The witch hunt as a culture change phenomenon
Thomas J. Schoeneman
Ethos, 1975, 3, 529-554.
Reprinted in B. P. Levack (Ed.). (1992). Articles on witchcraft, magic and religion. Vol. 1: Anthropological studies of witchcraft, magic and religion (pp. 337-362). New York: Garland.
[Note that several tables and figures that appeared in the original publication have been deleted from this web document.]
Witchcraft beliefs and the constellations of social action and interaction that accompany them have generated interest within the social sciences, particularly in the fields of anthropology and history. The former is usually concerned with the study of current witch beliefs in non-Western cultures, whereas the latter deals almost exclusively with past witch hunts and persecutory movements in Europe and America (l). Recently, attempts have been made to discover the social dynamics of witchcraft beliefs and accusations and to detect patterns in the genesis, course, and decline of witch finding movements by applying anthropological theories to events in Western history (2). Unfortunately, these interdisciplinary endeavors encounter serious problems regarding the applicability and comparability of ethnological findings to Western situations.
Four such problems are particularly noteworthy. First, conclusions about witchcraft beliefs and accusations observed by ethnologists in small local groups over relatively short periods of time are not directly generalizable to witch hunts of much wider spatial and temporal scope in the West (e.g., throughout Europe for the two centuries between 1500 and 1700, within Tudor and Stuart England for more than 150 years, or in the United States in the early 1950s). Second, the groups that are compared (e.g., a modern African tribe and a medieval European village) are generally widely separated in terms of political, economic, and social organization and development. Third, there seems to be a fundamental difference between Western and non-Western witch hunting which is reflective of deeper and more pervasive differences in philosophical outlook, that is, what Hsu (1960) refers to as Western "absolutism" and non-Western "relativism." Finally, and most important, it appears that the witchcraft accusations generally described by anthropologists are different from those discussed by historians. Willis (1968) has indicated the difference between what might be called "day-to-day" and "social conflict" witchcraft accusations: day-to-day accusations are usually private and interpersonal, and are a function of personal misfortunes and relationships; social conflict accusations, in contrast, involve general discord, are public, and include most, if not all, members of the social group. Western witch hunts fall into the latter category, and situations covered by most ethnological studies, with one exception, belong in the former. The exception is the body of work relating to movements aimed at countering witchcraft and sorcery in Africa (3) which, although retaining some of the limitations mentioned above, involve social conflict accusations and are therefore more comparable to Western witch hunts.
It is apparent, then, that to integrate the anthropological and historical work and to clarify further the dynamics and processes of witch hunts and similar movements, it is necessary to seek other theoretical approaches to the subject.
An examination of the sociocultural milieu surrounding witch hunts and scapegoating operations reveals that these movements occur in times of social change and upheaval (4). The question should therefore arise as to whether there is a relationship between witch hunting and culture change. This paper contends that the witch hunt is at once reflective of and an agent of sociocultural change. It is felt that to illuminate its workings, the witch hunt must be examined in the context of culture change theory.
These contentions are developed in the four sections of this paper: first, a description and discussion of revitalization theory (Wallace 1956, 1970), a model of culture change that is attractive because it analyzes on a cultural as well as an individual level and because it deals with social conflict; second, a comparison of anti witch and revitalization movements which suggests the role of the witch hunt in culture change; third, a processual model of the witch hunt; and finally, an illustration of the model via historical and ethnological examples . . . . Throughout this presentation the witch hunt is considered as a typical persecutory movement, and the argument is couched in its terminology. It is felt, however, that the model developed applies equally well to persecutory and scapegoating movements other than witch hunts.
REVlTALIZATION AND REORIENTATION
Revitalization theory. Wallace (1956:265) considers two types of culture change: classical models of gradual change via chain reaction (known collectively as moving equilibrium processes), and revitalization an abrupt change owing to "a deliberate, organized conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture."
An organismic analogy is used by Wallace in his definition of culture as "those patterns of learned behavior which certain 'parts' of the social organism (individual persons or groups of persons) characteristically display." A corollary to this analogy deals with homeostasis and stress: there must be intercommunication and cooperation within and among the levels of a cultural organism in order to preserve its integrity and to combat stressful threats to its existence. This is accomplished through the mazeway: a mental image of self, environment, and culture, of their dynamics and interrelationships, and of ways to manipulate them to attain goals and avoid pitfalls. A mazeway is maintained by all members of the culture and is necessary for stress reduction on all levels of the system (Wallace 1956:266-267, 1970:15-20).
Circumstances involving chronic stress indicate to the individual that his mazeway is ineffective in stress reduction, in which case there are three possible alternatives: rigid tolerance of stress, regressive innovations (dysfunctional coping attempts), or experimental change of mazeway. The latter choice sometimes leads to an abrupt, radical shift in Gestalt that results in revitalization: an attempt to change reality (i.e., the culture) to correspond to the new mazeway. A collective attempt to revitalize a culture is a revitalization movement.
The processual structure of culture change via revitalization involves five stages: (I) the steady state, an initial stage of homeostatic balance wherein stress reduction operates efficiently; (2) the period of increased individual stress, in which stress reduction techniques become inefficient, threatening mazeway disintegration; (3) the period of cultural distortion, in which the reactions of rigid tolerance, dysfunctional innovation, and experimental mazeway change clash and further the internal distortion of the culture and the increase of systemic stress; (4) the period of revitalization, with six substages: mazeway reformulation, communication (preaching), organization (or converts), adaptation (countering resistance), cultural transformation, and routinization; and (5) the new steady state (Wallace 1956:268-275).
Revitalization movements can be identified with one of three ideal types: revivalistic and nativistic movements, which "profess to revive a traditional culture now fallen into desuetude"; importative movements, including cargo cults and vitalistic sects, which "profess to import a foreign cultural system"; and Utopian, millenerian, and messianic movements, which "conceive that the desired cultural end-state, which has never been enjoyed by ancestors or foreigners, will be realized for the first time in a future Utopia." All revitalization movements are hybrids or mixtures of these ideal types (Wallace 1956:967, 275-276).
Reorientation. Scapegoating is listed (Wallace 1970: 191-192) as one of the dysfunctional coping attempts that occur during periods of cultural distortion. This fits well with the observation that anti witch and persecutory movements generally occur in times of social change. The witch hunt, then, seems to have roots in the same climate of cultural disorganization as revitalization movements.
The point of departure between the two appears in the initial reactions (aside from rigid tolerance) of individual members and groups to cultural distortion: experimental mazeway change and regressive innovation. The former often leads to the radical mazeway change of revitalization, whereas the latter may include a conservative mazeway change of reorientation, that is, an attempt to maintain the status quo by seeking the locus of the society's ills outside of existing cultural institutions. This reaction most often occurs on an organizational (as opposed to personal) level in groups whose current position of power is threatened, and is accepted by other cultural members who are not open to a radical mazeway change and would rather maintain their existing concepts of social institutions and relationships. Reorientation often results in the development of an ideology or demonology directed against perceived menaces such as deviant groups and rival movements, and generally leads to scapegoating and persecution.
Multiple processes. The development and application of a model such as Wallace's has the unfortunate side effect of limiting the scope of inquiry and oversimplifying the phenomena under consideration. Before proceeding with the investigation of witch hunts and culture change, it might be wise to note briefly the complexity of processes involved in the development of revitalization movements, especially in cases involving large groups and long time spans.
The processual model of revitalization leaves the impression that the process is linear and occurs once, runs to completion, and is finished. Theoretically, however, the number of potential revitalization attempts can be as large as the number of mazeways under stress, thus permitting numerous simultaneous revitalization movements, especially in large, heterogeneous groups. In addition, cases involving long periods may evidence multiple sequential revitalization movements: new movements may arise rapidly after their forebears have reached routinization, especially if cultural disorganization recurs or continues. Given the possibility of multiple revitalization attempts, there is a wide latitude for variability among them with regard to type and nature, rate and duration, and degree of completely (some may never get off the ground). Moving equilibrium processes are still operative, also; they do not vanish when revitalization attempts occur, and can be important in the further creation or removal of factors contributing to cultural disorganization. Culture change via revitalization, then, is not necessarily as simple as it may initially seem, and to this complex processual interplay must be added yet another possible factor: the witch hunt.
THE WITCH HUNT AND CULTURE CHANGE
Willis has suggested that "it may be instructive to look for parallels to African witch-cleansing cults elsewhere in the world" (1970: 133), and offers as an exemplary analog Melanesian cargo cults, an importative revitalization movement discussed by Wallace (1956). Following Willis's suggestion on a larger scale, a comparison of witch hunts and revitalization movements in general may prove to be useful in illuminating the relation of witch hunts to culture change.
Origins. Revitalization movements and witch hunts have similar origins insofar as both are innovative attempts to deal with cultural distortion. It has already been noted that a fundamental difference arises in the nature of these attempts and their outcomes: more radical mazeway changes in individuals often result in movements that attempt to revitalize and drastically change the culture, whereas reorientation (conservative mazeway changes) in powerful individuals and organizations seek to maintain the powers-that-be by settling the blame for social ills and misfortune on rival, deviant, and/or unassimilable groups within or near cultural boundaries.
Type of movement. Anti witch movements have revivalistic tendencies that are rooted in the cultural paranoia of reorientation: a menace is perceived and a campaign of elimination and purification is mounted. The distinction between revivalistic witch hunts and revitalization movements can be described as purification versus abandonment: in the former case a furious housecleaning is undertaken witch succeeds only in raising the dust and making a bigger mess, and in the latter, the newer but less satisfying house is abandoned for an older, more attractive dwelling.
Witch hunts also have importative aspects, since a group's perception and methods of dealing with a social menace (such as witchcraft) may be derived from a higher authority or an outside "missionary" group.
Actions and motives. It has been argued that witch hunts arise from and retain conservative motives; the nature of their actions, however, has not been examined. Marwick (1972:380) has noted that anthropologists see witchcraft accusations as conservative, whereas historians such as MacFarlane (1970:197) have demonstrated that witch hunts contribute to social change by serving as a mechanism for easily and guiltlessly dismantling relationships that have become uncomfortable or untenable. Willis (1970:132) has also shown that African witch-cleansing cults temporarily rearrange the sociopolitical power structure at the village level. This radical action of social change can also be attributed to revitalization movements, which are therefore distinct from witch hunts not in actions but in motives. Witch hunts are radical actions in the cause of conservatism and self-preservation of power structures, and revitalizations are radical actions with motives that are either conservative (but inimical to current power groups) or radical (i.e., importative or Utopian).
Effects, cost, and efficiency. Both witch hunts and revitalization movements are attempts to reduce systemic stress and distortion. A revitalization attempt may initially contribute to cultural disorganization, but if it is successful, it will generally proceed to a steady state. Witch hunts never provide this terminal relief; instead, they augment disorganization and strain in a culture (Richards 1935: 45S457) and perpetuate it and themselves in a positive feedback loop. A witch hunt is maladaptive, dysfunctional (Midelfort 1972:3, Wallace 1970:191), and self-defeating: as it works to expunge the menace and maintain the incumbent power structure, it changes the culture and its internal relationships, thus exacerbating distortion and the need to scapegoat. In comparison to a successful revitalization movement, then, a witch hunt is singularly costly and inefficient, in terms of amplification and maintenance of cultural distortion and havoc wreaked Upon individuals and groups.
The witch hunt and culture change. The foregoing comparison has revealed that witch hunts are agents of social change. They originate from mazeway changes caused by situations of chronic stress and cultural distortion, and the conservative nature of this innovative attempt to preserve the status quo is largely responsible for their revivalistic tendencies. Witch hunts contribute to social change by altering and disrupting relationships between and among individuals and groups. Witch-finding movements result from and further contribute to cultural distortion.
The proposed processual model of witch hunts is intended to be a general, flexible, and qualitative way of looking at the phenomenon on a cultural level. The aim of the model is to present the more or less orderly progression of events surrounding and including the witch hunt in a continuous series of stages. The stages are not discrete or mutually exclusive, and they overlap considerably. The model consists of four periods: cultural disorganization, reorientation and the development of a demonology, witch finding, and decline.
Cultural disorganization. This stage corresponds to Wallace's periods of increased individual stress and cultural distortion. Sociocultural distortion can be effected and augmented by single or combined factors. Wallace's list of disorganizing forces (1970:188-189) includes ecological changes (i.e., climatic, floral, and faunal changes), natural cataclysms (epidemics, famine, catastrophic storms, floods, and earthquakes), wars, and internal conflicts (caused by economic, political and intellectual revivals and declines, and by revitalization movements and witch hunts).
Cultural disorganization ensures an environment in which "witchcraft," "communist plots," and the like are viable (and sometimes the only) explanations of misfortune (especially in situations where traditional coping mechanisms have been lost or rendered ineffective) (5) and in which the "social conflict" type of accusation is more likely to occur (Willis 1968:9-12). The development of a witch hunt or other persecutory movement is not the only possible eventuality at this point, however; social disorganization is also a part of revitalization and moving equilibrium processes.
Reorientation and the development of a demonology. The conservative mazeway change of reorientation involves an altered perception of self, environment, and culture that seeks the causes of misfortune outside of established social institutions. Reorientation occurs in individuals deeply loyal to and/or actively involved in those institutions that are threatened (by loss of credibility, challenging movements, etc.); it is a gradual and nondeliberate change and is probably the course that is most natural and least destructive to individual and corporate Gestalts.
Threatened groups gradually evolve explanations of misfortune (demonologies) and remedial proposals (witch hunts), which are then submitted to the public and actively promoted. A demonology is defined as a negative ideology built around real or imagined groups that are held to be responsible for cultural disorganization and misfortune. This may involve the exploitation of traditional stereotypes and scapegoats.
Two types of groups are singled out as targets for a developing demonology. The first is groups that clearly differ from cultural norms, such as Jews, Moors in Spain, and physically isolated subcultures (Trevor-Roper 1969:107-115). Such groups are likely to be mistrusted because they are different and not fully integrated into cultural institutions (especially religious ones), and rumors and myths about them are likely to abound. Members of the second target group are known as "witches," "commies," and so forth. The classification has more of a basis in folklore than in reality, and members are less identifiable on the basis of physical or subcultural differences because they belong to groups that are culturally integrated and diffuse. Thus, women, old people, unfriendly or antisocial people, and others will be given a negative label to remove them plausibly from the cultural mainstream. As disorganization increases, the "witch" category tends to supersede the "Jew" category (if both are extant), so that all groups fall into one class and are easier to persecute; the "witch" group generally becomes broad enough to include anyone who is unlucky enough to be accused.
Demonologies and witch hunts are usually conceived and promoted by power groups, but may be demanded by the general public. In either case, wide social acceptance of the demonology is necessary for the facilitation of any proposed action, and for the sanction and success of any operation. As Trevor-Roper remarks, "no ruler has ever carried out a policy of wholesale expulsion or destruction without the cooperation of society" (1969:114). Similarly, Kittredge feels that "the responsibility for any witch-prosecution rests primarily on the community or neighborhood as a whole, not on the judge or jury" (1972:372).
Witch finding. Witch hunts and persecutory movements are the plans of action that evolve from demonologies; they are attempts to purge society of a perceived cause of misfortune and disintegration. Whether the reference group constitutes an actual threat or not, the perception of the "menace" has superstitious and stereotypical components that become amplified as cultural anxiety and disorganization increases.
Witch hunts often create the phenomena to which they are supposedly reacting. Witch-finding techniques operate along the lines of a self-fulfilling prophecy: they are designed to confirm rather than refute the prevalent demonology. Szasz (1970:xiv) points out that
Once the basic premises of an ideology are accepted, new observations are perceived in its imagery and articulated in its vocabulary. The result is that while no fresh observation can undermine the belief system, new 'facts" generated by the ideology constantly lend further support to it.
This process works also in potential victims of witch-finding operations. The accused may accept his guilt and confess because he "must have done something wrong" and "it must be true." Further, those with generalized feelings of guilt and anxiety may find a release from their uncertainty in the demonology of the witch hunt and spontaneously confess. Finally, it does not seem too far fetched to suppose that the exact descriptions of the rituals and subversive operations meticulously compiled from forced and spontaneous confessions might actually lead to their practice, that is, open up new avenues for nonconformity and emotional release.
Although revitalization movements are generally antagonistic to the existing cultural institutions, it would be misleading to conclude that witch hunts consist exclusively of persecutions of those who have undergone radical mazeway changes by those who have had conservative changes. Witch hunting can also occur in the absence of revitalization movements, and a revitalization movement may pick up the conventions of a contemporaneous witch hunt to fight back at the old guard or to combat its own splinter groups. In most cases, However, it seems that some group that is apart from such conflicts is persecuted (i.e., Jews or witches) and that warring factions are eventually identified with these groups, so that all are fought under the same demonology.
The dysfunctional nature of witch hunts, and their role in culture change have already been considered. Briefly, it was noted that witch hunts contribute to further cultural disorganization and change by removing individuals and subgroups from the population and by dismantling, altering, and rearranging relationships between people and institutions.
Decline. Despite its long-range effects of increased disorganization and change, the witch hunt has immediate cultural advantages. First, it is a highly visible, concrete action in a time of uncertainty and fear. Second, it enables men "to believe that their failures are due not to any fault of their own, but to the machinations of others" (Krige 1947:20). Third, it provides an outlet, whether vicariously or through direct participation, for the generalized hostility, anger, aggression, and even guilt that is pent up during cultural disorganization. Finally, the witch hunt is a guiltless way to dismantle uncomfortable and untenable relationships.
Given these advantages, the witch hunt is, for a time, self perpetuating. The witch hunt's effects of change and disorganization work against it in the long run, however. The eventual and cumulative ills begin to outweigh the advantages. The anomaly is felt and ultimately perceived, resulting in a paradigm shift (Kuhn 1970) that leaves the witch hunt in disrepute. Trevor-Roper (1969: 177-182) feels that for a witch hunt to decline it is necessary for the whole natural-philosophical and social Gestalt surrounding and containing the witch hunt to decline and be replaced by another. The witch hunt may indeed be a symptomatic transitional agent in such a change.
The period following a witch hunt is a new steady state in which the culture is much changed from its pre-witch-hunt status. In the new state the witch hunt is incongruous and anachronistic, and is scorned and condemned. it is not, however, without its lasting effects; its demonology usually survives to color and sometimes profoundly influence future events.
HISTORICAL AND ETHNOLOGICAL ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE PROCESSUAL MODEL
Two examples, one historical and one ethnological, . . . are used to illustrate the proposed processual model of witch hunting These examples are presented in sections corresponding to the steps of the model; they are meant to be exemplary, and are by no means exhaustive accounts of the events in each period described.
1. THE WITCH HUNTS IN SIXTEENTH- AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURY EUROPE
Although the witch hunts that took place throughout continental Europe and England (6) occurred primarily within the two centuries from 1500 to 1700, the process involved in their genesis and decline can be traced back to 1100 and forward to 1800. The European witch hunts, then, offer an example of the processual course of a persecutory movement with an extremely large spatiotemporal scope.
Cultural disorganization (1100-1700). The roots of the period of cultural disorganization lie in the intellectual revival of the twelfth century; its end point corresponds roughly to the period in the late seventeenth century in witch the witch hunts went into decline. The intervening 600 years witnessed drastic sociocultural changes in Europe, including the decline of feudalism as a social, political, and economic system; the waning of the Roman Catholic church's power and secular authority; the ascendancy of national states and strong monarchies; the creation of the middle class, mercantilism, and capitalism, and the growth of cities; the intellectual and artistic revival of the Renaissance; the decimation of one-third of the population of Europe by the plague; the fall of Constantinople and the threat of the Ottoman Turks; the genesis and full force of the witch hunts; the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic CounterReformation; and the seeds of the Enlightenment. Specific events associated with these changes are discussed further in the following sections; it is sufficient at this point to say that the European witch hunts were preceded by and included in a long period of nearly continuous change that must have caused considerable strains on the culture's institutions and individuals.
Reorientation and the development of a demonology (l150-1700). The history of the witch hunts in Europe is largely a history of the Roman Catholic church, the cultural institution primarily responsible for the development and application of the demonology of witchcraft. It is here that the conservative mazeway change of reorientation can be observed.
The initial stimulus to the church's reorientation was what might be called the "heresy explosion" of the twelfth century. During this time numerous revitalization attempts arose in response to widespread discontent in the lower echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy with church abuses and practices. These movements, with one major exception, generally took the form of anti sacerdotal reform groups, the largest of which was the Waldenses, founded by Peter Waldo in 1173 and dedicated to a life of apostolic poverty. The major exception was the Cathari, a Manichaean sect whose entire philosophy and belief system was opposed to that of Christianity. Catharist dualism held that the world was created by Satan and was inherently evil, and that man's goal was to renounce the material world and be unified at death with (,God in the otherworldly place of his creation.
By 1200, Catharism had become a serious threat to the church, and caused Pope Innocent III to organize the Albigensian Crusade (1207). The crusade was as much a political as a religious struggle: its formation and success established the pope as the supreme secular ruler in Europe and destroyed enemies of the papacy. The religious and political successes of the crusade were equivocal, however: the Cathari had been wiped out, hut the excesses of destruction that laid waste southern France and obliterated the cultures of Languedoc and Provence gave rise to further anti church sentiment and political resistance.
At this point, reorientation was well underway. Reform of an institution that was at the height of its power was out of the question. Furthermore, instead of reacting to heretical attacks as it had in the past, the papacy began to centralize its coercive forces and actively seek heresy in an attempt to eradicate it before it spread. Crusades were expensive, hard to mount, and often uncontrollable, and Episcopal and legatine inquisitions had proven to be ineffectual. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX founded the Papal Inquisition as a temporary measure, and by the late thirteenth century it was a permanent institution with standard rules and procedures.
The shift in focus to the seeking of heretics led to a perceived, if not actual, increase in heresy: both forced and spontaneous confessions and accusations dramatically inflated the evidence that heresy was rampant, and the investigative procedures (e.g., torture) furthered anti church (i.e., "heretical") sentiment. Thus, the harder the Inquisition worked, the more heresy spread, and it became possible for anyone to be accused. In Spain, Jews and Moors came to be the prime targets. On the rest of the Continent, however, the Inquisition began to uncover and amass "evidence" of diabolic intervention into worldly affairs. It is at this point that the devil assumed a prominent position in Catholic theology, and the demonology of European witchcraft began to be constructed.
Popular belief in witchcraft and sorcery prior to 1200 was widespread. Churchmen and Christian rulers, however, discouraged and punished such beliefs. One famous tract dating from the ninth century, the canon Episcopi, discounted the actuality of witchcraft and denounced beliefs to the contrary as pagan and heretical.
Nevertheless, by the end of the thirteenth century, the church was on its way to a complete reversal of its position on witchcraft. No less a great scholar and doctor of the church than Saint Thomas Aquinas had concluded that witchcraft was a reality, and had argued for the existence of incubi and succubi. Furthermore, the investigations of the inquisition were generating evidence that Satan was afoot in the world. If the church was becoming more and more inclined to accept this unsettling possibility, for how else could one account for the misfortune and ruin besetting Christendom? The papacy was being assailed from all sides, and not only by religious heretics. The Vatican had won a somewhat Pyrrhic victory over Holy Roman Emperor Frederick 11, only to find new resistance from such recently strengthened monarchs as Edward II of England and Philip 1V of l France. The papacy, witch had reached the peak of its supremacy with Innocent 111, had, within a century, fallen to its nadir when Boniface VIII was captured by Philip IV in 1303. The pontificate continued in its decline throughout the next 150 years, which included the French-controlled Avignon Papacy (13051377) and the Great Schism (1378-1417), during which there were two or three claimants to the throne of Saint Peter. The church was also under intellectual attack by such scholars as William of Occam and John Wycliffe, and engaged in actual battle with the followers of the martyred heretic John Huss. By the time the church had recouped some of its lost power in the fifteenth century, the pope's chief sphere of influence was Italy, where he was no more than a strong prince.
In the meantime, belief in the temporal activity of Satan was increasing. "Confessions" of the Luciferan sect and of the Knights Templars, as well as a backward look at Cathari doctrine surfaced as proof of diabolic intervention. The devil was enjoying an almost Manichaean ascendancy in Catholic theology. Furthermore, secular and political acceptance of the emergent demonology was increasing. The Inquisition became a part of the social structure in many (but not all) cities and states; the incorporation and cooperation of a secular arm (responsible for confining and executing discovered heretics) was necessary to the success of the Inquisition, and secular leaders obliged by legislating against heresy. The Inquisition also became a political tool, the outstanding example being Philip IV's destruction of the Knights Templars, an affluent religious military order founded during the Crusades.
The mid-fourteenth century marked the appearance of scattered witch trials and the authorization of the Inquisition to deal with witchcraft. By 1400, this new form of heresy began to attract the notice of church scholars. Nider's Formicarius (1437) described the witch trials that occurred in Berne circa 1400 and was the earliest account of the new witchcraft epidemic. In 1458, Jacquerius attempted to argue around the canon Episcopi by claiming the appearance of a totally new witch cult in 1404. Finally, in 1468 witchcraft, while other forms of heresy, was ruled to be an "exceptional crime" (i.e., all the usual legal rules and safeguards did not apply).
Witch hunting and demonological scholarship were launched in earnest by Innocent VIII papal bull Summis desiderantes afectibus (l484) This document of officially recognized witchcraft as a problem and a threat, and appointed James Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer as special inquisitors to investigate it. This culminated in the monumental Malleus Maleficarum (Summers 1971) in 1486, which became the basic handbook of witch hunters and initiated two centuries of demonological scholarship by Catholics and Protestants alike.
The Protestant sects, far from rejecting the Catholic demonology and witch hunts, eagerly accepted both. Protestant scholars added to the voluminous literature on witches and demons, and Protestant missionaries imported the witch hunts to new locales in Europe The rapidly routinized Protestant revitalization movements found the witch hunt useful in combating not only Satan but their temporal enemies as well.
Witch finding. The witch hunts continued throughout Europe from the late fifteenth century to the end of the seventeenth. The phenomenon was not locally or temporally continuous, but sporadic; the process occurred often enough, however, to make it appear as if there were a continuous witch craze for two centuries.
The outbursts of witch-finding activity were often the result of the "missionary" activities of Inquisitors and agents of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. The Dominican order was founded in 1216 to combat heresy and in 1326 became authorized to deal with witches; their crusade against witchcraft was imported to the Alps and Pyrenees, where it remained until the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum and the activity of the Reformation made it a Continent wide phenomenon. Protestant evangelists, too, carried the witch hunts from their home bases (e.g.,Wittenberg, Geneva, and Zurich) to their missions elsewhere in Europe in the mid-sixteenth century, followed closely by their Counter-Reformation rivals, the Jesuits. These missionaries spread the witch hunts with revivalistic fervor, and many (but not all) communities accepted them wholeheartedly.
The political and religious wars that followed the Reformation also contributed to the dissemination of the witch hunts. Trevor Roper's investigations led him to state that "every crucial stage in the ideological struggle of the Reformation was a stage also in the revival and perpetuation of the witch-craze" (1969: 161). Every time a major clash between Protestant and Catholic forces (and between rival Protestant forces) occurred, the witch hunts flared up with renewed intensity. Thus, the Continental witch panic climaxed around 1629, during the Thirty Years War, and in England, the peaks coincided with the Civil War (1642-1648) and the Restoration (1660) .
In a consideration of the European witch hunts, two categories of the social conflict type of witchcraft accusation emerge: large-scale political and religious accusations, associated with ideological wars, and more local accusations, associated with interpersonal conflicts. In the former, persecutions were mounted against rival factions and their leaders; Catholics pursued Protestant "witches" and vice versa, Lutherans persecuted Anabaptists, and most groups continued to harass the traditionally scapegoat Jews. The more personal, local accusations were directed towards individuals or families by other individuals or witch-finders Such personal denunciations, as MacFarlane (1970:chaps. 11, 12) points out, were more a function of social change and its effects on relationships within a community than of categories of age, sex, marital status, or personality alone. At any rate, whether a witch hunt was based in ideological conflict or local disturbance, it had the effect of removing individuals and groups from the culture and rearranging relationships and power distributions, thus furthering social disorganization and change.
Decline. Trevor-Roper (1969:177-182) has suggested that the European witch hunts went into decline when the medieval theological, natural historical, and social Gestalt of which it was a part gave way to that of the dawning Enlightenment. A brief comparison of thirteenth- and seventeenth-century philosophies is indicative of the direction and nature of this change.
In 1200, individuality was an unknown concept. All human rights and dignities were derived from membership in the Catholic church, which viewed itself as a divine institution responsible for the spiritual and physical well-being of God's children, the Christians. The church was the most powerful institution in Europe; any attacks on it, any questioning of its divine truths cost the infidel his membership in the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" and stripped him of his humanity (and, frequently, his life). Thus, it was the ecclesiastical collectivity, not the individual, that was of more importance in medieval times (Ullmann 19G9:37-43).
In the seventeenth century, however, the spiritual and temporal spheres were distinct: the Christian faith had fragmented and was now concerned almost solely with spiritual matters, while the secular world was ruled by monarchs and capitalists. Scientific inquiry was on the rise, contributing to a philosophy that viewed man and the universe in mechanical terms and gave rise to the concept of progress. In theology, "the duel in Nature between a Hebrew God and a medieval Devil was replaced by the benevolent despotism of a modern, scientific 'Deity' " (Trevor-Roper 19G9:182).
The witch hunts and their demonology were a product of the medieval Christian reaction to proto-Enlightenment trends. The five centuries of transition from a theocentric to a homocentric Gestalt were fraught with enormous changes in social relationships, as well as resistance's and reactions to those changes. The witch hunts were a manifestation of such reactions, and yet at the same time they seem to have functioned to further the change. Once the new order had begun to take hold, the resistance to it became ineffectual and the change less necessary. Thus the witch hunts declined. By 1700, they were nearly extinct, and the critics of the time, such as Bekker and Thomasius, succeeded in their condemnations where their predecessors of the previous century (Weyer, Scot, and Spee) had failed. The last legal witch execution occurred in England in 1684; in France, 1745; and in Switzerland, 1782. The last European witch burning took place in Poland in 1793.
2. AFRICAN WITCH CLEANSING CULTS
The phenomenon of witch-cleansing cults has been reported from many regions of subsaharan Africa (7), and is described by Willis:
Occasionally, whole communities, as distinct from separate individuals, seem to become conscious of a need for protection against witchcraft: this is the emotional climate in which witch- cleansing cults arise and spread. The cults l)Purport to go to the root of the trouble by neutralizing the witch himself. There is evidence that such collective apprehensions, and the cults that minister to them, occur in fairly regular cycles (1970:129).
The first step in the development of these movements is the creation of a suitable environment for the cults by a collective desire for protection. Next, cult representatives arrive and negotiate with the local leader or headman. The third stage is the cleansing operation, in which the local ideology of witchcraft is adapted to the cult's novel techniques of witch finding. This is generally followed by willful confessions from those accused, and medicines and charms are sold which will both protect the user from attacks by witches and destroy any user who tries to harm others through witchcraft or sorcery. For a time, misfortune, sickness, and death are viewed as manifestations of the efficacy of cult medicines, but eventually the belief in cult preventive measures and ideology declines, paving the way for redevelopment of the collectively felt "need" for protection (Willis 1970:13>131).
Cultural disorganization. In examining the factors contributing to the collective desire for protection from witches, Willis notes that "the fact that cults often spread over vast areas . . . suggests a possible connection between cults and even wider social currents: the religious, political and economic changes associated with colonial rule" (1970:131). The literature on anti witch movements supports this observation.
An earlier study by Willis (1968) on cult activities among the Fipa of southwest Tanzania cites three sources of cultural stress leading to collective fear of witches: the generational conflict between progressive and traditional factions in villages, an economic strain owing to a land shortage, and religious differences between Christian and non-Christian. Richards's account of the Bamucapi, witch finders that originated in Malawi and spread to Zambia, Rhodesia, and Zaire, states that "economic and social changes have so shattered tribal institutions and moral codes that the result of white contact is in many cases an actual increase in the dread of witchcraft" (1935:330-332). The decay of traditional coping mechanisms owing to culture change is cited by Marwick (1950), who mentions the suppression of the poison; ordeal for detecting and destroying witches in east central Africa, and by Morton-Williams (1956), who notes the decay of ancestral cults that practiced symbolic actions against witchcraft among the Yoruba of Ghana. It has also been suggested that the recorded occurrence of pre colonial witch hunts may also be traceable to social change and disorganization.
Reorientation and the development of a demonology. The reorientation that occurs preceding an African anti witch movement differs from its Western counterpart in several ways.
First, existing cultural institutions play a small role in reorientation in African local groups because they are generally weakened or destroyed by colonial or national governments. Reorientation takes the form of the creation, on demand, of a temporarily powerful institution to deal with witchcraft, the witch- cleansing cult. The negotiation of a local leader with cult representatives seems to be the closest analogy to Western institutional reorientation.
Second, although African reorientation involves the seeking of antisocial elements (witches and sorcerers) within the culture, there seem to be few groups that can immediately be seized upon as likely scapegoats. The witch can be anyone, and the accused will not even be aware of his or her pernicious actions. The emphasis is generally on the cleansing and reintegration of ex-witches into the society, although there are accounts of the execution or exile of witches.
Finally, since African witch hunts are cyclic and periodic, the reorientation response reappears in response to cultural disorganization.
The ideology of a witch cleansing movement has two elements. First, the demonology is grounded in local beliefs. Willis points out that witch-cleansing cults "cross ethnic boundaries, at the same time adapting ritual and ideology to the traditional ideas and institutions of each ethnic area" (1970: 129-130). Local witchcraft beliefs, then, are not so much developed as amplified and reaffirmed.
Second, the anti witch cult imports, in part, its own ideology into its areas of operation. Cult practices, although adapted to local beliefs, are different from local practices. In detecting witches, "cult organizers usually have their own way of doing this: traditional methods of divination are not favored, and novel procedures are often reported" (Willis 1970:130). The anti witch medicines and charms are also cult innovations.
The cult ideology, like Western demonologies, influences the perceptions of cultural members. Richards (1935) reports a vivid illustration. The Bamucapi cult collected from the villagers all "dangerous" magic charms they possessed, and piled them at the crossroads for all to view. Richards analyzed such a collection, and found that 125 of 135 "charms" were merely containers for medicines, snuff, oil, and harmless charms such as those used in hunting. Yet these items were consistently viewed with horror by the villagers as evidence of widespread sorcery. Willis (1970) also notes that sickness and death are seen, For a time, as evidence of the potency and efficacy of cult medicines.
Witch finding. African witch cleansing cults further diverge from Western witch hunts in the quantity and duration of change and relief from cultural anxiety they effect. African anti witch movements produce little lasting social change because they are, in general, less violent and absolute in their treatment of accused witches. The emphasis appears not to be on the total elimination of a subgroup of "witches" from the society, but on removal via cleansing, with subsequent reinstatement of ex-witches into the social group. In addition, cult activities have little effect on such outside forces as colonial or national government or Westernizing influences (other than to goad them into repressive actions). The movements do provide a transitory "symptomatic" relief of cultural distortion on a local level; this temporary effect ensures their recurrent popularity and periodicity. The cults do not, however, neutralize the culturally disorganizing forces from outside the local group; thus, they rarely effect lasting change or relief from social disorganization.
The nativistic and importative aspects of the anti witch movements are easily seen: the collective fear of witchcraft leads to a desire to retrieve the conditions in which witches were controlled by now lost techniques and institutions; because of this loss, new methods of control are imported and eagerly adopted. Ambiguity in motive and action in the cults has also been noted the revivalistic goal of "restoring a traditional ideal of social unity and harmony" (Willis 1970:132) is offset by a redistribution (for a short period) of social and political power at the village level, and by a breakdown, by virtue of cults' exclusive theaters of operation, of traditional tribal divisions and social barriers.
Decline. The failure of African witch-cleansing cults to affect greatly social, political, economic stresses associate with Western contact or internal problems inevitably leads to a decline in cult credibility and ideology. The continued strains not only contribute to the demise of cult actions, but also recreate the environment suitable for the growth and prosperity of new cults. Thus, the failure to create lasting social change, coupled with the relatively small amount of stress generated by witch-cleansing cults, causes such movements to be cyclic in nature. Societies are periodically reintegrated and distorted. Unlike Western witch hunts, which seem to contain the seeds of their own destruction, African anti witch movements appear to be self-perpetuating.
Summary. This scrutiny of African witch-cleansing cults has pointed up some substantial divergence's from Western witch hunts. African movements are cyclic and periodic, while their Western counterparts are not, and there are large differences in the amounts of change and relief from cultural disorganization effected. In Africa, power groups are created to cope with stress and distortion, while in the West, already existing power groups adapt to combat stress. Despite these major differences, the processual model of witch hunting is still applicable in both situations, and will hopefully prove to be useful in the analysis of other anti witchcraft and persecutory movements.
It has been suggested that witch hunts and other persecutory movements are at once reflections and agents of culture change. They originate, as do revitalization movements, from mazeway changes caused by situations of chronic cultural distortion and disorganization. Unlike revitalization movements, however, the change involves a dysfunctional innovative attempt to preserve established cultural institutions and social relationships by seeking the locus of misfortune in some group other than the existing powers. This type of mazeway change, called a reorientation, gives rise to explanations of misfortune (demonologies) that scapegoat real or imagined subgroups. Witch hunts are the resultant attempts to remove the perceived social menace; they contribute to social change and further disorganization by altering and disrupting relationships between cultural groups and individuals. The self-fulfilling prophecies of demonological investigations and the initial advantages of witch hunts ensure that such movements are temporarily self perpetuating. The long-term effects of increased change and disorganization, however, eventually contribute to a paradigm shift that brings the witch hunts into disrepute while preserving bits of their demonology.
1. For summaries and assessments of the important anthropological studies and interpretations of witchcraft beliefs, refer to Gluckman (1944) and MacFarlane (1970: chap. 19). Many of the notable ethnological studies in this area are compiled in Marwick (1970). Major historical sources include Baroja (1964), Lea (1961), Midlefort (1972), Summers (1956), Trevor-Roper (1969), and Ullman (1969) on the witch hunts in continental Europe during the Renaissance and Reformation; Kittredge (1972) and MacFarlane (1970) on the witch hunts in Tudor and Stuart England; and Bedarnski (1970), Kittredge (1972), and Starkey (1969) on the witch scare in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Scapegoating and persecutory movements are discussed in terms of witch hunts by Trevor-Roper (1969: 109-115) on the Spanish persecution of Jews and Moors, and by Cardozo (1970) and Halberstam (1973: chap 7) on the McCarthy red scare.
2. Marwick (1972) provides a summary, and MacFarlane (1970) and Midlefort (1973) are examples of the use of anthropological findings in historical studies.
3. African antiwitchcraft movements are discussed by Marwick (1950), Morton-Williams (1956), Richards (1935) and Willis (1968, 1970).
4. Examples of these changes are given by Ferguson (1962), Lea (1961), and Trevor-Roper (1969) for Europe; Bednarski (1970) and Starkey (1969) for Salem; Cardozo (1970) and Halberstam (1973: chap. 7) for the United States; and Willis (1970) for Africa.
5. Loss of coping mechanisms is considered by Marwick (1950), Morton-Williams (1956), Richards (1935:458), Trevor-Roper (1969:126-128), and Willis (1968:9-12).
6. Sources used in the compilation of this brief history include the historical sources cited in note 1, plus Ferguson (1962) and Szasz (1970).
7. African antiwitchcraft movements are discussed by Marwick (1950), Morton-Williams (1956), Richards (1935), and Willis (1968, 1970).
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