was what I was looking for! Thank you!

    • They did not call them witches but they had and still have a dualistic belief system and their own indigenous words for agents of harmful magic. Colonial settlers may have painted all traditional religion as (evil) witchcraft but even today traditional healers try to set themselves apart from so-called (evil) “witches” in their own community as they want to be seen as healers and being considered a witch is very dangerous for them.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Thank you, Jason.

  • Captain Snark

    The problem is that the word “witch” actually meant something for centuries before neopagans decided to “reclaim” it. It’s kind of like if I decided to start calling myself a “posioner” or a “necromancer” and then began complaining about how posioners and necromancers are portrayed. Some people might recognize and applaud my noble attempt to wrest these words from one frame of reference to another; others might simply take me at my word and decide to set me on fire.

    • I argue that the problems are religions that whip their followers up enough to justify murder. Murder of people who are often not even witches.

    • The problem with your argument is that the so-called “witches” being burned do not identify themselves as witches of any sort. This is no different from the witch hunts of ages past, the victims are scapegoats. Reappropriating a word which is currently used as a weapon is one way of fixing the problem.

      • Its somewhat misleading to say that the people being killed do not identify themselves as Witches. “Witch” is an English word. Every African language has its own very rich vocabulary of religious and magical terminology. Christians in Africa, however, have adopted the English word “Witch” to refer to people who continue to believe in and practice the ancient spiritual traditions of Africa. This is not restricted to whack-job Pentecostalists, who make up a significant portion of African Christians. Catholics and “mainline” Protestants also routinely refer to African Traditional Religions as “Witchcraft”.

        • The point is that none of the victims (with very very few exceptions) are traditional magical practitioners (irrespective of the identifying term used) – they are simply ordinary people.

        • The people being targeted are the most vulnerable in society, the elderly and the children. They are soft targets and make easy scapegoats. Senility in the elderly is often used to justify accusations of witchcraft. That is why I said they do not identify as “witches of any sort”, i.e. by any other name.

        • i believe they call any non-christian witches

    • Actually, it is well documented that for as long as there has been such a thing as the English language, the word “Witch” (or if we go back far enough, “Wicca”) has been used to refer to healers, diviners and other workers of beneficial magic, and even specifically for referring to Pagan Priestesses.

      The earliest evidence for the word “wicca” comes from legislation by Christian kings who make it perfectly clear that their problem with “wicca” was that it represents the survival of Heathen religious beliefs and practices.

      Christians have a habit of taking words such as “wicca”, “daemon”, “hellene”, “haeresis”, etc., and attempting to turn them into synonyms for pure evil.

      • Sean

        Do you have any kind of legitimate source for this at all?! Or just Llewellyn books?

        • Sources? Well, there are at least eight different Old English law texts that include the words “wicca”, “wiccecræft”, etc. The earliest is from the reign of Ælfred. There are other sources as well, including the Wycliffe Bible, texts in which Anglo-Saxon magic charms are written down, etc. You would know all this Sean, if you had the slightest idea of what you are talking about.

          • Sean

            Alfred the Great was a solidly Christian king, who in fact was famous for going to great lengths to found monasteries and restore Christian learning to England, and made use of the propagandist presentation of a “holy war” in his resistance against (pagan) Viking incursions.

            So there’s certainly evidence for his (and subsequent english monarchs’) concerns about witchcraft, but no indication that “wicca” (that is, “witch”) was ever used as a term for a benevolent practitioner of kindly magic beloved by the people, much less as an actual religion of any kind prior to the 1950s.

          • Daniel SnowKestral

            The word wicca is used, however, in reference to well and tree worshippers by Alfred of Wessex, however….that they “shall be driven from the land.” I do not, intend, though, to assert that this refers to it being used as a term for a benevolent practitioner of magic, or even as an actual religion. Could it be a reference to some Christian and Anglo-Saxon notions of sorcery? That I do not know…But the etymology of the word suggests folk magical practices of a sort. Nor do I suggest that this implies any connection at all to modern Wicca as founded and promulgated by Gardner, himself.

          • Magical terminology is often (in fact, pretty much always) employed in an extremely sloppy manner. And this is true of practitioners, persecutors, and standers-by. The written sources that we have, such as pre-Conquest Old English law texts, testifies, more than anything else, to confusion and ambiguity with respect to terms such as “wicca”, “wigleras”, “lybblac”, etc. And this confusion and ambiguity becomes even more pronounced when we look at early attempts to translate those same texts in Latin. In particular “wicca” is usually not translated as “malefi” or “venefici”, but rather as “incantores” or “sortilegis”, “sage”, or “magi”.

          • An Old English Christian “homily” specific warns people against consulting “wiccan”, that is, “Witches”, for healing, while simultaneously admitting that “wiccan” can in fact provide such healing, albeit through diabolical means: “Ne sceal se cristena befrínan ða fúlan wiccan be his gesundfulnysse, þeáh ðe heó secgan cunne sum ðincg þurh deófol.” Translation: “The christian must not inquire of the foul witch regarding his health, although she will be able to say some things on account of the devil”.

            The original text is found in the Bosworth-Toller entry for wicce (link), which also has the precise reference to the “homily” in question. The translation was taken from here:

            This source directly confirms that Witches were sought out in Anglo-Saxon times for their knowledge of healing, and that positive results were obtained from Witches.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            And also that, regardless whether the ‘magic’ was malevolent or benevolent, they would be persecuted by the Christians.

          • In your bible your god holds a witch as the whore in the end.. This from a god who says thou shalt not murder? He kils her in front of all of you! Spiritually speaking? I think not!!!

  • In Africa there is a very clear connection between portrayals of Witches in movies and violence against those accused of Witchcraft. But the “Nollywood” film industry is very powerful and influential, and so far it has attracted very little scrutiny for its obvious and direct role in fomenting violence.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Are you talking about commercial movies like Hansel & Gretel, or badly-made church propaganda flicks?

      • The Nigerian film industry, aka “Nollywood”, churns out Pentecostalist inspired flicks (that overtly promote Witch killing) in the guise of slick commercially successfully movies.

  • nobdy

    Hrm. Except that modern witchcraft is descended from Richard Gardner, who basically just made it all up.

    And the people who were burned at the stake weren’t witches, they were just lynch mob victims.

    And if reading about being burned at the stake for witchcraft is a
    familiar enough experience to trigger you, you probably don’t live
    anywhere with an internet connection.

    Well, whatever.

    • Modern witchcraft is not descended from Gerald Gardner; Wicca is descended from him. In addition, nobody here is arguing that Wiccans or necessarily actual witches were being executed during “the burning times,” but those in our likeness are now… and those suspected of being witches (or assigned the title for political reasons) were. Put this another way; there is little historical evidence of Jewish enslavement in Israel and the Exodus thereafter. There is actually evidence against the former and no support of the latter. Yet this myth plays an important part in the faith. The so-called burning times can as well, as it serves to show what people will do to us if we aren’t vigilant. Americans may lose employment (and with it health care, retirement, etc.), custody of their children, and more for being a witch. Their animals may be nailed up outside their house. People have been killed in western democracy. And the situation is far worse in the Middle East and African nations, thanks to evangelical Islam and Christianity.

      • In fact, there is no doubt that many of the people executed during the Witch Hunts were targeted precisely because they held beliefs and engaged in practices that were “survivals” from Pagan magical and religious traditions.

        • sean

          Really? Where is there no doubt? What sources do you have? Because every legitimate historian (rather than amateur pop-wicca book) I’ve ever read has said that the persecutions were of either people who were christians (regardless of whether they, LIKE EVERYONE ELSE AT THE TIME, practiced folk practices or not) or they were in a very few cases people who were clearly certifiably insane. There were NO actual “secret hidden pagans”, much less “wiccans” of any sort, still around in 16th century western europe.

          Again, you are MISAPPROPRIATING someone else’s suffering to be able to claim unwarranted “victim status” to yourself.

      • sean

        But you see, when you try to pretend that either the 16th Century Witch Craze or the current Witch Craze in African countries is in any way connected to Wicca or Neopaganism (as in, implying that somehow its got something to do with your religion or that you personally are being persecuted) it just invalidates any sense of seriousness you have and makes you look ridiculous. Its stuff like this, like someone claiming that they have some sort of special Victim Status because a christian woman who had nothing to do with them was burnt at the stake in Holland in 1554, or because another christian woman who has nothing to do with them was covered in gasoline and lit on fire in Nigeria in 2013, its this sort of thing that makes people think wiccans are deluded ren-faire cosplayers and not actually serious as a religion at all.

        You are MISAPPROPRIATING someone else’s suffering as your own.

        • Sean, go re-read my comment. I made no such claims and you are simply regurgitating an earlier argument you posted. In fact, I argued that Wiccans and neopagans were in no way connected to the so-called burning times/witch trials/etc. I merely corrected an incorrect statement (that modern witchcraft was invented by Gardner, which is worth pointing out since you seemingly didn’t read my message).

          Please clarify how I have misappropriated someone else’s suffering.

  • roi de guerre

    I saw this story when it came across the wire and I am grateful to see it here. Thank you Jason.

    I feel that as practitioners of withcraft we have an obligation to step into the fray. Innocent people are being tortured, dispossessed or their property, and mudered in the name of witchcraft and even if they are witches it makes no difference. The result is unconscionable in every case.

    We don’t have to agree on anything necessarily except that “this shall not stand”. We have the examples of women’s suffrage and the end of apartheid (to name only two of hundreds of examples) and so on to guide us.

    As a cultural engineer I know that we have the tools and abilities to effect this level of change, just as I know it won’t come easily.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Not all of us practice witchcraft. However, I would suggest that personal religion should not be a barrier to decrying such brutal acts and these.

  • I wonder if the filmmakers, writers and marketing folk from Hansel & Gretel felt any sliver of unease for their “burn all the witches” propaganda of I mean marketing campaign when they hear about this poor woman in PNG

    • JoHanna, am sorry to say lass they will probably never hear of it, and even if they did would do nothing about it. Am very sure they knew long before they ever released this film that witchcraft is protected by the bill of rights now, and the 1st Amendment, but being film makers like a lot of police officers feel they are above the law and thus in the name if entertainment they are and cannot be held responsible for others actions while watching their production. Since no film maker in history has ever been held accountable for their actions before hand. Personally main stream media will never say a word about this to bring voice to it, its more important to have mass readings over something like taking away other rights protected by American’s under the Constitution like the fight against the 2nd Amendment as we speak. Pro or against that right is not the point at the present, however it clearly shows that if they cannot get enough readers for their story it will never hit the pages.

  • Thank you Jason for giving the public some perspective.

  • AndrasArthen

    This is, tragically, a fairly common problem in many Third World
    countries; and even when the authorities are actively engaged. it’s very
    difficult to address it successfully, because it arises from a cultural
    mindset which is very deeply ingrained. I remember back in 1999, when
    several pagan groups from the U.S. & Europe were getting ready to
    attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South
    Africa, we were contacted by the Parliament’s office with a suggestion
    that we de-empasize the public use of the word “witch” once we were down
    there, to ensure our own safety. We already have plans underway to
    include some kind of program on this specific problem at the next
    Parliament, in the hope of bringing greater international attention to
    focus on it.

    • Andras, I would like to engage with you personally on the above please.

  • Sean

    I’m sorry, but movies like Season of the Witch don’t offend me. What offends me is people in north america (or europe) trying to pretend that they personally suffer “persecution” for buying a Scott Cunningham book equivalent to that of what the victim of the Nigerian or New Guinean victims you named above suffered. Women who, by the way, were almost certainly NOT witches or “pagans” (much less “wiccans”) of any kind, just like the vast overwhelming majority of victims of the european witch craze were nothing other than good christians.

    This is another thing that offends me: that, as I’ve sometimes heard, modern wiccans try to claim that the “burning times” (a nonsensical term invented only in the 1970s) justifies them as victims equivalent to those of holocaust victims, even though none of the victims of the witch craze had anything at all to do with either “wicca” or “neopaganism”, two religions that didn’t even exist yet at the time.

    This is just for people craving “Victim Status” who are otherwise too privileged to be able to get it. After all, that’s why Starhawk and co. INVENTED the whole-hog lie of the “9 million witches killed in the burning times” fake statistic, isn’t it? So there’d be 1.5 times as many victims as the jews suffered in the holocaust, and everyone would have to think that wiccans are just as “persecuted” for buying Silver Ravenwolf books as the Jews have been throughout history?

    • I can’t but agree with that
      Thought, of course, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them!

      • Sean

        Of course not, but we should help them because insane religious fanaticism is leading to people being persecuted; not because we try to claim that these are somehow “our” people. This whole thing feels awfully similar to me to how US evangelicals are so terribly concerned by the persecution of Christians in the Sudan, but don’t really give a crap about the persecution of anyone else; so its not human beings they care about, its the fact that its “Their team” being attacked.

        But at least in that case it really IS their team, those people really are chistians. I’m willing to bet that not a single person burned to death in Africa last year for being a “witch” had a pentagram necklace or a Buckland’s Book of Witchcraft on their bookshelf.

        So I find it ironic that, not having a “team” that is suffering real persecution, wiccans feel the need to mislabel something else as their “team”; instead of actually daring to take the higher ground. I think its great if wiccans want to be worried about people being persectued for witchcraft in Nigeria, but it would be more awesome to me if they were worried about Christians being persecuted in the Sudan, because this would prove that the real issue is with giving a damn about other human beings, and not about tribalism or about being able to falsely claim the Victim label.

        • hose who advocate against modern witch-hunts do not and have not claimed that the victims are “our people”. We know they are not. The victims of modern witchcraft accusation do not identify as Witches. They are ordinary women, men and children, who fall foul of false accusation.

          • @facebook-751691973:disqus I have to disagree with that. I am sure that you personally claim that and that are very aware of how this women are. But many people do indeed claim “Oh, they are burning witches (as in actual practicing ones) in SouthAfrica”.
            Again, not an excuse to avoid helping them (you know I fully support the campaign). I don’t think this is black or white.
            In fact, I think that the problem here is that there are many topics mixed here. And due to that, when one says the it doesn’t make sense to him such claims against those films, looks like he is supporting the witch burning, which is probably not the case.
            I would say that those two topics need separate articles… 🙁

          • Well, those who claim that are not supporting Touchstone’s advocacy against witch-hunts. Sean’s comments were targeted at activists specifically.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Sean, you are attacking a sentiment as though it were a proposition. I feel as though I were on the same “team” as the woman burned in Nigeria this year or in Holland in the 16th Century. I’m not offering that as a logical proposition, so you can’t deconstruct my justification for it because I’m not offering one.
          The people of whom I feel “their fight is my fight” are the people about whom I feel that way, not the contents of some box labeled “Pagan” or “Witch.”

          • Insomuch as these “witch” fears are about keeping women in their place, and women are over 50% of the population, definitely it is everyone’s issue who supports women’s equality and right to education, self determination, etc. As the feminist Witches used to say (and probably still do), every Woman is a Witch. Something to meditate on and ponder.

        • I see your point… still, I think this is not a matter of them being labeled as witches, but of people having their basic human rights cut.

    • AndrasArthen

      While the nine million figure is wildly inaccurate, it wasn’t created by Starhawk, nor with the motivation of making the witch persecutions bigger than the Holocaust of European Jews. The figure originally comes from Matilda Joslyn Gage, the American abolitionist and suffragist, who wrote, “It is computed from historical records that nine millions of persons were put to death for witchcraft after 1484…” in her book “Woman, Church and State,” published in 1893, several decades before the Holocaust took place.

      • Still, we can’t deny that that figure it has been endlessly repeated by many in the modern pagan community, unfortunately…

        • ChristopherBlackwell

          Certainly, but we Wiccans also can let go of misinformation and learn as we go.

          Remember the founders did not have the information that we have today. In the last thirty years we have seen more study of the Witch Craze in Academia then in the last hundred and fifty years. Look how much we have updated, just in the last 27 years I have been in. Look how Hutton’s book has ben accepted rather than fought against by modern day Wiccans.

          Now imagine one of the major religions being told that some of their beliefs were untrue. Think they could recover from the shock? I think we have done fairly well.

          One conservative Christian said that Wicca in the last 50 years has gone through a greater evolution then Christianity did in its first two hundred years. But then we have the Internet and we were fast to see the value of it. That is why we can talk and argue our way though it and evolve into a stronger religion than we were at the start Remember early Wiccan had few rituals none of the different stages of life. So we have come a long way. We have never had to be a frozen museum religion and that may be our greatest strength. Now we must guard against falling into the same traps other developing religions did, make sure we don’t end up doing the very thing that we criticize older religions for.

          • I agree, but with modern I meant contemporary, as in right now. I am not saying that he haven’t done well. We have, in some aspect, not other’s, thought.
            But I personally think that one of those traps is generalization.

      • yes, it was part of accepted feminist history, which is where feminism intersected with modern neopagan witchcraft. It was the best info everyone had at the time, later scholarship in the 90s or early aughts corrected it.

        • AndrasArthen

          Actually, this was already a fairly well-known fact by the late seventies — when Charlie Murphy’s song “Burning Times” came out in 1981, with the line mentioning that “..nine million European women died…” it incited endless arguments between those who knew the provenance (and fallacy) of that figure and those who still didn’t.

    • These religions did exist, they just had different names, the old ways is one.
      Your witnessing 1 burning now, how can you say the burnings were not happening then?

    • ChristopherBlackwell

      Actually the 9 million figure was put together long before modern Wicca, in the early part of the 1800s. Yes the number is way off base, we are probably talking about 35,00 to 50,00 people in about three centuries. However that indeed was a lot of people back then.

      As for victim status, maybe some, but I as a Wiccan of some 27 years have never felt a victim. Yes I know few, if any victims were witches, just as now, but don’t I as a human being have a right to be appalled by it and don’t I as a fellow human being has some right to want this stopped and to work to end it. In my religion, I am taught that all of us people are directly connected. What endangers these innocent people may well endanger me some day.

      This is one thing that Pagans in South Africa have even better reason to understand. Right now black people think only blacks can be witches, but that may not always be, so South African Pagans, Heathens, and Wiccans may well be in danger some day if the witch hunts are not brought to an end, That is the reason I take part in letter protests, letters to local editors, in South Africa on Witchcraft subjects and support Damon on this.

      I also report it to Wiccan, Pagans and Heathens in various parts of the world besides the USA, including Eastern and Western Europe, South America, Australia, China and back to South Africa with ACTION and online Pagan magazine. I have been doing this now for eight year and do it for free as service to my communities.

      Now if you want to sit on the sidelines a pooh pooh everything be my guest. But my religion teaches me it is my duty to myself and other to try to get things changed in the right direction. I may fail, but I will try, and just perhaps I may not fail, or one of the people I pass the information may succeed. As I believe in reincarnation, I do have some concern a to what type of world I may be coming back to.

      But broad brushing an entire group of people is BS, and only show your ignorance.

  • 0eric0

    Magic is fake..

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Please expand this comment.

    • ChristopherBlackwell

      Strange that you say this as I seem to make it work. Lets say you believe it is fake. If you are talking about stage magic then I would agree.

      But thee are different ways to look at reality. One that is flow regardless of how we feel about it, or that it can be manipulated. Go look for a job believing that no one would hire you. The go looking for a job certain that you are hirable and you will see a little of what I am saying. Now thought alone is not enough, same with magic, you also have to do the mundane work needed as well. But yes you can increase the chances of getting what you want. I have done this over twenty-seven years.

      Yes one can fail if one does not have a firm idea of what they want and cannot focus on their goal. but then that is true in the mundane world as well.

      • 0eric0

        Confidence does not equal magic.

        But at this point I’m too lazy to get into a discussion of why there are logical and psychological reasons that cause your example to work.

        If you want to believe what you are doing is magic, go for it. I’m not here to change minds or beliefs.

        • ChristopherBlackwell

          To you, perhaps. But even scientists begin to see that reality may vary according to the person doing the observation. In my case I probably see more magic in day to day reality than you do.

          Again i am not here to change your beliefs. I have learned over the years in forums that people go home usually with the beliefs they came in with. So conversion attempts are most likely to fail. Plus there is no need for us to have all the same views, just as long as each of us can be allowed to have the views that we want to have. You view does not interfere with mine, and I certainly doubt that my views interferes with your.

          Let me leave you with a thought of mine. Whatever objective reality is, none of us have ever experienced it because we are very subjective creatures, we are limited by our senses, which are not the same, imaginations that are not the same, different levels of education and experience. What we may think is objective reality is little more than mutually agreed upon subjective reality.

          It may be there are as many different realities as there are things that can sense it, each of those realities seem just as real to each given people experiencing them. Over time the so called reality evolves with the people.

          Perhaps it is because I have experiences a variety of seeming realities, including the situation of illness trying to kill me, reactions to the different drugs used to treat me and different levels of hydration and dehydration. I have also experienced war, recreational drugs, and also fasting. As a result I tend to take any reality with a grain of salt. Sanity and insanity are little more than a difference of chemical balance within the brain. Even continued stress can change permanently the chemical balance in our brain. Realty is only what we can experience within the limits of our personal perception.

  • againstintolerance

    It is ignorance, intolerance and fear that lead to these kinds of acts. It doesn’t matter if we are in the 21st century. It will continue to happen. The control of a state and of a narrow minded religion will perpetuate this kind of behaviour.

  • Venus

    This is a Wow, eye opener, I had no idea that they still did this. Puts a whole new light on everything.