The Burning Times, "Some Facts"

Okay, let's try "another subject". "Facts", a term which derives from the Latin factum meaning to make or to do, are constructs. If you "change" history, you automatically change the "facts". Let's take an example: during the so-called Burning Times, approximately 200,000-500,000 people where executed by either mob action and/or legal action. We will never know how many people were arrested, sentenced and executed for crimes of witchcraft (and please note that there were several different "crimes of witchcraft" at this time).

In the late 1940's and early 1950's, several British Witches and occultists started talking about 9,000,000 "witches" killed. This number appears to have derived not from any research, but rather from an attempt to "one-up" the number of Jews exterminated by the Nazis in WW II. In order to support this contention, the definition of the Burning Times was changed. First, the period of the major witch hunts was extended from its peak, 1550-1675, backwards to the founding of the Inquisition (early 13th century). Second, the figures for judicial executions of heretics, notably the Cathari and the Waldensians, were included in the total. Finally, all judicial executions which took place during the Catholic "civil war" (the Avignon Papacy) were included. In effect, the definition of "witch" was changed to include "heretic".

This definitional change is most interesting, since it parallels the definitional change that took place in the Catholic churches construction of demonic witchcraft (see, for example, Ginsburg’s Ecstacies). The "facts" of the situation where "changed" when the definition of the term "witch" was changed. "Witch" was defined as "not-orthodox" and, as such, included all heretics and non-Christians. To me, the interesting point is that this definition was created not by the Catholic church, but by Gerald Gardner in an attempt to prove that "witches" had suffered more than Jews.

What does this say about the idea of "facts"? First, it means that what is a "fact" changes with the definition of terms in other words, a fact is a human, and therefore inherently biased, construct. Second, while agreement between opposing biases may be reached on certain "facts", such as the date of a battle, I doubt whether agreement can be reached on the motivations or causes of the battle. Finally, history is basically mythology that is constructed around certain quasi-religious disciplines, e.g. Marxism, positivist science, etc. It is a story that is told and, in the telling, it changes the "facts".

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