The term "witch hunt" has become a common phrase in popular political discourse over the past fifty years. We've all heard of the McCarthy era communist witch hunts, where there was supposedly a "red under every bed." The term now stands for an "investigation carried out ostensibly to uncover subversive activities but actually used to harass and undermine those with differing views," as the American Heritage Dictionary puts it. Wikipedia defines it as the "persecution of a perceived enemy (commonly socially non-conformist groups) with extreme prejudice and disregard of actual guilt or innocence."

However, the term has become so popularized that we seem to forget the historical events responsible for its modern usage. What really happened in the witch hunts of the 15th to 17th centuries? How was such a fraud perpetrated throughout the whole of Europe and subsequently the American colonies? A quick look at what we know about this history can provide a stunning mirror to the modern War on Terror, its motivations, and the reality behind a lie that is so big, it seems that only the distance of centuries can make its perpetuation seem possible. (Note: The majority of the research cited below is drawn from Jeffrey B. Russell's "A History of Witchcraft," and the lecture notes of Dr. Wayne Litke.)

Few modern, technologically advanced cultures tend to believe in witches. We do not often picture elderly women riding brooms in the night to assemble for orgies and feasting on Christian babies. This was not always the case. Because of the state of the historical records of the times, the number of people executed for being witches varies from fifty thousand to nine million, by some counts. On the continent it was considered an ecclesiastical crime, and witches were burned at the stake. In England it remained a civil crime, the punishment being hanging.

The power of the inquisition of the Catholic Church was repeatedly authorized in writing, such as the papal bull of Innocent IV in 1252, authorizing the imprisonment of heretics, their torture, execution, and the seizure of their property on minimal evidence. This was two hundred years before the "craze" took hold. Think of the modern Patriot Act and the thousands of "suspected terrorists" being held indefinitely on minimal evidence today.

The so-called "craze" is perhaps the most striking aspect of the phenomenon. How is it that so many people could be convinced in the existence of something that simply did not exist? (I will be discussing modern theories on the hunts shortly.) It turns out they had a few good reasons for their belief, although the existence of witches was not one of them. Some of the accused even came to proclaim their own guilt. Perhaps these individuals suffered from schizophrenia, or perhaps the intense fear and absurdity of their situation drove them to these delusions, but the nuns of Louviers and Loudun even admitted making love to the devil himself. Others confessed 'voluntarily.' That is, they were tortured and then given the choice of confessing or being tortured again. Pierre Vallin, in southern France in 1438, admitted to serving and copulating with the devil for sixty-three years. Isobel Gowdie, in 1662, confessed without torture that she had made a pact with the devil, that she flew, that she changed herself into a cat, and that the devil baptised her with her own blood. Sometimes the 'witches' managed to implicate most of the people they knew, like the case of a group in Lombardy in 1387. Again, think of the modern men and women being held in secret prisons across the globe. Think of their alleged confessions, many of which they subsequently deny after being released as being torture-induced. Think of the obviously crazed Moussaoui and his odd, shape-shifting confession to terrorist acts he had nothing to do with.

Here is an example of the questions asked to suspects in the torture chambers:
How long have you been a witch? Why did you become a witch? How did you become a witch, and what happened on the occasion? What was the name of your master among the evil demons? What was the oath you were forced to render him? What demons and what other humans participated [at the sabbat]? Who are your accomplices in evil?
Notice that guilt is presumed. I have little doubt that the following is an accurate representation of the line of questioning in our modern secret prisons:
How long have you been a terrorist? Why did you become a terrorist? How did you become a member of Al Qaeda, and what happened on the occasion? What was the name of your master among Al Qaeda? What was the oath you were forced to render him? What Muslims and what other terrorists participated [at the Mosque]? Who are your accomplices in evil?
So, what do we know so far? That innocent people were executed for crimes they could not have committed; that some of these gave confessions (voluntarily or as a result of torture); that the belief and fear of witches was widespread. We may rightly ask, what was the motivation of the judges? Were there no sane people at all? Etienne Delacambre argues (reasonably so, I think) that the majority of the judges were probably honest men who truly believed they were doing a service to their society, and that God would intervene for those innocent parties. How many times have you heard, "Well, I'm against torture, but Muslim terrorism is a big problem, and we have to deal with them effectively" or some similar rationalization? For me the answer is "too many."

However, there were individuals who refused to buy into the blatant propaganda. In certain regions (as a result of the Caroline code of 1532), trials had to be held in open courts, and little heed was paid to obviously false accusations (like the accusations and confessions of children). Johann Weyer wrote "On Magic" in 1563, arguing that witches were merely harmless old woman, probably suffering from mental disorders. In return for his sane and objective account he himself was accused of witchcraft (can I say terrorist sympathizer?) by his intellectual peers. Interestingly, it was the elite, intellectual class that continued to decry the menace of witches even after public stopped believing in the threat. It was the intellectual leaders who defended belief in witches in New England. Cotton Mather was one of these officials. He was also a blood-thirsty psychopath. While portraying himself as a concerned minister during the executions at Salem-worried about innocents being executed-when George Burroughs recited the Lord's Prayer, shaking the public's confidence in his guilt, Mather appeared, urging he be executed. While the courts admitted evidence for which there could be no corroboration (like witnesses seeing incriminating spectres that no one else could see), the public were unmoved by the shoddy investigations. Moreover, Mather ensured that the court would come to the correct judgment by appointing three of the five judges, who just happened to be members of his own congregation. It seems more likely that belief in witches was a manufactured phenomenon. The people could see the absurdity of a lot of the evidence and accusations, but they were convinced of the reality of the threat from the top down.

As to how the craze declined, Russell tells us that by the seventeenth century the only thing prolonging the lie was "popular opinion, conservative intellectuals, and obstinate judges," even after government officials ordered a stop to it all. I can just picture a raving Bill O'Reilly ranting in the streets about Osama while a crowd of objective observers watch in stunned disbelief. In fact, the notoriety of trials like Salem turned public opinion against belief in witches. For another clue into the true nature of the craze, it was only after the governing elites themselves had rejected the belief in witchcraft that the popular belief disappeared. Strange, no? It almost seems as though the ruling elite artificially engineered a false "concerted, fifth column attack against Christian society of an organized satanic cult, dedicated to destroying European values," as professor Litke put it. Now, why would they want to do such a thing?

Just as now there is a minority of sceptics speaking against the myth of a "concerted, fifth column attack against Christian society of an organized Muslim cult, dedicated to destroying American values," there was then, but their influence was "limited by the fear of prosecution and by the powerful intellectual pressures exerted by the prevailing belief-system. [...] To reject witchcraft was to court persecution or mockery. [...] One could argue that this or that heretic was not really a witch, or that flights through the air did not really occur, or that the measure taken against this or that accused witch were too harsh, but one could not challenge the heart of the belief. In this intellectual framework belief in diabolical witchcraft was not a superstition, and opponents of this belief operating within the framework could not oppose it as such. It was part of a coherent, dominant world view" (Russell). Similarly today it is possible to argue that a certain individual is not really a terrorist, that certain events did not occur (or occur as presented), or that it is wrong to torture alleged members of Al Qaeda, but to question the heart of the belief-that crazed Muslims hate our freedom and want to destroy us-is to court persecution or mockery.

You will be hard-pressed to find a modern scholar willing to admit the existence of witches then or now (not counting modern Wiccans, who bear no resemblance to the typical image of a witch). Most will admit that witchcraft was a "combination of folklore, superstition and pagan beliefs which were artificially designated heresy and used by the church as an excuse for persecution." Litke even calls it "state and church-sponsored terrorism aimed at social control."

If the world survives the modern War on Terror, you can take it to the bank that historians will look back on our times a similar perspective. Just as with witchcraft, it is an engineered ideology that determines the form that evil takes. In the past it has been Jews, Christians, heretics, witches, Nazis, communists, blacks, gays. Now it is Muslim terrorists and the 'liberals' that support them. This ideology has been manufactured by an elite ruling class, and it is insidiously clever and successful. They have managed to exploit the suffering Palestinians by using their plight as the foundation for the myth of the crazed Muslim fanatic.

While there may not have been any real witches, there are Muslims who have resorted to violence, just as any number of oppressed groups have and are doing at present. The image of the modern Muslim terrorist is not based on Christian superstition, but on an image of desperation. We have been conditioned to be repulsed and afraid of human suffering.

Who stands to gain from this perversion? Who is this ruling elite? What is it about them that, no matter where or when you live, they seek to control and destroy those who are unlike them? How is it that good people are taken in by their lies? How is it that they manage to tell these lies while the rest of us marvel at their audacity or refuse to believe anyone could tell such a lie? What kind of person derives pleasure from torturing innocent people?

The answer should be fairly obvious: those who themselves cannot truly suffer. Those without conscience.

What is the nature of the hunt? Pure Pathocracy.