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The Burning Times
Something We Ought to Keep in Mind

Bridget Bishop
"I am no witch.   I am innocent.   I know nothing of it."

—   Bridget Bishop (1692)
Salem Village, Massachusetts

If you've been a Wiccan for very long (or even just been interested enough to visit a few websites), you've heard of "The Burning Times," a period in history (ca. 1500-1730) when there was worldwide anti-witch hysteria. In Scotland, witches were burned alive; in England, they were usually hanged; France and Germany actually killed the highest number of witches. In one town in Italy (Como), 1,000 people were burned as witches in a single year. About 75% of all the victims were women. Accused witches faced unspeakable torture. Estimates of the total number killed during this period go from 10,000 up to 9,000,000.

On some Wiccan websites, you'll see the button graphic that says, "Never again the burning times !!!"

You can even buy a card game called "Witch Trial" for $7.50 (it is a somewhat awkward game requiring a minimum of three players, and is shipped without dice or play money, both of which are required to play the game).

I have no doubt that I myself will someday make the pilgrimage to the old site of Salem Village, Massachusetts (that site is now occupied by the town of Danvers, not Salem). It seems to draw us spiritually, because on that spot in America (well, at that time it was colonial England, not America), accused witches were executed by the government in 1692.

They didn't have the protection of the First Amendment (which guarantees freedom of religion) because there was no United States Constitution, and therefore no Bill of Rights, until late in the 18th Century.

It seems appropriate to point out a small technicality:

The victims of the Burning Times
were not witches.

This is a fact that is lost on most people. In modern-day Salem, Massachusetts, they deliberately ignore it, because it boosts tourism when the city is associated with witches. In fact, the shoulder patch of the Salem Police Department features a silhouette of a Halloween-type witch flying on a broomstick!

These 17th-Century folks were accused of being witches, just as Americans were accused of being Communists in the 1950's.   Arthur Miller wrote a play along these lines, that is, comparing the Burning Times to the "Red Scare" (The Crucible). But they were not witches. They were innocent people who were wrongfully persecuted, falsely accused, and murdered by their own government.

The shoulder patch of the Salem, Massachusetts Police Department —   If you had lived back then, and been acquainted with those accused "witches," and if you had TRIED to convert them to Wicca, you wouldn't have been able to do so. They almost certainly believed that witchcraft was evil and "of the devil." They would not have even considered turning their backs on the Hebrew god of the Bible (they would have been afraid to do so).

—   The "powers that were" used the witchcraft hysteria as a pretense to persecute those who were different, or to seize land (often the punishment for witchcraft involved the forfeiture of one's property). They didn't really care about stamping out witchcraft, and probably didn't even believe that it existed.

Think about it for a minute: The Burning Times didn't involve the persecution of witches.   It was Christians killing other Christians ... in the name of Christ.

Interestingly enough, in the entire history of Plymouth, Massachusetts, there were only two witch trials   -   and both of them resulted in the accuser being found guilty ... of slander!


P.S.   In all, there were 24 victims of the Salem witch hunt of 1692. Nineteen years later, in 1711, the Massachusetts state legislature issued a general amnesty exonerating 18 of them. On November 1, 2001, by an act of the Massachusetts governor and the legislature, the remaining six were exonerated. It's about time !!!!


"I don't think witchcraft is a religion.   I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made."

— George W. Bush, June 24, 1999, then Governor of Texas, interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America. He disapproved of Wiccan soldiers having been given the same religious rights as others in the military.


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