Witch hunts are not of the distant past

I just finished the Dutch translation of Monica Black’s A Demon-haunted land: witches, wonder doctors, and the ghosts of the past in post-WWII Germany. Up until then I thought that Western belief in witches in the twentieth century and later was either based on wicca or based on individual cases of wise women or cunning men.  But no, Black’s book makes clear that even in our modern times, actual witch hunts can still take place in the Western world (I already knew they still happen in other parts of the world).

Black describes a landscape of war trauma, defeat, denial and suspision during the aftermath of World War II. This period is mostly known for the miraculous transformation of (West-)Germany from a war torn country to a modern, forward looking country that fully participates in the Western world. But WWII and the crushing defeat of Germany did not just disappear from people’s memories. And nazis did not just disappear either, despite a vigorous campaign of denazification. A lot went on behind closed doors, especially in the decennium or so after the end of WWII.

In this period as in every other period in human history, in their search for healing (mental as well as physical), people sometimes clung to wonder doctors in their uncertainty. Black’s book describes the case of Bruno Grüning, a German miracle healer opperating in the years after WWII who at one point drew thousands of people who were looking for healing. According to Grüning, some people were simply evil and could not be helped. Another folk healer, Waldemar Eberling, pointed to an accidentally passing neighbour, Frau Maassen, as the source of child’s disease. She was branded a witch.

These cases were not rare. It’s a strange idea that even in our so-called enlightened times, people can still be so scared and distrustful that they need an external source as the reason for their discomfort that they can exterminate. Think of the Satanic Panic of the eighties or people who are openly pagan or wiccan receiving threads even in the 21st century. Luckily we do not have an Incquisition anymore, but these cases could still be very harmfull. Poor Frau Maassen was treated as a pariah by many people in her community and became so upset that she lost ten pounds.  

These histories strike me as very important lessons even for today – especially for today. Here in the Netherlands, there is a tendency among a not-so-small subset of people to blame everything, from the lack of affordable houses to street harassment – on foreigners, especially non-western Muslim foreigners. They are not called witches, but the hate these people have to endure from a subset of my fellow Dutch people is sometimes downright irrational and certainly scary.

Despite what many modern day witches want to believe, many non-witches still see witchcraft and the word “witch” as something decidedly negative. I guess communities, at least most people, need adversaries, someone or something they can blame when something goes wrong.  Sometimes these are witches, sometimes these are Muslims, Jews or another group of people.

But I do not believe that is the whole story. There is also a sense of wounded superiority. Some people hold the conviction that that man is better than woman or white is better than black. When these ideas are attacked and/or proven false, someone whose worldview is built on these ideas could lash out. I do not have a solution for any of this. (Wouldn’t it be great of one person could solve this?) Some part of me thinks it is not just a social issue but also a personal issue – some individual will always seek ways to make themselves feel superior to others and will always seek external scapegoats for when something goes wrong. In a climate full of tension, this can ignite and  turn into something bigger. What we can do is learn to see this behavior and make a stand against it.

Read The Left Eye Of Odin (Or Right) on the Norse Mythology Blog

“He is the fury that stirs poet, artist, dancer, and musician as they enter into a deeply creative state in which they lose track of time and mundane situation. When the guitarist is so concentrated on improvising in the moment that she doesn’t afterward remember making any conscious musical decisions, Odin is there. When the painter is so immersed in the work that she doesn’t notice the night’s passing until the beeping of her morning alarm finds her still brushing away, Odin is there.”

Read the whole article about developing myths and stories over time, comparative mythology and the figure of Odin by clicking on the link below:

Https://www.norsemyth.org/2021/05/the-left-eye-of-odin-or-right.html?m=1https://www.norsemyth.org/2021/05/the-left-eye-of-odin-or-right.html?m=1

New book on witchcraft: Johan Ottens ‘Duivelskwartier’

A new book has appeared about witchcraft in my area! It’s written by Johan Otten, a journalist who studied the subject of witchcraft in Noord-Brabant (the Netherlands) for over three years with the following book as result. Duivelskwartier. 1595: heksen, heren en de dood in het vuur (Devil’s quarter. 1595: witches, lords and death in the fire) looks very promising and will likely be in my posession very soon.

Otten, Johan - Duivelskwartier

Here’s a translation of the summary, from publisher Vantilt’s website:

‘During the 16th century in Europe, a relentless persecution started of people, mainly women, who were seen as followers of the devil. Tens of thousands of these ‘sorceresses’ lost their lives during bursts of violence that reached their height around 1600. The witch hunt followed an unpredictable pattern of local and regional outbursts. About one of these explosions, a extensive and detailed file has been kept that is exemplary for the persecutions in that period. In the year 1595 a high functionary of the government from Brussels traveled to ‘s-Hertogenbosch to research the trial and execution of tens of women in the areas of Peelland and the Meijerij. The court reports and notes and  he gathered give a fascinating insight in the witch hunt, and give a voice to survivors and family members.

Based on authentic documents, Duivelskwartier tells the true story about a witch hunt in Peelland.  It’s about neighbours’ quarrels, magic and suspicions, about hallucinated witches’ sabbaths, about manupilation by those in power. And it’s especially about the horrific fate of everyday village people.’

Additional information: Price €24,50,  ISBN 9789460042447, paperback, illustrated in color, 15 x 23 cm, 452 pages. Purchase here: http://www.vantilt.nl/boeken/duivelskwartier/

The magic of landscapes

Thimsternisse-landscape2

When starting this website, I wanted to focus as much as possible on Dutch heathenism, witchcraft and folklore. I soon stumbled upon a problem: ‘the Netherlands’ as we now know them are only 200 years old. The borders we have now were unheard of in ancient times. What’s more, many people who lived in this area a couple of thousand years ago, are all but gone. Many people who live here now don’t stem from Germanic tribes who lived here generations before. But they still consider themselves Dutch. Basically, the construction of ‘the Netherlands’ is relatively modern, quite arbitrary, and always developing.

National identity is a fickle thing. I’m still a sucker for it. When I walk around in the area where I was born and grew up, I feel a deep connection to the land. I know that this is a personal thing – even though my family has lived in Noord-Brabant for quite some generations. But there are many people who were born here, who don’t feel a connection with their homeland at all, and even actively want to leave to go and live somewhere else.

Thimsternisse-landscape3

So where does this connection come from? For me personally, it’s the experience of walking through fields and forests, the many plants growing, blooming, sleeping then awakening again. It’s experiencing the wind, seeing beautiful skies and birds flying. Noticing the life patterns of the animals living in my area. This can be noticed in practically every other land on Earth, I know. But having lived her for almost all my life makes it much more intimate, as if I’m part of this particular land.

The connection is also created through a sense of history, the realisation that the land we walk on is so much older then we are. It literally contains the knowledge of the era’s that came before us. It makes us feel part of a bigger whole. This can especially be seen in the many legends that are connected to the areas over the world. From legends about ghosts and monsters to the folklore of places being fairy mounds or kobold dwellings. No one really knows how old these stories are and where they came from, but they give us the feeling, the idea, that there is more to the land than meets the eye. And I love how we give stories to the land. Maybe it’s our gift back, because the land gives us so much.

Thimsternisse-landscape1

Many of the old Dutch stories, legends and fairy tales haven’t been translated into English as far as I know. Many of them are connected to particular places. I will start (roughly) translating them and putting them on this website in the near future.