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Witches and Weed

The Demonisation of Witchcraft and Drugs for our Corrupt Social Anxieties


When we think about witches, images of pointed hats, brooms and black cats spring to mind. We don’t typically think of syringes, cigarettes or someone hunched over snorting white powder with their friends.

Witches and drugs have been demonised for hundreds of years under the pretence that deviance ought to be punished. Have a societal problem that you can’t seem to fix? Are women becoming too powerful? Are immigrants causing you racial anxiety? Blame your worries on the weirdos and the drugs that they use. Squash their deviance and make them into evil monsters that must be punished: scapegoating at its finest.

Abnormality has never sat well with normality and when normality is disrupted, the prosecutors come out with fire and pitchforks. Don’t fix your fears, fight them instead. Yes, this may be a bit of an exaggeration for drug punishment but witches unfortunately faced far grislier deaths for social fears.

Inappropriate Witchy Business

Witchcraft first became punishable by law in England under the ‘1542 Witchcraft Act’ established by King Henry the VIII. Witchcraft became a crime punishable by death and anyone who performed magical acts to harm someone, obtain money, or attack Christianity was condemned. This act was soon replaced however by the 1563 ‘Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts’ — a clear move that showed the fear of magic and witches was growing.

Of course, women (and some men) were murdered for these false crimes long before these acts were even created. And to back up these wild allegations judges, magistrates and priests all used one book in particular: Malleus Maleficarum. Considered as the most famous book on witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum of 1486 was used to condemn people of well anything they didn’t want women to do. As fear grew of women owning their own sexuality and identity they became known as “impure spirits” that were “devils deputed by god,” existing only for the “temptation of men and the punishment of the damned.” Sex without procreation was seen an “abomination” and one of the most “foulest and beastliest acts” that a person could commit.

Looks like I’m going to hell everyone. But it’s okay — I’ll have plenty of friends there.

From the beginning of the fifteenth century to the end of the seventeenth it is estimated that between 60,000 to millions of people were murdered as witches, and 80% of these deaths were women. Witchcraft was the “near-perfect method of social control” admits Manderson (2005), as it defined the deviant as “evil” and “invisible,” making condemnation swift and “indisputable.” If you know something is evil but can’t actually prove it then you may as well kill it just in case. That’s how logic works, right?

So, how does this all fit with the demonisation of drugs? Well, Witches amongst many other things were herbalists, midwives and abortionists and according to Malleus Maleficarum, had “the exact knowledge of the virtue of herbs.” Drugs therefore, were quite literally “the instrument of the devil” and any association with them no matter how good, would result in your horrific torture or death. It is no wonder then, that drugs have been condemned as evil, just as witches have been.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Drugs have been used for thousands of years for everything really. Any ailment, ache or pain and you’d be able to find something that would (hopefully) alleviate your woes; but if you used too much or you were slightly abnormal, then punishment would be coming your way.

In the late nineteenth century it was common for Chinese immigrants to be found smoking opium in Europe, America and Australia. Opium dens in Victoria for instance became so abundant that racial fears against the Chinese grew. Chinese immigrants became exclusively associated with opium smoking even though there is photographic evidence that the drug appealed cross-culturally. Thus, the Chinese were labelled as “evil,” and the dens were plagued with “infamy and immortality” that seduced and “abandoned European women.” As a result, the 1868 Victorian Parliament Report announced that “exceptional legislation must be provided for [these] exceptional people” to save them “from ruining themselves and society around them.” Opium subsequently became illegal in 1905.

And so the demonisation of drugs continued well into the 1970’s, where US President Richard Nixon announced his ‘War on Drugs,’ with Australia soon after declaring its ‘Tough on Drugs’ (1997), and The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime adopting ‘a drug free world: we can do it!’ (1998). ‘Killer-Weed’ became a ‘Drop-out Drug’ in the sixties as it was no longer predominantly used by so-called minorities and criminals but by Caucasian students who apparently lacked initiative and were rebellious. Yet every attempt made by the legal system to control drug use has failed. Make drugs illegal and people will just resort to the black market. Destroy drug markets and another market will just pop up in another country. So when all else fails, blame the drug and the drug user — for it is they who are the most deviant of all.

Abnormality and the Cure for Normal

Witchcraft and drugs though seemingly different hold a connection of demonisation dating far back into our past. Witches become addicted to the devil in the same way that the drug user becomes addicted to their choice of evil. If there were truly witches around what harm could they have inflicted on normality? Most likely they would’ve kept to themselves and

continued to use herbs and magic to help people - and maybe throw around a few curses or two. Instead of being demonised drug users could take their drugs without fear of persecution. After all, weed has been proven to reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis, tobacco helps to calm shaky nerves and LSD makes you see some pretty cool stuff.

Perhaps then, we should be looking at a cure for normality, for the definition of normal is dependent on the individual themselves. My normal is not the same as your normal and vice versa. Normality and abnormality should not be placed in different boxes. In fact, by labelling abnormality one creates the deviant and the social problem continues to grow. I rather like deviance, especially witches, as they love nature and magic just as I do. Afterall, life would be pretty boring if we all adopted the same normal ideals — and that would be truly terrifying.


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