1. Bakkerbaard

    Bakkerbaard Contributor Contributor

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    Why would people go to a witch burning?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Bakkerbaard, Jan 24, 2023.

    Obviously there was no Netflix back then, but burning seems like a particularly gruesome form of entertainment. Watching someone burn to death is the stuff of nightmares, and a whole bunch of sources confirm that the smell is sickening, bordering on traumatizing.
    Even with the witches, in most cases, already being strangled, it must be utter horror, even back in a time where most horrors were a regular Wednesday.

    Which makes me wonder: Did people get forced to go? Like, socially, or peer pressured. Sort of a "if you don't show up you're a witch too" situation.

    I'm still googling my way through all kinds of stuff, but so far I have some trouble finding this specific information.
     
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  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

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    This is anecdotal but I've heard that when amputations or beheadings occur in Saudi Arabia, some guy will walk around the area with a crop and whip people to get their attention and direct them to whatever square the punishment occurs. Maybe similar things happened in the past?

    Also, curiosity is a big factor too.

    I've read some accounts of burning at the stake where the victim couldn't be heard to cry much, perhaps this depended on how the fire and wood was staged and whether they could even breathe.
     
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  3. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Senior Member

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    Superstition, fear, ignorance, mass hysteria, brought on by religious extremism, all lent support to rightfully punishing the sinful.

    Wicked or foolish individuals who paid allegiance to the Devil in return for maleficium (the power to work evil magic) got what they deserved.

    My guess is that they watched the witches burn and murmured, "Behold the power of God."
     
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  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I think it's not very different from things you see today. I think there were always people who, largely because of their jobs or their social standing, had to conform to what those in control wanted, and they could be forced to push friends and family into doing the same. Why would thousands of people hysterically attack anyone who refuses to wear a mask or stands a little too close?
    The knowledge that 'If I don't fall in line, if I'm not seen to be militantly upholding the status quo, then I could be next'.

    Plus there's an intoxicating sense of power that comes from holding other people's fates in your hands. For all of this watch the movie The Crucible, based on actual trial records of the Salem witch trials, but the author (of both the original play and the movie) had personal experience as a communist sympathizer during the McCarthy senate hearings that blacklisted many Hollywood producers, writers, actors and directers. If you look into the behind the scenes story, the movie becomes far more interesting. Accused people got amnesty if they sold out somebody else, so people were selling each other out in droves. It rose to a fever pitch and destroyed families, friendships and studios. Of course it worked very much the same way totalitarianism did in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany, where children were propagandized and encouraged to tattle on their parents and neighbors for any anti-State thoughts or statements, or even on suspicion of it. This is a particular type of collective madness that overtakes societies every so often, usually when totalitarians try to take over.
     
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  5. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Senior Member

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    Where and when did this happen? this is news to me. I seem to recall anti-maskers being much more militant. In any case, it hardly compares to burning people at the stake.

    Your change of my quote: are you suggesting it was political extremism at the heart of the Salem witch trials, or are you just saying political extremism also exists?

    What a sad commentary on the human species.
     
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  6. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I was saying masking & related hysteria was political, and that hysteria is hysteria, it doesn't matter what flavor it is. They use exactly the same panic mechanisms and psychological triggers.
     
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  7. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    Ghoulish and morbid curiosity. The same reason why so many people attended public guillotining and hangings. Partly, it was probably to reassure themselves that "there, but for the grace of God, go I", and also to see a hated and (someone they believed to be a) dangerous figure removed.

    Anyway, witches got a fair trial. They were only convicted if they weighed the same as a duck.
     
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  8. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Contributor Contributor

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    Some of it is setting an example of the person, which helps cow people more. There's also morbid curiosity as mentioned, but another large part of executions, and by extension the perversion of execution that is witch burning, is the witness factor.

    Maybe it wasn't Sir Prickus that got beheaded. Maybe it was someone that looked like him. Maybe Steve the blacksmith is really, really sure it was actually a man in a straw wig that was instead propped under a guillotine. Or perhaps John the candlemaker doesn't think an execution happened at all. Those are cracks that turn into fissures.

    It's an important baseline for law and order: there needs to be enough valid witnesses to ensure the future holds little reasonable doubt of what happened and to who.
     
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  9. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Guardian-eating, tofu-reading dormivitus Supporter Contributor

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    Why wouldn't you go? You're not one of them, are you?

    And that's only semi-facetious, but I'd probably go to at least one, just to see it.

    Also, remember that things were different in those days. Death was something that was dealt with on a day to day basis. No supermarkets, if you want chicken you gotta catch it first. When your dad dies because he got kicked in the head by a mule, mom and the aunts bath and shave the corpse while you and your brothers fetch a coffin from the town carpenter. Horse comes up lame, somebody has to take care of it, and that doesn't involve helping it into the paddock.

    Why do people go to football games? Only reason I can see is for when somebody gets carried off the field. Car racing? Might as well be witches, they burn the same when they spin out in turn 3.

    Finally, just like athletes, remember that witches weren't human. They were literal servants of the literal devil, and any suffering they went through was nothing compared to where they were going. Somebody, one of the early Christian theologians although I can't remember who and google isn't helping, thought that one of the major entertainments for souls in heaven was "looking over the edge" at the suffering of the damned in hell.

    Don't think that's a current church teaching (outside of perhaps Westboro), but if you're raised in it?

    If your stomach is strong, google "lynching postcards." There's one where a smug man is looking directly at the camera and pointing up at one of the victims. He was having a great night out, and that photo was taken less than a hundred years ago (1930) in the United States.
     
  10. Jlivy3

    Jlivy3 Member

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    Today we would take selfies.

    The burning of an already mercifully strangled person seems almost tame compared to public torture. I just wrote a scene where people are gathered at the public examination of an accused woman by a witch pricker. (I've yet to find whether these happened in public or private. Fortunately, for almost every terrible thing that I need to occur for my story, the answer seems to be while it may not have happened anywhere else, they did it in Scotland. So, Scotland it is! Thanks, Scots, for your...enthusiasm?)
    One of the villagers says it's a shame to see it come to this, since the accused has been staunch and dignified under questioning so far, which has only involved sleep deprivation and imprisonment. An old man stares at her and says something like; "Mind your words. Them that speak against it oft find themselves next accused."
    Or something quaint like that. Is it a friendly warning or a threat? In that moment, they both realize that any one of them, neighbors or kin, would point the finger if it gained then any advantage when faced with an accusation themselves.

    Well, now I'm depressed.
     
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  11. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Cancel culture is not new.
     
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  12. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Senior Member

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    Cancelling is not new, but cancel culture is very much a product of the Internet age
     
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  13. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Now we have all sorts of movies showing people experiencing gruesome deaths. We even had a recent movie that showed a guy getting scourged within an inch of his life and then nailed to a cross he had carried to his place of execution, where he died horribly in full view of an approving crowd. It was one of the most expensive snuff films ever made, and it became a huge, huge hit. Maybe you've heard about it.

    Tony Montana got what was coming to him in a bloody conclusion in Scarface. Aliens routinely suffer agonizing deaths when they attack poor Earthlings. Bad things happen to bad people (and creatures) and we see that as a validation of our own worth and don't grieve very much for the victims.

    We are not that different from the people who watched witches being burned to death. We just don't have to go to a public square to see it; we can view it in the comfort of our own living rooms and dens, or in a place where we can share the experience with a lot of other people and even eat popcorn as we do it.

    Another thing that occurs to me: those witch-burners didn't have the value of life we've come to take for granted. Life was something an agency like the church or the government could protect or terminate at its pleasure. So much of the allure of public executions was catharsis: if it happened to somebody else, well, at least it didn't happen to me. And the victims must have been really Bad People if the authorities subjected them to torture and execution. No way are they going to catch me doing that, uh-uh.
     
  14. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    Also, firewood could be quite expensive. It's free warmth. You could even take the chance to cook some marshmallows.
     
  15. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    It becomes a massive culture wherever and whenever it springs up—hysteria-based accusations that destroy people's lives. That was the point of the play and the movie, that exactly what overtook Salem is the same thing that spread like wildfire in the communist trails, and at many other times in many other places. We think we're so different from them, but we're not. It keeps changing in certain ways to keep up with the times, but mass hysteria and scapegoating are ancient and will doubtless be with us forever. How is that not a culture?
     
  16. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    These were extremely close communities whose center was the church. The community did EVERYTHING together. Salem village was literally less than a hundred people. These were extremely superstitious hill folk. Remember there was Salem, the port town, which was not involved in the hysteria, and Salem village, which is where the horror happened.

    Death was also just a part of life back then. While it’s a myth most people died in their thirties, they had no concept of modern medicine. Infection? Death. Broken leg? Probably an infection, then death. Childbirth? High probability of death. These were all farmers, every single one of them had processed animals, while yes, there is a huge psychological differing a human, they were not squeamish people.

    Try to find “Salem.” It was like a 6 part series in the late 90s and is probably the best retelling on the subject. I think that was the name but I can not find it. I’m certain Kristen Johnson from 3rd Rock from the Sun played the adult accuser. In it you can get a good idea of how the village worked. It opens with a house fire, which the entire village comes to.
     
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  17. w. bogart

    w. bogart Active Member

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    For parents it would be an object lesson to their kids.

    But also consider an aspect of our current times. Why do people slow down and stare at an accident? Especially a gory crash. Why were the gladiatorial games in Rome so popular? Etc.
     
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  18. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Contributor Contributor

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  19. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Which made a recent American football game remarkable. When a player suffered cardiac arrest and stopped breathing after a routine tackle, it looked like he had died on the field. (I guess that technically had had died in that his heart stopped.) The reaction of the players, spectators, and commentators was one of shock. Within minutes, the team coaches and managers decided to call off the game, leaving the television commentators nothing to do but to fill the air for an hour as they waited for word on the player's condition. It was the first time in modern football history that a game had been called on account of a serious injury.

    The player was revived on the field and has been making a remarkable recovery, although he still requires oxygen supplements. When the teams met again in the playoffs, he actually attended the game and waved to the teams and the crowd from a window over the field.

    I saw the player get up from the tackle, take a step or two backward, and collapse like a rag doll, I remember thinking that this was the first time in watching fifty years of football that I'd actually see somebody die on the field, and I confess that I had to stay tuned to find out if what I was thinking happened to be true.
     
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  20. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, same. Never seen anything remotely close to that. And he was the one making the hit. Very interesting that no one has said anything about how it happened. You'd almost think it had nothing to do with football. Like he could have been walking down the street when it happened. Probably not, but then again if it hasn't happened before....
     
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  21. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    Why did people dip their handkerchiefs in the blood of Prohibition era gangsters? Same thing.



    Aquinas said that, although not really in the sense of entertainment:
    “The blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned, in order that their bliss be more delightful for them.”
     
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  22. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Guardian-eating, tofu-reading dormivitus Supporter Contributor

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    THANK YOU!
    You don't know how much time I spent digging before giving up and posting.
     
  23. off

    off Banned

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    I don't have any additional ideas why people go / went to witch burnings. But I know why witches were burnt.

    1. Their soul had to be killed. A person when he dies, his soul goes to a deep slumber to be woken at judgment day. If he is burnt, however, his soul perishes.

    Why witches at all?
    2. Economic reasons. The estate of the witch was divided, and transferred to (sometimes) the primary accuser, (always) to the prosecutor, and (always) to the landowner / aristocrat.

    This is why witches are depicted as old women, with protruding chins and noses. A young, viable, strong person (male or female) with strong family support and even community support would not be accused, for the relatives would retaliate. A single, old dowager who had no community support was an easy target for accusers. A bit of an "ambulance chasing" scenario. They simply wanted her land, or house, and other stuff that she had owned.

    Why torture witches?
    3. Burning was not the only thing they did to accused witches. Sometimes they had to try the witch for fitness of being a witch. This normally consisted of the following: the accused was tied and gagged. Then thrown into a body of deep water. If the accused floated, and did not die, it was proof that he was a witch. If the accused submerged, that was a proof that he was not a witch.

    Oftentimes relatives and/or others would dive and try to rescue the submerged ones. This was in times of massive decimation of witches, when not only single, helpless dowagers were on the accused' stand, but many people in short time, such as during the war of independence of Holland from the Habsburg monarchs. The Spanish warriors streamed in and tried many community people for witchedness.

    If the person floated, then they conveniently burnt him at the stake.

    These are only select few processes. The processes and the methods were myriads in numbers. They all consisted of the same mechanics: 1. A person was accused of witchhood. 2. Tried. 3. If found not witch, then he normally died during the trial. 4. If found to be witch, they were burned, and the estate divided two or three ways, to go to the prosecutor, the landowner aristocrat and sometimes a portion to the accuser.
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2023
  24. off

    off Banned

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    Luckily, in modern times like the one we live in, death has been eliminated from everyday life.
     
  25. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    Oh, I can't resist any longer.

     

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