Witch hunt

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1533 account of the execution of a witch charged with burning the town of Schiltach in 1531.

A witch hunt is a search for witches to capture. Witch hunts often involve moral panics or mass hysteria. They were much more common in the past than they are today. Many different groups participated in witch hunts, including Christians.

History[change | change source]

Witch hunts were most common in Europe from about 1480 AD to 1700 AD, during the Protestant Reformation and the Thirty Years' War. Tens of thousands of “witches” were executed during this period. Around the same time, there were many witch hunts in America, such as the Salem Witch Trials.

Witch hunts today[change | change source]

Today, there are fewer witch hunts. Most countries no longer have laws against witches.

Most which hunts today happen in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Societies where witch hunts happen have a stong belief in magic. In many cases, these are instances of lynching, and burning a person. Witch hunts are reularly reported from much of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Saudi Arabia and from Papua New Guinea.

The UNHCR say that such which hunts usually are a massive violation of human rights. Most of the accused are women and children but can also be elderly people or marginalised groups of the community such as albinos and the HIV-infected.[1] These victims are often considered burdens to the community. As as a result they are often driven out, starved to death, or killed violently, sometimes by their own families in acts of social cleansing.[2] The causes of witch-hunts include poverty, epidemics, social crises and lack of education. The leader of the witch-hunt, often a prominent figure in the community or a "witch doctor", may also gain economic benefit by charging for an exorcism or by selling body parts of the murdered.[3][4]

In metaphor[change | change source]

The term "witch hunt" is also used as a metaphor to describe a search for enemies in which people are accused without any real evidence. For example, during the Cold War, United States Senator Joseph McCarthy led a hunt for communists in American government and society. He accused many people, but eventually found no communist spies. McCarthyism is often called an example of a modern “witch hunt.”[5][6] [5]

References[change | change source]

  1. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "UNHCR Research Paper No. 169 Witchcraft allegations, refugee protection and human rights: a review of the evidence, January 2009". UNHCR.
  2. Miguel, Edward. "Poverty and Witch Killing." The Review of Economic Studies 72, no. 4 (1 October 2005): 1153–72
  3. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "UNHCR Research Paper No. 197 Breaking the spell: responding to witchcraft accusations against children, January 2011". UNHCR.
  4. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "UNHCR Research Paper No. 235 Seeking meaning: an anthropological and community-based approach to witchcraft accusations and their prevention in refugee situations, May 2012". UNHCR.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jensen, Gary F. (2007). The Path of the Devil. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. Ch. 8. ISBN 978-0742546974.
  6. Murphy, Brenda (1999). Congressional Theatre. Cambridge University Press. pp. Ch. 4. ISBN 0521891663.

Further reading[change | change source]

  • Behringer, Wolfgang. Witches and Witch Hunts: A Global History. Malden Massachusetts: Polity Press, 2004.
  • Briggs, Robin. 'Many reasons why': witchcraft and the problem of multiple explanation, in Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Studies in Culture and Belief, ed. Jonathan Barry, Marianne Hester, and Gareth Roberts, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Levack, Brian P. The Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1661-1662, The Journal of British Studies, Vol.20, No, 1. (Autumn, 1980), pp. 90–108.
  • Levack, Brian P. The witch hunt in early modern Europe, Second Edition. London and New York: Longman, 1995.
  • Macfarlane, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and Comparative Study. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row Publishers, 1970.
  • Midlefort, Erick H.C. Witch Hunting in Southeastern Germany 1562-1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundation. California: Stanford University Press, 1972. ISBN 0804708053
  • Oberman, H. A., J. D. Tracy, Thomas A. Brady (eds.), Handbook of European History, 1400-1600: Visions, Programs, Outcomes (1995) ISBN 9004097619
  • Oldridge, Darren (ed.), The Witchcraft Reader (2002) ISBN 0415214920
  • Poole, Robert. The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories (2002) ISBN 0719062047
  • Purkiss, Diane. "A Holocaust of One's Own: The Myth of the Burning Times." Chapter in The Witch and History: Early Modern and Twentieth Century Representatives New York, NY: Routledge, 1996, pp. 7–29.
  • Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World, Random House, 1996. ISBN 039453512X
  • Thurston, Robert. The Witch Hunts: A History of the Witch Persecutions in Europe and North America. Pearson/Longman, 2007.
  • Purkiss, Diane. The Bottom of the Garden, Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things. Chapter 3 Brith and Death: Fairies in Scottish Witch-trials New York, NY: New York University Press, 2000, pp. 85–115.
  • West, Robert H. Reginald Scot and Renaissance Writings. Boston: Twayne Publishers,1984.
  • Briggs, K.M. Pale Hecate’s Team, an Examination of the Beliefs on Witchcraft and Magic among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and His Immediate Successors. New York: The Humanities Press, 1962.

Other websites[change | change source]