Friday, July 23, 2010

Hubble Bubble Pardoned From Trouble

Hubble Bubble Pardoned From Trouble Cover It's Halloween and, consequently, one of my favorite days of the year. There are some things that have become inexorably linked to this holiday: candy, costumes, watching It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and, of course, witches.

Modern culture has really taken the witch in interesting places. From the evil Wicked Witch of the West in the original Wizard of Oz to the Not-Really-Wicked-But-Misunderstood Witch of the West Elphaba in the book and play Wicked, it is clear that witches can take on any number of personas. Today, witches can be good, bad, cutesy, goofy, and cunning. But not so long ago, the term "witch" was not taken so lightly.

Here at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, we often talk about scapegoating. If one looks at the history of the witch, this term comes to the fore pretty quickly. In Europe, between approximately 1480 and 1700, between 40,000 and 100,000 women and men were put to death on the charge of witchcraft. Accusations often arose as a result of an unexplained natural phenomenon--such as a failed crop or sick livestock-- or simply out of the malicious desire to seek revenge on another person.

Today, campaigners will petition Justice Secretary Jack Straw to posthumously pardon the 2,400 women and men wrongfully put to death for witchcraft in England and Scotland before the Witchcraft Act put an end to the practice in 1735. (Read full article here.) These campaigners follow the example of Swiss groups who successfully urged the government to pardon Anna Goeldi, the last woman in Europe on record to be put to death for witchcraft in 1782. While such pardons are, of course, entirely symbolic, I think this gesture is an important one. Not only does it officially clear the names of innocent victims, but makes a stand against scapegoating and lets everyone know that this injustice has no place in today's society.

Books You Might Enjoy:

John White - Toward Homo Noeticus
Ea Wallis Budge - Egyptian Ideas Of The Future Life
Aleister Crowley - Songs For Italy

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