Date: 11 Feb 1998
I'm starting to put together the materials for the "Modern Persecutions" section. Part of that will be reviews of modern Witch hunting manuals, which I'll post here before archiving.
However I think this material may confuse some people, because a lot of it appears to be about Satanism, not Witchcraft. I think some will take one look at it and say, "What is all this CRAP on Satanism?!? Witches aren't Satanists!!!"
Let me explain myself with a story. Once upon a time, two traditional magickal practitioners lived in a small Italian village. One was a Benandante (a Good Walker) and the other was a Strega (Witch). They considered themselves completely different and, in fact, weren't terribly fond of each other, since their two sects were traditional enemies and fought over the crops four times a year.
One day a wandering preacher comes to the valley and starts ranting about how evil Witches are. They worship Satan. They kill and eat babies. They are responsible for every strange death that afflicts your livestock. They are foul, awful people. The Inquisition has heard complaints that there are Strega in this valley, and they're coming to get rid of them.
The Strega hears this and thinks, "What bunk! We don't do *anything* like that. Let the Inquisition come -- I'll tell them that this is not what I do."
The Benandante thinks, "Geez, I knew Strega were jerks but I hadn't realized they were *that* awful! Fortunately, I'm not a Streghe. I'm a Benandante, which is completely different. Let the Inquisition come. I've got nothing to worry about. And if the Strega really are doing these awful things, they deserve what they get."
So the Inquisition comes, and it summons both the Strega *and* the Benandante. The Strega tries to prove that she hasn't committed any crimes, but her words fall on deaf ears. The Witch hunters are too firm in their convictions, too terrified of a Satanic conspiracy to actually listen to her evidence. She has admitted she's a Strega and thus they *know* that she has committed unspeakable crimes.
The Benandante thinks he has an air-tight case. "I'm not a Streghe," he announces. "I'm a Benandate, and that's completely different." "No it's not," says the Inquisition. "Benandante is just another word for Streghe. All Benandanti are Strega, whether they admit it or not." Stunned, the Benandate falls back on the Strega's defense: I didn't do any of this! Benandanti don't do these monstrous things! And, like the Strega, he is ignored. The Inquisition finds both of them guilty of Witchcraft.
The exact same thing goes on today. Modern Witch hunters don't usually talk about Witches -- they talk about Satanism and a Satanic conspiracy. Their demonology is very, very similar to the demonology of the Burning Times. Witches worship Satan and sacrifice babies and animals to him. 80% of their mythology comes from their own fears and fantasies about evil. But 20% comes from Neo-Paganism. Modern Witch hunters, for instance, say that Satanists call being naked "skyclad", that Satanism is an outgrowth of Druidism, that Imbolg, Lugnasadh, Beltane and Samhain are Satanic holidays. And if you push them they'll say that yes, Witches are Satanists, whether they admit it or not.
Most of us modern Witches have handled this the way my fictional Benandante handled the Inquisition's claims. "I'm not a Satanist," we say. "This is a problem for Satanists, not Witches. I don't do any of these things." What we miss is that Satanists don't do these things either. The ravings of Witch hunters aren't "about" Satanists, any more than they're "about" Witches. They're the fears and delusions of our Christian society -- fears and delusions that breed the persecutions of the Burning Times. The Malleus Maleficarum wasn't "about" real Witchcraft; it was a product of fear and paranoia. But that didn't help the Witches who died because of it.
The Burning Times were not a pogrom. They were not one group's concerted attempt to destroy another group. Witch crazes were rumor panics. People feared a non-existant Satanic conspiracy, and when that fear reached a fever pitch they lashed out an anybody who resembled their stereotypes of a Devil-worshipper. Traditional magick users. Healers. Intellectuals. Solitary women.
The same fears exist today. And if we want to ensure that the Burning Times never return, we have to face those fears and calm them. Dodging the issue ("I'm not a Satanist! This is a Satanist issue!") won't help anything. It didn't help in the Burning Times, it doesn't help today. The Burning Times didn't end when Witches convinced people they didn't worship Satan -- they ended when rationalists convinced people that there was no Satanic conspiracy of Witches to be afraid of.
So please don't be surprised or upset to see things "about" Satanism here. Our recent "Satanic Panics" exactly mirror the persecutions of the Burning Times. In fact, scholars are now starting to study these modern panics to help us understand what went on in the Burning Times. We can't let modern Witch-hunters' vocabulary blind us to what they're really doing. Or we'll be in the same straights as the Strega and Benendante from my story.