Monday, 16 June 2014


What do you think of this video? 

To me it's merely another take on the superstitious fruitcake genre using witchcraft as a vehicle. Or should that be plate? Yet in spite of these politically correct times even kid’s stories still have witches in them. Odd ain't it?

Were our peasant ancestors genuinely afraid of witches though? I’m not convinced they were. I’ve often wondered if many medieval folk really believed in them.

Were they likely to think a woman who had been born in the village, whose entire life history was known to them – were they likely to think she could blight their beans, impregnate their scrofulous daughter or douse the light of reason in their idiot son? All done with an evil leer and a magic twig?

I don’t think so but I suppose in some villages there would be malevolent bastards keen enough to load their own demons and misfortunes onto frail and undefended shoulders.

People go along with all kinds of crazy notions, but going along with something isn’t the same as believing it. Being willing and able to justify a belief for example, especially when not under any kind of pressure to do so. Do people believe everything they go along with? I don’t think so.

Yet thousands of alleged witches were burned.

So perhaps our distant ancestors really were absurdly superstitious after all. Yet somehow, as an explanation it sounds too easy. Surely hard lives don’t breed soft heads in spite of all that superstitious ranting – or politics as we call it these days. After all, we don’t believe the political stuff do we?

I don’t think we’ll ever quite know our ancestors' take on the witch question. Although  they must have know it was a terrifically good idea not to be a witch - in spite of the magic twig. 

To find out for sure we’d have to sit with those peasants and talk to them in their hovels, in a situation where there was no risk in them expressing unorthodox views. I imagine we'd also want to do that without breathing or touching anything, but that's another story.

So we only know in outline what happened to all those unfortunate witches, not the fine detail of why. Ah well – here's an utterly tasteless question to ponder instead.

If witch persecutions were still in vogue today, which post-war Prime Minister would have burned the most?


Sam Vega said...

Gogol's Viy is a superb witch story - Europeans and Russians do witches better than we do. There is in English witches too much of the medically and socially explicable to be really frightening. Maybe they are just too familiar (if you'll pardon the pun).

And speaking thusly, is your question just an elaborate pun on "The Blair Witch Project"? Many would of course choose Thatcher, but there was nothing metaphysically nasty about her. Providing witches worked hard and paid their way, she wouldn't have cared. And Cameron, being naught but a pale imitation, would have only burnt a few if he thought his ratings would have increased thereby. To their credit, I can't imagine Callaghan, Major, or even Wilson burning any. Or even Heath, despite his creepiness.
I've just read this: so my choice is obvious.

Excellent question, by the way.

James Higham said...

AKH - if they threw you in the river, would you float? :)

A K Haart said...

Sam - I must read Viy. I've read quite a bit of Gogol's work, but not that.

I read your link which is good, although much as I dislike Blair, I do wonder how much hindsight is clouding this debate.

James - I'd swim with the prevailing current and get clean away.