Witch Hunt: The Revival of Heresy

Witch Hunt: The Revival of Heresy

Witch Hunt: The Revival of Heresy

Witch Hunt: The Revival of Heresy

Excerpt

Witchcraft, and all manner of spectre- work, and demonology, we have now named madness, and diseases of the nerves, seldom reflecting that still the new question comes upon us: What is madness? What are nerves?

-- CARLYLE

IN EQUINOCTIAL TIMES, when day and night are in balance, when old worlds are dying and new worlds are struggling to be born, there is always a prevalence of witches. For there is a season to hunt witches as there is a season to shoot ducks, and the season for witches is the autumnal equinox. Witches are not made or spawned or fashioned; they are caught. Hunting witches is like playing a game: the witch is the one at whom the others point. Without a witch hunt, there would be no witches, and witches are never hunted without a reason. Witch hunts are a means by which, in time of storm, the belief in witches is exploited in order to control men's thoughts and to police their loyalties. The season for hunting witches is a season of terror and alarm, when "fear hath a hundred eyes" and "good and evil interchange their names"; when people, "wearied out with contrarieties," yield up moral questions in despair.

But it is also a season of promise: great new hopes are in the air, there is a quickening of social thought and energies, with deep stirrings and realignments, and, beneath the surfaces, an unmistakable surge toward the future. It is this surge which produces the grotesque regression to witch hunting and the ways of the Inquisition. Phases of this regression are clearly evident in the United States today. We have reached far back into history's museum of social horrors to resurrect such instruments of persecution as the test oath and the inquisitorial tribunal. The use of . . .

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