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Pity the poor witches

A Facebook meme

The day before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, there were stories in the media about an effort in the Scottish Parliament to pardon the thousands of witches who were burned at the stake in Scotland between between 1563 and 1736.

Earlier this year, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, had given a speech in which she said the victims were “accused and killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable or in many cases just because they were women.”

There are some interesting — and I think revealing — elements in the history of witch executions in Scotland. For one, there is evidence that Scotland executed five times as many witches per capita as other parts of Europe. For two, most of the witch-burnings occurred in the Lowlands of Scotland, not in the Highlands. Why might that be?

King James VI of Scotland (1566-1625) considered himself an expert on witchcraft. He wrote a book, Daemonologie. According to Wikipedia, “James personally supervised the torture of women accused of being witches.” Thus it was largely James VI who stirred up the witchcraft hysteria in Scotland. (James VI of Scotland later became James I of England. It is for this monster of a man for whom the King James translation of the Bible is named. They never tell the whole story in church.)

It was in the Lowlands of Scotland (Edinburgh and to the south of Edinburgh) where English-speaking Anglo-Saxons were concentrated, along with — of course — the influence of the church. But the Scottish Highlands remained largely pagan and Gaelic, and thus “witches” were respected — and needed — in the Highlands as wisewomen, herbalists, and healers.

This is yet another example of the moral differences between pagans and the people of the church. Because of the church’s claim to a patent on the moral high ground — one of the greatest frauds of Western civilization — the abiding superior wisdom of the pagans sometimes takes centuries to be acknowledged, which is why the Scottish Parliament is taking up the issue of witchcraft in the year 2022.

Even worse, though, than the church’s lack of moral wisdom — still with us today no less than in 1566 — is its eagerness for persecution and domination, even to the point of genocide. In the past I have written often about early Christianity’s genocides against the pagans of Europe. Canada today, and to a lesser degree the United States, is dealing with the church-state collusion and cruelty toward Native American children in the boarding schools that attempted to strip the children of their native culture — cultural genocide. Many children died in those schools. The Christian religion, like Islam, is a proselytizing religion that believes it has a mandate from God for domination of the world and of everyone in it. There is much we still don’t know about what Christian missionaries have done to powerless poor people all over the world.

There is a straight line, centuries long, from James VI of Scotland to the morally defective church people of today, especially those who are able to acquire and wield the power of the state in the service of their religion. Their purpose, still, is punishment and domination — for example, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Supreme Court. Anyone who has seen the hatred and depravity flashing in the eyes of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, or the almost soulless emptiness and stuntedness in the eyes of Amy Coney Barrett, can see that a concern for the unborn is not what motivates them. It is their lust for domination that motivates them. Or, to use Nicola Sturgeon’s words, their hatred for the poor, the different, and the vulnerable.

Much has changed over the centuries as the arc of justice moves on. To say that we don’t burn witches anymore is one of the ways we shed light on the idea of the arc of justice. But the minds of morally defective church people have not changed. They are authoritarians, and they continue to crave the legal right to be the cause of domination and punishment in whatever form they can get it. Donald Trump — their King Donald — emboldened them, empowered them, and let them loose. They are on our backs again. As always, women, children, and anyone who is different will pay most heavily. It remains to be seen how long it will take to throw them off our backs, especially given that the U.S. Constitution is so easily weaponized to block human progress.

My claim here is radical, but I believe it to be true. My claim is that authoritarians are not merely benignly different, with different views about what is good and what is wrong. My claim is that they are morally defective, and that they do vast harm and cause great misery in whatever century they live. They fight against the arc of justice because, in a just world, their lust for domination and persecution is thwarted.

“Visit to the Witch,” Edward Frederick Brewtnall, 1882


  1. Malinda wrote:

    Hi David 🙂

    What you are saying is *not* radical. The decision to strike down Roe v. Wade flies defiantly in the face of the Kantian ethics of ends. That humans are ends in and of themselves and cannot be ‘morally’ exploited as means to an end. This ‘win’ for the authoritarian religious right essentially decrees that the wombs of women do not belong to their own individual and private autonomy (essentially, your dwelling has a right to privacy your body does not); so that the unborn, unwanted clump of cells has more rightful use as means to an end than the individual to whom the womb belongs and has not willingly given their consent. It’s heinous. We don’t even harvest organs from the dead without their express consent first.

    I so applaud your phrase ‘ — one of the greatest frauds of Western civilization — ‘ 🙂

    Your mention of the unknown and unfathomable scale of atrocity that so-called ‘missionaries’ have left in their wake throughtout history brings to my mind the evil that also befell the Hawaiian natives when ‘civilizing’ missionaries were the first to steal and raid the islands, the harbors, the land, the cane, the fruit, their resources, and labor to get rich quick and did all kinds of evil deeds to keep up the charade of benevolence while shaming them, sometimes killing them, depriving them of hula and their happy sweet and healthy culture, forcing unwanted clothing on them, terrorizing them into submission — all in the name of a Christian god. This opened the door easily for the United States to step in and eventually annex what had already been lorded, subdued, and pillaged. Like the Native Americans from all over the Western Hemisphere, it’s a painful and very long chronicle of horror and moral crime, propagated by the ‘righteous’ and ‘pure in heart.’

    Thank you for the good read.

    Saturday, June 25, 2022 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Malinda: Thank you. Yes … I know far too little about the history of the Hawaiian islands. Just recently I was reading about what happened to Haiti after the slave revolt in 1791. In 1825, France sent gunboats to Haiti and forced Haiti to pay off the former slaveholders. It took Haiti 122 years to pay the debt. Though the slaveholders left Haiti, the church remains today. My understanding is that none of the native Americans of Haiti survive. Most died from European diseases; the rest were exterminated by the Spaniards — genocide.

    I don’t know whether it’s apocryphal, but a Haitian chieftain is said to have said to Christopher Columbus, “I’d rather eternally burn in hell than to go to a heaven where I would find people of your kind.” Once again, the superior wisdom and moral insights of the pre-Christians.

    It’s shocking to me, really, why the moral posturing and pontificating of Christians is never challenged. Any time Christians bloviate and condemn, their noses should be rubbed in their own history of cruelty, genocide, greed, and wickedness. I would never go out of my way to do that, but not too long ago a proselyte for one sect or another approached me while I was quietly having lunch in a restaurant and asked me if I “knew Jesus Christ as my lord and savior.” I told him, very rudely, what he could do with his religion.

    Saturday, June 25, 2022 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  3. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    Christianity the biggest farce of mankind

    Thank you for your article

    Saturday, July 2, 2022 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

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