chapter  10
14 Pages

Defamation, Deception and Corruption

Attitudes to witchcraft reflected the genuine fears and anxieties of individuals and communities. Some individuals, knowing the facts

to be otherwise than they claimed, fraudulently manipulated these concerns for personal gain. This parasitic growth of fraud and deception was misinterpreted by the rationalists of the eighteenth century as the essence of witchcraft. To them, witchcraft did not exist as an objective phenomenon. Belief in it was a delusion, a nonsense, superstition and bunkum - a situation created deliberately by powerful sections of society from a mix of hysteria and ignorance. This rationalist interpretation was recently advanced by Rossell Hope Robbins, to whom witchcraft was an invention of the Inquisition. The Inquisition having crushed existing heresies was becoming redundant and created a new heresy with such a broad base that a never-ending supply of victims would keep the inquisitors employed. They created a frame of reference to make this new heretical witchcraft plausible - a successful development that rendered logical explanations of common events unacceptable against the assumptions of the new lore. Such an interpretation cannot be sustained. Heresies were not dying but proliferating, a situation recognised by the inquisitors in seeing beyond the plethora of evil groups to their diabolic source. The Dominican inquisitors played a major part in alerting society to this new concentrated effort of the Devil, as Trevor-Roper has shown. Yet this was no deception in the sense that the inquisitors deliberately misled society. They believed their analysis of the situation. They believed their own mythology. They deceived themselves. They may have been fanatics but they were not frauds.'