Witches Active in Middle Ages.--In the middle ages in Europe there was great activity in "witchcraft." Then came a time when the Popes took cognizance of the practices to which the layman of the church, and outsiders, were resorting--certain functions generally reserved for the priesthood.
Following Papal Bulls in 1233 and 1484, thousands upon thousands of innocent people were put to death, as they are in Europe today--because they happened to live at the time some "master" of misguided religious or political philosophy cared little whether the people "would be better off dead, than alive."
There may be considerable division among people relative to the term "witch;" some will want to class it with devils, or demons. There may be other forms which some would want to employ to describe the opposite of an angel. Now, so far as most of us are concerned, the latter have been described largely through artists' conceptions, which, as in the case of devils, leave much in doubt, and to the imagination as well.
Europeans Knew About Witches.--The earliest settlers of America--Spanish, English, Dutch, Swedes, French, German, etc., all had a "working knowledge," generally speaking, of religious backgrounds, especially respecting good and bad--angels and witches. Most of the books brought to America by either of the above races were of a religious nature, having, of course, general rules for religious behavior, if not of a moral and civil behavior, as well.
Today, as in the earliest colonial days, it matters little whether one gets his religious knowledge in the public schools, or parochial schools; in the home, or directly from religious publications.
The knowledge available to all, even to the unlearned, or unschooled, is so widespread as to convey certain religious philosophies to the layman.
He doesn't have to know the law of God, nor of man, to understand that the normal laws of society forbid that he should kill his fellow man. Some are thus held in restraint, but when a man wants to kill--he'll do it!
But one of the sins of society is that so many men (and women) of sound mental knowledge and able to reason, are killers, and who escape the just punishment for their crime. "Extenuating circumstances;" "passion;" "mentally unsound;" and "drunkenness!" We would like to use a remark attributed to the late President Lincoln, which propriety forbids our using here; it isn't often that his language may be too expressive--even if only about "horses."
Bible Basis for Strong Beliefs.--If a christian anywhere, particularly a protestant christian, wishes to know the fundamental law on "behavior" he sooner or later goes to the Scriptures for "light." Surely the reader will not question our ethics in bringing this phase of the subject to any one's attention.
Rev. P. Marion Simms, Ph. D., in his very enlightening and comprehensive account of "The Bible in America," says:
The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church differ in many things, but nowhere more widely than the place they assign the Bible, and in the right of its private interpretation . . . By this means they (the former) think to avoid the dangers involved . . .
The old time conception, once held well-nigh universally among Christians, that the Bible is the very Word of God, verbally dictated by the Lord hiniself and infallible in its every statement, has been responsible for more misuse of the Bible than all other influences put together . . .
Therefore, with entire consistency, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," (Exodus 22:18) was made the basis of the persecution of witches, with all its horrors. This Scripture was the chief authority for the execution of witches everywhere; and it is only a modified conception of the Bible that can release the church from the obligation of witch hunting today. Changing the translation to "sorceress" does not affect the authority of the commandment . . . The stories of the persecution of witches and that of the Inquisition could be written only with a pen dipped in blood and tears and yet it came legitimately from the old time conception and interpretation of the Bible. All persecutions by Christians in America, as elsewhere, were supported always by quotations from the Bible.
And so, because it is true that the vast majority of the early settlers of America were men who read the Bible, and imparted its truths and lessons of all kinds to their children, and no less to their grandchildren, we have today in America, the hodge-podge which was Europe. The various races have handed to each succeeding generation their pet notions in everything.
Do we know any Irish who are not "in love" with old Irish traditions; Slav with Slavish; Norse with Norse; Latin with Latin? You can answer this from your own observations. The Anglo-Saxon is proud of notions and ideals he can recall; so is the Jew; and so is the Negro. Traditions are hard to change, or forget.
Today we are reaping, as each generation does, that portion of knowledge which was sown early in the dawn of history, and as it ripens and falls into the minds of young and old everywhere, we shall accordingly stand or fall by our decisions to be rational, or irrational--"orthodox," or "unorthodox."