Tag Archives: hatred

How Witch Hunts Came to Be

witch hunt, witch, bigotry, prejudiceWhen I used the term witch hunt, I am in fact using it in its broadest sense. That is, where a group sets out to get specific people.  Witch hunts have happened throughout history for various reasons.

Here are a few of the more notorious ones:

  • The people of Navarre around the 14th century pitchforked, chased and killed the Gypsies (Rom), itinerant wanderers who were different and were blamed for the plague.
  • Hitler’s pogroms in WWII, caused the death of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals, the three groups he targeted.
  • Canada’s internment camps for the Japanese in WWII in fear that every Japanese-Canadian would turn against Canada.
  • The Salem witch hunts in Massachusetts.
  • The Spanish Inquisition and its infamous tortures.

Some of these were classified as actual witch hunts, but in fact they were rarely about witchery or supposed magic or cavorting with the devil. They were about property and jealousy and conformity. In some cases, every time something went wrong, a person grew ill, cattle sickened or crops failed, people who had been farmers for generations took leave of their senses and blamed anyone who was different. In many cases it was the single women, whether widows or unmarried, that suspicion landed upon.

In Europe many of the supposed witch hunts began as ways to get property from a woman who had no husband. The church had many ways of gaining property off of the people. It had very little to do with the supposed power someone wielded in consort with the devil or forces unseen. It had to do with gaining power.

As I’ve said before, many cases of witch hunts come from ostracization or a need to blame the “other” when things go wrong. It doesn’t matter if the events that happen are caused by stupidity, weather, fear, greed, hatred, bad luck, illness, acts of nature or some other unforeseen accident, there is a great number of people who will need to find a specific thing or person to blame.

There were cases throughout the middle ages where animals were put on trial. Hence came the term scapegoat, which came to be given to a person being blamed for ills that befell others. Scapegoat, fall guy, they all mean the same thing. If you are other or different, then you are under suspicion for anything that goes wrong. If your skin is a different color than those around you, or you believe in a god different than those in your village, or you walk or talk or look differently, or your traditions are unknown, or your lifestyle is to live alone when everyone else is couples–then these are all reasons for suspicion and doubt and blame.

Dr. Frankenstein knew this well. In Mary Shelley’s book it is not just that the doctor creates a monster, it is also that he is “other,” living differently than the village. The monster is other as well and because it is different, an abomination (though maybe it’s misunderstood) it too is the scapegoat. It strikes out when attacked but otherwise is much like the village idiot in innocence and ability to perceive.

So, how does all this happen? Some ostracizing happens because people are afraid, and they crave a reason for the unexplainable ills that befall them. And some blaming happens because people let it. This comes to the other side of the coin of the witch hunt, that of “If it’s not my house burning, then it doesn’t affect me.” It’s called turning a blind eye.

Many of those witch hunts, of those Jews, of those Gypsies or various groups being banished, hunted, burned, murdered would not have happened if people stepped up to say something. But humans as a whole seem to be notorious cowards. Or, even worse, they’re not cowards but they just don’t care if it doesn’t affect them. Maybe we are all selfish, self-centered creatures.

I heard a little phrase recently, which I will paraphrase. When they came for the Jews I did nothing because it wasn’t about me. When they came for the black people I did nothing because I wasn’t one of them. When they came for the (put in any group for any of these) I did nothing because it didn’t affect me. When they came for me, there was no one left to help. So what are you going  to do the next time you seem someone being unfairly singled out, whether verbally or physically? Will you turn a blind eye and let them be the scape goat. Will you stand by and watch or will you do something?

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The Power of the Swastika

There is hardly anyone who doesn’t know what a swastika is, and, because 20th century Nazism understands the stigmatization of that symbol as it relates to hatred and racism. There are those who still support and believe in that particular symbolism, and are often called nationalist or neo-Nazi. The symbol is now so abhorred that Germany has outlawed it (along with a few other countries) and cringes as a nation every time it is seen. Games or other products in Germany can in no way display the swastika. They are a nation carrying great shame from Hitler’s crimes of the past.

So when someone of Western culture uses the sign, it is suspect ,and the person will be taken to be a neo-Nazi or white supremacist/nationalist as a woman in Winnipeg was seen to be. When her daughter inscribed a swastika on her arm, went to school and the teacher scrubbed it off, the mother decided to re-inscribe it the next day and send her daughter to school. Which resulted in social services taking away the two children. The couple began the fight to get their children back, citing freedom of political views.

As the case is beginning today, the mother, now separated from her partner, has softened her tone. Earlier interviews showed she was adamant about her beliefs and that the removal of her children had strengthened them. On CBC’s “The Current,” the woman stated that if she needed to change her beliefs to get her children back, she would. Perhaps her lawyers finally coached her that adamantly voicing her belief in her political beliefs damaged her chances of ever getting her children .

She also stated that she wasn’t a racist and believed only in white pride and going back to her Norse (she might have said Nordic) roots. That the swastika symbolized peace and love. But she also said she didn’t believe in interracial marriage. Umm, that’s racist or at least bigoted. Maybe not the big racism (you know, beating people and destroying their property) but it is still racist, as in you’re okay but I won’t mix with you because of the color of your skin.

Is there any truth to her claims of the swastika going back to her Norse roots? Yes. In fact, the swastika is pretty much a symbol once used universally throughout the world, just as the Greek key design was likewise used in Celtic lands and Mexico (and elsewhere I’m sure). There are conjectures of how and why the sign arose, from basket weaving designs to religious symbols, but the swastika and variations thereof is very old. It dates to neolithic and Bronze Age times. Some of the groups that used the swastika in one form or another were: Celtic, Germanic, Native American, Navajo, Hopi, Japanese, Baltic, Etruscan, Finnish, Hungarian, Polish, Tibetan, Indian, and Slavic. The meanings have varied but it could symbolize the sun, man, god, fire, majesty, power, good luck, wandering, etc.

The swastika can be a variant of the sun wheel or sun cross  (a cross in a circle), which is older than the Christian cross and can represent the four directions. It is also very prevalent throughout Hindu and Buddhist culture to this day and figures largely in Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and Japanese culture. Items have sometimes been shipped to Western countries with these symbols on them (which may mean vegetarian or be a good luck symbol), which has caused considerable consternation and protest at the cultural misunderstandings.

So, in essence, anyone in our culture knows what the historical connotations are and should you want to exhibit pride in your skin color there are probably many better ways to do it, unless in fact you are racist and believe white is better. This woman (who can’t be named for protection of her children’s identities) doesn’t really get my sympathy. But maybe her song is changing.

The thing I always find amusing was that Hitler picked a symbol used for centuries by many races of color. That it was also Germanic probably helped but this indicates his ignorance of the great scope of symbols and culture. He also wanted a pure “Aryan nation” (and I believe this woman may have been a member of the Aryan Guard). What Hitler didn’t know was that India would have been considered an Aryan nation because the way anthropologists interpret Aryan is through the root language. It’s linguistics not racial types. And really, people in India are of the Caucasian race (people of the Caucasus region) to begin with. Bet that would have had Hitler spinning like a top. I wonder what the modern Aryan nations and neo-Nazis and others who want “Aryan” supremacy think of that and I wonder if this woman would marry a Hindu from India, since basically he would just be a very tanned Caucasian.

But maybe the next time this woman sends her kids to school (if she ever gets them back, and whether social services can intervene in political views is another matter) maybe she’ll have a higher wattage bulb turned on and realize the swastika has negative symbolism in Western culture. Unless she proves she’s Buddhist or Hindu she’ll have to keep her views secret and raise her children to be happy, peace loving racists.

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