To: An Cli'un
Date: 17 Feb 1998
Hi An Cli'un,
Just thought that rather than fussing about the fact that historians don't discuss sucessful tactics enough, maybe I ought to point out a few I see. <g>
Spain offers some of the clearest insights. No other country handled the Burning Times better. There were some, like Ireland, that were almost missed by the persecutions. But Spain was the only country that faced and successfully calmed a massive panic. The Basque Dream Epidemic of the early 17th century was probably the largest craze on record -- several thousand people were investigated. Panic was wide-spread. Priests warned the Inquisition that the Holy Office *had* to start killing more Witches, because if they didn't, people were going to start lynching suspected Witches left and right.
The Spanish Inquisition had an explosive situation on its hands, the type of lethal conspiracy theory that caused thousands of deaths in other parts of Europe. And yet it defused this. Eleven people died, all told. Six were executed, five died of disease in jail. But at the end of this panic, the Inquisition never killed another Witch and it worked diligently to prevent secular authorities from killing them, too.
What happened? What did the Spanish Inquisition do that other Witch hunters didn't? And can we do the same things today? Some of the factors I see are:
1) Distinguishing between Witchcraft and "Satanists." When most Witch hunters encounterd traditional magick users, they assumed that they were Satanists. So if you sang charms when you collected herbs, that was evidence that you sacrificed babies to Satan. The Inquisition didn't do this. It acknowledged that "white" Witches, Witches who harmed no one, did exist. In fact, it said that there were so many of them it didn't have time to prosecute them! Their beliefs were semi-Christian, and the Inquisition was more concerned with out-and-out "infidels" like Jews.
This tactic works well today, with some modification. It's important to let people know that Wicca is not devil-worship. So if you know someone who celebrates Samhain or keeps a Book of Shadows, that doesn't mean that they sacrifice kittens in their off-hours.
But we have a slight complication: today, there are self-identified Satanists. So we can't simply say, "We don't kill babies -- Witches aren't Satanists," because that implies that Satanists *do* kill babies. And implications like that are the food that panics feed on.
2) Denying the conspiracy. Perhaps the most startling quote to emerge from the Basque Witch trials was Inquisitor Salazar's statement, "There were neither witches nor bewitched until they were talked and written about." The Inquisition, unlike most other Witch hunters, came to categorically deny that there was any conspiracy of devil-worshipping Witches. After examining several thousand cases, it announced that it could not find conclusive evidence of one act of "true" witchcraft (by which they meant anything that resembled the standard demonology).
There's a strong argument that this type of skepticism was what ended the Burning Times. The crazes were fueled by fear, and the only way to stop them was to remove the cause of the fear: the belief in a Satanic conspiracy of Witches.
Today, this remains our strongest tool. Re-routing the fears, saying "I don't do this but maybe Satanists do," achieves nothing. The fears have to be faced and countered. And the only way to counter them is to show that there's nothing to be afraid of: the conspiracy doesn't exist.
3) The Edict of Silence. After deciding that gossip and rumor were responsible for the panic, the Inquisition passed an Edict of Silence: an order banning all discussion of Witchcraft. No priest could preach against it. No person could pass on rumors. Merely speculating that your neighbor was a Witch could put *you* before the Inquisition!
Draconian. But it worked. Panics died out within a month or two. A year after the largest craze of the Burning Times, no one noticed any Witches in this area. This is one of the tactics that won't translate so well. <g> No one wants to destroy free speech just to squash rumors.
4) Maintaining legal safeguards. All legal systems have safeguards, rules which try to prevent the rights of the accused. Witch trials were notably different from regular Reformation trials because Witchcraft was a "crimen exceptum", a crime where normal safeguards were suspended. Trials were ugliest wherever courts were free to do as they wished. In Spain, the Inquisition stuck pretty close to their rules, and it helped keep deaths to a minimum.
This is a very, very big issue today. Modern Satanism experts say that our legal system has failed. They estimate that 45,000 people are sacrificed each year in America, and no one is ever brought to trial for these crimes because our legal standards are too demanding. (By comparison, the FBI points out that "only" 23,000 murders occur in America per year. What Satanism experts are saying is that murders are three times as common as they appear to be; that nobody hears of two thirds of these murders; and that two thirds of murders are committed by Satanists and leave no evidence.)
Some Satanism experts recommend "fixing" our legal system. Suggestions include presuming people accused of Satanic Ritual Abuse are guilty (though we should give them an opportunity to prove their innocence); dropping the requirement for physical proof; allowing people to be convicted by their own confessions; and cautioning juries that they should expect contradictory or nonsensical testimony from SRA survivors, because of the intense brain-washing Satanists do. What scares me the most is that these are the *exact* "legal reforms" that ushered in the Burning Times.
5) Examining the evidence closely. The "evidence" in most Witch trials is abysmal. It's a random collection of horror stories and anecdotes which contradicts itself wildly. The evidence that the Spanish Inquisition collected was no different. But the Inquisition, unlike many other courts, demanded better. It compared the testimonies of various "Witches" who had supposedly attended sabbats together -- and discovered that their accounts agreed about nothing. It looked for physical and outside evidence to corroborate confessions -- and found none. When it threw out questionable evidence, it discovered that there was nothing left over. And at that point, it declared the Edict of Silence.
Again, this is a major issue today. Modern Satanism experts offer tons and tons of confessions and testimonies. They rarely look for physical or outside evidence to support their statements; they simply tell us that we should "Believe the Children!" Well, that's what they did at Salem, thank you. We need to examine the evidence of Satanic Ritual Abuse very closely. The FBI did, and announced that it could find no evidence of a Satanic conspiracy.
If anyone would like more information, there's a brilliant study of the Basque Witch trials available: Gustav Henningsen's _The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition_ (1980).