Monday, February 26, 2007

Witch Trials, Peasant Uprisings and the Strange Case of Jon-Benet Ramsay

Podcast.

I've been doing a lot of reading in world history and civilization ... the witch burnings and witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries are very strange. They coincided with waves of peasant uprisings...

A coincidence?

Not a coincidence?

Peasant uprisings occurred throughout Europe from the late fifteen hundreds until well into the late sixteen hundreds. What was the reason for them? Basically, the peasants were angry about the growth of absolute monarchy -- an autocratic rule that looks a lot like what today we would call dictatorship. The autocrats were definitely cruel. We have to remember that this was a time of drawing and quartering. Religion played a big role because of the Reformation -- Protestants questioned the authority of the papal structure.

Likewise, people questioned the authority of the absolute monarch, especially if he happened to be cruel or repressive, or abused his power.

I'm thinking now about a rather strange phenomenon that also had to do with another perceived abuse of power. For some reason, at that point in time, it was believed that powerful and dangerous women lived among the normal folk and bewitched their animals, children, and crops. This was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

What precipitated this rather bizarre belief? One has to wonder if some of the aristocrats found it convenient to deflect attention from themselves by stirring up witch hunts. Perhaps more than a hundred thousand people were prosecuted throughout Europe on charges of witchcraft. Although larger cities were affected first, the trials spread to smaller towns and rural areas as the hysteria persisted well into the seventeenth century.

If fomenting internal discord was a good way to put a cap on the peasant rebellions, it was an effective stopgap. The peasants did not pull out the guillotines and use them on the gentry until a hundred years later.

I've read a few transcripts from the witch trials. After a few stretchings on the rack, the women tended to confess to anything. They weren't even in it, like John Mark Carr and the Jon-Benet Ramsay confession, for the celebrity. Nor did they confess in order to establish paternity, as in the case of Anna Nicole Smith and her daughter, Dannielyn.

I think that the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts were a bit different. Reading about the witch trials in Europe in the sixteenth century has made me curious, though.

Lessons from history....

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