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Friday, May 13, 2005

A history of England's 'witchfinders'

The Times of London writes as if witchfinders were a thing of the past. Seems to me, from many recent stories you can find elsewhere on this site, witchfinders and the hysteria about witches remains active in places like India, Mexico, London and the southern United States. Still, the article is a good read if you like historical accounts of the supernatural. From The Times:

In 1645-47, the bleakest years of the English civil war, a witch craze erupted in East Anglia. Around 300 suspects were interrogated, of whom a third were hanged. Two minor gentlemen from Essex, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, were responsible. In the final days of the purge, Hopkins proclaimed himself “Witchfinder General”. In 1968, Hopkins and Stearne were depicted in a horror film with the same title starring Vincent Price as Hopkins. Its slogan famously was: “Leave the children at home . . . if you are squeamish stay home with them!” Malcolm Gaskill seeks to rediscover the true story. This, he feels, lies more in the “how” than in the “why”. At a moment when the parliamentary iconoclasts were cleansing the churches of the diabolical “remnants of popery”, allegations of occult superstitions were predictable. Not even the vigilance of the preachers could eradicate the popular belief in magic, notably that witches made a pact with the devil. What needs to be explained is how a single accusation triggered a purge.


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