Saturday, February 28, 2009

Witches burned in Kenya

Five suspected witches burnt to death in Kenya

More horrifying murderous persecution:

NAIROBI: Five elderly people suspected of practising witchcraft were burnt to death in western Kenya, police have said..."They include four women and a man in their 80's who were accused of having abducted a child," Kisii deputy police Commander Manasseh Musyoka said yesterday.

Besides the hideousness of this, I can't help but think it should give pause to all the well meaning scholarly Pagans out there who deny or trivialize the 'Burning Times'.
(thanx GreenGhost, for sending me the link)


Yewtree said...

Hi Gene

The problem with modern Pagans trying to appropriate the victims of the Burning Times (17th c) are threefold:

* the so-called witches persecuted by the Burning Times were neither Pagan nor pagan;
* People who go on about the Burning Times usually get the history wrong; witches were hanged not burnt in England and America, because witchcraft was a felony punishable under civil law (in Scotland and Europe it was a heresy punishable by burning);
* the people who go on about the Burning Times are usually more interested in fuelling their own paranoiac egos than actually doing anything to help victims of witchcraft persecution elsewhere in the world.

genexs said...

I agree with some of what you've said, but part company with you one some of your other points.
I agree the issue is painted in too broad a brush, at times. Also, I agree that there's folks out there more than willing to play the victim. And that's a good point about people often getting their history wrong.

However, speaking only for myself, I don't need fantasy to fuel my paranoid ego. I've been victimized enough times here in the USA, and so have many of my friends. The sad thing is, we have lots of fundy nut-jobs living in the 'States. Even sadder is the fact they don't confine their threats to the internet. Your mileage may vary.

Secondly, I think may of the people consigned to the noose, torture, or fire would fit quite comfortably in today's rather broad definition of what constitutes 'witchcraft' or 'P/paganism'. Many people practiced what (I guess) would be described as 'folk magic', and items relating to this were often submitted as evidence. Anyone holding pantheistic, polytheistic views was a target. Case in point: although the monk G. Bruno is often considered a martyr for the cause of science, he probably was sent to stake because he professed the importance of other religions, such as Isaism, and their value as belief systems to bring one closer to the Divine.

Lastly, I think the jury is still out on the numbers and reasons many were killed. As far as I know, the Vatican has not thrown open their records on this. I'm sure they have a pretty good idea on the facts, as they were good record keepers.


green_ghost113 said...

Yewtree what are you talking about?
Good grief this is labeling at its worst.
Who CARES if the people in Kenya fall into your definition of “Pagan”? They were MURDERED for crying out loud! Does it make each of them less of a person because they don’t fit your perfect “Pagan” qualifiers or because they weren’t burned to death during the proper time in history?
Does this also make them “so-called” human-beings because they don’t align to your self-righteous interpretation of a “witch”?

It seems to me that Gene brought this article to light in order to enlighten us to the fact that we should all be aware of and fight the continuing level of IGNORANCE and the subsequent violence that exists in the world – particularly when it comes to intolerance of the religions of others or their religious practices.
Frankly I don’t care what religion a person is – no one deserves that kind of senseless & brutal death.

Congratulations for successfully practicing the monotheistic trait of dichotomizing yourself from these other people with your “Us” vs. “Them” perspective.

Please relax your erudite attitude and shows some compassion – even to those you label as having “paranoiac egos”.

genexs said...

Yew brings up a good point: what are we to do about this?

I have to admit, I'm rather on-edge ever since a right-wing loon marched into a UU church in Knoxville, opening fire with a shotgun at children. His unrepentant comments and published statements show his intended targets were tolerant, open minded, liberal people. Ironically, just the very people who would help such a troubled man. It's downright frightening that a fairly sizable chunk of the USA (my guess, about 20%) believes passionately that being open minded and tolerant makes you a danger to our country.

(Although not "Pagan", many of us consider the UU like-minded brothers and sisters. When our coven held vigil for them because of Knoxville, we received a nice thank you note. )

One thing I can speak to is the Salem Witch Hysteria, which I think illustrates the problem of old published records. Many of the records are gone! Extant there's official pretrial records and recorded statements. Also some published material 20-50 years after the fact. But the actual trial records are gone, as well as other official documents, and so are a number of pages missing from important diaries, other eye witness accounts which were known to exist. There does not seem to have been any official purging of documents (by that I mean by governmental or church officials), but a more personal one: it seems people were ashamed! As years passed, relatives of people involved in prosecuting the cases purged family records of the incidents. Most notable are some missing pages from the other wise completist diary of Samuel Paris. In addition, over the years, even some official documents went missing. (It seems these documents were loaned out for study, but never returned.) Besides the shame factor, survival itself may have been an issue. Having a family member accused of witchcraft greatly increased the likelihood that you yourself would be accused. So contemporaneous relatives, as well as descendants of both the accused and accusers had a vested interest in certain documents going missing.

I don't know if such factors were at play in the Old World, but they are factors which has greatly cloud the understanding of the Salem Witch Hysteria. Would it not be best then, to exercise caution on any evaluations based on local records? I think it points the problem of relying on very old records that are suppose to document atrocities. The problem with the Vatican records is that (it's my understanding) that a big chunk of the relevant ones were inadvertently destroyed by Napoleon. )

Why are so many so eager to jump on the bandwagon of this (possibly) revisionist history? Isn't low balling the numbers of people killed just as bad as inflating them? It all just reminds me of some sort of "Stockholm Syndrome", where people who are oppressed are identifying with or currying favor from the oppressor.

The sad thing is, I have not read the original work which reevaluates these numbers. Maybe it's very convincing. I have only read the information second hand, from writers who (to me) seemed overly eager to embrace the findings.

What next? Someone will be saying that the Romans never fed Christians to the lions? That will really piss me off! :)

Anonymous said...

Just so sad. Relatively safe and protected as we are here in the West, it's easy to believe these kids of things "can't" happen. But they still do.

And I'm torn, as well. Part of me thinks the murderers are just uneducated and superstitious. After all, many things attributed to "witchcraft" have been exposed as simply the natural way of things. But where does that leave Wiccans and other pagans? Are we just as superstitious in our own way? What about Christians and their own fears of pagan religions?

I guess the issue isn't whether witches can or cannot influence things, but that we should all be allowed to live in peace. But there is evil in the world. There are unbalanced, damaged people who want to harm others. What if one of them is a witch, a wizard or whatever? How do you keep everyone else safe? Not by murder, of course. But how do you "prove" their capacity for harm?

There's a lot at work here--or at least in my own muddled brain.

Yewtree said...

@ Green Ghost: you have completely misunderstood where I am coming from on this (understandable on the basis of small soundbite above).

My point is that of course we should care about the witch persecutions elsewhere in the world, but it won't help and may actually harm them if we try to claim them as Pagans.

Yewtree said...

Here are two of my articles on the issue of witchcraft in Africa and in European history:

"Witchcraft" in Africa
Witches in history

Incidentally, the Inquisition was mostly interested in persecuting "heretics" (e.g. backsliding conversos) and much of the information we have about their witch-persecuting activities is Protestant propaganda.

Yes, Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for his pantheistic views. But he was, according to historians, an isolated case. Very few of the natural philosophers and magicians of the Renaissance were full-blown Pagans in the modern sense. Heretics, certainly (and hurrah for them for being free-thinkers), but not self-identified Pagans.

And as we all know, there were persecutions for witchcraft, but the sociological impetus behind them is still being discussed. And it is possible to view the records; historians have been doing exactly that.

For Scotland there's an online database of all the witches who were executed.

Oh and Gene, I wasn't saying *you* have a paranoiac ego.

My point is that the witches who were persecuted in the past would not have identified *themselves* as p/Pagans (and many of them wouldn't have regarded themselves as witches either), so we cannot claim them as such in retrospect, because it's disrespectful.