Back when witches were believed

From What’s the origin of the tooth fairy?:

Just how extensive was this belief in witches? We see flare-ups even today, but most people are skeptical.

World-wide and throughout history. Christianity tried to suppress it, but was unsuccessful, and eventually became infected itself.

Besides, most people are credulous. Try Googling <“moon landing” faked> or <shakespeare “earl of oxford”> or <“proctor and gamble” “satan”>.

I don’t believe you

Perhaps most intelligent people are skeptical. But how many people are intelligent?

Re the OP:
How many people believed in witches probably depends a lot on how broadly we’re willing to define “witches”. Are we talking people who have a contract with Satan, people who can fly around on broomsticks, people who practice paganism, or what? Heck, I know some pagans who call themselves witches, so if that’s the definition then I guess I still believe in witches.

Do you mean, higher than average intelligence? :slight_smile:

And some unintelligent people are skeptical. I run into them all the time.

This was a wacko theory of the 1920’s that no sober historian has believed for ages. Unfortunately, it lasted just long enough for it to get into the 14th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been apologizing for it ever since the 15th edition, due to all the people who have been deceived by it into foolish and anti-historical cults.

As I said in my first posting, belief in witches – i.e., persons possessed of supernatural powers who may, on occasion, be of use, but who are in general dangerously malevolent, and who often conceal their true nature – is as old and as widespread as humanity.

For most people, “skeptical” and “credulous” are two sides of the same coin, ee.g., moon-landing deniers and Shakespeare deniers.

I guess the more sensible people (I should probably have said “sensible” and not “intelligent”) are reasonably skeptical, and the less sensible people are unreasonably skeptical or unreasonably credulous. Now if only there were a simple way to distinguish reasonably skepticism from unreasonable . . . I mean, I can distinguish them for myself, but I can’t necessarily demonstrate them to anyone. How do you convince a holocaust denier (for example) that they’re being absurd if it’s not already obvious to them?

Given that Dex’s comments and the OP were clearly about historical witches, using terms such as ‘sensible’, ‘credulous’ or ‘skeptical’ isn’t very helpful. It was simply that no one, whatever their intelligence, education or critical capacities, had yet worked out some things about the physical world which we think are pretty obvious but which actually aren’t self-evident. And, yes, for that reason, most people in many societies did believe in the reality of witchcraft.

Admittedly, it’s a rather different matter if you’re discussing those who still believe in witchcraft now that those things have been worked out…

What evidence do we have?

[Moderator Speaketh:] The question of whether people are credulous or skeptical today is not relevant to this forum. This forum should be limited to commenting on the statement in the Staff Report.

The question of whether modern-day witches (wiccans) have any relation whatsoever to ancient witches was covered by Cecil in What is the historical basis of the Wicca religion (modern witchcraft)? and has been discussed to death in the forum called “Comments on Cecil’s Columns.”

[Author of Staff Report speaketh]: The point raised in the Staff Report was the historical one, that people feared that cast-off body parts like hair, nail clippings, and baby teeth could be used to inflict dreadful curses. The question raised by R M Mentock, I assume, related to the historical situation: back in (say) 1500, what percentage of the population really did believe that witches’ curses were efficacious?

I have no answer to that, I’m pretty sure it would vary by country and perhaps by religion. I would be curious to know if such statistics exist (or can be guessed.)

From the Tooth Fairy point of view, it only takes a significant number of folk to fear curses for us to get a folk tradition started.

I think the discussion about whether people are incredulous or skeptical was in support of the idea that people would believe in superstitions easily, then or now.

Specifically, how serious of a business was it “Back when witches were believed to use pieces of your body, such as hair and fingernail clippings, to direct magic and curses at you, proper disposal of teeth was a serious business.”

How many people were actually engaged in saving the trimmings, because of superstition rather than practical things like using them in the soup, or simply throwing them away.

True, true, LOL. But it only takes a significant number of people to pound nails up their nose for us to get a worldwide fad going. :slight_smile:

I obviously didn’t find statistics on the number (or proportion) of people who feared curses, but the fact that there are lots of traditions in lots of different cultures about the proper way to dispose of teeth, nail-clippings, etc. leads me to suspect the belief must have been pretty wide-spread.

I should also note that such traditions have a way of outliving their cause. People today still do things like cross their fingers, knock on wood, or say “Bless you” after a sneeze. And such people would be mortified if accused of believing in superstitions.

I found the part of this column refering to teeth being fed to mice interesting, since here, we don’t have a “tooth fairy”, but teeth are still placed under the pillow and exchanged for money by “the little mouse”.

OK, just checking

Or doing this .


This is NOT a thread about disgusting or bizarre fads. R M Mentock made an amusing aside, but let’s not go all tangential and off-topic, OK? You want to start a thread on wierd fads, start it in the MPSIMS forum, please.

I don’t have any statistics as to exactly how many, but for a long time in Christian society it was considered heretical to not believe in witches.

There are several passages in the Bible which mention witches/witchcraft. It was said that anyone who didn’t believe in witches was saying that the Bible wasn’t infallable, and would be tried for heresy.

Come on, it’s already established that this is off the topic of the thread.

But, since (sigh!) it’s been raised…

This was the general position from the late medieval period through the Renaissance, but both in earlier centuries and in modern times, the position of the Church was and is that witches aren’t real and witch-hunting is a sin. Any witches mentioned in the Bible are understood to have been frauds.

Yeah, these days nobody even trusts a witch for the correct time.

Witches exist. Neo-pagan wiccans also exist, and sometimes the twain meet.

Immigrants from the “Old country” often practiced pagan rituals that would have gotten them tagged as “witches” by the church. I have personally seen and experienced such rituals and practices.

Neo-pagans have a grimoire that is in part extracted from such ‘real’ witches, and embossed by Gerald Gardner, et. al. And added to by those whop wish to revive the ‘old ways.’

Here in Hawaii there is a pervasive belief that “kahuna,” the Polynesian equivalent of witches in Hawaii and Polynesia in general, can use your hair clippings, fingernail clippings, shed skin or pieces of your clothing to “connect” with you and impose the strictures of a spell upon you.

It does work, for whatever reasons… Perhaps suggestion, but it’s very powerful.