It's easy to get incensed about the number of people who have been killed by religious fanatics over the past few thousand years. It's easy especially to hate Christians for the role their religion played in the sadistic tortures and murder of so many people. But, then, we have to remember that not all the people who were killed were witches or satanists. Many were not pagans at all. Many of them were...you guessed it, Christians. People who were killed for their property, for their children, for countless other reasons. People were killed not for Christianity, but for fanaticism. This is a key point. Christians, like us, are often good people. The problem comes when people in high places use religion to control people. Had there been a separation between church and state during the Salem Witch Trials, no one would have hanged for witchcraft. Unfortunately, fear, propaganda and greed swayed an entire community to commit senseless murders. This is what we cannot allow to happen again.
According to scholars, paganism is somewhere in the realm of 25,000 years old. People have revered the Horned God of the Hunt and the Goddess of Fertility (in varying forms) since as far back as the Paleolithic Age. Nature was religion then, and man was a part of nature not separate as we see now with the more modern religions that are mainstream today.
The history of Witch persecution gains momentum around the year 1233 when Pope Gregory IX of the Roman Catholic Church charged a tribunal known as the Inquisition (and made up of so-called holy men) to suppress non-Christian activity. Almost a century later in 1320, the Church (at the request of Pope John XXII) officially declared paganism as a "hostile threat" to society. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII commissioned Dominican monks Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob Sprenger to publish a monstrous piece of propaganda called the Malleus Malificarum (The Witches' Hammer published 1446). This manual for witch hunters was used for nearly 300 years as the Church attempted to destroy paganism throughout Europe.
The twisted acts that these Inquisitors performed on accused witches were beyond anything we can imagine. Torture, rape, mutilations, forced sodomy and other unthinkable acts were committed in the name of Christ. Heinous sex acts that were so often repressed with the strict rules of the Church were often carried out against men, women and children because the Inquisitors knew they could get away with them. Hypocrisy and persecution spread throughout Europe and eventually spread to the new world. Though far less bloody than Europe, the murders that took place in Salem are well known to most people. The vehemence with which religious fanatics fought to stamp out paganism in the United States was just as intense as in the old country.
Fortunately, they failed.
Paganism remains. It may have evolved as it has for the past 25,000 years, but the fight to destroy it has been in vane. For those of us who remain, the single best predictor of whether the Burning Times are upon us again is whether there is a separation between religion and the government. We know this as the "separation between church and state" debate. If religion (any religion, even paganism) is allowed to filter into government policy, we are all vulnerable. Separation between church and state is what this country is founded on. We need to make sure that religion remains optional and that we are all judged by our actions, not by our beliefs.