Top positive review
17 people found this helpful
A most informative look at the history of witchcraft
on December 1, 2006
This 1996 Ancient Mysteries production basically provides viewers with an overview of the shifting cultural images of witchcraft over the past several millennia, with special emphasis on The Burning Years, which saw tens of thousands of women (as well as men and children) condemned, tortured, and executed for witchcraft. In historical terms, it is a well-made documentary, but it never really answered some of the questions I had expected it to take on - namely, the origins of so many common myths about witches (e.g., the broomstick, the black conical hat, the witch's familiar).
The roots of witchcraft reach down to the origins of human communities themselves, and the presentation makes the point quite well that the most ancient of witches were seen in a most positive light. In their earliest incarnation, they were wise women who could call upon their acquired knowledge of nature to heal the sick, banish evil spirits from homes, etc. The question then becomes: what happened to transform the witch into the most evil, dangerous of creatures? There is no clear-cut answer to this, but we do know that the Israelites laid down the law against witchcraft after settling in Canaan. Clearly, though, the final straw that sealed witches' fate to be looked upon as evil monsters and consorts of Satan was the Black Plague. When one out of every three individuals sickens and dies, it's all too easy to become hysterical and look for scapegoats. No one may ever expect the Spanish Inquisition, but the inquisitors certainly suspected witches of evildoing, eventually killing tens of thousands of individuals over the course of two whole centuries. They were helped along mightily by the publication of a book in 1487 called the Malleus Maleficarum; this was nothing less than a detailed guidebook for identifying and defeating witches, and it cemented witchcraft firmly with Satanism in the minds of inquisitors. The documentary makes clear just how barbaric and murderous a time this was in human history, with Inquisitors basically torturing a confession out of anyone even accused of the evils of witchcraft - indeed, new implements of torture were designed for this very purpose. As accused witches began being burned at the stake in droves (particularly in France and Germany), the image of the witch became inherently evil.
This murderous paranoia eventually spread to the New World, culminating in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. The documentary offers its take on the origins of this infamous chapter in American history and offers theories on a possible political agenda behind it all. In the last segment, the presentation looks at the rebirth of witchcraft in the past century, offering some ideas as to why the practice of this ancient way of life emerged from the ashes of history so strongly in recent years.
It's all very interesting, but more in a historical than a psychological/sociological sense. The 45-minute format to the program doesn't allow for a lot of detail, but the overview itself is excellent and quite informative.