There's a meme that's been present in our culture for a good 40 years or more, & it's this: the idea that the 'witchburning' craze of the 15th-18th centuries was in some way simply a war upon women. That it was in fact a "genocide" (or "gendercide") carried out upon women, a "woman's holocaust", with some of the more fanciful claims of the death toll being as high as 9 million. Dan Brown, in his extraordinarily popular blockbuster novel The DaVinci Code makes the claim that "the church burned at the stake an astonishing five million women."
That figure really is astonishing. It's also almost certainly false.
"The most common estimates (worldwide) are between 40,000 and 60,000 deaths. Brian Levack (The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe) multiplied the number of known European witch trials by the average rate of conviction and execution, to arrive at a figure of around 60,000 deaths. Anne Lewelyn Barstow (Witchcraze) adjusted Levack's estimate to account for lost records, estimating 100,000 deaths. Ronald Hutton (Triumph of the Moon) argues that Levack's estimate had already been adjusted for these, and revises the figure to approximately 40,000." -Wikipedia
Looking at the records from the time, I note that in the whole of the British Isles & North America combined, over a period of three hundred years, there were in total less than two thousand deaths. That works out around 6 or 7 people a year, & a quarter of those, as you probably already know, were men. An unpleasant business, yes, but hardly a holocaust. To put that in some perspective, more people died in road accidents last year in Britain alone than in all 300 years of witch-burnings.
"The most dramatic recent changes in our vision of the Great Hunt have centered on the death toll," writes Jenny Gibbons. She points out that estimates made prior to the mid-1970s, when detailed research into trial records began, "were almost 100% pure speculation." (Gibbons, Recent Developments.) "On the wilder shores of the feminist and witch-cult movements," writes Robin Briggs, "a potent myth has become established, to the effect that 9 million women were burned as witches in Europe; gendercide rather than genocide. This is an overestimate by a factor of up to 200, for the most reasonable modern estimates suggest perhaps 100,000 trials between 1450 and 1750, with something between 40,000 and 50,000 executions, of which 20 to 25 per cent were men." Briggs adds that "these figures are chilling enough, but they have to be set in the context of what was probably the harshest period of capital punishments in European history." (Briggs, Witches & Neighbours, p. 8.)
Brian Levack's book The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe arrives at roughly similar conclusions. Levack "surveyed regional studies and found that there were approximately 110,000 witch trials. Levack focused on recorded trials, not executions, because in many cases we have evidence that a trial occurred but no indication of its outcomes. On average, 48% of trials ended in an execution, and therefore he estimated 60,000 witches died. This is slightly higher than 48% to reflect the fact that Germany, the center of the persecution, killed more than 48% of its witches." (Gibbons, Recent Developments.)
So where did that "9 million" figure come from, & why? Why is that estimate SO far out? Well, it comes from this film, 'The Burning Times', which is filled with many such hysterical inaccuracies. It's no coincidence that both that number & also the term "holocaust" have come to be used: when we hear that word & think of millions dead we think specifically of the Jewish holocaust of the second world war, in which somewhere in the region of 6 million died.
"What should trouble everyone," write Paul Nathanson & Katherine K. Young, in their book Sanctifying Misandry, "is the fact that this film tries to upstage the Jewish tragedy for political purposes, to exploit the suffering of Jews in order to score political points for the suffering of women. The Burning Times claims not merely that women have suffered just as Jews have suffered, but that women have suffered more than Jews and even that female suffering is the paradigm of all suffering."
The very real horrors of the witch-trials have been inflated & exploited by feminism for political ends, to score higher victim points, to claim greater victim status, which in feminism thinking tends to mean you have won the argument: Who Suffers Loudest Wins.
This awful, fantastically untrue film has a hell of a lot to answer for.
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