We seem to be living in an age of witch hunts — real or imagined. So perhaps it’s appropriate to review a few facts — actual or fake — about witches.
The word “witch” can be traced back to the Old English “wicca,” which in turn stems from an Indo-European word for “sorcerer” or worker of magic. Which is about as far back as I care to chase it.
It’s not clear when witches first appeared on the world scene, as part of religions or national cultures. The Old Testament — Exodus 22:18 — contains a warning, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” In Samuel I, Ch. 28, King Saul seeks advice from a “familiar spirit” i.e. “witch” of Endor. Witchcraft was also practiced by ancient Egyptians.
Somewhere along the line the Devil was invented. He came in handy when humans needed to blame someone. But he couldn’t be everywhere, so we came up with witches, who (as the story goes) were women controlled by the Devil.
Belief in witches grew during the Middle Ages, especially in Europe. Between 1400 and 1700, 70,000 to 100,000 persons were executed for performing the Devil’s work. A common practice was to torture the accused, and then execute them via burning or hanging. Eighty percent of the victims were women. Nothing surprising about that statistic, is there?
In 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, a number of teenage Puritan girls began to act strangely. They claimed to be under the influence of witches. They accused neighbor women, some of whom were quickly tried. Even before the witch panic began, Salemites were already on edge because of smallpox, the recently concluded British-French war and the possibility that Native Americans might scalp the whities for any number of justifiable reasons.
The Salem grownups believed the teenagers’ accusations, arrested the suspected witches, put them on trial and usually found them guilty. To confirm their verdicts, the judges tied up the suspects and tossed them into a pond. If an accused witch floated, she was deemed innocent. If she drowned, she obviously was guilty. This system was practiced for several years until good sense — a rarity in Puritans — returned.
Perhaps William Shakespeare should be given heaviest blame for giving witches a bad reputation. In his “Macbeth” tragedy, the three witches promised Macbeth he would become king of Scotland. This was good news, but later on the witches stuck a knife (so to speak) into Macbeth and engineered his ruination. The moral: if you want to be crowned, don’t trust a witch.
Good witches do exist, both in the past and the present.
One group, the Wiccans, are profoundly dedicated to doing good. Their concern is for the entire earth and all its inhabitants. Wicca is pagan, i.e., not a formal religion with worshiped divinities and guilt-drenched doctrines.
What a relief that must be to its members.
I once dated a Toledo, Ohio, Wiccan named Hannah. She was a joy until we broke up. She took revenge by placing a curse on my car. All its tires suddenly went flat. Hard-hearted Hannah later moved to Savannah.
Today’s alleged witch hunt in the big swamp down by the Potomac has been going on for many weeks. Can we look forward to a continuation of it? Probably. One thing seems plain: the FBI — whose personnel have been doing most of the investigating — has failed to come up with a single witch. Matter of fact, I don’t recall any witches ever being arrested, indicted or convicted by the FBI since its founding back in the 1920s.
Some folks say, “If this is true, why are we paying Mueller and his colleagues?” An obvious reply: While no bona fide witches have been discovered, the task force has come up with several dozen creatures who have been charged with perjury, witness-tampering, money laundering and quasi-treasonous flirtations with Russian operatives.
When I pointed this out to my friend Tunker, he growled, “With all those suspects in tow, one of them is sure to be a son-of-a-witch. So, let’s find her, arrest her, and …”
“And ... ?”
“Lock her up!”