that’s the epigraph on the title page of “The Malleus Maleficarum” — “The Hammer of the Witches” — THE handbook on witchcraft from the late middle ages (you can read it here). while it does discuss some interesting things, like whether or not a belief in witches should be part of the roman catholic church’s orthodoxy (the epigraph pretty much answers that question) and how witches got their powers (from satan!), most importantly it explains the procedures for uncovering witches (via a witch-hunt). it, and other books like it, came in real handy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries during the heydays of the witchcraft trials in europe and north america.

they’re still killing “witches” in papua new guinea today. in 2009, over fifty people in just two png provinces (there are twenty-two provinces altogether) were tortured and killed because the crowd concluded they were witches. they’re still at it this year. in fact, there are some concerns that, if anything, the witch-hunting has sped up. from the sydney morning herald last month:


“Kapi is the local gravedigger…. He is paid about 150 kina ($67) a grave; if a family wants him to build a proper, cement gravestone, that is extra. Then there is the time-consuming and more important task of guarding the graves from *sangumas*, or witches, the belief in which is almost universal in PNG.

“‘The *sangumas* come at night to eat the corpses,’ Kapi tells me matter-of-factly. ‘It’s like meat to them. It’s how they get their magical powers. And not just one, but five or 10 can come and cut up the body; “You get this hand … you get this leg ….”‘

“During the day, ‘they look just like us,’ Kapi explains. He says at night, however, they sneak into the cemetery disguised as cats or dogs, snakes, rats, bats or frogs….

“Kapi shows me his gun, pieced together using hessian strips, metal pipes and a steel spring. It can shoot only one bullet at a time, meaning that if you miss, the sanguma invariably get away. ‘But it doesn’t matter,’ Kapi tells me. ‘Sometimes we shoot the sanguma in the eye or the leg or neck, then if the next day we see a man missing an eye or with cut from a bush knife, then we know he is the sanguma.’

“‘But how do you know for sure?’ I ask.

“‘We know,’ Kapi replies.

“‘So what do you do?’

“‘We kill him.’

“‘Have you done this yourself?’

“‘Yes, plenty,’ Kapi says, nodding. ‘We tie him up and burn him up, in public. We burn him alive….’

“In 2011 she [janet kemo] was the second wife of a man called Kemo Fogodi, who became ill with what turned out to be tuberculosis. When Fogodi began coughing up blood – a sure sign of sorcery – Kemo was accused by her husband’s family of using witchcraft to kill him. Early one morning, while her husband lay helplessly ill nearby, she was hauled out of bed by a group of 15 men, one of whom tied a chain around her neck. She was then dragged 800 metres up a muddy track, through a forest, and tied to a mango tree, where she was tortured for 12 hours.

“‘The men used a hammer to smash my teeth and break the bones in my hands,’ Kemo says. ‘They chopped my face and head and burned me with iron bars that they had heated in a fire.’

“They also cut the tendons in her wrists and carved a cross in her chest with their bush knives. Kemo was blindfolded but recognised the voice of her husband’s nephew, Junior Taweta. ‘Junior asked me, “Janet, you drank the blood from your husband, when are you going to give it back, so that our uncle can have his life again?” By this stage I was only barely conscious, but I said, “Junior, I’m not a witch! I’m a child of God!”‘

janet kemo was lucky (i guess) and survived. read the rest of the article to hear what’s happened to some others … only if you have a strong stomach though. here’s some more:

“Not surprisingly, Highlands funerals, or *haus krais*, are highly charged affairs. It’s not unusual to find women prostrate on the road, clawing at the dirt in agonised displays of grief. If the deceased died suddenly, talk invariably turns to sorcery, with a *glasman* or *mambu* man brought in, usually from outside the area, to identify the guilty party. *Glasmen*, who can be paid handsomely for their services, are, in essence, black-magic consultants; they use bowls or glasses of water into which they gaze until the faces of the witches magically appear. (*Mambu* men perform the same service, only with a piece of bamboo, or *mambu*.) They are powerful figures, all care and no responsibility.

“‘The glasman looked into the water and made clear to us who did the witchcraft,’ a man who claims to have taken part in an attack on a witch near the town of Goroka tells me. ‘But then he said, “It’s up to you what you do next….”‘

“Few societies have collided with modernity quite so hard and fast as the Highlands of PNG, where the first white explorers, many of them Australian, only began appearing in the early 1930s. The transition that followed, ‘from stone to steel in one generation’, would have been traumatic for any people, but for a nation as fractious as PNG, which has more than 800 separate languages, the result has been a cultural car wreck. Town life, television, the predations of ‘civilisation’ and consumer culture, all have proved wildly destabilising, a situation that has, in combination with a lack of education and opportunity, actually heightened the allure of magic….

“*Sanguma* lore has similarly flourished, spinning off into ever wilder and more arcane territory. *Sangumas* are said to have their own ‘parliament of witches’ at Mount Elimbari, a sheer, pyramid-shaped limestone peak between Goroka and Kundiawa. They are thought to operate in regional hierarchies, with *kumo* kings and queens who plan mob-like ‘hits’ and approve, when necessary, the restoration of stolen body parts. They are also tech-savvy, increasingly using special ‘*kumo* guns’, ‘*kumo* helicopters’ and ‘*kumo* jets’, plus powerful hand-held lights that allow them to see at night.”

douglas walton has spent a lot of time researching and thinking about argumentation and logical fallacies. he’s analyzed witch-hunts and come up with a set of properties that characterize the witch-hunt (see “The Witch Hunt as a Structure of Argumentation” [pdf]):

1) pressure of social forces
2) stigmatization
3) climate of fear
4) resemblance to a fair trial
5) use of simulated evidence
6) simulated expert testimony
7) nonfalsifiability characteristic of evidence
8) reversal of polarity
9) non-openness
10) use of the loaded question technique

wrt the first one — “pressure of social forces” — i’ll get to that below. some historians/other researchers have really looked into the social forces behind witch-hunts, with some very interesting results. “stigmatization” and “climate of fear” are kind-of self-explicatory, although i’ll get back to climate of fear again below as well.

“resemblance to a fair trial”: in the png examples above, nothing resembles a fair trial — unless being tied to a tree and tortured is what passes for a fair trial in png (trial by ordeal?). nevertheless, these are pretty clearly witch-hunts, so i think we can conclude that there doesn’t have to be a “mock trial” in a witch-hunt — although it certainly would be a plus, i would imagine. “use of simulated evidence” and “simulated expert testimony”: for example, all the stuff about the glasmen and mambu men looking into bowls of water to see the guilty party. ’nuff said. “nonfalsifiability characteristic of evidence”: the witches in png enter cemeteries disguised as dogs or cats or frogs. okaaaay.

“reversal of polarity”: this, which is very important, refers to the fact that the burden of proof is reversed in the witch-hunt or trial. the accusers or the prosectors don’t really have to bring much, if any, evidence against you — we know you’re a witch — otherwise why would you have been brought to trial for being a witch? see? it’s up to you to prove you’re NOT a witch. and good luck with that, because the rules are usually rigged against suspect witches (“she drowned, so she wasn’t a witch! yay?”). “non-openness” is related to this — the judge and the jury (the mob) have already decided in their minds that you are a witch. they are not “open” to hearing otherwise.

finally, “use of the loaded question”: we saw this in the article above when the nephew of the man who died of tb asked the widow, “Janet, you drank the blood from your husband, when are you going to give it back, so that our uncle can have his life again?” right.

historians who have studied witch-hunts, both religious and political ones, have found that they generally take place during times of turmoil or uncertainty. they are rituals of a sort in which social (and sometimes physical) boundaries are defined — witch-hunts are, at these critical moments, extravagant ways of working out who’s in the in-group and who is not. and woe to anyone who is not. the turmoil and uncertainty are the “pressures of social forces.”

from Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis [pgs. 114-121 - links added by me]:

“Witch-hunts, therefore, are a type of ritual. They occur sporadically, unlike holiday celebrations. But they generally consist of public acts involving patterned events in which messages are communicated about values and norms that have allegedly been violated….

“The witch trials in colonial Massachusetts were examined from this perspective by Kai Erikson in his book ‘Wayward Puritans’ (1966). Erikson showed that these trials had occurred not simply at random but in three distinct spurts. The first of these ‘crime waves’ took place during the second half of the 1630s, the second occurred in the late 1650s, and the third broke out in 1692. The interesting feature of these outbursts was that they coincided perfectly with crises in the authority structure and values of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first followed closely on the heels of the so-called antinomian controversy involving Anne Hutchinson. The controversy poked at the heart of colonial authority because it challenged the worthiness of the Puritan clergy to legislate in spiritual matters. Hutchinson and her followers argued that the doctrine upholding the ‘priesthood of the believer’ should be more strictly interpreted, giving residents greater freedom to decide on their own qualifications for religious and political participation or leadership. The second bout of witch-hunting came into being in 1656 and continued for nearly a decade. According to Erikson, it was instigated chiefly in response to the arrival in the Puritan colony of Quakers, who, though few in number, symbolized a departure from the Puritans’ staunchly ascetic values. The Quakers’ emphasis on inner spirituality challenged the theocratic discipline of the colony much in the same manner as Hutchinson’s alleged antinomianism. Neither of these episodes involved accusations of witchcraft per se, only charges of heresy. The third outbreak did. It was the famed witch-hunt in the town of Salem. The crisis this time was more severe because it involved a genuine threat of serious potential consequences for the political leadership of the colony. This threat was from England, and it involved both the possibility of losing title to the entire colony at the hand of the king and a series of disputes with the Puritan hierarchy in England over theological points and questions of church discipline.

“Erikson concluded from these three episodes that witch trials were collective rituals that emerged in response to ‘boundary crises’ in the moral order of the Massachusetts colony….”

“Erikson’s use of the term ‘boundary’ is largely figurative. It subsumes a variety of collective values, definitions, and relations. Disputes over boundaries arise in a number of ways, including internal disagreements, ambiguities over the correct or effective application of cherished values, redefinition of boundaries by the physical inclusion of new members, and external threats. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s (1967) [see also] discussion of witch-hunting in Europe during the same period provides instances where boundary disputes can be taken literally….

“The spatial distribution of European witch-hunts…. It was primarily in border areas where Protestants and Catholics were caught up in controversies over geographical boundaries and political jurisdictions that witch-hunts broke out. Nor was it simply the presence of adherents to an alien faith that became the target of these rituals. Catholics did not round up Protestants and accuse them of heresy, nor Protestants, Catholics. Each groups found subversives within its own camp, not traitors who were explicily allied with the enemy, but weak souls endangering the solidarity of the total community by practicing sorcery.

Under threat of external attacks on the community’s physical boundaries, greater certainty was needed about the statuses, loyalties, and values of members within the community. The presence of religious competition at the borders may have created uncertainties about the location of these borders themselves, but the more immediate source of ritual activiety was the need for greater clarity about the social relations within the community. In order to mobilize its resources to the maximum, the community needed to know where its members stood and, more important, needed to shore up those loyalties to the community as a corporate entity that may have grown blurred with the passage of time and the pressures of individual or localistic demands. Witch trials became meaningful rituals under these circumstances. They dramatized the nature of collective loyalties and defined precisely the range of acceptable and unacceptable religious activity.

witch-hunts are “most likely to occur in situations of social *uncertainty*…. [T]he greater the uncertainty that exists about social positions, commitments to shared values, or behavioral options likely to influence other actors, the greater the likelihood that behavior will take on a ritual dimension of signficance….” a type of “uncertainty” most closely tied to witch-hunts “invovles external shocks to a cultural system. One way of interpreting the effect of these shocks is to say that they introduce new sets of contingencies into the system. Understandings communicated by external groups — the king, religious out-groups, Populists — now have to be related to existing understandings, whereas the two systems were formerly capable of functioning in isolation.”

what happened to jason richwine this week — and everyone else who’s been watsoned for politically incorrect crimethink, like john derbyshire — was a witch-hunt. no question about it. and it wasn’t even metaphorically a witch-hunt, or even just kinda like a witch-hunt — the event bears all the traits of an actual, honest-to-goodness witch-hunt like they do it in papua new guinea or used to do it in medieval europe, just with less violence, that’s all.

the politically correct chattering classes, both on the left AND on the right, who went after richwine behaved EXACTLY, in every regard, like png witch-hunters (except, like i said, for the violence). the richwine affair was an irrational ritual so that all those involved — and everybody watching — would be absolutely clear from now on what the acceptable boundaries are when it comes to discussing immigrants or non-whites or … whomever.

what did we have? “stigmatization”? check. (plenty more examples out there like that one.) “use of simulated evidence”? did anyone actually read jason’s thesis? no. check. “simulated expert testimony”? i don’t have any links on hand now, but i saw appeals to stephen jay gould in rebuttals to jason’s research. definitely simulated expert testimony! “nonfalsifiability characteristic of evidence” and “use of the loaded question technique”? probably, but i don’t have examples (anyone?). we’ll leave those as unknown for now. [edit: i now have an example of "use of the loaded question technique."] “resemblance to a fair trial”? well, like in the png examples above, there was no mock trial, but there was certainly a trial of sorts in the press/on the internet. “reversal of polarity” and “non-openness”? oh, yeah! richwine was obviously guilty of being a warlock crimethinker from the moment someone discovered his thesis. and pretty much NO ONE was open to hearing otherwise — no one who isn’t already a crimethinker themselves, that is.

“climate of fear.” climate of fear is an interesting one because it’s something that sorta feeds back into the whole system exacerbating it all, since what’s going on is that, not only are the richwines and derbyshires of the world afraid (or supposed to be afraid, anyway), EVERYone is afraid — afraid of becoming the next one accused of being a witch/crimethinker. as we saw above from Meaning and Moral Order, witch-hunts occur sporadically, so you can never know when or where the next one will be — or who the next victim will be. witch-hunts are terrorizing — and they’re meant to be. from walton [pg. 396 - pdf]:

“A climate of fear is a third important characteristic of the initial conditions of the witch hunt. First, the witch hunt is based on, and propelled by fear of the stigmatized individuals that are the objects of the hunt. Witches are portrayed, for example, as both repellent and dangerous. But second, the whole procedure of the witch hunt is suffused with fear. Everyone who could be accused is terrified, because they know that targeting is relatively random, and even an innocent person can be accused. But also, they know that once they are accused, and caught up in the tribunal process, the consequences are horrific (for anyone whose reputation matters to them) and the outcome is inevitably certain to be bad. Thus a climate of (well-founded) fear is characteristic of the whole process of the witch hunt.

this is why everyone piles on the accused so quickly and with full force — because they REALLY want to establish in a very public way that they, themselves, are NOT witches/crimethinkers, ’cause none of them want to experience being on the wrong end of a witch-hunt.

edit: i should’ve mentioned that none of these behavioral patterns are particularly conscious ones for the witch-hunters involved. they’re just acting on some sort of instinct — a herding instinct or something. some people out there might, of course, understand how to get a good witch-hunt rolling and use such events for their own purposes. not saying that that’s what happened this week — just sayin’.

i’m having a hard time figuring out what the “pressure of social forces” factor is for all the politically correct people who take part in these watsonings/witch-hunts. i mean, witch-hunts supposedly take place in eras of turmoil and uncertainty — and, while I certainly feel we’re living in an era of uncertainty with all this mass immigration and rapid changes, what are the pc people concerned about? they LIKE all this change and multiculturalism, don’t they?

and they can’t possibly feel threatened from the alt-right, can they? the left might feel threatened by the right on many issues and vice versa, but since almost all of them are politically correct these days, they can’t feel threatened by each other on that count. or do they? i really don’t know — help me figure this out!

the only thing i could think of is that maybe they actually are afraid of the brave new world they’re creating (a la putnam [pdf]), but because they want to run with the herd, they don’t want to voice any concerns — and so their concerns/fears are coming out in nervous witch-hunts? i dunno. but check this out — from Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance [pg. 195]:

“The example of the Renaissance witch craze provides a lesson for contemporary society: Multiculturalism does not eradicate the moral panic. Indeed, the more diverse the society, the larger number of moral panics, as competing symbolic-moral universes produce their own folk devils, each with exaggerated fears and anxieties. In turn, these folk devils resist such definitions, drawing, as they will, on the support from members of competing symbolic-moral universes. The modern scene of moral panics thus witnesses a larger number of moral panics, some in conflict, some potentiating each other, and some flourishing and fading as quickly as they have come into being. The modern, complex moral structure of societies may very well create a social setting which gives rise to a multitude of moral panics.


there is NO way to win if you’re on the losing end of a witch-hunt. trying to be rational will not get you ANYwhere. we’ve learned that by experience, and now on reading about witch-hunts, we can see that there is nothing rational about them — and they’re not meant to be rational affairs. they are ritual events that serve to clarify social norms and boundaries of acceptable behavior.

the only thing to do, i think, is, like heartiste keeps telling us, to reframe the discussion entirely. i gave that a shot with my post on friday about why human biodiversity is true (and, therefore, why these politically correct people are wrong), but i don’t think that that reframes the discussion enough. you want, of course, to turn it around completely and put the witch-hunters on the defensive. being one of those aspergian-types who prefers her discussions to be logical, i have NO idea how to do this. feel free to drop some suggestions in the comments. thanks! (^_^)

remember, though, to disbelieve in witchcraft the evilness of racism is the greatest of all heresies. recant and be saved! (~_^)

update: see also a loaded question and bewitched.

(p.s. – due to me spending way too much time on this post today, and due to the call of that siren known as procrastination [read: will be spending the rest of the day on reddit/twitter], this week’s linkfest will happen on tuesday.)

(note: comments do not require an email. omg! they killed kenny!)