On Witch Hunts

On Witch Hunts

Help me, here. We need a new term. Witch hunt has an entirely negative connotation, and this should not be. Genuine witches should be hunted, as doubtless all agree. Witches, by definition—real ones, I mean—are evil. And evil should be hunted. But those that are not witches shouldn’t.

Rather, those who are accused of having non-existent occult powers should not be so accused. What somebody means by a witch hunt is a ferreting out and persecuting of illogically or wrongly charged people.

Example headline: Google conducts a witch hunt for non-progressive employees.

Google is anti-reality and calls those who espouse reality witches, and it hunts them. Think James Damore. We don’t want to say what Google is doing is witch hunting. Realists are the only heroes we have left.

How about snark hunting? Snarks are imaginary beasts which are hunted by those to be initiated. Unfortunately, snark also means caustic sarcasm, the continuous practitioners of which are not far removed from witches (yes, I know). Snark hunts, then, are not always bad.

Chimera hunt has no ring to it, not the least because chimera has more than one syllable and few will know what it means. Antirevolutionary hunt? Innocent chase? Take-down?

Witch hunt is not always used incorrectly, even for non-witches. Infamous homosexualist Fr James Martin says “The witch hunt for gay priests must end. Now.” Since Martin is an inverse barometer, we know the opposite is true. Those men who enjoy sodomy and seek it out, especially with teenage parishioners should be hunted and chased from the priesthood.

Martin uses the term knowing his sympathetic listeners will understand there are no such things as witches, and should therefore not be hunted.

Again, this calls for a need to restore witch hunt to its proper sense and former glory. Thanks to KA Rogers for the tip on the story So Just What Was It That Caused The Witch Hunts? They mean the genuine ones, the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Century witch hunts during a period in which people still retained their belief in witches.

Popular opinion has long held that Europe’s ‘witch craze’, which between 1520 and 1700 claimed the lives at least 40,000 people and prosecuted twice as many, resulted from bad weather. Not without reason: European witch hunting overlapped with the ‘Little Ice Age’. During this period, dropping temperatures damaged crops and thus citizens economically, and disgruntled citizens often search for scapegoats – in the 16th and 17th centuries, literal witches…

Crop failures, droughts, and disease were hardly unknown in Europe before the witch craze. In the early 14th century, for instance, the Great Famine decimated populations in Germany, France, the British Isles, and Scandinavia; yet there were no witch hunts. Further, while weather could not have varied dramatically between neighboring locales in 16th and 17thcentury Europe, the number of people prosecuted for witchcraft often did…

In a recent paper, Jacob Russ and I hypothesise a different source of historical Europe’s witch hunts: competition between Catholicism and Protestantism in post-Reformation Christendom (Leeson and Russ 2018). For the first time in history, the Reformation presented large numbers of Christians with a religious choice: stick with the old Church or switch to the new one. And when churchgoers have religious choice, churches must compete.

One way to deal with competitors is to ban them legally; another is to annihilate them violently. The Catholic Church tried both approaches with its Protestant competitors but had little success….Protestant rivals…In an effort to woo the faithful, competing confessions advertised their superior ability to protect citizens against worldly manifestations of Satan’s evil by prosecuting suspected witches.

Leeson and Russ have a sharp info-graphic on the number of accused and executed as witches by time. A brief version heads this post, but click over to the main page for a better view.

I don’t buy their theory in whole. The “wars of religion” were not wars over religion, but wars over territory and power, coming at the time of the Great Protest (a.k.a. Protestant Revolution) when a weakness was sensed and exploited. An analogy is the pegging of Archduke Ferdinand, which unleashed the war everybody wanted (before it happened).

The witch hunts began shortly after the Great Protest, but then they dipped. Notice when? Right: at the beginning the Thirty Years war, when the slaughter became especially nasty and vindictive. People were too busy killing each other in earnest and in ways most creative to chase witches.

When that was over, the hunting of witches peaked and subsided as Catholic power reasserted itself. And, since many were undoubtedly falsely accused, witch hunting got a bad name.


  1. Mike Knight

    The Menquisition.

  2. Max Lybbert

    You make a good point. I may need to start using the term “snipe hunt.”

  3. Joy

    “Let thy most sacred unction flow upon his head, and descend into his heart, and enter his soul and let him by the Grace, be worthy of the promises which the victorious kings have obtained. That in this present life he may reign with happiness and finally attain to their fellowship, in the kingdom of heaven.
    Receive this ring, the seal of the holy faith, the strength of thy kingdom and the increase of thy power. Whereby thou mayest learn to drive back thy foes with triumph. Destroy heresies, unite those whom though has conquered and unite them to the Catholic faith.”

    A blessing from King Edgar’s second coronation of all of Aengla Land. Recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from 973 AD.

    Tolkien probably had some inspiration from this king’s blessing.

    Clearly before the reformation which was entirely about the sale of indulgences and abuses of the church, which was only catholic. The reason for the old green eye of Sauron. PreGolem era!
    “Just a suggestion.“

    Now to me, that quote is right on topic. Gets to the heart of the matter.
    No innuendo, no funny business….

    Irish eyes aren’t all green. Peters were purest blue of the deepest shade.

  4. This is a semantic problem.

    “Witch hunt” now has a connotation of persecution for NON-EXISTENT crimes/indiscretions.

    Non-existent is the key to the full meaning of Witch Hunt.

    The meaning of term is lost if the subjects are ACTUALLY witches!

    The Salem witch trials were Witch Hunts. The pitiful wretches tortured and executed were victims of cultural persecution. They were NOT witches.

    The efforts to identify and take action against Communists who’d infiltrated our culture in the 40s-60s were NOT Witch Hunts. The Comintern was actually infiltrating all of our cultural transmission belts, as well as the government.

    “McCarthyism” is a subset of Witch Hunt. It is now a preferred rejection of justified investigations against PC-Progs (see Hillary, etc.)

    The fact is that McCarthy was right, in essence. The Communists DID infiltrate and subvert our government and other institutions. His investigations only exposed a tiny percentage of the ACTUAL subversion that was happening.

    So, Witch Hunt is a useful term, IF the “unjustified persecution” connotation is maintained.

    If, however, malefactors are allowed to appropriate the term, claiming unjustified persecution, even after their misdeeds are exposed publicly, then the term loses meaning.

    Maybe there are better terms?

    Unjustified Mob Persecution
    Investigation of Imaginary Crimes
    Unjustified Persecution
    Cultural Persecution

  5. So, the witch hunts were the religious version of the crack wars. New opportunities open, various syndicates fight over territory. Murders spike. Eventually, the territories settle down and the factions come to agreements over boundaries. The murders drop.

  6. The reason “witch hunt” works as an expression (overused as it is) among grownups is that grownups understand that fairy tales and magic are not real, and there is no such thing as a witch. Otherwise, the term itself makes no sense. I can hardly believe I need to point this out.

  7. Jim Fedako

    What’s wrong with Cultural Revolution or simply Purge? Why a protologism (itself a protologism) when we have valid words at hand?

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    The Romans recognized three classes of witches and set the death penalty for the highest class: the maleficiae, or “evil-doers,” who concocted poisons. The Romans regarded poison as as sorcery. They could see how a sword thrust killed, but not how a poison (also known as “the powders of inheritance”) did so.

    Although peasants have always hunted witches — bad harvests happen; cows die — the mania was largely confined to the upper Rhineland — the Swiss, the Alsace, the Baden — which was the borderland between lords who declared for one religion or the other. Places like Spain or “Italy”, where there was no important confessional rivalry, saw very few witch trials; and the Spanish Inquisition denounced them and freed those imprisoned by the Crown. Oddly. witchcraft was a civil crime, but not a heresy.

  9. Sheri

    “persecution hunts”, “dictatorial hunts”, “oppression hunts”, “destroy the innocent hunts”, “lust for power hunts” all seem accurate.

  10. Mark

    “Witch hunt” is a great example of modern rhetoric, so really you want something with as good a rhetorical punch. Furthermore, it should be based on truth (the best rhetoric always is, or so the Supreme Dark Lord says), and should be effective on SJWs and their ilk, not fellow right-of-centre types. No point in preaching to the choir after all. Finally, it must be something that pushes their buttons – calling an SJW a nazi or a fascist won’t work, because they “know” they’re not, which makes it bad rhetoric, however accurate it is.

    Phrases like “persecution hunts” or “unjustified persecution” fail as rhetoric – after all, Evil White Men(TM) *should* be hunted and persecuted, and of course said persecution is fully justified, because again, Evil White Men(TM).

  11. Ray

    The Greek word “pharmakia” means drugs. “Pharmakia” is translated in the English Bible as witchcraft or sorcery. A witch is someone who poisoned people.

  12. Brian (bulaoren)

    “The Burning Bra”

  13. Joy

    I wonder how many other ‘subscribers’ to breitbert magazine, or however it’s ‘spelled’, received an email saying,
    “click your poison”.
    When unsubscribing because the editor and chief was telling porkies on TV, Fox news, which I miss in the UK, about what you can and cannot do in England. The man has an English accent, presumably the news as it is repeated never loses anything in the telling.

    Then received an email saying,
    “OH DON’t go! I need you in my spiritual corner”!
    Then a further seven or eight emails of the same ilked title which weren’t opened.

    It’s all a bit yellow if you ask me.
    Positively jaundiced.

    What those right of centre SHOULD be doing is telling the truth.
    Which is all it takes. Not resorting to silly disguises and fake social media content and profiles, fake email subscriptions, fake news, fake names, hacking emails to try and find dirt. Indulging in dark webbery. All that eight legged stuff.

  14. Ken

    A number of misconceptions must be addressed:

    RE: “How about snark hunting? Snarks are imaginary beasts which are hunted by those to be initiated.”

    FACT: The definition is poorly bounded. Snarks were also early (50s to 1961), real, cruise missiles (model SM-62) with lousy guidance systems. These ended up all under the place in ocean test ranges, inspiring the phrase, “Snark-infested waters.” Wikipedia has a tale about’m.

    RE: “Witch hunt … Genuine witches should be hunted… Witches, by definition—real ones, …are evil. And evil should be hunted. But those that are not [real] witches shouldn’t.”

    FACT: The objective history shows that the accusers & prosecutors of witches were overwhelmingly the greater evil than the witches accused.

    The reason is the persecutors manipulated the superstition to get rid those disliked, and/or, to also gain control of/title to their property. The accusation of witchcraft was effectively a death sentence.

    The evidence for real witches is pretty sparse the more one objectively digs (and the likilihood any of the oddballs striving to summon Satan ever succeeded in anything more than behaving like loons is nil).

    Paul Boyer and Steve Nissenbaum’s ’74 book, “The Social Origins of Witchcraft,” analyzes this and includes a map in which those involved in the infamous Salem Witch Trials are plotted based on the location of their residence. The image is stark: Accusers and the accused fall almost perfectly into two separate geographic zones, and those zones also happen to have comparably stark economies — with the accused being those in the areas of economic prosperity and the accusers being those living in areas that had been, were being, missing out on the growing prosperity of their neighbors. Some of that is presented on-line at: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/bcr/villageconflict/geoconflict1.html

    If one reads the trial transcripts (or whatever they call those) of the Salem trials (and there’s at least one large book summarizing this) one finds the “evidence” right on par with modern “fake news” — in which flimsy, provably false, or hearsay is “spun” to reach a particular conclusion. Just shows that people, when they want an answer, will willfully choose to believe whatever gets to the desired conclusion (just like some analysts do with the familiar correlation-as-proof-of-cause regularly lamented here).

    Charles MacKay’s classic, “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” (first published in 1841), has a chapter (Witch Mania) where a similar pattern, where accusations of witchcraft were regularly used to eliminate one’s enemy and expropriate property, is observed to have occurred in Europe.

    Read the above references and observe that how people acted then is pretty much how they act today in politics. The then-fabricated accusation of being a witch (effectively a near-surefire death sentence anyone could levy) is hardly different than an unsubstantiated assault accusation as SCOTUS Justice Kavanaugh illustrates. People, one observes, haven’t changed. Though, at least, the justice system has done away with wholesale executions to use of social ostracization … something in vogue in ancient Greece.

    On the theme of noticing parallels, Alex de Tocqueville observed something analogous in the early U.S. regarding slavery. As with accusers of witches having done so for personal profit at another’s expense, de Tocqueville observed that then-US slave owners (exploiting other people for personal profit) suffered in some fundamental ways for being slave owners. Therein lies a tale having considerable relevance to modern trends in creating the “nanny state” and why that’s bad. Everyone should appreciate this.

  15. John B()


    Snipe Hunt is extremely applicable because you enlist the participation of the ignorant

  16. Gary

    There really isn’t a snappy term for the concept of justified indictment. Even if you somehow invented one it eventually would be converted to it’s opposite meaning. That always happens; maliciousness is so clever.

  17. B loughlin

    One of the last accused persons in the “Salem” witch trials, which were actually located in the now-adjacent town of Danvers, was John Alden, son of the Pilgrim. He was being held in jail awaiting trial when his friends traveled up from Duxbury and busted him out. America’s first jail-break. Shortly after the trials were brought to an end. The sheriff was furious as the possessions of the guilty were confiscated and the sheriff got a healthy cut.

  18. We could just go with the Eastern European term, which is actually quite applicable here and now – pogrom.

  19. People act as if witches aren’t and weren’t real, but that doesn’t hold water, does it? Witches are real people who actually practice witchcraft. The idea we have in our head is some green old hag in a pointy hat, but that’s the cartoon version. Witches are, in fact, real, simply for the reason above. Furthermore, witchcraft, a real thing, I remind you, was outlawed all throughout Christendom, with the overwhelming agreement of pretty much everyone. Often punishable by death, but again with overwhelming assent. Is it so hard to believe that a helluva lot of those prosecuted for witchcraft were actually guilty? Anyone can practice witchcraft, which would make them a witch.

    By our modren standards, we may think capital punishment for witchcraft is waaaay too harsh, but they didn’t have our modren standards, thank God. In other words, we all seem to think it’s silly, but it seems to me that we’re the silly ones.

  20. Major,
    What do you base your assertions on?

    Read the testimony of the “witches” from the Salem trials.

    They reported flying from town to town, house to house. They reported taking the form of dogs, hogs, frogs. They reported signing the devil’s roster book.

    The Indian slave, Tituba, started it all:

    “[Hathorne]: Tituba what evil spirit have you familiarity with?
    [Tituba]: None
    [Hathorne]: Why do you hurt these children?
    [Tituba]: I do not hurt them
    [Hathorne]: Who is it then?
    [Tituba]: The devil for ought I know
    [Hathorne]: Did you never see the devil?
    [Tituba]: The devil came to me and bid me serve him
    [Hathorne]: Who have you seen?
    [Tituba]: Four women sometimes hurt the children
    [Hathorne]: Who were they?
    [Tituba]: Goody Osburn and Sarah Good and I doe not know who the other were Sarah Good and Osburne would have me hurt the children but I would not she further saith there was a tale man of Boston that she did see
    [Hathorne]: When did you see them?
    [Tituba]: Last night at Boston
    [Hathorne]: What did they say to you they said hurt the children?
    [Hathorne]: And did you hurt them?
    [Tituba]: No there is four women and one man they hurt the children and then lay all upon me and they tell me if I will not hurt the children they will hurt me
    [Hathorne]: But did you not hurt them?
    [Tituba]: Yes, but I will hurt them no more
    [Hathorne]: Are you not sorry you did hurt them?
    [Tituba]: Yes.

    “Tituba went on to describe conversations she had with evil pigs, dogs and rats who all ordered her to do their bidding and said she personally witnessed Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne transform into strange, winged creatures.”


    You may call those pitiful fools “witches,” but that doesn’t make it so.

    There are those who worship the devil. But the most famous witch hunt, in Salem, probably did not identify and punish any of them.

  21. Kent, I made a general, logical statement, not a statement about any historical event. Reading back over my comment, the only thing I would amend is that it might not be a helluva lot that were actually guilty, but I find it hard to believe that none of them were. Again, I’m speaking generally about witchcraft accusations, not any specific event. Also, I don’t doubt that there was such a thing as “witch hysteria,” and Salem seems like a good example, but just because people are hysterical about something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We have our own, like the current “rape hysteria,” brought to international view by Christine Ballsy-Fraud and Co., who claimed that Brett Kavanaugh turned her into a newt (but she got better). Her accusations were outlandish and stupid, and we can agree that this whole thing has gotten out of hand, but we can also agree that just because a lot of #metoo accusations are bullshit doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as rapists.

    If you’re not a Christian this next point won’t mean much to you, but one of the most mind-blowing passages of Scripture is Exodus 7, when Moses is commanded by God to throw down his staff in front of Pharaoh and it becomes a serpent. What’s mind-blowing is the court magician’s all threw down their staffs, and they turned into serpents also. Think about that. For all our technological prowess, for all our scientific advancement, there’s not a person on earth that can do that now. Also, if they could do that, what else could they do? If that story is true, and I believe it is…

  22. Ye Olde Statistician

    @Kent Clizbe

    What, you don’t “believe the woman?”

  23. lol, I’d believe she was turned into a newt before I believed Kavanaugh raped here and stole her bike, or whatever it was she claimed.

  24. “If you’re not a Christian this next point won’t mean much to you”

    Because there are no other religions that take (what you doubtless call) the Old Testament seriously.

    But really, you find a fable about sticks turning into snakes in an old book and you think it must have really happened? I advise you not to read Alice in Wonderland.

  25. Like I said, if you’re not a Christian, it won’t mean much. Yeah, I forgot to include Jews, ya got me.

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