HISTORY OF WITCH-HUNTING
On 1st September, 2018 Peter Leeson penned a great article on witch hunts in Europe. This practice was widespread. Therefore when we hear President Donald Trump referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential election as witch hunt. Research now argue that the witch hunt at that time as well as now was due to competition.
The researchers further estimates that a minimum of 40,000 people lost their lives to witch hunt campaigns between 1520 and 1700.
In 16th and 17th Century, witch hunting was caused by competition between Protestantism and Catholicism while in America witch hunt is caused by competition between Republicans and Democrats.
Witch hunt is referred to “the search for evil forces, real or imagined, so that they can be expelled or destroyed” this was a common theme in Europe.
It’s estimated that 400 years ago, a day would not pass before a person is hunted and prosecuted by relevant authorities in Western Europe. These people were not hunted down and prosecuted because they were actually witches but it was all due to competition.
Witch hunting in Europe (1520 – 1700) claimed a minimum of 40,000 lives and as many as twice that number of people were prosecuted. During the witch hunt period, there was bad weather which led to damage of crops and citizens who were disgruntled had to find scapegoats. These were literal witches.
For the first time ever in their lives, Christians had an option of either remaining with the Catholic Church or joining the new church. Whenever believers have a choice, churches have no choice but to compete and you know to what length churches can go to secure their numbers in church.
There are two main ways to deal with competitors. One, to annihilate them using violence. Two, ban them using legal route. Peter Leeson notes that the Catholic Church tried both strategies but they never succeed in dealing with competition. Following the posting of Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther. This took a short period of time. At the time of witch hunt, Catholic Church was popular in strongholds such as Italy, Spain and Portugal. Many other countries outside these strongholds were not willing to suppress the competitors of Catholic Church through inquisitions.
The Church propagated the strong belief in witches and this was emulated by the Protestant churches. These churches competed on their superior ability to prosecuted witches (Satan’s evil people). The witch hunting activities were used by the churches to attract the loyalty of the undecided Christians.
The witch craze activities increased immediately after the Protestant Reformation of 1517. The new faith was spreading like wild fire. Between 1555 and 1650 it was at its apex. Catholic Church was on counter-offensive on Reformation. They had to push back against the great success on successive conversion of Christians in large parts of Europe.
After 1650, witch hunting activities started to decline gradually. In 1700, the prosecution of witches vanished. In 1648, a treaty known as the Peace of Westphalia was signed. This treaty effectively ended the persecution of Christians in Europe. This also brought to an end the exclusive control of some regions by either the Catholics or Protestants.
The witch craze was very common in areas with strongest rivalry between the Catholic and Protestant Churches. That was the case. There was a strong relationship between witch hunting and Christianity.
In Germany, research indicates that there was approximately 40% of all witchcraft prosecutions in Europe. Elsewhere, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland remained very loyal to Catholic Church. There was no serious competition from Protestant churches in those countries. This explains why only 6% of the Europeans were tried for witchcraft in Europe.
Currently, President Trump of USA is claiming that his administration is being witch hunted by the Democrats. This witch hunting is actually driven by competition. His opponents are frustrated that he won the 2016 elections and their option is to dig for dirt on Trump and his collaborators. Even if nothing happens, the supporters of Democratic Party will see that at least their party is rooting out evil and this might put the Democrats a head of the Republicans in the next elections. It’s a wait and see situation.
According to Leeson and Russ, the Catholics avoided conducting witch hunting trials until 16th Century when they felt the impact of competition in the religious arena. Otherwise until the turn of the 15th Century the Catholics did not accept that there were witches out there (even in the modern times people are split in the middle on whether there are witches out there). In the modern world, the Democrats are claiming that there are ‘Russian Witches’ out there who interfered with the 2016 elections in the United States.
Close home, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu has made claims that she is being witch hunted because of the decision which was made by the Supreme Court for a re-run after the August 2017 elections. President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to revisit the judiciary over that decision. Kenya Citizen TV has more details on the witch hunt claims by DCJ Mwilu click here for details.
The table below shows the number of people who were accused and executed due to witch hunt in European Countries between 1300-1850. It is interesting the Germany was at the forefront in these campaigns.