Not too long ago on the Witches’ Voice, this essay appeared, regarding the case of a Saudi woman who has been sentenced to death for witchcraft. The woman, Fawza Falih, is an illiterate peasant, held since 2005 upon accusations that she caused a man to become impotent. She was convicted, without the benefit of legal counsel, when, after three years of confinement and torture, she was compelled to place her fingerprint on a pre-written “confession.”
The essay in question, “The Burning Times Still Smolder in 21st Century Saudi Arabia,” Does an excellent job depicting this poor woman’s plight, as well as the seemingly futile efforts of some well-meaning individuals to influence the law in a foreign country by signing petitions in the US. In a very slightly more significant, but likely just as futile move, Human Rights Watch has sent a letter directly to the Saudi King asking him to stay the execution and re-examine the case.
My issue with this article is one simple line in the first paragraph: “Visualize yourself a Witch back in the Burning Times, in medieval or Renaissance Europe.”
What has happened to Fawza Falih is certainly a travesty of justice. In addition, its relation to the “Burning Times” is appropriate in this case. We have a young woman, most likely unmarried, or she might have had a better chance of legal representation, who was charged with an unprovable crime after an accusation of causing impotence. In all likelihood, this woman refused sexual advances from the accuser, a situation mirroring possibly thousands of cases during the numerous Inquisitions of Europe. Illiterate, and with no legal counsel to even explain her charges, she was tortured until she confessed, and was sentenced to death. Yes, the parallel between this case and the Burning Times is undeniable.
Except for that one, simple line: “Visualize yourself a Witch back in the Burning Times, in medieval or Renaissance Europe.”
The chances that Fawza Falih is actually a witch, or that even a few of those killed in Europe so long ago were witches, is about as probable as my cat eating 20 pounds of lead shot and filling her litter box with gold bullion.
Thanks to Gerald Gardener’s unquestioning acceptance of Margaret Murray’s survival theory of witchcraft — which only suffered from the minor flaw of having absolutely no evidence to support it — and the eagerness of some neo-pagans to continue to tout Murray’s thesis, we have a commentator associating a poor Muslim woman with the crime she was wrongly charged with. I have no doubt whatsoever that she would be appalled at the comparison.
Far too many neo-pagans still cling desperately to the Burning Times, and some even continue to repeat the infamous 9 million figure fabricated for publication in the Green Egg. As a minority religious classification, neo-pagans are sometimes ridiculed and persecuted for their beliefs, and having a pagan version of the Holocaust helps justify that fear of persecution, while also bestowing a sort of moral superiority.
But alas, it just wasn’t so. The Inquisitions and witch-hunts were targeted as people who would certainly have considered themselves devout Christians, and would probably be severely offended if they knew they were being claimed as witches by later neo-pagan upstarts. The Burning Times show a serious error of Christian doctrine and practice of the time, and as far as I can tell, it is even worse that they were killing actual Christians. But to claim these victims as witches — to pull them under the neo-pagan umbrella just because of the crime they were falsely charged with — is an insult to their memory and morally dishonest.
So by all means support Fawza Falih. If you feel so compelled, sign a petition or write a government official, or even the Saudi King. But do so because it is an injustice that she was charged, tortured, and convicted by fraudulent means, not because you think it makes some statement or progress for neo-paganism. To pretend that she is actually a witch is an insult to her, and a blatant homage to Hubris. Remember the facts of the case, and be assured of one thing: if Falih is released, she will thank Allah, not Athena.