On the ABA Owls podcast episode for October, we’re visiting the supernatural again! In case you’d like to listen, you can go to our podcast page or use your preferred podcast app and search “Chirping with ABA Owls” – we’re on iTunes, Podbean and other platforms.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, carry on with this post.
A Brief Summary
Witches have been a subject of fascination and fear for centuries, and we find it very interesting to discuss the behaviours of people around them. Our analysis or opinions are dependent on the information available – usually in behaviour analysis you have to observe the behaviour. This means that our comments and their accuracy have limitations due to the lack of first hand observation.
What is Witchcraft and Who were Witches?
Most people are probably aware of the prosecution of women in North America, labelling them witches.
Quite often it gets compared to what happened in Europe, but truth be told, in Europe it was more about the church and the inquisition obtaining power – even though women were more likely to be trialled and killed, a lot of men and children were also killed.
This was a way to obtain that family’s possessions – being labelled a witch was probably the fastest way to dispose of someone.
It is fair to say that throughout the centuries and millennia we’ve seen humans demonstrating a certain pattern when it comes to the unknown – they destroy it. When people fear what they don’t know, they are more likely to destroy it rather than understand it.
Many women labelled witches were people with more understanding of plants, ointments, and remedies. They were able to help others by using science (or, the closest they had at the time). When the people who were supposed to be the healers were outdone by people who were not the “official” or the “proper” healers, it certainly created tension. Probably the fear of losing their power made them act out to destroy the ones who could take their power and control.
Why were witches persecuted? A lot of historians and experts will say there was mass hysteria, that people were reading all sorts of information about witches and would act on it. If you ever read any of the witch trials testimonies, you will notice the complete ABSENCE of evidence. Even the circumstantial evidence was a joke – for today’s standards.
The first woman recorded to die due to a witchcraft trial was Bridget Bishop – some of the statements from her trial are: “several people testified against Bishop, stating that the shape of Bishop would pinch, choke or bite them […] during the trial, any time Bishop would look upon one of her accusers, they would be immediately struck down and only her touch would revive them” (from the wikipedia page).
We laugh now, but the same behaviour is seen on social media. The witch hunt, not just on women now, it feels as if everyone is always on trial. Evidence seems to be useless for the general public, and a clickbait video is enough to convince them they have learned everything about the situation, and that they are well informed.
Luckily, trial and law proceedings have evolved quite a lot since, and even though it’s not perfect it’s much better than it was in the past.
We have the resources and ability to research and make smart, evidence based decisions – but this seems irrelevant in many situations. Whether it is how they judge others via social media, or how they teach children.
How do witches relate to ABA?
It’s all about behaviour! We are well aware that there are other factors involved, such as the brain’s reaction to fear, how we react to protect ourselves, etc. There are many behaviours to unpick, so we will discuss people’s fear of witches.
Why and how did the fear of witches develop? The why of it all, in our opinion, was because there were people who wanted to maintain their power and their status. Having women who could be their competition would take away that power, and it was not acceptable to them. Turning the general population against these “witches” was the fastest way to get people to avoid them, and by executing them it serves as an example of the consequences of defying their power and authority.
What behaviours were involved in this? Quite a lot. From mouth to mouth inaccurate information spreading, to publishing books about witches, to creating false witness accounts, etc.
If we look back at the quote mentioned earlier, regarding Bridget Bishop’s trial, “any time Bishop would look upon one of her accusers, they would be immediately struck down and only her touch would revive them” – essentially, all that was needed was to make eye contact with her, throw themselves onto the floor, and when they felt her touch them (she was probably physically forced to) all they had to do was open their eyes and get up. This is all behaviour – all of it are actions people choose to have. Why the “witnesses” choose to act this way, we don’t know. They could’ve been coerced into false accounts to prevent being punished themselves? We have no way of knowing.
But this fear of witches is not just the fight or flight response in action – it’s active behaviour with the purpose of shaping other people’s behaviour into making other people believe in something. It’s actively taking action against something or someone.
We are aware that some people believe in witchcraft, the same way some people believe in catholicism, buddhism, etc, we are not saying it doesn’t exist. What we are saying is that a lot of work (and actions) were taken into having the fear of witches spread across the world.
We love a witch and are fascinated by the topic – if you’d like to hear more comments from us, you are welcome to listen to the podcast episode.
Resources and Links
Witches, Midwives and Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post (and the podcast episode, if you’ve listened to it).
You can also follow us on Instagram (@ABA_owls), send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a comment below.
Thank you for reading,
Carla and Lauren