The parallels between Middle-Age witch hunts and the current hysteria surrounding paedophilia

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By: M. de Jong

If one takes a close look at the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages (the real ones), and compare them to what has happened due to the current hysteria surrounding child sexuality then you will see many parallels. I use "child sexuality" not "paedophilia" because the current hysteria is about much more than only those subjects that are directly related to paedophilia. There are also many historical interconnections, you will also notice a transition, in time, from the witch-hunts to the current hunt for paedophiles. These kinds of mass-hysteria are, when started, almost uncontrollable; they just have to rage out. That does not mean however that one cannot try to keep things under control.

The combination of factors that leads to mass-hysteria's, and fuels them, like this one and the ones in the past seem to be universal. Just compare the factors that lead to the historical witch-hunts to the current hunt for paedophiles, I have compiled a long list of parallels:

1) Fear for the unknown. During the witch-hunts it were the supposed furtive activities of the witches, like holding "black masses" that were feared. In the case of paedophiles it is the supposed conspiracies by "high ranking persons", who organise so-called "pink ballets", (orgies in which these persons can use children that are made available to them to have sex with) and who kidnap children for "snuff-porno" movies. This phenomenon was especially visible shortly after the arrest of Dutroux (a notorious maniac, who kidnapped, abused and murdered several girls in Belgium). The police helped to support these ideas by calling each case in which they found out that two or more paedophiles befriended each other, a "paedophile network". A term they seemed to have especially invented for this purpose.

2) Fear for an unknown future. At the end of the 16th century, as well as at the end of this past millennium, people lived in great fear for the future. They thought that they lived in the "end-time", the time before the apocalypse. A time the bible mentions, in which all the public morals would be in decay. The notice that the population growth seemed to escalate also fed these fears, and the climate changes that occurred. So, toward the end of the millennium the witch-hunts intensified. See the diagram below that shows the relative escalation of these witch-hunts during the period from 1400 AC until recently (footnote #1).

3) The third similarity is the reaction to a supposed attack on deeply held moral principles. A really hefty reaction, one that goes beyond all rationality, almost always stems from a (animalistic) moral principle that is deeply buried in the brain.

4) Another common factor in both cases, a beginning taboo on making another minority group to a scape-goat making it necessary to look for another group to put a blame on. In the Middle Ages the original scapegoats where the Jews and the heretics (Kathars). In the case of the paedophiles it were the homosexuals who were no longer usable as scapegoats.

5) People, who for lust for power, who appoint themselves as the "fighters" that fight against these illusionary enemies of the public moral. Often they already have a certain power from their position they want to extend (compare the inquisition to the vice squads). Their main weapon to gain and sustain their power lies in the extensive FUD campaigns they hold to broadly enlarge on the many evils of the supposed "enemy". Evils which are presented in more and more absurd forms. The truth will be managed very "creatively", and facts that are suitable to their purpose will always be explained in a way that is most compatible to their idea's, and interpreted with the most negative scenarios in mind.

1) Persons who, for their own reasons, think they can benefit from attacking this public enemy. In the Middle Ages it was the church that wanted to distract attention from its growing internal division. But the local governments also used it to distract from the things that where going on. Nowadays there are many groups from the ultra-conservative puritans to the justice departments, feminists and aid-workers who think they have something to gain. But also the politicians who think they can make an easy score by exploiting this subject.

2) A group, or category of people, that is useful as a crystallisation point for the need to attach the blame for a social problem (a scapegoat). In the middle ages this were these people that still felt attracted by ancient religious beliefs, or facets of these beliefs, and who still kept these ancient beliefs alive. To day it's the all those who, (for whatever reason,) feel themselves more than averagely attracted, (emotionally and erotically) to children. In the small American town of 'Salem' there is a museum ( to remind us to one of the last and most atrocious witch prosecutions in history, which took place there. They sell T-shirts there with the text "Fear+Trigger=Scape-goat".

3) A stereotyping (caricaturing) and dehumanising of these people. Unfortunately some paedophiles actually help this process by rejecting the negative idea's that exists about them to such a degree that they start to paint a insincere picture of themselves as "a-sexual child-friend", thereby caricaturing and dehumanising themselves further.

4) People who believe that "evil"; can always strike unexpectedly from any angle. A believe bordering on irrationality. I mean to say that they believe that this evil can strike in a "magical" way, a way that cannot be directly shown. You have to believe it happens. Examples are the use of magic to destroy crops my means of magically called-up natural disasters. Or a curse that is placed on a person, so that he is haunted by bad luck. Both these "evils" one must believed in, although there is no real proof someone really did anything to really cause the disasters or bad luck. In our current context such an irrational believe that "evil" has been done without the need for any proof is, for example, the believe that any erotically touching of a small child will "forever damage" the child. Or that any sexual relationship between a grown-up and a child will always cause psychological harm to the child, even if the child enjoyed the relationship.

5) The defending of the persecution of certain minority groups by, wrongly, explaining certain bible passages. In the case of the witch-hunts it was the bible passage (Old Testament Exodus 22.18) "you shall not let the sorceresses alive". Now there are certain anti paedo groups who also cite bible passages, there is even one who is named after a part of another bible citation "better a millstone...".

6) Some people are simply jealous of persons (they call them perpetrators) who seem to escape from the moral straitjacket that binds them to the strict moral discipline they themselves have to suffer from. In the middle ages the Christian commandments and prohibitions became so repressing and stifling that anyone who managed to ignore them was also secretly envied. Now many a person is secretly jealous of those who do what they secretly also want to do. To, so to say, "nibble on a green leaf". But even fathers and mothers feel secretly angry towards paedophiles because they cannot even be affectionate to their own children anymore because of the social pressures. And then this paedophile comes and "steals"; what they cannot have, their own children's erotical and physical affection.

7) An evil that "threatens the morally weak", but an evil that will later also be attributed to these same weak people. In the later phases of the witch hunts children were increasingly victimised and called witches, while in the earlier phases their only role was those of victim. In the same way it is increasingly more common to call children who have sexual contacts, themselves perpetrators. Just like in the past, the idea is that these children did "this evil" because they themselves were earlier victims of the same "evil". One manifestation of these believes were the "interrogation directives" for children who were accused of witchcraft, and which intention it was to find the adult (often the parents) who learned them their witchcraft (see footnote #2)

8) Persons that felt attracted to the stereotypical beliefs and felt compelled to actually implement them (those persons who really thought they were doing "witchcraft" when they gathered for orgies, or "cursed someone", but also those people who have latent paedophilic feelings and who think that the only way to deal with them is to force themselves upon children, and in effect rape them)

9) People who feel attracted to and compelled to play the role of "victim". Persons who felt threatened by "the evil", or recognised themselves as "victims of evil doing". In the middle ages it were those people who accused someone they disliked and feared, of "souring their milk", or causing the death of a pet animal, or "destroying their crop" or some other imaginary evil. Now it are those people who think that a simple sexual affair they have had with an adult, in their youth, is the reason for all kinds of complaints and problems they got in their later life. Or the parents or guardians of children, (children who happen to be disturbed and/or criminal) who think that some early sexual contact with a paedophile completely explains all those problems, simply ignoring all other alternative reasons, like poverty or abusive parents.

10) Propaganda in the form of books that describe how to "recognise the evil", and what to do when it is discovered. The book "Malleus Maleficarum", or "witch hammer", (see footnote #3) is an example from the Middle Ages (1486) of such a book. It described in detail what to look for to find out whether or not witchcraft was being used, how then to discover the perpetrator and how to deal with him/her (usually to turn the discovered person over to the inquisition). An example of the modern day analogy is a book that in Holland is known as the "green booklet" (see footnote #4). Several years ago it was sent to all the schools in Holland, and it described in detail how to discover a child that has been sexually abused (for example the child shows unusual need for physical contact with the teacher). How to discover the perpetrator and what to do when he/she was discovered (turn the case over to the youth and vice police). Another such book is a book about the so-called "child molester's kit". In this American standard publication (see footnote #5) the "standard equipment" of a "typical child-lurer" is introduced. Two pictures are shown of suitcases with candy, dices, police badges, hand puppets, handkerchiefs, fireworks, playing cards and a thimble. All this is just based on one case of a person who used magic tricks in order to get in favour with children, but the book presents it as if it is the standard equipment of the average paedophile.

11) A slow but steady growth of the number of cases and hysteria with some sudden acceleration in growth after some spectacular events, until the "problem" grows to such proportions (a unacceptable number of people, even of higher social statue, become a victim) that a change of mind takes place. After which the trend is suddenly reversed and thereafter the number of victims steadily starts to decline. Hopefully this will also happen soon with the current hysteria, some signs suggest it is already happening.

12) A real moral war that is playing in the background. In the Middle Ages it was the struggle against the stifling power of the church that repressed all other religious ideas, against the recurring upcoming renaissance movement, with its more liberal religious ideas. Currently it is the war between the puritans who want to reverse the sexual revolution of the sixties against the youth and adults who want real sexual liberty, not the current fake one.

13) Memes, recognisable ideas or themes, which tend to always return, because on some level they are attractive to human nature (see footnote #6). In the Middle Ages one such a meme was the "flying on a broomstick to a black mass" and another was the sexual escapades that witches had with the devil. Tales of witches having witch-spots (places on their bodies where they could not feel pain), ritual killing and eating of children and the use of embryo's to make evil potions and ointments are other examples. In the "ritual sexual abuse" cases the memes we see were, for example, the presence of clowns, the secret cellars under school buildings where the sexual abuse should have occurred but whose existence could never be proven, and the "mysterious disappearance" of every shred of evidence because of "magical intervention". All of these things were claimed to have happened not only in America (Wenatchee), but at almost the same time in Holland too (for example in Oude Pekela). In many different cases using the same language the same themes (urban legends) came back again and again. An example of this phenomenon is described in the book "Tracing the evolution of a satanic scare" (see footnote #7).

The historical course of the hunt for paedophiles

In the seventies a popular sexual revolution happened. Several groups in society did lot like that at all, and they sought a means to turn back the clock. In the centuries before they had used the means of describing woman as "naturally chaste" to reach their goals. Indeed, an entire culture developed to enforce asexuality on women, whether they liked it or not. And in those times it was very dangerous for anyone to declare that women had sexual feelings, just like men. Women were the "designated innocents" and anybody who dared to publicly suggest that women had their own sexual needs was denounced as "under satanic influence" and was forced into the role of "designated pervert". Still some people tried. But met excessive resistance, especially from the medical class. This resistance even lead to some excesses.

David Steinberg talked about it in his speech "Art and the Eroticism of Puberty" (see footnote #8). He said the following, I cite:

Historian Barbara Goldsmith details one aspect of this culture of asexuality in her book, "Other Powers." "In 1868," she writes, "American gynaecological surgeons began performing clitoridectomies to quell sexual desire in women, which was considered a form of derangement. Upper- and middle-class white women who had been taught that any sexual urges were sinful, willingly surrendered their bodies to these male doctors, who tested them for abnormal arousal by stimulating the breast and clitoris; if there was a response, they surgically removed the clitoris."

Along with the creation of women as an asexual class came the need to protect women from sexually contamination of any form -- whether this be from sexual predators (men) or from the corrupting influence of sexual awareness and information -- even as we now assume that society must protect its asexual children both from predators and from sexual information. As women gained social and political power in the 20th century, they have not surprisingly demanded recognition and respect for the reality of their sexual desires, and for their right to fulfil those desires without being denigrated as insane or immoral. While women's right to sexual expression equal to that of men is still far from complete, the notion that women are naturally asexual, or that asexuality can be forced on them by social commandments and expectations, is certainly a thing of the past. As a result, the group of innocents presumed to be asexual has been reduced to the children alone. It has thus become more important than ever, among those who see sex as a form of impurity, to insist that children are entirely non-sexual beings.
Since, as we know, children are in fact far from asexual, maintaining this myth -- and with it, to some extent, an exaggerated sense of the sexual innocence of adolescent girls -- requires both a significant denial system and an elaborate program of societal enforcement. Pat Califia describes this well in her book, "Public Sex." Children, she notes, "are not innocent; they are ignorant, and that ignorance is deliberately created and maintained by parents who won't answer questions about sex and often punish their children for being bold enough to ask. This does not make sex disappear.... Sex becomes the thing not seen, the word not spoken, the forbidden impulse, the action that must be denied."

In the seventies the image of children as non-sexual beings was also very slowly changing. This time too, there were people who fought to free these designated innocents from their yoke. The opposing puritans tried to use the same mechanisms to solve this problem as they had used before. They saw in the paedophiles, (who slowly were coming "out of the closet") the ideal scapegoats. The new "designated perverts" who threatened the "innocence" of these new "designated innocents". So they restarted their old game.
They started with spreading rumours about satanic cults who would sexually abuse children.
It was more or less a direct translation of the old witchcraft stories with a new twist. The myth of the "satanic ritual abuse" did not coincidentally arise in America (Shortly I overheard an Australian saying to an American, "I am rather glad that we got all the criminals, not the puritans"). The rumours went on to say that children were brutally raped and murdered in satanic rituals. The "survivors" of these rituals would then, when they became adults, behave as "possessed" and would participate themselves in these rituals.

After some time it became clear that this myth could no longer be kept believable anymore (the FBI never found any proof at all for the existence of real "ritual sexual abuse" by satanic sects, see footnote #9). Then, suddenly, from hospitals ran by puritans, there came stories about mentally disturbed girls that "remembered", (after having had "therapy") that they were sexually abused in their early youth. Because incest really does happen a lot in, what puritans call "safe families", (often with complete agreement of all concerned, but sometimes not, see footnote #10) this found a response in the woman-emancipation movement who, just at that time, sought arguments to "proof" that girls were repressed and maltreated. Some medics became interested in this sensational subject and began "researching" it. Research of which the outcome was determined beforehand, , because it was determined by what they wanted to believe. If you research the frequency of shoplifting by youths, and you do it by examining prisoners, you will get a similar distorted picture as if you would examine only paedophiles who are in jail because of moral offences.

Slowly the dogma was built up that any sexual encounter between a child and an adult was always extremely detrimental for the child's mental health. In reality it is normally not the sexual contact that is detrimental, but the later arising shame caused by having done something that society so condemns! It is a "self-fulfilling prophecy" to believe this dogma! The larger the loathing of society for such a relationship, the more vehement the shame of those who participated in those relations will become. The original feelings of affection one had for the adult partner will be transformed into hatred and self-hatred, (self-hatred because one willingly participated in it and probably enjoyed it too). The investigations one has to endure by the justice system, to find out what exactly happened, are pernicious too. Again an again having to tell all the private "dirty little details" is shame inducing like nothing else. Furthermore, the investigators are anything but neutral. They try to convince the "victim", with any means to their disposal, that they were abused. Often they do not even shun from using the dirtiest psychological tricks. Even inventing linguistic traps. Like calling children who refuse to acknowledge that anything bad happened as being "in denial". This appears to be a specially concocted term, that boils down to the believe that the child only denies the abuse because of repressed memories due to the trauma from the abuse. It is used to explain the denials as a symptom of extremely serious abuse. Really a no-win situation.

If they would have made these claims about a more verbally powerful group than these children, then these claims would have been ridiculed by this group. But as it stands, in our society children like these have no voice. And the claims like that were swallowed like sweet cake.
It is also true that one can make children believe things much easier than older people, even things that make no sense. Protests from people with a different opinion were swept aside as being made because of "self interest". It seems that most people have great difficulty remembering the feelings and desires they had as children, let alone to accept these as natural.
In later years some scientists have placed some notes in the margin of these earlier "investigations". But because the subject has been dogmatised all their objections were shoved aside, and they even got into trouble for their effort, to the degree that they were told they could no longer continue their work (see footnote #11).

How paedophiles cope with the new witch hunts

Most paedophiles now live in great fear. Especially those who in the past had the courage to be open about their feelings, and those that exposed themselves to the public in the cause of trying to fight for the emancipation of paedophilia. For example the Dutch paedophiles who told about their lives and (sexual) experiences to our late senator Dr. Brongersma (A Dutch senator who openly admitted he was a paedophile, and who tried to encourage real scientific study of paedophilia. He committed suicide after the opinion about paedophilia took a change for the worse and he lost hope). The justice department prosecuted most of these paedophiles, after they confiscated Dr. Brongersma's collection of their biographies.

Nowadays a lot of paedophiles are filled with fear

- Fear that their sexual feelings will become publicly known.
- Fear that their address or picture will be publicised, and the resulting possibility that they will be beaten up by total strangers.
- Fear for the loss of their friends and acquaintances.
- Fear that their little boy- or girl-friends, that they love, will start to think negatively about them.
- Fear that someone will burn their house.
- Fear for their job, especially when they have a teaching job, but even when their job has nothing to do with children (some bosses just don't like the negative publicity).
- Fear for false accusations, resulting in pestering behaviour, such as damaging properties, resulting eventually to being forced to move to escape them.
- Fear too, to fall into the hands of those fanatic persons who want to mentally destroy you, brainwashes you using well-tried DDR methods, leaving you with terrible and deadly self-loathing and guilt. Even in the Netherlands people who have experienced this have committed suicide.
- And the biggest fear of all, the fear that everything will become infinitely worse.

Paedophiles get the impression that their is barely an acceptable lifestyle possible for them in which they do not risk the burden of prosecution, or a risk getting mentally ill.
Reactions to this vary from complete apathy (depressions, alcohol abuse and suicide are not uncommon) to militant behaviour, like the people who run MARTIJN.
But others just don't care about anything anymore and 'rather live dangerous than not at all'.

Unfortunately there are also those paedophiles who, out of self-hatred and repressed thoughts, attack other paedophiles. And, even worse, those who become so mentally ill that they rape a child, or even enter a school building armed with a gun shooting anybody they see, then committing suicide (like what happened in Dublin [Correction: Dunblane, Scotland]). Luckily paedophiles of these last categories are rare.

However, there are signs that a "big change" is coming. Our youth is becoming less and less obedient and silent, and they are more and more demanding that they are being listened to. Unfortunately our youth still believes in the dogma that youthful sexuality is dangerous and will cause psychological damage, but this can't go on forever. Also there is a trend noticeable that the same people that caused the mass hysteria in the first place are now becoming victims of of their own "success", and that people start to become less tolerant of fundamentalistic ideologies. So there is certainly the hope that in a few decades the current hysteria surrounding paedophilia will be seen in the same light as is now done with "witches", and that people understand that there never was such a thing as "the paedophile", and that the concept was a fabrication. Witches never existed, not in the way people then thought they did, but "wicca's" do (still) exist. That is to say there still are some people who believe in the old pagan believes about the forces of nature. Similarly "the paedophile" (in the sense of the fictitious stereotypical child rapist that has now become the hallmark of this word) does not exist. What does exist is people who sometimes fall in love with a boy or a girl, instead of with a man or a woman, and who also have erotic feelings as a part of that experience.


1) From Geschichte der Hexenprozesse by Hans-Jürgen Wolf, ISBN: 3-930656-90-6. Page. 24. The scale 'eskalation' seems to be indicative. Exact figures of number of casualties do not exist, but estimations name about 100.000 executions in the whole of Europe, among which there were children from about eight years old.
2) From Geschichte der Hexenprozesse Page. 983 (fragekatalog gegen kinder).
3) From Geschichte der Hexenprozesse Page. 53-68 (Innocenz VIII - Hexenhammer).
4) The official name of the green booklet is Handelen bij vermoeden van seksueel misbruik van kinderen en jeugdigen, Richtlijnen voor beroepsbeoefenaren.
The ISBN number is ISBN: 90-232-2892-8.
5) The sexual exploitation of Children: A practical guide to Assessment, Investigation, and Intervention by Seth L. Goldstein. Elsevier Science, New York, 1987.
6) You can think about memes as psychological genes. See The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, ISBN: 0-19-217773-7 I. 7) THE DOMINION of Thursday march, 30 1999, Page 9. Wellington, New Zealand.
8) Speech during the Conference of the Western Region of SSSS in 1999 (SSSS = Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality).
9) In the February 1999 number of Playboy an article appeared under the title What happened with the witch-hunts by Antonia Simgins, in which the notorious Wenatchee witch-hunt case (which bears a strong resemblance to the Dutch Oude Pekela case) was unmasked as a case of mass-hysteria.
10) An informal investigation that was held under the visitors of the internet newsgroup, of which the result where publicised on April 20, 1996, revealed that of the 37 respondents there were 33 who had experienced their incest as positive.
11) Examples are the Dutch scientific investigator Sandfort, and the American investigators Bauserman, Rind and Tromovitch.

source: Article 'Mass Hysteria - The Parallels Between Middle-Age Witch Hunts and the Current Hysteria Surrounding Paedophilia' by M. de Jong; OK Magazine, no. 83/84; January 2003