“She’s a witch! We got a witch!” The crowd yelled as they brought her forward. One of the most famous and shared scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
“How do you know she’s a witch?”
“She looks like one.”
A bit more discussion and the crowd rallies, “Burn her, burn her!” The scene goes on where the crowd tries every angle and argument to “prove” this lady is a witch, so that she would be “burned”. And … she was. The crowd cheered.
In a story originally published in the Huffington Post entitled, “They Burn Witches Here”, Monica Paulus, a Papua New Guinean who was actually accused of witchcraft, driven from her home village, and now aids other victims, says this, “By destroying “witches”, by killing innocent people, the community believes it defends itself from malevolent forces.”
Paulus went on to say, “I believed in it, before I was accused”. Hmm … funny how that works. One day in the crowd; the next … tied to the stake.
While no one in this country, even at the Salem Witch Trials, was ever burned at the stake (they were hanged instead), it actually was a horrific common practice in Europe.
But, we don’t burn or hang witches at the stake anymore. Or … do we?
Not unlike that Monty Python scene, there are so many people and groups who rally to see someone “burn”. A mistake is made, an off-handed remark, a momentary lapse of reason, a different philosophy, a wrong word, or something taken completely out of context and we want their head!
Sometimes; even many times, the allegations are completely manufactured out of thin air and the witch must be burned. We dress them like a witch and damn them, rallying the masses to make sure they don’t escape the ultimate judgment and sentencing, for which there is no defense.
But, guilt and judgement are for the damned.
While the “guilty” witch is damned to burn, the crowd is damned by judgement. No matter how many witches they “burn”, they’ll never escape their own guilt. To paraphrase Monica Paulus, by burning witches, the crowd believes their guilt is abolished. Or at least, hidden. But, it doesn’t work.
We can’t keep ourselves clean by dirtying others.
Yama, the first of the eight limbs of yoga, deals with our own ethical standards, moral discipline, character, and focusing on how we conduct ourselves in this existence. Instead of burning “witches”, maybe that energy is better and more positively spent on ourselves, especially in this era of divisiveness.
Scarier than the witch are the ones rallying to burn her; him, them, …
Save wrath and punishment for the real bad guys.