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Wikipedia: Witchhunt
Witchhunt
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

A witchhunt is a search for suspected witches. If a "witch" is found; then, there might be a witchcraft trial. While actual witchhunts occasionally occur, during the modern era, there is a general scientific belief that witchcraft is mythological, and thus, is not a crime which can be committed. The notion of a witchhunt has come to refer to some legal proceeding, in which, it is argued that innocent people are being treated unjustly; due to some degree of fear, prejudice, or panic that has led the plaintiffs to act unreasonably.

Mediaeval Europe

For several centuries dominantly Christian societies believed that Satan was acting through human and other animal servants. There were extensive efforts to root out the supposed influence of Satan by various measures aimed at the people that were accused of being servants of Satan. People suspected of being "possessed" by Satan were put on trial.

The most important form of evidence in many of the witch trials was attained by "ordeal". These efforts included torture of the most horrific nature including hot pincers, the thumbscrew, the iron maiden, and many other such methods. Torture methods varied by region and the person carrying out the ordeal.

England at one point had a self-proclaimed "Witchfinder General", one Matthew Hopkins, who led searches, and who claimed to be able to identify a witch using techniques such as witches' marks. Much of the public believed the victims were really witches, but today it is not believed that most of them were.

Research into the laws and records of the time show that the witchfinders often used peine forte et dure and other torture to extract confessions and condemnations of friends, relatives and neighbors. Virtually everyone today looks on this period of history as a very dark time.

The measures employed against alleged witches were some of the worst ever practiced in the Western world. In A History of Torture, George Ryley Scott says:

The peculiar beliefs and superstitions attached to or associated with witchcraft caused those who were suspected of practising the craft to be extremely likely to be subjected to tortures of greater degree than any ordinary heretic or criminal. More, certain specific torments were invented for use against them.

The witchhunts were part of a larger culture which was very religiously and socially intolerant.

See also: Inquisition

Sociological Explanation for Witchhunts

Sociology has attributed the occurrence of witchhunts to the human necessity to blame problems on someone. For example, Europe during the periods in which witchhunts prevail relied upon agriculture; if this failed one year, the consequences would very likely be disastrous. Crop failures often correlated with the occurrence of witchhunts, leading sociologists to state that communities often took out their anger of a lack of food on supposed 'witches'. This can be paralleled in more recent examples such as the Nazi use of anti-semitism to apportion blame for economic problems.

Witch Hunters in African Societies

In many African societies the fear of witches drives periodic witchhunts during which specialist witch finders identify suspects. Audrey I Richards, in the journal Africa relates an instance when a new wave of witchfinders - the Bamucapi appeared in the villages of the Bemba people. They dressed in European clothing, and would summon the headman to prepare a ritual meal for the village. When the villagers arrived they would view them all in a mirror, and claimed they could identify witches with this method. These witches would then have to "yield up his horns", i.e. give over the horn-containers for curses and evil potions to the witch-finders. The bamucapi then made all drink a potion called kucapa which would cause a witch to die and swell up if he ever tried such things again. The villagers related that the witchfinders were always right because the witches they found were always the people whom the village had feared all along. The bamucapi utilised a mixture of Christian and native religious traditions to account for their powers and said that God (not specifying which God) helped them prepare their medicine. In addition, all witches who did not attend the meal to be identified would be called to account later on by their master, who had risen from the dead, and who would force the witches by means of drums to go to the graveyard, where they would die. Richards noted that the bamucapi created the sense of danger in the villages by rounding up all the horns in the village, whether they were used for anti-witchcraft charms, potions, snuff or were indeed receptacles of black magic. The Bemba people believed misfortunes such as hauntings and famines to be just actions sanctioned by the High-God Lesa. The only agency which caused unjust harm was a witch, who had enormous powers and was hard to detect. After white rule of Africa beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft grew, possibly because of the social strain caused by new ideas, customs and laws, and also because the courts no longer allowed witches to be tried.

Reference: A Modern Movement of Witch Finders Audrey I Richards (Africa: Journal of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, Ed. Diedrich Westermann.) Vol VIII, 1935, published by Oxford University Press, London.

Metaphorical Uses of the Term in the Modern West

A witchhunt in modern terminology refers to the act of seeking and persecuting any perceived enemy, particularly when the search is conducted using extreme measures and with little regard to actual guilt or innocence.

The term originated with Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible which was ostensibly about the Salem witch trials but were intended to criticize the hearings of United States Senator Joseph McCarthy as well as the general atmosphere of paranoia and persecution that accompanied them. Other anti-communist hearings in the 1950s were under the aegis of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC. Although revelations of the Soviet archives in the 1990s showed that some of those who were pursued were indeed communists (HUAC uncovered some genuine Communist infiltrators), the practice of McCarthyism left many innocent victims in its wake. Thus the "witch hunts" of the time were compromised by wild accusations and disregard for civil liberties and civil discourse.

Some have described the practice of involuntary commitment, or involuntary commitment as practiced and the standards for involuntary commitment, the search for people to involuntarily commit, the judicial procedures that may result in their commitment, as a witchhunt.

Deprogramming as witchhunt

Hundreds of members of the Unification Church who were caught and harangued by so-called deprogrammers complained of interrogation technique similar to that reported during the European witchhunts.

Deprogrammers would tell the detainee that he had been "brainwashed" by the "cult" and threaten to hold him indefinitely unless he "realized" he had been brainwashed. Opponents of deprogramming claim that this parallels the tactic of accusing a prisoner of witchcraft and torturing them until they "confess" to witchcraft. Jeremiah Gutman, a lawyer with the ACLU, chronicled several hundred such cases in the U.S. before deprogramming as "therapy" was delegitimized there.

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona