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Witches’ Brouhaha

by Graeme Wood

The Scottish parliament is considering a pardon for Helen Duncan, the last woman jailed under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. Some initiatives — such as this pardon — have merit, even though their proponents are groups that exist in part to support those who have “experienced poltergeist activity.” Helen Duncan spent nine months in the clink because she predicted the sinking of a British ship (an act of clairvoyance made admittedly less impressive by the fact that it was 1944, and British ships had U-boats snapping at their keels).

We should thank Full Moon Investigations for ratcheting back the high regard in which we hold modern legal systems, including our own, and forcing us to see that absurd legal categories have persisted into living memory, and indeed possibly persisted up to today. The Central African Republic, although no one’s juridical ideal, has a penal code whose cases are fully half about witchcraft. When someone goes berserk and stabs another, the response is cherchez la sorciere. This is no joke: little children end up in jail for casting spells on their own parents. And it all makes perfect sense to many Central Africans.

Read the original article at: The Atlantic

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