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Witchcraft Beliefs Around the World with Boris Gershman

Witchcraft Beliefs Around the World with Boris Gershman Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

 Learn  what the world believes about witchcraft today with American University's tenured Associate Professor of Economics, Dr. Boris Gershman. He is an active academic researcher and writer who has written several academic articles on the relationship of witchcraft beliefs and sociodemographic characteristics. We discuss his journal article "Witchcraft Beliefs Around the World: An Exploratory Analysis." Find out about solutions to the current global witchcraft accusation crisis based on Dr. Gershman’s evaluation.LinksWitchcraft Beliefs Around the World: An Exploratory AnalysisBorisGershman.comResolution Concerning Certain Witchcraft Convictions in Colonial ConnecticutWrite a Connecticut Legislator Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutFact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial HistorySupport Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!End Witch Hunts Movement Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book StoreSupport Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramPinterestLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordBuzzsproutMailchimpDonateSupport the show

Show Notes

Learn what the world believes about witchcraft today with American University’s tenured Associate Professor of Economics, Dr. Boris Gershman. He is an active academic researcher and writer who has written several academic articles on the relationship of witchcraft beliefs and sociodemographic characteristics. We discuss his journal article “Witchcraft Beliefs Around the World: An Exploratory Analysis.” Find out about solutions to the current global witchcraft accusation crisis based on Dr. Gershman’s evaluation.


Witchcraft Beliefs Around the World: An Exploratory Analysis

Resolution Concerning Certain Witchcraft Convictions in Colonial Connecticut

Write a Connecticut Legislator 

Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.

Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut

Fact Sheet for Connecticut Witch Trial History

Support Us! Sign up as a Super Listener!

End Witch Hunts Movement 

Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast Book Store

Support Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!

Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!














Sarah Jack: Welcome to this episode of Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Sarah Jack.
Josh Hutchinson: And I'm Josh Hutchinson. In this episode, we speak with economist Boris Gershman about his report, "Witchcraft Beliefs Around the World: An Exploratory Analysis." In the report, Dr. Gershman analyzed global data from a series of surveys by the Pew Research Center that included a question about belief in witchcraft and determined that approximately 40% of people in the world believe in witchcraft [00:01:00] as defined as the ability to cast a curse or a spell to do harm to someone else.
Sarah Jack: This is about who believes in witchcraft. But the study's about more than that. The data on witchcraft belief sets the stage.
Josh Hutchinson: Many other factors are analyzed, and their relationship to witchcraft belief is studied. He finds correlates between religious belief and witchcraft belief, and other factors like the level of traditionalism and conformity in a society to the rate of witchcraft belief.
Sarah Jack: This information's for everybody, even if you don't think you would be interested in hearing such an analysis. And the reason is because of what it tells [00:02:00] us about the witch-hunts of the past and why they're so hard to stop in some regions today. And Boris takes his analysis to the place where solutions are weighed.
Josh Hutchinson: That's an excellent recap, Sarah. The episode is so fascinating from the beginning. The study that he did, the data that he looked at, the way it panned out is intriguing. Just looking at the different countries around the world and seeing that witchcraft belief is prevalent in most nations of the world and is a part of life in every nation that was studied. 95 nations were studied. The lowest rate of [00:03:00] witchcraft belief was 9% in Sweden. The United States comes in with 16% belief, so that's one in six people in America believe in harmful witchcraft, and that means that we all know people who have these beliefs.
In our country, the level of belief isn't past the tipping point where it becomes dangerous. We don't often hear about attacks on alleged witches or killings of alleged witches like we do, unfortunately, in so many countries, where the level of belief is higher. But it's still something people carry around with them every day and affects their choices they make and how they live their [00:04:00] lives.
Sarah Jack: It's about how much someone may believe harmful witchcraft is affecting them personally or their community. How big of a implicator is it in their wellbeing?
Josh Hutchinson: Are they blaming it for their misfortunes, and are they identifying people that they believe to be the perpetrators?
Sarah Jack: If you also love analysis with charts and comparisons, he's got that for you, too.
Josh Hutchinson: And maps.
Sarah Jack: And maps.
Josh Hutchinson: So we have quite a lot of interesting discussion about these things with Dr. Gershman, and there are solutions out there, and Boris talks to us about how you can implement a lot of change, and you can bring in or improve your nation's institutions [00:05:00] to make change without going in trying to get people to suddenly stop believing in witchcraft. You don't have to change the belief in witchcraft, in order to replace the social function.
Sarah Jack: The innovation and the economic development must continue to flourish and be encouraged, but the witchcraft beliefs don't have to be driven out at the same level.
Josh Hutchinson: That's right, and we've heard in our talks with Damon Leff in South Africa and Leo Igwe in Nigeria, that the laws that exist aren't helping with the problem, and new laws aren't going to change anything. And Dr. Gershman talks to us about going in with heavy-handed [00:06:00] legislation to ban witchcraft accusations hasn't worked and won't work. You need to address the factors that lead to witchcraft accusations. You need to address what happens when there's a disaster or misfortune happens to someone.
Sarah Jack: Listen closely and enjoy this witchcraft fear analysis and conversation with American University's tenured Associate Professor of Economics, Dr. Boris Gershman. He is an active academic researcher and writer and has written several academic articles on the relationship of witchcraft beliefs and sociodemographic characteristics. Today we get to discuss his journal article that you may have read in fall 2022, "Witchcraft Beliefs Around the World: an Exploratory Analysis." And now Boris.
Josh Hutchinson: For the purposes of your paper, how did you define witchcraft?
Boris Gershman: I'm glad that this is the first question because I want to be very clear about [00:07:00] that. So if we're talking about my latest paper, there is a single question that I used to pinpoint witchcraft believers. And so the question is a survey question, which sounds as follows. "Do you believe in the evil eye or that certain people have an ability to cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone?" So that's the question, and there is a lot to unpack here. Let me first explain why I use this question. I use this question, because it is the only question that was available in every single survey. And so it allowed me to cover the largest sample of countries around the world. There were some other, alternative witchcraft questions, but they were only present in a small subset of those surveys, so they wouldn't allow me to have a large sample of countries.
In principle, this [00:08:00] question to me, it's not ideal, but it's not too bad, either. The main reason why it's not ideal is this initial reference to the evil eye, and, as you may know, the evil eye belief is actually different from witchcraft beliefs. I have a paper on that as well. And so the evil eye belief is typically viewed as a belief in the supernatural, destructive force of envious glances.
So that's a bit more specific, actually a lot more specific than and witchcraft beliefs. And so my hope was in my study is that the second part of the question, the clarifying part, the part in which the interviewer basically explains to you that they mean the belief that some people have an ability to cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone. So my hope was that this clarification kind of settle things and focuses the respondent's attention in such a way that they know what they're being asked about.
One may, by the way, disagree in principle that's the definition of [00:09:00] witchcraft, by the way, even that second clarifying part. And curiously, after my paper was published, this most recent paper was published. I received a couple of emails from quite disappointed people who told me that I am propagating a negative view of witchcraft.
And so in their view, witchcraft actually meant a very different thing, and they viewed witchcraft as using supernatural powers for good. So it's a bit unfortunate though, of course there are these different views about what witchcraft is. And so I had to explain to that person that I'm following in the footsteps of a large literature in history and anthropology that does view witchcraft as this ability to cause harm through supernatural means.
But of course there are many related beliefs and sometimes they're labeled the same way. Beliefs in healers, who can have healing powers, supernatural powers [00:10:00] to cause good stuff. And so that's the phenomenon that I don't explore at all. And so in my view, I'm using the traditional, standard scholarly definition of witchcraft, but some of the people, including maybe some of your listeners may disagree, in which case this is just not a paper about the phenomenon that they are curious about, and that's fine.
Sarah Jack: Thank you for touching on that too, and all of that. This thing that we're navigating through, it deals with all those facets, so thank you for speaking to that.
Boris Gershman: I don't want to say that people who view witchcraft differently are wrong in some way. I'm just saying that's the definition and approach that I'm using and that it's not weird. It's actually following a long tradition among anthropologists and sociologists and historians who viewed witchcraft the same way, so it's not a weird definition.
Sarah Jack: [00:11:00] What was your main goal?
Boris Gershman: So I should mention that by the way, this paper that we are focusing on right now, published just a few months ago, that's not my first paper on the subject, and I've been working on that for quite a while. But in this particular paper, my goal was to collect as much information as possible on the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs around the world and compile this global data set and then use that data set to explore the correlates of witchcraft beliefs.
That is to identify the factors, the variables that go together with witchcraft beliefs at the individual level and at the country level. So in a way, it's a descriptive paper in the sense that it doesn't establish cause and effect. And again, I want to be very clear about that from the get-go, because oftentimes you read, say, a [00:12:00] piece of journalism that describes my paper, and the results that I find are stated using this causal language that X causes Y causes X.
Unfortunately, the correlational analysis of this paper does not allow us to make such strong statements, but it's a first pass at it. And this is meant to motivate further research. Hopefully, it will establish some causal mechanisms at work. So my goal was to compile as much information as possible and detect some correlational patterns. And I'm happy to expand on what I find and what the data look like.
Josh Hutchinson: And you used surveys from the Pew Research Center, correct?
Boris Gershman: That's right. So I rely on the surveys from the Pew Research Center, so that's a research center that is based right here in Washington, D.C. I've been working with their data now for almost 10 years. [00:13:00] And so with every new wave of surveys that they conduct, I'm keeping fingers crossed and hoping that they will include the witchcraft questions once again, so that I have something to work with.
And so at some point a couple of years ago, I realized that by now with the six waves of surveys that they conducted, I have enough information to build a really comprehensive, large scale database. And so in this paper, I use information from six survey waves conducted between 2008 and 2017. They were conducted by large geographic regions. So one survey wave was focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, another was focused on Western Europe, another one on Central and Eastern Europe, and so on. And the good thing for me is that each of those survey waves included the witchcraft question that I described earlier.
So I was able to merge all of these data together [00:14:00] to produce a consistent measure of witchcraft beliefs based on identical question asked in each of those surveys, right? Because we want witchcraft beliefs to be measured consistently. We don't want to be basing our measure on different questions, right? Because that's not right, that's not comparable. But thanks to the design of those surveys, that witchcraft question was available. And so after merging together all the data, I get a sample of about 140,000 people from 95 different countries and territories. And altogether, my back of the envelope calculation shows that they represent about half of the global adult population.
So there are certainly gaps in the data. So some populous countries are not covered. For example, China and India are not part of this database. But covering about half of the global adult population is not bad, I think. And so that's why I call it a global data [00:15:00] set, even though, technically it's not covering every, single nation in the world. And so another good thing about those surveys was that they were designed to be nationally representative. So what that means is that when I calculate a fraction of witchcraft believers in a given country based on a certain sample from that country, we can be fairly confident that this is pretty accurate, that this is really representative of population-wide prevalence of witchcraft beliefs and not just noise. So we have national representative numbers on the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs for these 95 countries and territories.
And the first kind of observation that I make in my paper is that first, the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs is high overall. So it's about 40% of the people in the entire sample that claim to believe in [00:16:00] witchcraft, as already defined earlier. So that's 4 out of 10. That's a lot. And so to some people who have not done research on the subject, that was a surprise, I think particularly for people in, let's call it the West, for lack of a better word, who perceive this as an outdated relic of the past, something that is irrelevant that we think about on Halloween or when we read Harry Potter books. There are a lot of people who think that this is not something that is relevant today. And so this first kind of headline number of 4 out of 10, that's a lot. 
But the second observation that I make, and to me that's probably more important as a research subject, is that we see how uneven these beliefs are spread around the world. So in some countries, we see that the prevalence of these beliefs is very low. For example, in [00:17:00] Scandinavia, in a country like Sweden, only about 9% population claim to believe in witchcraft, whereas in a country like Tunisia and many countries in the Middle East and some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, you have up to 90% people claiming to believe in the witchcraft.
So the distribution of these beliefs, the geographic distribution of their prevalence is highly uneven. And it's not just about world regions. So it's not about, say, Europe versus Latin America. If you look within Europe, you still see a lot of variation, right? So we have Sweden with 9%, but we also have countries like Portugal with almost 50%.
And so that's intriguing, right? Because you think, okay, Europe is all the same. It's many people think of Europe as just this homogeneous territory. But it's not the case economically, it's not the case culturally, politically and so on. And so from the research perspective, the fact that we have this unevenness [00:18:00] or we have variation in the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs around the world, that's an opportunity, because we can explore different correlates and see whether there are factors that go hand in hand with witchcraft beliefs, and we can look at the direction of the correlation and so on. And that's what I do in the paper.
Sarah Jack: One of the things that I wanted to make sure the listeners understood was when something has a positive or negative correlation, what that means so that they don't misunderstand if you say positive and then something else. If it was, they would misunderstand. 
Boris Gershman: Let me give you couple of examples. I'm sure we'll talk about a few examples. So I do two types of analysis in the paper. First, I look at the individual level witchcraft beliefs. So I'm trying to look at the factors at the individual level, particularly sociodemographic characteristics that are correlated with the personal belief in witchcraft. [00:19:00] That's the first part of the paper. And then most of the paper looks at the same thing, but across countries. So, which features at the country level are associated with witchcraft beliefs? So at the individual level, I look at standard social demographics, for example, things like age, gender, education, religious beliefs, and stuff like that.
And for instance, to give an example of a positive versus negative correlation, I find that there is a negative correlation between the level of education and individual belief in witchcraft. And what that means is that what I find is that people who report having a higher level of education, for example, have completed secondary school or have a higher level of education, and that they tend to be less likely to believe in witchcraft. So that's when we talk about negative correlation, which means higher level of education means on average, lower [00:20:00] likelihood of believing in witchcraft. 
On the other hand, I find some positive correlations. For example, I find, and that's an interesting result, that people who report that religion is more important in their lives. So people who are more religious are also more likely to believe in witchcraft. In other words, importance of religion and belief in God are positively correlated with witchcraft beliefs. So in a way, I find that these supernatural beliefs, whether it's belief in God or supernatural entity that is very much part of standard religious tradition, those beliefs go hand in hand with the supernatural beliefs like witchcraft, that is beliefs in the supernatural powers of human beings, which is quite curious. 
Some of the absence of correlations that I find are also interesting. [00:21:00] For instance, many people would believe that witchcraft beliefs are isolated to remote rural areas. I would say that would be the prior belief of a lot of people who haven't done research on witchcraft. So that's not what I find. So what I find is that witchcraft beliefs are actually equally prevalent statistically speaking in urban and rural areas today. I also find that there is no statistically significant difference by gender. So men and women are roughly equally likely to believe in witchcraft. I have found a very small correlation with age, where younger people actually are slightly more likely to believe in witchcraft. Again, something that may go against the prior belief of some of your listeners. Again, these are all correlations, and so I'm gonna repeat this mantra [00:22:00] again and again, because that's what they are and that's how they should be interpreted.
Josh Hutchinson: And the survey was limited to Christian and Islamic countries. How did that limit your ability to do an analysis on a global scale?
Boris Gershman: That's true. And so that has to do mostly with the design of the original Pew Research Center surveys. I should mention that these surveys did not really intend to study witchcraft. I was in a way lucky that question was even included. The purpose of those surveys was to study precisely the role of big religions like Christianity and Islam, and so the bulk of those surveys focused on the role of Islam and Christianity, which explains why these countries that are covered are mostly Christian or Muslim. 
On the one hand, it is a limitation, [00:23:00] of course. It means that, other religions are not really well represented, so I have nothing to say about that. On the other hand, if we look at my sample, if we look, say at the role of religious denomination and how it correlates with witchcraft beliefs, what I find is that other things equal, actually, whether you're a Christian or a Muslim, doesn't matter. So once again, this may come as a surprise or maybe not, but that does not correlate significantly with the likelihood of believing in witchcraft. And what's much more important is whether you are religious or not to begin with, as I already mentioned. So the lack of any affiliation, which mostly in the surveys mean that you are atheist or agnostic, so that's the part that would predict negatively your likelihood of believing in witchcraft.
But religious denomination, not so much.[00:24:00] I should also mention that, for example, there is a recent Pew Research Center survey in India, which, as you know, so it's partly Muslim but mostly Hindu. So that's a case where we move beyond Christianity or Islam. The reason why that survey did not make it to my global dataset is because the witchcraft question there sounds a bit different. So in that survey, they ask plainly, do you believe in witchcraft? As I explained earlier, I cannot merge together data that are based on distinct questions, right? Because that's not the right research design. I want perfect comparability or close to perfect comparability. Still, if you look at the India survey and at the other witchcraft question, you will see that it's also widespread among Hindus, so certainly witchcraft beliefs cut across [00:25:00] religious denominations as they cut across socio-demographic status, as they cut across gender, location of your residence, and so on. And so one of the takeaways from this initial analysis of socio-demographics is not so much about which factors predict the likelihood of believing in witchcraft, but the fact that no matter how you slice the society, within each stratum, you still have a large number of witchcraft believers.
So even those who have a relatively high level of education or those who report their personal economic situation to be very good, there are still plenty of witchcraft believers. So this cut across social strata is not something that is again particularly new for those who have been studying the phenomenon over the years. But it's one of the first times when we can see it actually in the data.
Sarah Jack: And this global look is [00:26:00] what's revealing this, and so the relationship between religious belief and witchcraft belief is religious belief. It's not necessarily specific religious belief.
Boris Gershman: So that's another takeaway that beliefs in the supernatural tend to go together. And I think one of the important points from what you correctly call the global look is that witchcraft beliefs are not in a way an oddity. I mentioned it earlier, but it's important for me to make this point clearly that it's not something that is in the past. It's not something that is left in behind in the Middle Ages or Early Modern period. It's something that's still very widespread. It's still something that's very much with us and [00:27:00] not contained in certain regions of the world, in those isolated remote communities, and so on. The manifestations of these beliefs are of course very different depending on where we look, but the truth is that when you ask people, when they're free to say, "no, I don't believe," a lot of them still say, "yes, I do believe in this." And that brings another point, which is that the numbers I provide in the paper are likely an understatement. Both because of how the question was phrased and also because, some people may feel sensitive about it and may say no, whereas maybe they're not sure. And so this kind of gray area was not captured in the survey. So these were yes or no answers. A very small percentage of the people volunteered to say, "I'm not sure" or refused to give an answer, but the majority gave a yes or no question.
So [00:28:00] it's a modern phenomenon. It's a widespread phenomenon. It's an important phenomenon. And we can talk about why it is important, cuz that's also something I obviously touch upon in my work and in this latest paper, as well.
Josh Hutchinson: And you found this belief in all of the 95 nations, including the United States, right?
Boris Gershman: That's right. So there are witchcraft believers everywhere, but of course their proportion varies. So in the United States, if I'm not mistaken, the proportion I found is 16%, which is relatively low compared to the global average. Still not a zero. The lowest proportion I found was that number for Sweden of about 9% that I referred to earlier. So that's still almost 1 out of 10, low but present. Like I said, it is probably more important that in a lot of these nations with a low prevalence of witchcraft beliefs, I think[00:29:00] the manifestation of these beliefs is much more hidden. So these beliefs are, is not something that you observe in daily life.
And so I think of this as a latent belief that remains mostly inside of you. Certainly there are much fewer stories about, say, witchcraft accusations or witchcraft persecutions in countries like Sweden or the United States compared to countries like India or South Africa. And so in that sense, I think beliefs find a more salient manifestation in some places in the world versus the other. And that is also something that's reflected perhaps by the low numbers that we observe. So I think maybe below a certain threshold these beliefs really don't manifest themselves so much in social life.
Josh Hutchinson: [00:30:00] In social life, you discuss how social control relates to witchcraft belief. What's the correlation there?
Boris Gershman: Yes. So, In the second part of my paper, we already talked about these individual level correlations so we can move to country level correlations. So I wanted to see which features of societies correlate with witchcraft beliefs. And so instead of just randomly looking at, different country level characteristics, I organized my analysis well based on the existing literature, right?
Because we have more than a century of ethnographic research on witchcraft beliefs and historical research and witchcraft beliefs. And there are many hypothesis that have been suggested about the role of witchcraft beliefs in societies and the consequences of witchcraft beliefs in societies. And so for me, as an economist, the natural labels to attach to those are costs and benefits. Some people may [00:31:00] disagree with these labels, but these are just that, labels. So I think that witchcraft believes may have some social costs, right? So some negative consequences, and they may have some social functions, right?
So there may be a reason why they exist and they persist over time. And so I sort different country level characteristics in these two buckets, so to speak. And I try to see whether there is any evidence consistent with these theories about the role of witchcraft beliefs in societies and their social costs.
And so the point that you raised about the social control is, I think, the main theory regarding the potential social function of witchcraft beliefs that exists in the literature. And so the idea here is that witchcraft beliefs and the fears that they generate essentially enforce cultural conformity or social conformity, [00:32:00] because anyone who transgresses social norms in any ways, anyone who violates the status quo in any way has this perceived likelihood of being bewitched or being accused of witchcraft, both of which are terrifying from the perspective of that person. And so the notion is that witchcraft beliefs serve as this cultural mechanism of maintaining order and social cohesion when alternative ways of maintaining order are absent. And by alternative mechanisms, I'm referring to modern formal institutions, right? All these laws and government institutions of the modern world that organize lives in societies, that organize the rules of the game, that tell us what is and what is not allowed or what punishment will face if we violate the law, the institutions that offer mechanisms for resolving [00:33:00] conflicts, and so on, the system of taxation that guides distribution of wealth, and so on and so forth. These come on the label of institutions, of formal institutions. And so when these institutions are absent, scholars have argued that witchcraft beliefs could serve this role of maintaining social cohesion under the threat of punishment for norm violation. 
So this is something that I try to investigate in my cross-country analysis. And so I do it in two ways. First, I want to check whether the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs correlates with other measures of cultural conformity. And so I look at different measures that, again, I take from previous literature. For example, one of the measures is an index of individualism versus collectivism. So that captures the extent to which societies are collectivists. That is, people in those societies view [00:34:00] themselves as part of a group rather than as this atomic individual with their personal will and the personal freedom of actions.
Another measure is, for example, the perceived importance of tradition in societies. So that's based on the question that asks people, "do you think tradition is important?" These are metrics about the importance on the other hand of things like risk taking or the importance of being adventurous or the importance of cultivating traits like creativity and imagination in children and stuff like that.
And so for all these metrics, I find that witchcraft beliefs are associated with higher conformist culture. So for example, more individualistic societies are less likely to have a high prevalence of witchcraft beliefs. More collectivist societies have more widespread witchcraft beliefs, or [00:35:00] societies where witchcraft beliefs are widespread place higher importance on tradition and place less importance on creativity and risk taking. So indeed we find that the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs goes hand in hand with the culture of conformity, which is consistent with this idea that they may actually enforce cultural conformity. 
The other way that I show evidence consistent with this idea, and that's one of the strongest patterns that I find, is that in countries with strong government institutions, witchcraft beliefs are much less prevalent. In other words, in countries that have high indices of the rule of law, high indices for the quality of governance, high confidence in local police, high confidence in the court system and other metrics. Those countries with high-quality, modern institutions governing [00:36:00] lives, witchcraft beliefs are much less prevalent, which is exactly consistent with this idea that if you have alternative mechanisms of organizing lives, witchcraft beliefs are not so useful to perform that function, and so they're less likely to persist.
So that's very much consistent with this view of witchcraft beliefs as playing a role of maintaining social cohesion, perhaps not in the best way under the threat of punishment but in societies that just lack an alternative ways of doing so. 
And so I like one old study from the sixties by a scholar Gertrude Dole. So she studied small society named Kuikuro in Brazil. So that society essentially lacked any kind of political authority. It lacked any sort of the way we think about them. And they had, on the other hand, witchcraft [00:37:00] beliefs that were highly prevalent. And the way Gertrude Dole interpreted that is, in her words, that these witchcraft beliefs and the fears that they triggered helped maintain, quote, "anarchy without chaos."
In other words, that society could exist in what we would call anarchy in the sense that there was no government, there were no institutions guiding the life in the community, but yet they were not descending into chaos because witchcraft related fears organized behavior in such a way that there was some semblance of order, right? The people behave themselves, because if they didn't, they would face this threat of witchcraft accusation or the threat of a witchcraft attack. So that's the core idea.
Sarah Jack: I really think back through history in the different witch hunts that flared up during transitions [00:38:00] of power or cultural transitions, because it's super cool and awful. 
Boris Gershman: Exactly. You are right. You're right. And the witch trials flaring up or witchcraft concerns have been observed to happen in times of structural transformation or a major shock to society and so on. You're right.
Sarah Jack: Oh, I wanted to know if you wouldn't mind, just while we're in this section, touching on the zero sum mindset that relates to the witchcraft belief.
Boris Gershman: Yes. So that's a very interesting observation, and I think it's a bit understudied. And I know there is work in progress by some of my fellow economist colleagues that on the zero sum beliefs and witchcraft as it relates to it. But looking first at the ethnographic or anecdotal evidence we see that oftentimes witchcraft beliefs are related to zero sum [00:39:00] thinking, right?
Which means that someone's gain necessarily means someone else's loss. And the way that this has manifested itself in the context of witchcraft beliefs is, for example, as follows. So oftentimes we see that witchcraft accusations are applied to peoples who somehow stand out or show off, for lack of a better word. This may not be showing off proper, but that maybe, for example, someone who say, decides to go to city to get education, unlike most of other members of the community. Or maybe that's someone who decided to take a risk and adopt a new fertilizer to improve crop yields. And then imagine that person does have increased crops.
And then in the case of this good fortune, that person may face witchcraft accusation. Why? [00:40:00] Because if someone gets richer, according to the zero sum mindset, that can only happen at the expense of other community members. So in a way, you are getting richer, but while doing so, you must be harming the rest of the community.
And so then those people who show up who, who stand out are more likely to face witchcraft, accusation just by the merely trying to improve their wellbeing. So that's important, and that I think is what I show also in the paper is that the zero sum mindset measured in couple of ways correlates positively with the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs. And certainly this is something we observe in anecdotes.
I have another paper that relates to that a little bit, and so maybe that's a, an opportunity for me to just bring it up, at least a little bit. That also by the way relates to your previous point about the role of major [00:41:00] shocks in terms of propagating witchcraft beliefs.
So I have this paper from a couple of years ago on the role of slave trade in propagating or entrenching witchcraft beliefs in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Latin America. And so what I show in that paper is that in Sub-Saharan Africa society is that we're more heavily exposed to the slave trade or history today are more likely to believe in witchcraft. 
And on the one hand, of course, like I said, this relates to this whole notion that a big misfortune or a big shock triggers this witchcraft beliefs and witchcraft concerns. And so that goes along with that big observation, because obviously the experience of slave trade was terrible shock and misery for locals in sub-Saharan Africa.
But also it has to do with the zero-sum worldview. What we see in historical [00:42:00] evidence is that during the era of the slave trade the slave traders, the perpetrators, the Europeans and their accomplices in the continent were widely viewed as witches, right? Because they were the source of the huge misfortune. And in that case, that fit extremely well with the zero sum mindset. Because what happened is that those witches, the Europeans and their local accomplices were literally enriching themselves at the expense of the lives of the local Africans, right? They were being captured, enslaved, and transferred across the ocean. They were suffering, and at the expense of that suffering, the witches, the Europeans, the white witches were getting richer. So in that sense, it's actually one of those cases where the zero-sum perception actually fit the [00:43:00] reality, so to speak. So I think it's an interesting point and your question on the zero sum thinking brought that up in mind.
Sarah Jack: Thanks for bringing all of your knowledge into this conversation, cuz that very much supplements understanding this global analysis. Thank you.
Josh Hutchinson: What you've said really explains a lot of the historical situations particularly what's going on right now in Sub-Saharan Africa, where you see a persistence of people acting on witchcraft belief with accusations but also in Salem and New England witch trials, we see something of the zero sum mindset where a person who improves their life is then targeted, or if they stand out in some way through lack of religious conformity. Just anybody who stood out was a likely target.[00:44:00] 
Boris Gershman: That's exactly right. And that kind of ties up nicely our discussion of both the zero sum thinking and the way witchcraft beliefs enforce conformity. Whether it's conformity in material wellbeing, let's call it this way, that is, you can't get richer than others, you have to share, let's put it this way, or if it's a religious conformity or if it's any sort of normal behavior that is part of the status quo.
So we see again and again, how in different settings witchcraft beliefs operate to maintain the preexisting status quo and the preexisting social norms. And so I think it's interesting because when we started talking about it, I brought it up as what has been argued to be a social function of witchcraft beliefs.
And indeed, you may think of the circumstances when it's important for the society to be mobilized in this way, to be [00:45:00] cohesive in this way, even if it's under the threat of punishment. But of course, this leads directly to all sorts of things that we may view as negative side effects or social costs. And in fact, it's much easier to list the negatives or the negative consequences of witchcraft beliefs compared to the possible social benefits. And so I dedicate many pages in the paper on these potential side effects, right? So as I already mentioned on the one hand, conformity may be viewed as a good thing under special circumstances, but the flip side of it is that anything like innovation, accumulation, creativity is discouraged.
Because if you are creative, if you are innovative, if you want to accumulate something, if you want to acquire wealth, if you want to acquire education, if you want to advance the wellbeing of your children, let's say, all of that [00:46:00] comes with the risk of being accused of witchcraft or being bewitched.
But of course, all of these things are essential in terms of driving economic growth, in terms of driving the wellbeing of societies. And these side effects from the perspective of the drivers of something like economic growth are really major. And so I show that there are very strong correlations, negative ones between, for example, the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs and the culture of innovation and the actual metrics of innovation.
I show that there is a correlation between the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs and anxiety, right? Something that I actually explore in the paper I'm currently writing that the connection here is pretty obvious, right? The fears of witchcraft and accusations are really terrifying things, and we start seeing it in the data that people [00:47:00] who believe in witchcraft also tend to report higher levels of anxiety and negative emotions and lower levels of life satisfaction. Which by the way, stands in sharp contrast with the positive role of religion with respect to calming anxiety. So that's some work in progress. 
But basically I show that there are a number of these negative side effects. One big side effect that I studied also in my earlier paper is the erosion of social relations. That is, the harmful impact of witchcraft related fears on relations within community, on trust, on cooperation, on helping each other out. So there is an obvious corrosive effect of these witchcraft related fears on mutual trust. And I've documented it for Sub-Saharan Africa in the paper published way back in 2016. I document the similar [00:48:00] correlations at the country level in this most recent paper published a few month ago.
And that's also consistent with lots and lots of ethnographic evidence and how basically these beliefs can destroy communities now they just keep people on edge. And of course we haven't touched upon perhaps the most extreme manifestation of the harm potentially caused by witchcraft beliefs, which is when they lead to accusations, persecutions, and sanctions, all the way up to killings.
It's easy to come up with the social costs. It's not so easy to come up with social functions. I try to be objective and do both in the paper and think the patterns that I show are consistent with the presence of lots of things on the cost side and also with this potentially organizing role [00:49:00] in societies that lack better ways of doing so. But I think it's important to look at this phenomenon comprehensively. And try to be open to the idea that in some societies, perhaps even today these beliefs play a certain function. Because if we ignore that, if we just try to, say, eradicate these beliefs, whatever it takes, brute force, I'm very much against this kind of approach because this is likely to backfire as we've seen in history, as well. So we know that various attempts to say outlaw something like witchcraft persecutions or accusations were viewed very negatively typically by local societies, and were perceived as an attempt to side with the witches, to let them loose to oppose the persecution of [00:50:00] what was widely seen as a crime of witchcraft. And so I think a much more soft approach would be constructive in making a cultural change. And so for that to happen, we need to understand the circumstances under which witchcraft beliefs tend to stick around because they fulfill a certain function.
Josh Hutchinson: We've spoken with activists in South Africa and Nigeria, and they point out that there are laws against witchcraft accusations in place that either have no effect or might actually encourage witchcraft accusations by specifying that witchcraft is illegal.
Boris Gershman: Yes, exactly. So that's what I meant by these laws backfiring. Some countries still have these kinds of laws, which are [00:51:00] counterproductive, but these were often established by colonial administrations. And these were copied from their own countries. They were copied without considerations of possible unintended consequences that they may trigger. And you're right, they would often be either ignored and not enforced at all or backfire in such a way that these colonial administrations will be seen as helping the witches out. And so in some cases, these laws were subsequently repealed, and witchcraft beliefs were enshrined as part of a country's culture or. Freedom of religion and call it whatever you want. 
But it poses really an interesting question in terms of what can be done from the legal perspective and so on. And it's a tricky balance. I think it's balance that is well reflected in UN resolution. The [00:52:00] general assembly resolution that was passed in summer of 2021. You may be familiar with it, but it's a resolution that condemned in legalese language. They call it harmful practices related to witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks.
And so these legal documents are always very hard to read. But the basic idea is that on the one hand it's a call to eradicate these harmful practices, particularly persecutions, of course, the most obvious violations of human rights that happen in this context. But at the same time, they have as one of their bullet points, if my memory served me well, they emphasize that this should not come at the expense of limiting religious freedom. In other words, we want people to believe in whatever they want, right? It's God or witchcraft or demons or evil spirits, you name it. Everyone should feel free to believe in [00:53:00] whatever they want. But there is a line that should not be crossed in the sense that these cannot turn into persecutions of people and violation of their human rights.
So that resolution was trying to strike this balance, and I think that's the right kind of balance. But at the same time, it's not clear how that's gonna be enforced. And in any case, these types of the resolutions are not really laws, strictly speaking, they're just calls for action that may or may not be reflected in local laws in any way.
So yeah it's a very tricky thing and I think that's reflects this idea. We have to tread really carefully that you can't be too forceful with kind of interfering with people's beliefs and culture. And I think what the right approach is to look at these fundamentals that make witchcraft beliefs stick around.
So in my [00:54:00] opinion, and based on my research, there are two main fundamentals. So one is the one we discussed a lot, which is modern institutions. That is, societies build up those institutions that defined property rights well, that provide a fair court system to resolve disputes, that provide protection, and so on. If we have those institutions to govern societies, then I think witchcraft beliefs will be less relevant as a mechanism to structure lives, and they will likely disappear or diminish in a natural way just because they cause more harm than they do good. It's very unlikely for social institution to persist indefinitely if it's a net negative, right? So if it's just causing social [00:55:00] harm without serving any purpose, it may persist, but it's unlikely to persist indefinitely. 
The other factor is the vulnerability of people, and that's something that we haven't touched upon. So maybe it's the right moment, which is that the most superficial role of witchcraft beliefs is to explain, quote unquote, "bad events" or "misfortunes". So you have sickness, you have death, you have crop failure, you have bad marriage, you are losing your job, you name it, a misfortune, you want an explanation for it. That goes back to the deep human need to have a cause for everything. And so witchcraft beliefs serve that purpose superficially by saying, okay, it's witchcraft, right?
So something bad happens. Why did it happen to me? It's witchcraft. Now, of course, this raises a bigger issue of, why would you explain a misfortune through witchcraft? But that's a whole different level of [00:56:00] conversation. But anyway, witchcraft beliefs in societies where they exist, they serve this purpose. They serve to explain misfortune. So the corollary of that is that maybe, if there are fewer misfortunes in societies, maybe that could help. Or maybe if you make societies less vulnerable to things like disease and drought. And if you have an established social safety net, for example, for people who suffer a loss or hardship, then you know they would not be so desperate to find an explanation for whatever fell on them in the evil intentions of their fellow human beings.
And so that could be another factor that could naturally diminish the role of witchcraft beliefs as explainers of misfortunes. It's not a panacea for sure, because in all [00:57:00] societies there are some misfortunes, right? You cannot eliminate all misfortunes from our life. But you can certainly diminish the incidents of those misfortunes, particularly some of those that are crucial for wellbeing.
In countries that rely on agriculture for subsistence, a drought is a terrible calamity. So if you have some sort of insurance mechanism against, that'll help a lot. Or in countries with widespread epidemics, you can deal with that somehow and diminish the incidence of sickness and so on.
So I think developing institutions and decreasing social vulnerability would go a long way in making these beliefs less relevant, let's put it this way, with the hope that that will contribute to their, the decrease in their popularity with the beneficial effect of decreasing all those harmful consequences that we discussed before.
Josh Hutchinson: Yeah, that's so critically important, what you've [00:58:00] just said. You can't just go in there, rush in and try to take the belief away. You can't rush in and stop the killings without having some other mechanisms in place to replace the social function of witchcraft. And we need to consider that when making UN resolutions. The Human Rights Council will be meeting to discuss further action on the harmful practices, and we're hoping that they will understand that you need this nuanced approach, this balance.
Boris Gershman: I think that's right, and I do think they are aware of it. I know the work of some of the scholars who contributed to the emergence of that resolution, and I know they exercise a lot of care in these issues. They try to [00:59:00] strike these balance, and a lot of them are doing field work in some of the countries where witchcraft accusations are still widespread and witchcraft persecutions are still widespread. And they're well aware that these drastic interventions may backfire and at best be some kind of a temporary relief and certainly long-term solution of any sort would require time and care and more of a deeper transformation in the conditions in which those societies live rather than proclaiming that don't do this kind of stuff, that just or even worse, believing in this is wrong. Like these are the things that just won't work, will backfire, and just are ineffective. I completely agree.
Sarah Jack: I'm just processing, processing, processing.
Josh Hutchinson: This is all so fascinating. 
Boris Gershman: Yes, there is certainly lot to talk about. [01:00:00] Yes, I mean, this is a, such a multi-dimensional issue and it's a hard one. There are so many things going on and what I'm hoping for is that my own work, the work of other scholars will raise awareness that with this paper that we spent most of the time on, that it will convey this message that it's not an obscure thing, it's something that's still very much present that it's important to understand, it's important to study. 
When I started working on this now almost 10 years ago or so it was hard to sell it, let's put it this way. And, you know, I'm an economist, so it was super hard for me particularly to sell it, because why should an economist do this in the first place? That was weird. And so, you know, I'm happy that I managed to still continue doing this work and attract some attention. And I feel like with over the years, this has been an [01:01:00] understanding increasingly so that it's important for economists and policy makers and of social scientists overall to work on culture. That this is not a laughing matter, that it's not the stuff of Harry Potter or Halloween, that it's a serious matter. And I do feel like there's been a. A change in the perception of these cultural issues. And I hope that the work in this area will continue and that this will also be part of policy making, at least to the extent that before any kind of policy interventions there should be a survey of let's call it local cultural landscape, and the understanding of how that local cultural landscape will interfere with any sorts of policies or development programs and so forth.
They are so widespread in the modern world. [01:02:00] And the understanding that culture is essential for the success or failure of some of these programs or policies, the understanding of that I think is very important. And there should be more work done on witchcraft. There should be more work done on other beliefs.
And as economist, someone who's used to working with data and who's used to working on issues quantitatively, I think gathering more statistics, gathering more hard evidence beyond case studies is particularly important because that kind of evidence, I think would potentially be more convincing for policy makers and other people who make these types of decisions. So I'm calling for more of a quantitative science of witchcraft beliefs and culture more broadly.
Josh Hutchinson: I think that is so important, [01:03:00] and thank you for the work that you've done on that. I think countries like South Africa right now, they're considering repealing the old Witchcraft Suppression Act, but they're law reform committee is also considering replacing it with a law against harmful witchcraft practices. And we're wondering, how do they see that working better than what they have right now? And hopefully some more analysis will help them to make those plans better.
Boris Gershman: Yes. I agree. But with all these laws the repeal and replace I think I'm generally on the side of skepticism in the sense that as we've seen through the years, what's written on paper does not typically turn into enforcement ,and we [01:04:00] don't know to what extent and how these laws can be enforced or will be enforced.
And so that's part of the reason why I think these types of interventions are not very likely to be effective, frankly, in having any impact on beliefs or persecutions. Of course, we should try to do whatever we can to deal at least with these most outrageous manifestations of witchcraft beliefs, which are the killings, right? So I think we should try everything to, at the very least, deal with these egregious violation of human rights in that form. But as I said, beyond this, there are lots of other less visible costs that these practices cost. So even if there is a way of preventing the killings, there would still be a [01:05:00] heavy burden of witchcraft beliefs in other areas, whether it's social relations or psychological wellbeing or innovation and so on.
And so there will still be a question of, what do we do with that? So it's not just a matter of preventing the most cruelest manifestation of witchcraft persecutions, but also what the biggest chunk of the iceberg that is underneath the tip, right? And of course, that is something that is often hidden, right?
So we do observe these cases of witchcraft persecutions and killings, and they show up occasionally in news reports. That's what gets attention. And they absolutely should. But you don't have a news report on something like, oh, because of the fear of witchcraft, that person decided not to go to school. You know [01:06:00] what I mean? That sounds like a boring story, but when you add up all these small stories, that's a lot, right? That's a huge impact. So by all means, I think everything necessary should be done to prevent the killings, but there is much more than that.
And by the way, it was one interesting observation that I noticed. I was recently reading this book on witch hunts with a focus on India. And what struck me there is that in India, particularly in, in the states where these witchcraft accusations are common there are laws against witchcraft persecutions. That doesn't stop them. And in fact what was interesting in the case studies described in that book is that oftentimes, and I wanna say in most of the case studies they described, the person who committed the crime of killing the alleged witch. The person is eventually [01:07:00] caught by the police and put in prison. Okay? So they face their, I don't know if it's justice, but they face the consequences of their crime. And yet the existence of these laws and the reality of people going to jail for committing that crime does not prevent the crime, okay? Of course, we know that laws do not prevent all the crime, but my point is that it's not a silver bullet, right? You can have laws against persecuting witches. It doesn't mean that these persecutions will stop. It doesn't mean that they will end. So we need more fundamental changes that will just contribute to the decline of the beliefs, decline of the necessity to accuse someone of that, or even in the instances when someone is accused, we want that to [01:08:00] gain no traction, right? Because in some cases, accusations are made, but they go nowhere because there's not enough support from the local community. You need some support, some consensus to bring it to the next level, so to speak.
And so if you don't have witchcraft beliefs widespread in society, or if you can change the minds of the people in terms of attributing certain events to witchcraft, then the lack of consensus or the lack of the critical mass of people who are willing to consent to the decision to initiate persecution that may be sufficient to prevent those.
So that's another channel. Yeah. So an accusation, as you know, does not automatically transform into persecution. And persecutions may also come in very different forms, right? Everyone knows about the most egregious one, which ends up with killing. In some [01:09:00] societies it may be a matter of a simple fine, right, monetary payment, or it may be a matter of a simple cleansing ritual, relatively harmless.
Again, other things equal, that's preferable to banishing a person, ostracizing a person, or killing a person. So it would also be important to understand why sanctions differ across societies. And here, of course, we have very little hard data to work with. So we have lots of case studies, and I think it's a very fascinating question of how beliefs transform into accusations, how accusations transform into persecutions, and how the punishment is chosen or decided.
Josh Hutchinson: So you still have the underlying anxiety and fear to address. You can't just [01:10:00] go in and say, "don't murder these people." Because that's not a deterrent against the killing. You have all that anxiety and fear that eventually bubbles over and causes these actions.
Boris Gershman: Exactly. 
Sarah Jack: It's so great that you were able to do what you've done with this information. We use the word link. Witchcraft beliefs are linked to innovation, linked to economic development, linked to this crime and fear. It's link is almost too minimal of a word cuz it's one large mechanism with all these components. But the numbers and your analysis show how it fits together.
Boris Gershman: Yes. That was the main goal. To see that, to show that there are systematic patterns that is not just one story and another story, and that case study and this case study that we see some systematic patterns. And of course, we want to [01:11:00] know more. We want to have studies that can tease out the causal impact, which is always very difficult, right? Because you, it's very hard to make experiments with culture. But, hopefully, more work will be done in this area. And so I view my own contributions kind of a motivation for further studies.
Sarah Jack: It's a significant contribution. It's significant.
Josh Hutchinson: The data shows such widespread belief, and even in the countries where it's lower, you pointed out in Sweden and Scandinavia, it's one in 10 people. So everybody knows somebody who has this witchcraft belief and fear. One in six Americans, I think it was around one in eight in the UK. That's your friends, your family, somebody in your circle has this belief in fear.
Boris Gershman: [01:12:00] Absolutely. I know people in my family who believe that, my extended family, so yeah, it's not uncommon. It's not uncommon at all even in societies where you may not expect it, so certainly a big point, certainly important to have in mind. And another signal for the wide community of people who develop policies, who interfere in any way with people's lives, the governments and so on, to take this issue seriously and not rely on a mechanistic, technocratic approach and brushing away people's culture, people's beliefs as something that is irrelevant or weak or that's something that can be ignored or can be changed or shaped [01:13:00] at will. 
It's a hard process to change the beliefs. There is a very high degree of persistence, just because we acquire a lot of what we believe from our parents and then our children acquire beliefs from us and so on. So through this process of what we call vertical cultural transmission, there is always some degree in persistence. And we see it in all sorts of religious beliefs. We see it even in things like political beliefs and so on. And so this mechanistic force of cultural learning will continue operating and will continue making it hard for these beliefs to evolve quickly.
Josh Hutchinson: It took time, Europe and North America, we had, our age of Witch Hunts in the early modern period, and it took time to phase out of that, replace that thinking with something new, [01:14:00] and we think it'll take time elsewhere. Hopefully, not too long to address the killings, but as you pointed out, the government intervention, they're going to have to put other mechanisms in place, and that will take time. In places where tradition is especially important, it's going to take time to change those beliefs. 
Boris Gershman: Yes, I agree completely, but I think that's exactly the right way to think about it. To me what was happening in the early modern period in Europe, in America, that actually was not that long time ago. You know what I mean? It's not that long time ago. And it's very different now, and I certainly don't see any reason to believe that something like that won't happen throughout the world once these fundamentals that we discussed[01:15:00] change. And so to me that transformation that happened in Europe and America, these are exactly the cases that point to the future where these issues will be less pervasive and witchcraft related fears around the world will not be as salient as they are now, particularly in, in certain communities.
Hopefully, it's not gonna be a matter of a couple of centuries. Hopefully, the transformation will take a shorter amount of time, and as you said, particularly in regard to killings. It will take time though, so we have to be ready for that. And we have to understand that this is just a process that should not be rushed even if we understand urgency of dealing with the most outrageous manifestation of these beliefs.[01:16:00] 
Josh Hutchinson: Something you said earlier really got me thinking about how these beliefs and actions have transformed over time. In the early modern period, the nation state was just emerging. You see all the network of kingdoms and duchies and all those minor states being replaced with stronger centralized governments, and in the US you saw the revolution, the federal governments introduced, the state governments are introduced, and the nations where we see a lot of the witchcraft killings today are post-colonial, and those institutions are still emerging, and I think that we have to help those institutions along, and that will help [01:17:00] drive the change.
Boris Gershman: Absolutely. I completely agree with this and this institutional fundamentals I think are essential. It's important that societies have an alternative way to organize their lives. That they have the rules of the game, so to speak, defined by these institutions. And then, I do think that the process of developing these institutions will contribute naturally to the demise of these beliefs, just because they won't serve a useful purpose anymore.
And I think you are exactly right that historically the process of state formation in Europe and US contributed to the decline of these institutions. That's also a theme of another book. There is a book I think it's titled Cursed Britain, about the decline of witchcraft beliefs in Britain. And so one of the interesting points that is made in that book is that of course, with the decline of witch trials, the famous witch [01:18:00] trials, witchcraft beliefs did not disappear in Britain. So it took a while for them to reach this low level that we see in the modern data. And the author makes a case that it is particularly the development of state capacity and the development of institutions like police force and court system and so on, that contributed to this decline perhaps even more than the improvement in the standard of living or the improvement in literacy and things like that.
And so I do tend to agree with the fundamental role of institutions in contributing to the decline of witchcraft beliefs and persecutions.
We have the urgency in the sense that we are talking about people's lives, so people who actually are killed for allegedly being a witch. So that's an urgent matter and we can do whatever it takes to eliminate that. But at the same time, I think that the process of[01:19:00] decreasing the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs and diminishing the other large social costs of those beliefs is something that is going to take time and is something that will require some of the fundamental changes. That was the point.
I don't have any estimates of how long this may take. I have only speculation about some of the factors that may contribute to this process. But yeah, I think we should tread lightly while also trying to address those urgent cases of abuse that we see in relation to witchcraft beliefs. 
Josh Hutchinson: Now, here's Sarah with an important update on Connecticut, witch trial exoneration legislation.
Sarah Jack: Here is your Connecticut, witch trial exoneration. Weekly legislation news. On the first day of women's history month, 2023, . The Connecticut legislature's joint committee and judiciary [01:20:00] heard testimony for the joint committee proposed bill 34. Concerning certain witchcraft convictions in colonial Connecticut. 
The Connecticut witch trial exoneration project and some others, descendants of colonial connecticut community members gave testimony, expressing the crucial and relevant matter of exonerating those executed for witchcraft in the 17th century Connecticut. I was one of the exoneration advocates that gave testimony today. Giving testimony as to why my ancestor should be acknowledged as an innocent, which trial victim was a continuation of her own plea of innocence. Today. 
The women back then. Proclaim their innocence and the men did not listen today I proclaimed their innocence. But did my message find a more receptive audience overall, that appears to be the case. We are encouraged to see more legislators signing on as bill sponsors. You can listen to today's informative testimonies. 
The link is in the show description. There's a lot that can be taught from the comments and questions that arose today. We want [01:21:00] to make a few clarifications. After someone who is a witch trial victim has been ostracized, it takes a family three to four generations to recover. And so the generational impact to the witch trial victim families carry on beyond the revolution. The relevance of historic which trials can be seen when you consider the modern alleged, witch attacks and the societal othering we've witnessed. The Connecticut accused witches were accused of signing a compact with the devil. 
Their charges had nothing to do with modern paganism. Every trial in Connecticut had its own circumstances leading up to the accusations. Because compacting with the devil is not possible, we know those accused were innocent. Descendants seeking exoneration have come together in collaboration to tell the stories of their accused ancestors, despite coming from different backgrounds, with different belief systems and political leanings. 
Granting exoneration does not mean other pressing issues are responded to less. Let's not avoid facing historical wrongs any longer. Correcting the [01:22:00] historical record, like exonerating innocent victims of the witch trials is the right thing to do. The stories of the women in the Connecticut trials are interesting and unique, enriching Connecticut's history telling. 
What we want, not a pardon, an exoneration because they were innocent. No reparations. The next steps after this are memorials, educational programs, and the recognition of Connecticut's unique history. The judiciary committee still has to vote on the bill before it can go on to the House and Senate. We must keep communicating. Will you take time today to write to a member of the judiciary committee asking them to recognize the relevance of exonerating Connecticut witch trial victims? You can do this, whether you are a Connecticut resident or anywhere else in the world. You should do it from right where you are. Now's the time and place to stand for acknowledging that women were not and are not capable of harming others with diabolical or maleficent powers. 
The victims we wish to exonerate are known to be innocent. The victims of today that [01:23:00] we wish to protect are known to be innocent. You can find the information you need to contact a committee member with a letter in the show links. The Connecticut, witch trial exoneration project strongly urges the General Assembly to hear the voices of the witch trial victims being amplified by the community today. They were not witches. We hope you will pass this legislation without delay. 
Our project is offering several ways for exoneration supporters to plug in and participate or learn about the exoneration and history. Links to all these informative opportunities are listed in the episode description. Use your social power to help Alice Young, America's first executed witch finally be acknowledged. Support the descendants by acknowledging and sharing their ancestor stories. Please use all your communication channels to be an intervener and stand with them. The world must stop hunting witches. Please follow our project on social media. @ctwitchhunt. 
 And visit our website at The Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project is a project [01:24:00] of End Witch Hunts Movement. End Witch Hunts is a nonprofit organization founded to educate about witch trial history and advocate for alleged witches. Please support us with your donations or purchases of educational, witch trial books and merchandise. You can shop our merch at,, and shop our books at /endwitchhunts. We want you as a super listener. You can help keep the Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast in production by super listening with your monthly monetary support. See episode descriptions for links to these support opportunities. We thank you for standing with us and for helping us create a world that is safe from witchcraft accusations. 
Thank you, Sarah.
You're welcome.
Josh Hutchinson: And thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast.
Sarah Jack: Join us like you always do next week.
Josh Hutchinson: Subscribe wherever you get your [01:25:00] podcasts.
Sarah Jack: Visit our website,
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell your friends and family.
Sarah Jack: Thank you for supporting our efforts at End Witch Hunts. If you'd like to donate, please visit our website at to learn more.
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow.
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