To be somewhat more precise, certain scholars in the field of historical Witchcraft studies are aggressively and systematically promoting a set of seven interconnected claims about the nature of Witchcraft in general and of the early modern European Witch-hunts in particular. I call this scholarly clique "neodiabolists" in order to draw attention to the fact that their guiding ideology is in many ways little more than a slightly sanitized version of the early modern Christian theory of diabolical Witchcraft.
The main thrust of neodiabolism is an exculpatory narrative, addressed as much (and often more so) to public opinion as it is to their fellow scholars. In promoting this narrative, neodiabolists openly seeks to exonerate both Church and State of any blame for the Witch-hunts. Simultaneously, neodiablists try to shift the blame to "the common people", and even to the accused Witches themselves, or at least to what it was that they were supposedly imagined to be (by "the common people"): universally hated workers of purely malefic magic.
Neodiabolism rests upon seven main pillars:
Neodiabolists assert that Witches and Witchcraft are intrinsically (and even metaphysically) evil. This requires the absolute rejection, despite all evidence to the contrary, of any connection between Witchcraft and beneficial magic, or any other positive portrayal of historical Witchcraft and Witches. This assertion flies in the face of the well-documented linguistic history of the English word "Witch". A major theme of public pronouncements by neodiabolists is their robotic insistence that all positive connotations of the word "Witch" invariably constitute very recent deviations from the "traditional" use of this word, and that such deviations are due only to the ignorant and ahistorical confabulations of romantics, feminists and modern Pagans. It is first and foremost because of their insistence on the equation of Witchcraft with Evil that these scholars are appropriately labeled as "neodiabolists".
Neodiabolists assert that "the common people" were to blame for the Witch-hunts, not the religious and political leaders and institutions of the day. Thus, both Church and State are absolved of any blame for the Witch-hunts. In fact, the political and religious powers-that-were are actually portrayed by the neodiabolists as high-mindedly resisting Witch-hunting when they could, and only very reluctantly acquiescing to Witch-hunting when they were powerless to hold back the bloodlust of the ignorant masses (and even then, the elites are congratulated for slowing down and tempering the violence of "the common people").
Neodiabolists either ignore or outright deny any connection between Witch-hunting and other forms of religious persecution and social violence generally. In doing so they decouple Witch-hunting from the context in which it must be understood: as just one aspect of the generalized atmosphere of persecution and intolerance that was characteristic of medieval and early modern Christendom.
Neodiabolists insist that both the absolute scale and the historical significance of the violence involved in the early modern Witch-hunts has been wildly exaggerated. By focusing attention on isolated instances in which genuine exaggerations (which are today taken seriously by precisely no one) have taken place, the neodiabolists attempt to produce the impression that, in essence, all those who express concern, let alone outrage, over the early modern Witch-hunts, are naive romantic simpletons misled by fictionalized accounts. At the same time, the neodiabolists also aggressively argue that the Witch-hunts do not actually represent any great moral failing on the part of either European society or Christendom.
Neodiablists present themselves to the public as objective and high-minded debunkers who have a responsibility to "set the record straight". Through popular book-length works, websites, articles in the mainstream media, public speaking, youtube videos, etc, neodiabolists promulgate their personal opinions of Witchcraft and Witch-hunting, presenting their heavily biased point of view as established fact.
Related posts from this blog:
- Witchcraft and Malefic Magic: Can you handle the truth?
- The origins of the offence of Witchcraft in Europe
- A few quick notes on historical Witchcraft
- On the Christian demonization of Magic
- Critiquing Historical Witchcraft Scholarship: The story so far
- Ancient Pagans and Medieval Christians Defined Magic Very Differently (Duh)
- "Witches and other evils": Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud on Witches and Witchcraft
- Charming and Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland (a la Joyce Miller)