Witch hunts re­lied pri­mar­ily on tes­ti­mony from chil­dren.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

In 17th-cen­tury New Eng­land, Swe­den and the Basque prov­inces of Spain, chil­dren were the most im­por­tant sources for al­le­ga­tions against sup­posed witches. Ev­i­dence from 17th-cen­tury Swe­den aligns with mod­ern psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search; preschool-age chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar are more vul­ner­a­ble to sug­ges­tion and in­flu­ence from in­ter­view­ers and peers than are older chil­dren. These find­ings have con­trib­uted to le­git­i­mate con­cerns about sug­ges­tive in­ter­view­ing of child wit­nesses in mod­ern cases. But when ex­perts in psy­chi­a­try and pe­di­atrics, such as pro­fes­sors Su­san Hat­ters Fried­man and An­drew Howie, high­light the use of child wit­nesses dur­ing witch per­se­cu­tions, they ob­scure the fact that chil­dren were the main driver of a small per­cent­age of witch pan­ics.

In fact, in most cases, far more tes­ti­monies came from adults and were pro­vided un­der tor­ture, as Brian P. Le­vack and H.C. Erik Midelfort show. Dur­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tions car­ried out with tor­ture, sus­pects would not only will­ingly con­fess to deeds that were in­con­sis­tent with the rules of na­ture (like fly­ing) but also pro­vide the names of an abun­dance of al­leged ac­com­plices. As these ac­com­plices were sub­se­quently rounded up and in­ter­ro­gated, even more names of yet more sus­pects would ap­pear. As a re­sult, tor­ture tended to lead to mass tri­als — and more vic­tims.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.