MASS BELIEFS

Our former President is again stirring up his followers. He accuses those “racists” investigating him of being on a witch hunt.

   I did considerable research about witch hunts as I was writing my novel THERE CAME A CONTAGION. The “contagion” in the title refers to an eruption of mass hysteria that resulted in more than three hundred people being hunted down and murdered as witches in the Territory of Trier in the 1580s and 90s.
      It is important to understand three things about what happened in Trier.
      First, as I try to show in my novel, the people living there were no less kind or loving, no more savage or cruel than we are today.
      Second, the murders were all carried out legally and with full authority of the church and the state.
      Third, not one of the people killed was actually a witch. A witch was defined as a person who had made a contract with the Devil in which the Devil granted them special powers to do harm. There was no Devil, there were no contracts; no one received the power to create a hailstorm or cause a child to be born malformed. The three hundred plus people burned at the stake were all innocent.
      How then could such madness have happened? That is the subject of the novel. But in brief, it happened because times were bad, crops were failing, people were suffering. And people are capable of believing things that are simply not true. Widely held beliefs are always powerful. And when a lot of people accept a system of shared belief, they can become very dangerous.
      Ironically, it is not the people investigating the former President who remind me of the witch hunts I wrote about. It is the people attending his rallies, those who still believe the election was stolen in spite of all evidence to the contrary. It is they and their cowering elected representatives who are exhibiting evidence of a dangerous mass hysteria.

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