bewitched

just a quick follow-up on my witch hunt post … a very kind reader very kindly sent me a copy of this article — Witchcraft Beliefs and Witch Hunts: An Interdisciplinary Explanation — by niek koning (thanks very kind reader! (^_^) ).

to be honest, i didn’t quite follow koning’s explanation for where belief in witches comes from as it was a little … involved. something about how our innate fear system was fine-tuned during our hunter-gatherer evolutionary history to pick up on cheats and sneaks, but that this combination of behavioral traits got a bit out of whack once we settled down in larger, agricultural-based societies. then people started suspecting strange neighbors of putting the ‘evil eye’ on them whenever crops failed or they became ill.

not sure i bought koning’s entire explanation, but he did include some interesting data on what sorts of societies tend to believe in witches and witchcraft. basically, hunter-gatherers not so much — simple agriculturalists and agriculturalists quite a bit — and pastoralists off the charts. belief in actual witches pretty much disappears with modernity (although, as i argued in my post about the jason richwine affair, the basic elements of the witch hunt, including all the irrational behaviors, are very much still around!).

here’s a neat table from koning (click on table to EMBIGGEN it):

koning withcraft beliefs

here are the percentages of those with the strongest (4) beliefs in witchcraft for each type of society:

nomadic foraging = 28.6%
(semi-)sedentary foraging = 30.0%
shifting cultivation without metal hoes = 35.0%
other hand-tool farming systems = 44.7%
plow agriculture = 69.2%
pastoralism = 72.0%

apart from degree of complexity, i can’t see any other obvious pattern there (like iq). pastoralism doesn’t really fit the complexity pattern, though — you’d think that the plow agriculturalists would have the most complex societies (maybe i’ll have to see if i can find out exactly which societies koning was looking at). -?-

one interesting characteristic that i can think of wrt the pastoralists is that they are usually some of the most inbred, so perhaps “genes for belief in witchcraft” can pile up in those populations rather quickly? dunno.

koning also points out that in times of crisis (echoes of the anthropologists i referenced in the previous post) — in particular economic crisis — a population which doesn’t believe in witchcraft can revert to holding such a belief [pg. 10 in the pdf]:

“The conclusion that resource stress may revive witch paranoia in more-evolved agrarian societies is also confirmed by the witchhunt in Europe. In contrast to older studies that cited the role of elites or the emergence of rural capitalism (e.g., Levack 1987; Macfarlane 1970; Muchembled 1987; Trevor-Roper 1969), researchers such as Briggs (1996), Behringer (1995, 1999, 2004) and Pfister (2007) have convincingly argued that this historical event was stirred by popular fears induced by demographic pressure and socioenvironmental crisis. Quantitative analysis in Oster (2004) confirms that witch hunting was related to demographic stagnation and de-urbanization.5 Although some witch trials and a series of demonological studies occurred during the fifteenth century, the witch craze was largely between 1570 and 1630.6 In this period, the exhaustion of a cluster of medieval farm innovations (Mazoyer and Roudart 2006) and the onset of the Little Ice Age caused a steep increase in real grain prices, on top of the inflation caused by the influx of American gold and silver. The first witch hunts occurred in Alpine valleys, where population pressure became critical earlier than in other places and farming was sensitive to climatic cooling (Behringer 1999, 2004; Ostorero 2008; Pfister 2007). In more peripheral areas, where overpopulation occurred later, the outburst was delayed by several decades (Ankarloo and Henningsen 1990; Goodare et al. 2003; Karlsen 1987; Ostling 2011; Thurston 2007; Woodward 2003). The northern Netherlands, which avoided the crisis through specialization and commercial expansion, witnessed few witch trials (Gijswijt-Hofstra and Frijhoff 1991)….

“5 That economic slowdown and an increase in witch hunting were mainly caused by the Little Ice Age, as these authors assert, is less clear. Climate studies differ about the precise timing of the Little Ice Age, and in Oster’s analysis the statistical correlation of population and de-urbanization with witch hunting is much stronger than that with climate change.

“6 The decades of economic growth in the early sixteenth century saw a leveling off in the number of witch trials and an actual decline in some areas (Behringer 2004; Levack 1987).”

interesting!

previously: “to disbelieve in witchcraft is the greatest of heresies” and a loaded question

(note: comments do not require an email. bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.)

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24 Comments

  1. Great find!

    My first guess is that pastoral people are the most clannish of them all, so they are also probably the most paranoid (with good reason).

    Reply

  2. @hbd chick “pastoralists off the charts. ” Fascinating. Doesn’t ring so many bells for me. I thought the New Guinea culture was hoe agriculture and that’s where they say the witch burnings are today. But they should be relatively spared compared with cowboys. Never heard of a cowboy witch hunt. On the other hand when the Children of Israel started misbehaving while Moses was up the hill, they made a Golden Calf. I generally thing, “yea, right. And just why don’t I see a lot of golden calves in Egypt? Did they just invent it?” Well they had been pastoralists, which suggests maybe they did have a tendancy toward the dark side of religion, I mean taking scripture and Koning both at face value of course, and maybe people in that part of the world really did have a golden calf cult that had some nasty elements. Just a thought.
    As far as witchcraft not being believed in in modern times, I hope you are right. Seems to me the irrational is steadily becoming a larger staple in our mental diets.

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  3. hbdchick: The whole witchhunt/Richwine analogy seems awkward to me. I think that before you draw that connection, you should first see if there’s any connection between between witchhunts and persecution of heretics. Elizabeth Proctor vs Galileo Galilei.

    Reply

  4. Here is a good template for what NOT to do when PC has you by the balls: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/411212/march-27-2012/charles-murray

    What we should do (by “we” I mean HBD advocates) is this. Tell the truth as bluntly as you can. Don’t use wishy-washy terms or euphemisms; if someone says, “Wait, are you saying blacks are dumb?”, don’t respond, “No, I’m saying they tend to score lower on most tests of cognitive ability” (etc.); say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.” Don’t apologize for a word you say. Be ready to leave your job, get fired from your university, or risk reprisal from the college background-checkers. Don’t disassociate HBD from politics: state your political beliefs and explain how they interact with HBD. Don’t be afraid to call your opponents stupid pieces of garbage. Get every single closeted HBDer that you know to come out. We need to make the scientific mainstream into the political mainstream. Write letters of support, or letters to the editor. Write scathing comments on blogs or news stories that participate in the witch hunts. Write articles defending the victims. Stick together, say what you think, use your real name if possible, and don’t bend over backwards with euphemisms.

    Reply

  5. @ihtg – “The whole witchhunt/Richwine analogy seems awkward to me. I think that before you draw that connection, you should first see if there’s any connection between between witchhunts and persecution of heretics. Elizabeth Proctor vs Galileo Galilei.”

    witch hunts (i.e. looking for “actual” witches), the persecution of heretics, and political witch hunts are all, fundamentally, the same thing (i think). see Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis, esp. pgs. 114-121.

    from pgs. 115-116:

    “Heretics and witches become figures symbolizing the boundaries; that is, they represent ways of violating or transgressing shared values. The ritual of trying, purging, and punishing these deviants serves as an occasion for clarigying collective boundaries and provides an object lesson to those who might be inclined to violate these boundaries.”

    this is why there’s NO TALKING to the pc people who conduct/take part in political witch hunts today. there’s nothing rational about it. it’s just a bunch of primates beating their chests — and beating up — someone in their group that did something they find unacceptable.

    btw, don’t miss:

    How Game Might Have Benefitted Jason Richwine

    (^_^)

    Reply

  6. the persecution of heretics, and political witch hunts are all, fundamentally, the same thing

    Like I said, that’s something that requires more investigation IMO. Witchhunts seem to be fundamentally about local squabbles between individuals within tightly knit communities, while “orthodoxy vs heresy” is high level/theoretical and occurs with large scale societies.

    Is the persecution of heretics merely witchhunting scaled up, or is it something else entirely, a unique feature of larger, more cosmopolitan societies with an intellectual tradition?

    Reply

  7. I am reading Jensen’s g-factor, and I came at one point which I don’t understand. Maybe someone here will help me…

    why decrease in intertest correlation and decreasing g-loading should reflect a true flynn effect on g? I’d expected something on the contrary, that if the flynn effect was on g, the g-loadings would not be affected, and if it was not on g, g-loadings would decrease…

    Reply

  8. All of these peoples have a rich world of gods, demons and magic, and witches are just part of the package. I’m not sure I believe Konig’s numbers, however. Do shamans count? Don’t foraging societies have shamans? Frankly, I would expect all of Konig’s groups to be close to 100% witch-believers.

    Reply

  9. @ihtg – “Witchhunts seem to be fundamentally about local squabbles between individuals within tightly knit communities…”

    squabbles between individuals within tightly knit communities, yes, but typically physically in border areas where the populace is in daily — or almost daily — contact with some sort of “others.” the late medieval witch hunts in europe, for instance, happened with the greatest frequencies in the border regions between catholicism and protestantism — literally in places where these two groups met. it seems it’s the uncertainly that freaks everybody out. uncertainty + bad economic times or some other sort of crisis.

    @ihtg – “…while ‘orthodoxy vs heresy’ is high level/theoretical and occurs with large scale societies.”

    yeah, you could very well be right about that.

    the funny point that remains, though, is that the witch hunts (actual witches or political) and the heretic hunts seem to follow the same patterns that walton pointed out (see previous post) from the stigmatization and climate of fear to the loaded questions and “show trials.” the mccarthy hearings don’t sound all that different (at least to me) to the witch hunts on png — just with less physical violence.

    the one element enumerated by walton that i actually think is optional is the show trial: don’t see show trials on png, and i didn’t see with with jason richwine or watson, etc. there was one with galileo, obviously. presumably they threw loaded questions at him.

    @ihtg – “Is the persecution of heretics merely witchhunting scaled up, or is it something else entirely, a unique feature of larger, more cosmopolitan societies with an intellectual tradition?”

    i think it’s the former — just a scaled up version of witch hunting. although another obvious difference, of course, is that heretics are not always thought to have supernatural powers over their potential victims. sometimes, but not always. with witches — yeah, they’re always dabbling in the dark arts!

    @ihtg – “Like I said, that’s something that requires more investigation IMO.”

    absolutely! and there’s probably more literature out there right now that could be looked into. i only spent a day googling around for stuff on witch hunts.

    Reply

    1. @hbd chick “the mccarthy hearings don’t sound all that different (at least to me) to the witch hunts on png” Not so sure what png is, but I’d like to point out some subltleties. McCarthy was acting in a regrettable fashion BUT There never were witches but there really were communists. The communists were doing a lot more bad stuff than witches were ever accused of. Witch hunts in Europe and New Enland (but not among the Scotch Irish) wound up murdering people. McCarthy did not. And yes I think I can make a case for the idea that then as now the government has been willing to sell the population down the river. (OK The Scotch Irish did that plenty; in fact probably invented the phase.)

      Reply

  10. @szopeno – “why decrease in intertest correlation and decreasing g-loading should reflect a true flynn effect on g? I’d expected something on the contrary, that if the flynn effect was on g, the g-loadings would not be affected, and if it was not on g, g-loadings would decrease…”

    eh, well i’m the wrong one to ask! can anybody else answer szopeno’s question? elijah?

    Reply

  11. @bob – “Do shamans count?”

    no, i don’t think that shamans count in koning’s reckoning:

    “An indicator for witchcraft belief was based on the attribution of illness to sorcery (V655) or witchcraft (V656) and on evil-eye belief (V1188).”

    koning drew his sorcery/witchcraft/evil-eye data from:

    murdock et al.’s World Distribution of Theories of Illness

    and

    Roberts, J. M. (1976). Belief in the evil eye in world perspective. In C. Maloney (Ed.), The evil eye (pp. 223–278). New York: Columbia University Press.

    Reply

  12. @elijah
    Or, since each subtest in addition to “g” measures a factor or set of factors specific for a subtest, higher-g people may be better in gathering knowledge, strategies and tricks necessary to be good at the specific test. Teaching to test reduces the test’s g-loading. Higher-g people have more occassion in life for teaching for particular test. Does that make sense?

    If not, I hope the explanation will be in Jensen’s g-factor addendums :)

    Reply

  13. Hey HBD chick, long-time listener, first time caller. Was just wondering if there was a correlation between leisure time/safety netting and witch hunting. I know agrarian societies have a lot less leisure time and a larger safety net than other pre-industrial societies. Pastoral societies have a lot of time for pondering, but also take it extra hard if an animal inexplicably turns up lame (small safety net). On the other hand, hunter-gatherers have a ton of leisure time, but don’t have much property that can be hexed. They also tend to thrive in resource rich areas where a safety net isn’t as important. Witch hunting might just be something that all humans will do if given enough free time and excuses.

    Reply

  14. @jeff – “Was just wondering if there was a correlation between leisure time/safety netting and witch hunting.”

    that’s an interesting idea! dunno. one thing that would suggest against that is that hunter-gatherers have some of the lowest rates of beliefs in witches, and yet like you say they have some of the most leisure time.

    Reply

  15. From the Odyssey:

    “and when they had drunk she
    turned them into pigs by a stroke of her wand, and shut them up in
    her pigsties. They were like pigs-head, hair, and all, and they grunted
    just as pigs do; but their senses were the same as before, and they
    remembered everything.”

    Reply

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