Seeing People as Non-people – or not seeing them at all

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.

Memorial to Witch Victims 3

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?

Happy Valley B Bell

Broken pentangle in Happy Valley photo B Bell


Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , , ,

6 replies »

  1. Liked reading this Bernie. Part of the reason that people would crowd around to witness these public executions is, it was a form of ‘entertainment’. Horrible but true ! There is something in mankind that enjoys violence. It is primative, and has never left us. Viewing of public execution has been replaced by viewing movies containing violence.
    As for the distrust of the supernatural, a suggestion I have why these spiritual people ‘witches’ and so on, received such treatment is because they were a challenge to the power of the Christian Church. The Christian Church, of which I am a member and a believer, has done horrendous things to people over the decades. Malpractice and people who enjoy power have used their position within it to devastate and control the public. Scottish people interestingly are known to be one of the most spiritual populations. My Dad told me recently that according to studies there have been more sightings of ‘the devil’ reported in Scotland than any other country in the world. Superstition, perhaps, lack of education, maybe. Or maybe there is something about the Scottish landscape that open the mind and soul to a possibility there could be something beyond the here and now and the 4 walls around us.
    Interesting read Bernie, thanks

  2. Scotland, Ireland, Wales, The Isle of Man – you could say – The Celtic Fringe, but it goes way back before what are now known as The Celts. And there is evidence of – let’s say shamanic practices – all over Europe. And – religions/belief systems – all over the world, and right through time. It’s part of being human – needing this, and being aware of this. And…connecting.
    It’s ever-present-every-where – we just need to open our minds and hearts to it.
    ‘Christians’ too – Jesus was/is one of the greatest proponents of having an awareness of Life, and those around us, and, if only folk would pay attention to him what he said, there would be less viciousness, fear, mistrust, anger and plain nastiness, in the world. We’re not born that way – no baby is born vicious – we let the world make us so, then we don’t pay attention to how we are being, and work on what’s gone askew.
    I could go on and on – but I won’t – many have done so before me, and will do so again.
    ‘Do as you would be done by’ pretty much covers it, for me.

    ‘Witchcraft’, could be said to be another belief system. I don’t know what the ’witches’ would say to that – but it looks that way to me. Connecting with and working with the life around you, to produce results – either positive or negative.
    A very, very big subject.

    Public executions=entertainment? Two words – soap operas.
    A few more words ‘I’m a Celebrity – get me out of here.’
    Why watch that stuff? Beats me.

  3. I’ve been thinking………The North American Indians spirituality was, and is, deeply connected to the natural world. For that matter, so were the ancient cultures of South America. Some of those, had a terrible tendency to kill their own people, to try to please the gods. The priest said they must, so they did. Did no-one think – hang on, why are we killing our young people, who should be our future? and refuse to go along with it? No – because they were afraid.
    A spirituality deeply open to the natural world, with some individuals who promoted hurt as a way of being. Those seen as having a direct line to the Gods, have, through time and in many, many cultures, all too often used that view of them, whether it’s on a large or small scale, to get what they want. The question then is – what did/do they want. And why? They can be very dodgy, or work wonders. Humans.

    It is huge subject.
    Japan, is seen as a very materialistic culture – and it is. Yet look at the moss gardens and the raked gravel gardens. And the groves of blossom trees, celebrated at blossom time – a strong link with the natural world.

    We’re an odd bunch.
    It’s a human thing, to be aware of and seek that which we see as being ‘more than us’. There are places, everywhere, in which we feel a stronger link with the world of spirit – with that which we see as being ‘more than us’. Sometimes, those places are the ones which are used to do most hurt to other humans, or animals. Sometimes they are places of strong, real acknowledgment of all that is – and, for me, that includes us. “All are one, and one is all”. The places, and the people and other forms of nature, at or in those places are all one.
    Here’s something else, then I’ll stop wittering at you!
    That’s what you get for showing interest – I witter at you!

  4. Almost an article in itself!
    !’m, intermittently, going through my old emails, trying to tidy it all up a bit and clear some out. I came across this……………….
    Sent: Friday, February 03, 2012 4:41 PM

    “I was reading what you said about the indigenous Americans, and thinking how similar the perception of ancient peoples is. Folk have come a long way since they thought of the Neolithic peoples as primitive, and the discoveries at the Ness of Brodgar push that perception, back even further. Until relatively recently, there wasn’t much to show for their expertise, and what was there, was mis-interpreted, or simply not understood at all. I won’t go off into a diatribe about the ancient peoples, here, but there are a lot of comparisons with indigenous peoples from other countries. There often isn’t much left , to tell us about their lives, so people presume that there wasn’t much to their lives. A big mistake. The Ness is un-earthing and disclosing a picture of an exceptionally advanced people. Many years ago, I was standing near New Grange in Ireland, having just had the tour, inside. A man came up to me and said that maybe they knew more than us. My answer was that they maybe knew more about some things, and we know more about other things. The question is, which is more worth knowing?
    As you say, until recently, those peoples didn’t have a voice, and were mis-represented. It’s for folks, now, to learn about them, and speak for them.
    On similar lines, in a way, as in a voice for those deprived of one, in one way or another – you mention working with asylum seekers’ and refugees’ stories about ‘home’. It’s a similar thing, really. Britain accepts asylum seekers and refugees, but, unfortunately, some of the media chose to feed mis-conceptions about them, too. Mike and I support the charity ‘Freedom from Torture’, which used to be the Medical Foundation for the care of Victims of Torture ( changing the name, was a good idea – too long, by half!). They encourage torture victims and other ‘escapees’ to express through writing, and call their programme for this ‘Write to Life’. It strikes me as all being very similar, a voice for those deprived of one. O.K. as far as we know, the Neolithic peoples weren’t picked on, we just don’t know much about them, and so a false picture developed. The Indigenous Americans were not only put down at the time, it suited those who put them down, to present them as ignorant savages, as though that makes it more acceptable to dominate them! White South Africa has done the same. It suits the purpose of the oppressors, to present the oppressed as defective in some way, then it looks like it’s a good work, to ‘civilize’ them, ignoring the fact they had a very good civilization, which served their needs, as in, suited the place where they lived, before the oppressors came along. I used to think that about the Romans in Britain, I thought they came along, and gave people living in squalor, the benefits of civilization, such as drainage and straight roads! I used to think that, because that’s what I was taught in school, then I learnt differently. They had a fine civilization going for themselves, the Romans brought a different one, not better, just different. For that matter, it suited the English to portray the Irish as stupid, but that’s another story. Sometimes, it’s just that a people are so different, that it’s hard for another people to get a grip on their way of being.
    One more aspect which comes to mind…….mental health. Various forms of expression, writing, painting, etc., are known to be therapeutic in mental health issues. Again, why I mention this, is giving a voice to the voiceless. People who are considered crazy, or even just a bit odd, often aren’t listened to. It’s easier to put them aside, marginalize them, see them as lesser in some way. Giving them the opportunity to express is a vital way, not only to help them, but also to help others to see that they have something to say, and they aren’t just crazy people – they are still people.
    Well, you set me off, there, didn’t you? I see so many links there, as there always are, but the main thing, is the idea of a voice for the voiceless, whether through actually, actively, giving them their own voice, and giving them the chance to express, or by finding out about them, when they’re no longer there to speak for themselves, and thereby giving them a voice, in retrospect, as it were.
    I also thought of the time when women in this country didn’t have a voice, and it took some good men, in positions of influence, to change the situation. When a group of people, or animals, or insects! ( consider the situation with the bees at the moment) doesn’t have a voice, it’s down to good-hearted people who have, to speak up for them. And they do so. There’s more positive in the world, than negative. Thank goodness – we’d be in a pickle otherwise!

    And so, the gatherings in memory of the Orkney ‘witches’ might help to clear the muddy waters surrounding the subject, in retrospect. They’re not here to speak for themselves, so, others will hope to do so, for them. A worthy aim, in any situation.
    And those who see them as A BAD THING? They can go along, too, and take part in the discussion, presenting all ‘sides’ and, thereby, hopefully, working towards a balanced view.

Leave a Reply