To Suffer A Witch

So this week’s challenge was to write an article based on an article we found in the news. As it was so close to Halloween I found this little gem on the Express’s website:

Britain’s last witch Helen Duncan could face exoneration after 60 years

I honestly struggled with this task because I am a lot happier when writing fiction or poetry but I hope that you find this attempt at least a little interesting! 🙂

To Suffer A Witch

As October draws to a close and Halloween looms many of us will be dressing as ghosts, ghouls and other hair-raising entities. You might even see the odd witch. Nowadays no one will bat a lash at someone donning a pointy hat and carrying a broom. This was not always the case, though. The Witchcraft Act was only repealed in 1951 in the United Kingdom and there are several countries where you could still be tried or executed as a witch.
Whilst the witchcraft is still a crime within the Canadian Criminal Code it is unlikely to result in prosecution. This is not the case in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria which report high rates in the belief of the existence of witchcraft and a significant number of violent witch-hunts. It should be stated, however, that not all accusations lead to violence, some of the accused actually benefit from being considered a witch.
Unfortunately, not all “witches” are as lucky. An estimated 300 people were killed between 2001 nd 2006 in the state of Assam in India. A further 35 murders related to witchcraft were reported in the Odisha district in India. In 2010 alone it is estimated that between 150 to 200 women were killed in India under the belief that they were practicing black magic. Such lynchings were particularly common in the economically challenged states of Jharkhand, Bihar and the tea garden workers of Jalpaiguri.
As with the witch-hunts in Europe, accusations of witchcraft in India are commonly used to settle scores, punish women for rejecting sexual advances and as a means to obtain land. Often the victims of such accusation have little to no ability to defend themselves. The women involved are often illiterate and too poor to travel from isolated regions to file police reports. Such cases often end in tragedy, as the women are forced to either abandon home and family or to commit suicide.
Witchcraft or sorcery also remains a criminal offence in Saudia Arabia.  As recently as 2011 Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar was beheaded in Al Jawf Province, convicted of practicing witchcraft and sorcery. In June 2012 Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri and he was beheaded in the Najran Province for similar crimes.
The last person to be executed for witchcraft within the Uk was Janet Horne in 1727, the last person to be convicted under the Witchcraft Act was Helen Duncan in 1944. It is difficult to put a number on the number of people executed for witchcraft in Europe, but it is estimated that anywhere between 40,000  and 200,000 people may have lost their lives.
The most infamous of these, at least locally, are the Pendle Witches. Of the twelve accused of witchcraft, only one was found not guilty. One died in prison awaiting trial, the remaining ten were found guilty and executed by hanging.
A great number of the allegations of witchcraft were made by members of the Chattox and Demdike family, claiming that a member of the opposing family was a witch. The outbreak of witchcraft in and around Pendle seems to show the extent that a person might be able to profit from either posing as a witch or threatening to expose another as a witch.
It was also profitable to be a hunter of witches. In three years the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, was responsible for the deaths of at least 300 women. For his services, he received £6 for clearing Aldeburgh of witches,  £15 from Kings Lynne  and £23 from Stowmarket. The average daily wage at this time was 2.5p. It paid well to be able to spot a witch. It was a lot less profitable to be convicted as one.
So as you quaff back many a witches brew and enjoy your weekend, please spare a thought for your fellow witches, some of them are not so fortunate as we.

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