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This is Heavy: The Possible Connection Between Witch-Hunting in History and Mom-Blaming Today

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Read Time: 2 minutes

After yesterday’s post, about a mom being charged with child abuse after her 3-year-old son died in a freak escalator accident (as if all accidents can be prevented, as if all “good parents” would never have such a tragedy befall them), I happened to read a review of a book about the history of the belief in witches. The review is by Baylor University History Prof. Philip Jenkins, in a magazine called First Things and this part leapt out:

So global are witchcraft ideas that the assumptions underlying them seem to be rooted deep in the human consciousness. The fundamental theory is that bad things do not simply happen, but are inflicted by human agency, and that it is necessary to find the person responsible, in order both to retaliate and to prevent further wrongdoing.

In his splendid book Inside the Whirlwind (2016), Jason Carter studies African readings of the Book of Job. He tells a chilling story from a Christian community in contemporary West Africa. He quotes an elderly Presbyterian woman who remarks that, “In our culture, friendship is not deemed friendship until a child dies.” “In other words,” says Carter, “only when retributive blame and witchcraft accusations are not directed at family members and friends during a crisis is that friendship counted as genuine.”

Heavy, right?

Clearly, we humans have a very hard time tolerating the fact that fate, or God, or some forces other than ourselves are at play and can even doom the very thing we love more than anything on earth: Our own kids. And so we divine (as it were) a cause: Some human did something evil and wrong and THAT is why an innocent soul was taken. Get out the pitchforks. Or handcuffs. Or Twitter feed.

This may sound a little weird, but as we build our community at Let Grow, we sort of have to mentally pledge NOT to turn on each other — or anyone else — when fate steps in. The whole idea of this community is that we don’t believe parents are able to predict and prevent every untoward occurrence, and that therefore when one happens, this community will not point any fingers.

Or burn any witches.


The lithograph of the Salem Witch Trials is by Joseph E. Baker, ca. 1837-1914, and is available from the Library of Congress.

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