By Bernie Bell
Reading Helen Woodsford –Dean’s article about creating a place for folk to think about the people who were killed, in a particularly cruel and hurt-full way, named as witches, got me thinking. Some will probably have been harmful characters, playing on the fears of others to either protect themselves, or make themselves feel powerful or appear powerful – that strange thing folk have – needing to frighten people – thinking that makes them strong. Some will have been just a bit odd, and made folk feel uncomfortable. Some, I suspect most, will have been people who spent a lot of time and effort learning about how to work with nature to help those around them, and the world around them, either by using substances, such a plant extracts, or by working with Life energies, to help to restore the balance, where in-balance causes problems..
Whatever the cause or origin of the labelling, they were labelled witches, and burnt, drowned or stoned.
The odd thing was, for a long time, and even when all this was happening, people were partly afraid and uncomfortable about the ‘wise folk‘ – male or female, and yet, when they were experiencing problems, who did they turn to? Some turned to the Church – and some of those received help – sometimes there isn’t a huge division between a true pastor, who minsters to, and cares for, his flock, and a shaman.
But when it came to it, and the hysteria hit, these people became the brunt of ill–feeling, possibly ill-feeling stored up, generally – not specifically against them, for what they were, but against a life which was a life of hardship and discomfort. Lashing out, at what they could safely lash out at, when they couldn’t lash out at the larger causes of the problems. Echoes of this, can be picked up in today’s Britain.
And so, Helen’s article got me thinking, and one of the things I was thinking about is…………….how could people stand by and watch a fellow person, being tied to a stake, and burnt – the smell, the screaming – the images they were seeing. Some, yes will have been un-well and enjoyed seeing this – that appears to be something that happens – folk go askew in themselves, and actually like to see/cause the pain of others. But – these weren’t just a few individuals, these were whole crowds of people, big crowds of people, gathering to see, not just a hanging, which is bad enough – but at least, is usually quick – but a slow, horrible death. How can one person, want to witness this, and how can a person accept that it’s acceptable, to inflict this on another human being? On any living thing, for that matter.
And so, I got to thinking of how people have to make people into non–people, to be able to take part in these in-human activities. And it’s not just in relation to the ‘witches’, but quite a few other sections of humanity, which are conveniently seen as being non-human. Sometimes a scape-goat is needed, sometimes it’s a case of folk only being able to let themselves off the hook for certain behaviours which they know are wrong, by kidding themselves that these people, are not people. Or that they are so, very, WRONG, that they don’t deserve to be treated as people. Though I don’t see how that can work, as, however wrong someone is, they are still a person – a human being, and, if we follow certain beliefs, children of God. All of us.
So I started to think of some of the folk, who are not seen as folk. As the stone in Helen’s piece says “They wur cheust folk.” And, they were, and are.
To the rich, the poor are often invisible, and not seen, or not seen as being people, quite as the rich are – I suppose they have to be, or the rich couldn’t carry on being as they are and treating the poor as they do.
“See him riding in his carriage
Past the gutter where she stands
He has made a stylish marriage
While she wrings he ringless hands.”
‘She was poor, but she was honest’ by Billy Bennett
It jumps up and bites them on the bum, though, as in – squalor and disease, cheek by jowl with the rich, in Victorian England – disease is no respecter of walls. I see the same situation shaping up in today’s India – very, very rich people, across the wall – poverty and disease. I would say why don’t they learn, but, again, to learn, they would have to be prepared to look, and to see.
In some times and places, to men, women were almost not human – they needed to see women that way to be able to get away with how they treated them. Still the case, in some societies.
Servants were invisible – strangely enough – waiters and waitresses often are, even these days – have you noticed how folk don’t engage with the people ‘serving’ them? Some do – many don’t. It’s another good Orcadian characteristic – everyone likes to have a chat with everyone, about everything….and everyone!
I do, I talk to anyone, and what that often means is – folk remember me and are welcoming when they see me. Mike describes me as being “people focussed”. But I think it’s a funny thing, that, in fact, it could be said to work in my favour.
Reading this, in Pyotr Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid” ………………..
“Some training – good or bad, let them decide it for themselves – is required in a lady of the richer classes to render her able to pass by a shivering and hungry child in the street without noticing it.”
……………reminded me of how much people have to become non-people for some people to be able to accept their own behaviour towards them.
Of course – slavery is another one – they actually kidded themselves, or tried to kid themselves, that the ‘slaves’ weren’t actually people. Strange – they had two arms, two legs, eyes at the front, could obviously think, speak in a number of recognizable languages – and even – could inter-breed with their ‘owners’ – funny that , when they weren’t ‘people’.
And the British in India – often didn’t see the Indian people as….people, not really – just servants and sort-of glorified work-horses.
They have to train themselves, or be trained, or kid themselves, to be able to go ahead with that behaviour.
We really are a strange and complex species. We’re very good at self-delusion, when it suits us.
As my mum would say “Just because everyone puts their hand in the fire – doesn’t mean you put your hand in the fire, too.” A somewhat ironic choice of quotation, but – if we could equally learn, and train ourselves, to each take responsibility for our actions, and not let ourselves be carried along with the tides of hysteria – maybe those poor souls who suffered for being ‘Witches’, might not have had that happen to them.
And wrong-doing might not be as likely to be allowed to happen to people, now.
Mass-eviction of asylum seekers in Glasgow? Children in cages? Nations refusing to accept PEOPLE escaping from horrors?