Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Modern Witch Hunts.

After writing about she who must not be named, I've been thinking a bit more about the whole topic of the bogus Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) scandals, concocted by an alliance of Freudian Quacks, Evangelical Christians and Radical Feminists. The obvious comparison to make is with medieval witch hunts.

Witch hunts were quite common in the middle ages but by the early modern period they were confined to just a few sects- notably the puritans. Whilst there is a puritan influence on the UK it isn't geographically concentrated enough to separate it from other cultural effects. In the United States however it is different because one part of the country, New England, was settled by puritans and their descendants spread across certain regions of the country- through New York state, the Upper Midwest, the Pacific North West and parts of coastal California. So if the SRA is a modern version of witch hunting then one would expect the cases to be concentrated in those areas. This dialect map gives some idea of what I'm talking about because language is a cultural marker:

So using lists of these cases from Imaginary Crimes, Wikipedia and any other source I came across I'd estimate the distribution of the cases to be:

New England- 4 cases
Upper Midwest- 6 cases
Pacific North West- 6 cases

New York City- 2

Midland - 3

California- 5 cases

South- 11 (3 North Carolina, 3 Texas, 4 Florida* & 1 Mississippi)

Rockies- 1

By my estimate of the 37 cases (which often involve multiple suspects) at least 16 are from areas shaped by the puritan diaspora. Puritan influence was also present in shaping the culture of California and the Rockies, so that's another 6. All of which backs my hypothesis that the ritual abuse scares are secular reinvention of witch hysteria.

* Three of the four Florida cases were from Miami, when the future US Attorney General Janet Reno was the State Attorney responsible for prosecutions.


asquith said...

I must say, those links are wonderful. Thanks for pointing them out like- lots of blinding stuff there.

Most of my forefathers (apart from my granddad, who was Polish) have lived in North Staffordshire for centuries. Looking at my family tree, "local" surnames come up all the time.

All fascinating stuff. I am going round looking up all else by these fuckers now.

TDK said...

I have to say I think that's very weak.

Here's a table showing the number of witches executed by country.

There is no obvious correlation between Puritanism and witch executions. Indeed some of the highest scoring countries (Austria, France, Poland, Germany [most executions were in the South West]) were Catholic.

Having said that I think you are right. There is an obvious parallel to witch hunts

Ross said...

TDK- I'm referring specifically to witch hunts that continued into the early modern age, they were a Europe wide problem before that. (and are still a problem in parts of Africa- there's a bit of a craze in Kenya right now).

From David Hackett Fischer's "Albion's Seed":

"More than 95% of all formal accusation and more than 90% of all executions for witchcraft in British North America occurred in the Puritan colonies

"In England every quantitive study has found that recorded cases of witchcraft were most frequent in the Eastern counties from which New England was settled"

Daniel1979 said...

I seem to recall watching a programme on TV a few years back where they roughly plotted the places over a selection of States in the USA where there were reported witch burnings.

They then overlaid the map with with regions where particular types of wild mushrooms that are now know to have hallucinogenic side effects were known to have grown which showed some rough correlations.

I can't remember the programme name or channel, but I think it was based on a US University study.