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Thursday, October 31, 2013

How many victims were there during "The Burning Times?"

So around this time every year there are tons of specials about Witches, Witchcraft and the history of both on nearly every "educational" channel.  Just yesterday I watched (again) "In Search Of History: Witches."  In every show you watch the issue of The Burning Times will come up, is has to, it's a major part of the history of Witchcraft.  For those in the Pagan Community, it's generally considered to be one of the most horrific times in our collective history. And as such, it's often an area of interest for us, all year.

But any time the subject comes up, so do the numbers...  Everyone wants to know "how many?" How many people were arrested? How many people were burned or hanged or otherwise killed or tortured???  Most "experts" and historians quote numbers ranging between 40,000 and 100,000 killed. But others quote numbers in the Millions. These differences in numbers often create a rift between groups of Modern Witches.

Those who choose to believe the historians use terms such as "eccentric" or "fluffy bunny" when speaking to (or about) those who believe there were Millions killed. And those who believe the numbers were that high tend to see the historical group as "mislead" or "too accepting."

Fact is though, no one really knows the exact total. The "Burning Times" consisted of witch trials that took place over 300 years and numerous countries. Many of the records have been lost to time, and in some cases they simply weren't kept. Individuals with no land or property to their name would not have been "worth the paperwork" to many in those days.  And then there were those who died, not because of the torture or trial outcome, but while awaiting trial or even after being released, but still due to treatment - none of whom would have even been recorded. Add to those the people who would die after having property taken to pay for the trial of family members.  So it's clear that even IF someone would have access to all remaining records, they STILL could not fair a guess at the real total of victims.

So why the arguing? Mostly because everyone wants to thing they "know" the facts and have all their information right.  Especially those within the Pagan/Witchcraft community want to believe they have everything right, because there is this idea that we, as modern day Pagans, have some connection to those days, and attempt to keep them in our collective memory.

Here's the thing though,  the numbers don't matter!  It doesn't matter if there were 200, 20000 or 2 million victims. It doesn't matter how many were recorded and how many weren't. And it doesn't matter what number feels right to you or to someone else.  Because regardless of how many individuals were targeted, what should be important is that we all know the circumstances under which the Burning Times happened.

There is an old saying that "If we fail to learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it."  And in the case of Witch Trials, that couldn't be more true.  This is something we've seen over and over again. Places where "Pagans" were once the norm - Africa, Papua New Guinea, etc. - have now become places of revival for the Burning Times.

So WHY did the Burning Times happen?  Well, there were a great many reasons depending on the individual trial.  And although people have been looking for some big explanation of why they happened, the truth is simple - Religion and Politics mixed...  Yes, it's true that mid-wives were targeted because they took money away from the male doctors. And Yes, it's true that elderly widows were targeted because of their property. But the excuse used for all of them was religious in nature.  Mid-wives were said to be targeted "because they eased the pain of childbirth, which was God's curse against women and therefore, they were defying God..."  Elderly women were said to be targeted because they "used spells and evil to heal towns people", when reality was, they used the same herbs and remedies their grandmother's had used.  Examples can go on and on and on...

Now, there's nothing wrong with "Religion" and Politics are a must for society to flourish. But here's the thing. When ANY one group - especially a religion - is allowed to monopolize the politics of the land, people suffer.

So what it all comes down to is this - We, as a community, NEED to stop arguing over the numbers and start learning from the whole of what happened.  Because it doesn't matter how many were involved, what matters is that if we don't learn from the Burning Times and work TOGETHER to ensure that it never happens again (and stops in those areas where it is going on) then all of those people died in vein anyways.

Don't argue over numbers! Simply choose to honor them by working to make sure their fate, isn't ours (or our children's.)

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