Swimming a Witch


August 20, 2007

In the late 17th Century, scandalous and unfortunate historical events of the day preoccupied New England. Following the lead of its European counterparts some centuries prior, church congregants in the Salem, Massachusetts turned hearsay and ignorance into a pyre of hysteria and downright murder. From passages in Exodus and Leviticus, to centuries later when Thomas Aquinas argued for the existence of demons and their ability to wreak havoc among men and women, to the 1400s when accusations and prosecution along with death sentences brought fear to the forefront, the phenomenon of identifying and punishing people for their beliefs grew in full force. An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 suspected witches suffered execution between 1500 – 1660 in Europe. Fear of the unknown engulfed the New World a bit later, and history repeated itself.

The microcosm society engineered many different tests to determine whether or not a person (mostly female) practiced witchcraft. Common belief held that a witch could not drown. To determine the fate of the person, she was thrown in a local lake or river with hands and feet tied together. If she floated and survived the attempted drowning, she affirmed the test that unmasked her evil. Led from the water to the gallows, her inevitable demise came quickly. If, however, the accused person did indeed drown, she succeeded in keeping her good name, with the promise of a holy afterlife, but lost her life nonetheless. "Swimming a Witch" produced a victim in either case.

In so many ways, we continue to allow our society and culture to determine our fate. Often when group hysteria leads the masses into manic beliefs, the greater perspective suffers along with a proportionate decline in common sense. The energy driven by the community misinterprets, misdiagnoses or misconstrues individuality and imposes hyper-reactivity on a "witch-hunt" pitch. Worse yet, when you look in your own back yard, the matter smolders even further.

History showed us fierce retaliation – or scapegoating – even during the 20th Century. This country identified the evils of alcohol culminating in the imposition of Prohibition (brought about by a massive movement resulting in a Constitutional amendment – no easy feat). Then, some years later, the fear of other governments resulted in what is commonly remembered as “the McCarthy era” where many people with differing political beliefs found themselves dragged into governmental hearings to debate, or defend, or relinquish their foundations.

Currently, our society embattles ideals and habits and in some cases, circumstances of birth. Passionate arguments result in unyielding opinions on such matters as political philosophy, abortion, and the death penalty. Disdainful habits of choice such as smoking and in some cases, obesity continue to suffer derision. Even after 30 years of repeating the words of Martin Luther King, our culture confuses the spirit of equality by segregating minorities into groups instead of seeing beyond obvious racial and ethnic differences to quality of character beneath the façade of humanness. The active zealots selectively attacking these facets of our population, proclaim the greater good as their driving force.

Who determines the greater good? The same faction of group-think that agreed on swimming a witch?

Your thoughts are your personal choices. Victor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, recounting his observations of his imprisonment in Auschwitz. He reconciled although the Nazis held his body captive, his thoughts and attitudes belonged to him alone.

Do you entrust your personal contentment and success to external forces? Reflecting on the many ways possible to sabotage ourselves with results ending negatively in either case, it pays to examine how we witch-hunt our best interests and tie rocks to the body of our success. As an individual with free will, you are the only thinker in your own mind. Irrespective of societal influence, you either assimilate the mass-media cacophony of fear or you break free from the headphones of limitation and deprecation and sing your own song of personal freedom. Sink or swim, your spiritual connectedness belongs to you. Dare to listen to the beat of your own heart despite the roar of the crowd.

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