those witches aren’t easy to get to go to rehab

Watch out! She's a witch!

You’ll be very pleased to know that:

Germany Rehabilitates Its Persecuted ‘Witches’

If I know any of you, and to be upfront I don’t think I’ve met many of you, I think you’ll be pleased to learn that Germany is on the road to making things right with the witches.

Now, if you couldn’t be bothered to actually click on the above link, then you might still believe that there are living, breathing witches swarming round the Fatherland either avoiding or willingly taking part in some form of rehabilitation. That’s not exactly the story, but maybe I should’ve left out the link and told that story instead.

No, that’s not what you want. The real story is actually even more surreal.

Here’s how the article describes what’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happenin’:

Tortured and burned at the stake by the tens of thousands, Germany’s alleged witches have been largely forgotten. But thanks to efforts by a small group of activists, a number of German cities have begun absolving women, men and children who were wrongly accused of causing plagues, storms and bad harvests.

Doesn’t that sound delightful? Tens of thousands, really? You’re asking, ‘Well, there were more people back then, weren’t there?’ Well, actually…no. There weren’t. Fewer people. More witches. ‘This was Germany. You know Germany!-there must’ve been more witches,’ you say? Well, that’s mighty xenophobic of you.

At some point, I should actually get around to mentioning here that one can’t see everything German through the lens of the National Socialists. It’s really easy to forget that there was a lot going on over here long before the little Austrian with the weird hair and funny moustache seized power.

Long before all that stuff that the History Channel makes its noise about, there was a very agrarian culture here in Germany. When crops failed or things generally went poorly, somebody had to be blamed. Enter stage right: the witches.

I was raised with the picture of the Salem Witch Trials, so it’d be rather easy for me to believe that this was a peculiarly American phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The old country didn’t let go of all of its fanatical religious bigots (actually, from what I understand German emigrants didn’t leave because of religious persecution-that was more of an English thing. You know? The Pilgrims and all).

It’s really quite convenient to have such an implausible scapegoat. The anti-social little girl who doesn’t play well with others? Must be a witch. What other explanation might there be. The woman in your village who has that weird cock-eyed smile. The only possibility? Witch, of course. Actually, come to think of it…I think I know a few witches that still live round here.

In comes our heroine Hartmut Hegeler (it’s a name that practically rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), who as a witch-trial expert has become active in returning the good names of those long ago persecuted. She states clearly what we see today as the blatantly obvious:

“Of course there were no witches, these were all invented crimes,” says Hegeler, who has written 17 books on Germany’s witch trials. “But in hard times it was a good tool for local authorities to place the blame on others for famines and other problems. The witches were a wonderful scapegoat for whenever things went wrong.”

And although I could point out the funny aspects of the story, such as the fact that some of the witches were stitched up for spoiling the production of beer (this is Germany, after all. Beer is important), but instead I’d like to pose a more uncomfortable question.

Who are our witches today? Who are we stringing up and ignoring? The people who watched their neighbours led away to be tried and killed for witch-like tendencies likely breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them. ‘Whew, we dodged that bullet,’ you can almost hear them say.

I guess a better blogger would have a pat answer for you at this point, but I’m just not able.

I do know that we’re likely just as eager to cast somebody out of our realm of acceptability. It’s ok for you to have some relatively outlandish ideas as long as I deem you an acceptable member of my tribe. As soon as I can mentally cross you off my list, then as far as I’m concerned you can be led to the scaffolding just as quickly as they can take you. Good luck with that witch accusation.

I’m not accusing you personally. I’m actually wondering about myself.

15 thoughts on “those witches aren’t easy to get to go to rehab

  1. What a thought-provoking post! I never really thought about us having modern day “witches” that we vilify simply because they think differently than we do. Thanks for giving me a different perspective.

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  2. I have three comments. (What? Amy? Only three? Are you broken? NO. I am TIRED. It is BEDTIME.)

    1. I’m fairly sure that were I to have grown up in witchy times, I would have been declared a witch. “Anti-social little girl who doesn’t play well with others?” Um. Yeah. Also, I mutter and glare a lot, which are totally suspect witchy behaviors. Oh, also the fact that I refuse to attend church or get married, I suppose.

    2. The sheer fact that you randomly quoted “Jesus Christ Superstar” in this post proves it. We are related. There’s no way around it. I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, somehow, we are related.

    3. I love this post. I love everything about it. You’re awesome.

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    • I’ve wondered the same thing about myself and how I would’ve been in the time of the Witch Trials. Not a good situation if I had to make a prediction.

      Have not yet been able to figure out the exact way we’re related, but I love the curious manner in which we’ve *reconnected*. Glad you’re out there, really.

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  3. I am fascinated that this woman has written 17 books on Germany’s witches. 17! That’s impressive! I can hardly scratch out a grocery list. She’s my new hero.

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    • Not sure how good all 17 are Debbie, but you’re right. That is sort of impressive.

      Imagine if you were, like, her super fan, and had read them all and could go to a witch-trial expert convention and argue with the other witch-trial obsessives about which of her books was the best…

      Just think about that.

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  4. I would like to know more about Germany before 1900. My ancestors are from an area along the French-German border. If it turned out witches were a part of my families past that would explain a lot.

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    • I’m reading a book right now about the last 250 years of German innovation. Because of the focus on the 20th century, the topic of earlier German history is sometimes forgotten.

      Am sure the most interesting things in this book I’m reading will find their way onto this blog.

      That area along the French-German border is intriguing. I’ll keep an eye out for anything especially noteworthy, yeah?

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  5. I remember when I was a kid I was fascinated by witches and their dunking and burning and etc. My fascination didn’t stray too far from New England, though, and Salem in particular.

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  6. I know I’m late in on this discussion, but I believe this is part of our human nature. I wrote a post on racism a while back (http://bit.ly/w7EQmn) exploring this phenomenon, and came to the conclusion that we’re all trying to save brain power by means of generalisation, especially when it comes to groups of people. Looking at it from this perspective it’s sort of a miracle that these kind of horrible things don’t happen all the time. Perhaps it’s just in situations of personal danger or suffering it comes to the fore?

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