Background of people who were accused of witchcraft

Witchcraft is an ancient tradition that involves the use of magic or supernatural powers by a human being. People who practise witchcraft are called witches. The practice of witchcraft was either categorised as virtuous or evil according to the results. There were two groups of witches i.e. the white witches and the black witches. The white witches were accepted by their communities, and their wisdom was welcomed (Julian 2002). These types of witches had immense knowledge of the healing properties of different herbs and plants. They transmitted their knowledge along the generations through apprenticeship. The other types of witches, called the black witches, were different from the white witches. This group of witches were believed to practice witchcraft with the aim of inflicting pain or physical harm to human beings, animals and even plants (Lyndal 1994).

Black witches were accused of using demonic powers, and they were hunted in England in organised witch-hunts between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. These witch hunts were especially rampant when Elizabeth I was coronated as the queen of England. Any activity or disease that could not be explained was attributed to the witches. During the witch hunts, those who were targeted were the poor, old, single and unprotected women or widows (Girling et al 1998).

The old people women, who were mainly widowed, kept animals as pets for company. Because the life expectancy of women is higher than that of men, there were many widowed old women living in those times. They were accused of invoking demonic spirits through their pets. As the fear of the black witches escalated in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church categorised anyone who had knowledge of herbs as a witch. As with many other activities which involve apprenticeship, their experience increases with age. The old women were highly skilled in herbal medicine. The role of women in the society had been confined to being helpers to men and housewives. This gave women much time to explore the herbs and other types of medicine. During the witch hunts, the old women with this rich knowledge of herbs were tried and accused of witchcraft. This would later lead to a loss of valuable knowledge in medicine (Johnston 1996).

Living as a single woman was also another common background of people accused of witchcraft. It was believed that a woman’s role was that of a housewife. Marriage for women was not optional (Robert 2001). In case a woman failed to get married, she was viewed as an outcast and traitor to the cultures of the communities. The society believed that such women failed to get married because of their involvement in witchcraft. Therefore, during the witch hunts, the single women were highly targeted. They were also vulnerable, because they had no man to protect them compared to the married women. Women depended on men for help, and if a woman had no man, she was considered to be an outcast and a burden to the society (Maxwell 2001).

The other common background of people accused of witchcraft was poverty. The poor were the ones accused of practising witchcraft. The poor people mostly depended on the help of the other rich community members in order to survive. The rich detested this, and they accused them of laziness and witchcraft. Out of a total of two hundred and seventy witch trials carried out when Queen Elizabeth ruled England, two hundred and fourty seven were women, and only twenty three were men. This shows that most of the accused people were women (Robin 2002).

Critical assessment of type of people who were accused of witchcraft

Witchcraft was a common practice in ancient England. It was accepted before the emergence of industrialisation. The practice of herbal medicine was especially appreciated among most communities in the European countries. However, the emergence of technology changed people’s lifestyles. These efficient farming methods were able to produce more food. There was a drastic change in the way in which people carried out their activities. Currency was used in place of the usual livestock used in barter trade. There was also an emergence of fast growing urban towns. This meant that the church acquired more influence on these town dwellers. The monks who used to visit the villages spent most of their time in the cities. As these cities grew, there started developing differences between the villagers and the town inhabitants. The town inhabitants looked down on the villagers. The church also neglected the village folks as they could not assimilate the teachings of the church into their lives as fast as the town inhabitants (Girling et al 1998).

With these developments already in place, the church laid out rules that banned the practice of witchcraft in these countries. Witchcraft was branded as an evil practice and was associated with demonic powers. However, people in the villages still held onto their beliefs and practices in the old way. As the cities grew and expanded, the villagers were forced to drop their beliefs and practices as they were pressured to conform to Christian practices. Because they had not embraced technology as compared to the town inhabitants, they still carried on with their cultural practises such as the use of herbal medicine. The villagers were isolated and discriminated by the town inhabitants. Most of the people who were accused of witchcraft were poor. These poor people relied on the help of families and friends for survival. Therefore, they ended up being detested by other people. They were seen as a burden to the society, and any chance to flash them out was welcomed. Witchcraft offered this avenue of flashing out the poor people in the society (Andrew 2001).

In these ancient times, the plight of women was also not addressed. The roles and duties of a woman had been confined to serving the man and babysitting. The women had been allowed to use herbs as a means of treatment to their families. However, with the emergence of Christianity and technology, the tables were turned on the medicine women. They relinquished their prestigious positions of being the wise medicine women and became the feared village witches (Marion 1999). The old women ceased to be celebrated, and instead they became hunted. Because of being alone and segregated, old women kept pets for companion. This further incensed the communities to punish them as they concluded that the animals were used for witchcraft (Sharpe 1996).

When the bubonic plague struck England in the year 1349, witchcraft was blamed. All the minority groups were blamed for this pandemic. People believed that witches communicated with the devil, and thus blamed them for inflicting such a pandemic on the people. Single women formed the larger population of those accused. Since they did not have a man to protect them, they were usually tried and found guilty of practising witchcraft. In New England, about eighty people were accused of practising witchcraft between the year 1648 and 1663. Out of these eighty people, two men and thirteen women were executed. They were executed through hanging, burning and drowning. Though most of those accused of witchcraft freely accepted to have practised it, most of them were tortured before they made their confessions (Girling et al 1998).

Four factors common in the backgrounds of vigilantes

A vigilante may be an individual operating privately, or a group of individuals who defy an existing rule of law and take justice in their own hands. They are known to defy the existing law of a country and carry out their own extralegal punishments. The term ‘vigilantism’ was coined in the times of the Roman Empire. It referred to the soldiers who stayed awake to look out for threats such as runaway slaves, burglary and fires. These vigilant groups are organised, because the people believe that the existing legal systems and governments cannot provide justice for them. Therefore, they are mostly formed to reestablish the lost public order, and, in most cases, they achieve this through vengeance. The aim of these vigilant groups is to rectify a problem in the society that they think the law in place cannot rectify (Barbara 1991).

The nature of the activities and the way these groups are organised makes them have similar factors in their background. The vigilantes originate from diverse ranges of backgrounds. Some of the vigilantes are men and women of charity who gang up together to provide safer and happier lives to the innocent people. They identify some of the societal injustices which their governments fail to address, and they take it upon themselves to rectify them. The common injustices identified by these vigilantes include child abuse by paedophiles, the plight of women and political impunity. Therefore, they gang up and set up ways of punishing the offenders in their societies (Allison 2000).

The other common characteristic in the background of vigilantes is that they may be deeply religious men. These are the people who try to eradicate the societal evils in the name of their gods. These men have the common believe that the laws formulated by the government are not sufficient to eradicate the rampant evils in their societies. They take it as a personal duty to eradicate these evils and improve the society. Vigilantes organised in this manner belong to the same religion, and they usually attack those who differ with their beliefs or those who do not practice their religion. In most cases, the vigilantes target a large community of what they call the non-believers (Barbara 1991).

Vigalante seeking revenge and vengeance for their families and friends is the other common background. This background is common in cases of vigilante groups formed on the basis of a tribe or race. These vigilante groups seek revenge because of injustices directed against them in the past. In political circumstances, the vigilantes are oppressed and segregated by their government. Therefore, these people gather together to protect and fight for the rights of their communities. Most of the vigilante groups formed through this background are usually political and against the government. Their goals may either be short-term or long-term. However, most of such groups are violent, and they lead to tribal clashes or increased raised discrimination (Lyndal 1994).

The other final common factor in the backgrounds of vigilantes is a fight for redemption. These groups fight to achieve penance and redemption from the evil deeds they may have done in their own past. These types of vigilantes try to correct past anomalies through violence and demonstrations. It usually occurs when the group in question is discriminated because of deeds done in the past. In an effort to erase the memories and records of past deeds, the vigilantes may kill witnesses of those events or those who hold records of what happened. Other vigilantes may arise from people who were raised up with a strong sense of justice. These people feel that the laws of the state do not confer the right form of justice to the offenders. Therefore, such individuals take it as their responsibility to provide justice for the affected people by punishing the offenders (Allison 2000).

Circumstances under which vigilantism is likely to occur

Vigilantism is caused by various reasons either originating from an individual’s upbringing or the society. It is fascinating to note that no matter what the intention of the vigilante is, it is never based on selfish motives. Vigilantism occurs to help a large society other than an individual. Vigilantism is caused by certain factors such as self-defence, perceived social injustices, social unrest, the bystander effect, and a lack of trust and confidence in a country’s legal system. Other factors, such as social movements, political injustices, political violence and increased crime rate, also cause the emergence of vigilante groups (Andrew 1998).

Cases of vigilantism caused because of self-defence are particularly common. In many countries, their constitutions protect the rights of the citizens. The government is mandated to protect this constitution and also protect the citizens’ rights in that country. The citizens have a right to security and freedom. They citizens are also entitled to a right of freedom from any form of violence either from private or public sources. In case the citizens are not granted their constitutional right of security and freedom, they revert to vigilantism. This occurs when the state or country fails to discharge its mandate of ensuring that the criminals are arrested and convicted according to the laws set in place. Institutions such as the police and the correction centres do not provide their expected services to the citizens. In some countries, these facilities are not sufficient. In places where the crime rates are high and the security of the inhabitants is threatened, the residents usually revert to vigilantism. The citizens turn to vigilante committees and kangaroo courts for justice (Michael 1991).

The other circumstance in which vigilantism occurs is due to the bystander effect. In this phenomenon, the greater the amount of people present in time of disaster, the less likely they are to help the person in danger. In such cases, the person in danger feels neglected and unwanted in a society and may turn to vigilantism for revenge. In some cases, the people affected by the bystander effect are a community minority. They may be experiencing certain hardships such as food shortages as they watch other communities live in plenty without helping them. The community feels neglected and turn to vigilantism to settle their scores (Geoffrey and John 2001).

Political violence is also another circumstance that leads to vigilantism. This usually happens when certain groups do not believe that the elections are carried out in a corruption free and fair manner. Usually, this is a complaint of the defeated politician who gathers masses to rally behind him or her and discredit the elections. Such political tag of war leads to violence between the involved groups (Peter 1974). As a result, some groups opt for vigilantism to defend their communities and also for revenge. Other political injustices such as the unfair distribution of resources and long terms in power for one community cause vigilantism among the affected groups. Political leaders also use vigilantism to push their personal agendas in the government (Brian 1995).

Finally, the other leading cause of vigilantism is the social movements which purport to defend critical social causes in the society. When defending these social causes, they target entities or individuals that they consider immoral or threats to the society. Modern-day vigilantism is demonstrated by social groups that destroy abortion clinics or burn down laboratories that are involved in animal research. They term these practices as immoral, and they correct them through violence and illegal means. Other vigilantes also target groups of people such as the illegal immigrants in their country as they view them as a threat (Andrew 1998).

Reasons why Irish republican Army engaged in vigilantism in Northern Ireland

The Irish Republican Army was a revolutionary organisation of the military in Northern Ireland. It was established from the Irish Republican Brotherhood on 25th November 1953. This group was involved in a guerrilla campaign against the rule of the British in Ireland. This was during the Irish war of independence. The Irish Republican Army latter split up when the war for independence ended, and the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed in 1921. In the year 1920, Northern Ireland was formed when the British government of Ireland divided Ireland into two areas: Northern Ireland and Irish Free State. Northern Ireland was made up of counties that had Roman Catholics inhabiting one third of the population (Allison 2000). The Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland were against the division of the Ireland into two. The Irish Republican Army was formed from these Roman Catholic faithful, and it was against the splitting of Ireland. The republic of Ireland gained sovereignty in 1922, and relations between the north and the south improved. However, the Irish Republican Army continued to oppose the splitting of Ireland. They waged guerrilla warfare’s to protest for the partition of Ireland. They were actively involved in the murders of people who were in support of the splitting of Ireland (Andrew 2001).

The Irish Republican Army was also actively involved in the fight against the oppression of the Catholics by the Protestants. The Irish Republican Army was campaigning against the social imbalances that had resulted between the Catholics and Protestants. In 1997, the rate of unemployment among the catholic men in Northern Ireland was two times higher compared to the rate of Protestants unemployment Protestants. Although most Catholics were unemployed, they were the original inhabitants of Ireland. Therefore, the Irish Republican Army fought for equality among the Catholics and Protestants. The differences that occurred between the Catholics and the Protestants can be argued to be social rather than religious. By the year 1000 A.D, the majority of the population of Ireland was made up of Catholics (Geoffrey and John 2001). As the church revolutions were taking place in England, the Irish people failed to embrace them. The Protestants, who were mostly British, established plantations in Ireland and settled there. As a result of their economic development, they also established themselves as the class of rulers in Ireland. However, they did so in a domineering manner and demeaned the Irish natives who were mostly Catholics. This led to bad blood between the Protestants, who were the ruling class, and the Irish Republican Army, which represented the poor Catholics (Andrew 1998).

The Irish Republican Army was also against the colonial rule that the British imposed on them. They were fighting for the liberation of their country from this colonial rule. The rules made by the colonial government favoured the settlements of Protestants in Northern Ireland and disadvantaged the Catholics. This further angered the Irish Republican Army, and they became more violent. The Irish Republican Army at one point aimed to unite the Catholics, Protestants and the dissenters into a single army that would help to chase out the British from their land. The Irish Republican Army used different violent measures to resist this rule. They were involved in terrorist attacks aimed at frustrating the British. They were also involved in armed robberies with the aim of raising money to fund their army. The Irish Republican Army was held responsible for the deaths of more than four hundred and twenty civilians before they agreed to the peace treaty. Their vision of uniting the two states was not realised as the two states remained autonomous with their own governments (Pennethorne 1972).

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