Witchcraft and psychoanalysis
Many historians have learnt the following from Emile Durkeim: every time a historic phenomena is explained with direct reference to a psychic condition we can be sure that this explanation will turn out false, the cause of any social event being rooted in previous social events and not in states of individual consciousness. This being the case, how did it come to pass that people in many parts of Europe, well known in their communities as either neighbours or next of kin, could be accused of witchcraft and burnt at the stake as witches? How can we answer such a question without rooting around among the passions of the subconscious? And how can we not allow that there are aspects of human nature that are long lasting, just as there are aspects of physiology that are essential to it? If historians proclaim that the effects of primal emotions, essential for human existence, cannot be known, won’t they then be forced to use psychological models based on common sense for their explanations? But common sense underestimates the extent to which deep irrational feelings imbedded in the subconscious may determine human action – and it is therefore hard to see how any kind of history of witchcraft or religion for that matter may produce satisfactory results without exploring this dimension.