Reading Time: 2 minutes

Due to my Master’s (Research Methods), and an increase in pressures at work, my Friday posts (which often turn up on Saturday, and sometimes even Sunday), will be reducing – certainly in length, and probably in number.

In line with this, here is a short post that will hopefully stimulate some discussion, which is always the point, as far as I’m concerned.



As far as I’m aware, 3lemenope is a relatively new poster on these boards, and has had some interesting things to say. I wanted to pick up on and extend something they said, recently:

…there is a marked uptick in cases of “Witch Hunts” in the 16th through the early half of the 18th century, ironically just after when the remaining pretenses of Christian unity and dominion over Europe would be irrevocably shattered by the persistence and growth of Protestantism and the beginnings of the Enlightenment.

I wonder if the noted uptick in witch hunts in the 16th century was due to the increasing availability of Bibles in the languages of the people, and the increasing number of otherwise ill-educated individuals that could read them. There was Luther’s German translations, of course, between 1522 and 1534, and then Tyndale in English, in 1526 (executed for same in 1536), and so on. All of which seems like a logical follow on from the Gutenberg Bibles of 1454-1455 I wonder if we are seeing very much the same process occurring now, with the internet.



Source: Wikimedia Commons


In the 16th century the vast majority of people were fairly literal in their interpretation of such choice tidbits as:

Exo 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Deu 18:10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,

Indeed, as reading was new, nuanced interpretation outside the church and academe was some time away. Uncritical reading of the Bible gave rise to witch hunts in the 16th century, and uncritical reading (and writing) about science (and pseudoscience) is giving rise to scapegoating now.

It seems as though the advent of the internet is equivalent to the printing of Bibles (Gutenberg), and social media is equivalent to the democratising of that information.

There is a somewhat pleasing symmetry to the fact that those most likely to exhibit witch hunt/scapegoat behaviour in the modern day, in the West at least, are themselves the most direct beneficiaries of Luther’s act of defiance towards the Church (dog/tricks).



A further parallel to the process outlined above, and tying it explicitly to human cognition, is the fact that, in linguistics, when two large groups of people with different languages meet, members of both groups will tend to speak broken versions of each other’s languages, as well as their own native language. Their children, however, will speak a creole, with consistent grammar rules, that represents a fusion of both languages.

The broken language phase is equivalent to the witch hunt phase, followed by a synthesis or reformation.