Thu, 1 Nov 2007

The Discovery of Witches

— SjG @ 7:07 pm

Matthew “Witch Finder” Hopkins, 1647, read as a publication of a Project Gutenberg text.

A little too scary for Halloween, this short missive is the earliest FAQ I’m aware of. But it’s chilling — it’s a series of answered questions justifying the author’s methodology for identifying witches.

The answers, and their oh-so-reasonable tone, are completely unbelievable. They didn’t use sleep deprivations on the suspects — the suspects refused to sleep, for fear that their familiars would visit. Hopkins didn’t accuse women based upon marks such as moles, “devil’s teats,” or other “unnatural” markings — it was a committee of learned people who could differentiate between the natural and unnatural. And they didn’t drown witches — the waters would reject a witch just as a witch would reject baptism.

He goes on in this vein, and each answer is more depressing and disturbing than the last.

It’s a potent reminder that people will do terrible things for power or money, and attribute their motives to religion.