Dear Decaturish – The SB-241 witch hunts
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The voting clampdown that Republicans just passed through the Georgia Senate as SB 241 has me thinking a lot about James I of England, i.e., the King James Bible guy. Before he was that, he was James VI of Scotland, and he got himself into some deeply dark fantasies up there. In 1589, his new bride Anne was sailing from Denmark to Scotland when the ship she was on hit some weather and made for land. Note: Anne was fine. She lived another thirty years and she and James had at least four kids together.
For whatever reason, James became convinced that witches had stirred up the storm at sea using witchcraft. In 1590, he attended a witch trial where 70 suspects were charged with raising a storm to destroy his fleet. He oversaw the torture of (usually) women accused of witchcraft and used coerced confessions to burn them at the stake. He began propagandizing about the danger of witches and witchcraft with a pamphlet and later a highly influential book, Daemonologie, that called for stepping up the witch hunts and intensifying the violence and terrorism being visited upon ordinary Scots in the guise of eliminating this “high treason against God.”
When Elizabeth I of England died in 1603, James succeeded her, and he brought his witch hunting zeal to England. He ordered revisions to existing anti-witchcraft laws to increase punishments, and whipped up fresh rounds of witch hunts. Pamphleteers documenting witch trials and the easy and terrifying morality plays they represented had ample access to the state-owned presses of the day, keeping the panic strong and the propaganda rolling for well over a decade.
Eventually James’s interest in the subject waned, and mercifully, in the last decade of his reign (he died in 1625), only a handful of people in England were murdered for witchcraft. All in all, it’s believed James VI / James I oversaw the death of as many as 4,000 people for – and this is the important part – the entirely imaginary crime of witchcraft.
I’ve thought about James and his fever dream reign a lot in the last months, as the growing hysteria around nonsense assertions about voter fraud has transformed into a Republican drive to adopt laws that are damaging to our democracy and disenfranchising to working Georgians – all to address ginned up fears about a made-up problem that even the elected Republicans proposing the legislation agree did not occur here.
In James’s time, there was no entity empowered to correct a damaging misapprehension held by a sovereign. None of this session’s bills have yet been signed into law, but Georgia Republicans may well find that there are very real consequences for indulging harmful fantasies when voters, by hook or by crook, head to the polls in 2022.
– Stacie Hieronymus, Atlanta
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