Noble: Prevent fever with your vote |

Noble: Prevent fever with your vote

The core of the charming Swiss village I once called home contains buildings constructed during the 1600s. Like Vail, Bremgarten’s village center is primarily pedestrian-only. It is bordered by a gorgeous river and hosts a quaint Christmas market, a tribute to its past as a Hapsburg market town.

Our family’s last days in town, after our household goods were packed and bound for Colorado, were spent at the 400-year-old Sonne Hotel. My motivation for booking that particular hotel was the prospect of encountering ghosts. Surely if ghosts existed, I reasoned, I would see one in a building four centuries old. On the day of departure, I left deeply disappointed.

Not far from the Sonne Hotel is an even older structure, the Hexenturm, which in English means “witches’ tower.” Made of stone with walls three meters thick at its base, this structure dates to 1415. It was part of the town fortifications, but its legacy is far more sinister.

Switzerland was not immune from the hysteria that swept Europe from the 1300s to the end of the 1600s resulting in the tragic deaths of tens of thousands of innocent women erroneously executed for witchcraft. In Bremgarten, nearly two dozen women met that fate in the Hexenturm. Many were hung upside down from their ankles, dangled through a trap door at the top of the tower, and dropped, slamming their heads against the ground. This was done to elicit a confession.

Witch hunts crossed the Atlantic along with the colonists. The Salem witch trials are one of the most infamous episodes in American history. From 1692 to1693, more than 200 people, mostly women, were accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts, 20 were executed and many more were tortured.

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Witch hunts in Europe often followed episodes of catastrophe, such as disease or famine. In need of an explanation and lacking scientific knowledge, communities responded with primitive impulses such as paranoia, fear, and revenge. When something bad happened, someone must pay. It is no accident that those who paid with their lives were often the most vulnerable.

However, no sudden calamity provoked the accusations in Salem. The Salem witch hunt emerged from other ugly human emotions: jealousy, suspicion of outsiders and fear of change. Salem was experiencing factionalism pitting the older, agricultural community against the newer, more prosperous port-oriented community.

Religion was another point of contention. Most of the accusers were daughters of church members. Most of the accused were outside the church. The accusations came after a 30-year lull in witchcraft accusations and shortly after the arrival in Salem of the Rev. Samuel Parris, whose daughter Elizabeth and niece Abigail were the first to make accusations.

Initially, the accused in Salem came from the margins of society: Tituba, the Parris’ slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, who was in poor health. No one came to their defense. Sarah Good was executed. Sarah Osbourne died in jail. Tituba was resold into slavery.

However, the accusations soon targeted prominent community members. When the wife of then-Gov. William Phips was accused, the trials were brought to a swift conclusion. As if a fever had broken, many in Salem expressed remorse and regret. In 1702, the trials were determined to be unlawful. In addition to restoring the rights and good names of the accused, their families were paid restitution.

The Salem witch trials are instructive because many of the issues that prompted neighbors to turn on one another then are writ large in America today: deep-seated resentment from people falling behind economically, perceived loss of status, especially by white Americans as our nation diversifies, anger at a historical reckoning at times unflattering and the diminishing influence of religion.

As a result, our nation is witnessing a convulsive backlash from those who long for a conservative, religious America. Most alarming is the willingness of those on the right to embrace authoritarianism.

Our valley is witnessing an attempt by religious activists to dictate public health policy to our county commissioners and effect a takeover of the school board. We are watching an effort by sore losers to overturn Avon’s election.

We may possess the same assortment of emotions as our ancestors, but we have one thing they did not: the right to vote. Rather than breaking a fever, prevent it from happening in the first place. Send a message to the far-right fringe that their regressive ideology is not welcome in our community.

“How about a little fire, Scarecrow?” — The Wicked Witch of the West

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