11/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sarah Palin and Her Belief in Witches

I hear rumblings that Sarah Palin believes in the existence of witches, which leads me to wonder what people are smoking up there in Alaska.

Most people don't know much about witches, and rightly so. Witches have not been bothering us for more than three hundred years and they are no longer mainstream Christianity -- at least in America.

For most people, witches are now Halloween amusements, but the history of witch-belief is far from amusing.

In general, if you believe in witches, you believe in demonic possession. You also believe there are two kinds of possession: voluntary and involuntary. In the true witch, possession is voluntary, a pact with the Devil. In a victim, possession is involuntary. Exorcism is a routine used to end involuntary possession--get rid of the evil spirit, oust the demon from its possession.

If Sarah Palin believes in witches, it would be helpful to our national well-being to have before us a long and public interview with her devoted to details about her beliefs. The objection that it's part of her "personal" life is both stupid and dangerous. If you want to be President or Vice-President in this country, any belief that you have about anything of social or political or economic importance needs to be known to the public.

The press needs to cease worrying about future access to a candidate and stop kissing the shoes of any politician who runs for office.

The best account of crazy ideas about witches, an account originating more than five hundred years ago, is the Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. This book was the primary manual for the witch-hunting mania that plagued Europe and America for more than three hundred years, a plague that resulted in the murder of maybe 100,000 people, mostly women, but many men and children as young as nine or ten years old.

We had witch-hunting in America in the 16th and 17th centuries, but nothing as ferocious as what happened in Europe.

In England, witches (adults or children) were usually hanged.

In Germany, witches (adults or children) were usually burned alive, although in some places where people apparently could not tolerate the screaming and moaning, witches were first strangled or decapitated and then burned.

There were places where a witch was burned at least once a week, a public spectacle that usually attracted everyone, including children and household pets.

"Are we going to a witch-burning, Daddy?"

"Yes, child, but not until the afternoon. Now eat your porridge."

The most notorious witch-hunter of all time was probably Prince-Bishop Johann Georg II of Bamburg. He was both a prince of the Holy Roman Empire and a bishop of the Catholic Church. During his reign between 1623 and 1633 he ordered the execution of more than 600 witches. He was called the Hexenbischof -- the witch-burning bishop. He had special witch-prisons complete with torture chambers at his disposal, and once condemned, his witches were usually burned without delay.

Pile up the wood waist high and get the fire going. If the witch was lucky, the carbon monoxide fumes would kill her quickly. Most were not lucky.

Torture was an important part of the witch-hunting process. First came an accusation, often from a child. Usually the accused was an older woman between 40 and 50 years of age. If the charge seemed reasonable to the local witch-hunting authority, the accused was tortured to obtain both a confession and the names of other witches. Torture, of course, produced confessions and names, and the new accused witches were hauled into prison and in turn confessed and named others. Whole families were often burned alive in public. Entire villages could easily be wiped out by the process.

Although women of middle age were the usual targets of witch-hunts, in general no one was immune. Young children, senile old people, rich or poor -- a witch was a witch. If you denied being a witch, one favorite method of testing the truth of the matter was to hog-tie you naked and throw you into a pool of deep water. Those who sank were considered innocent; those who floated were considered guilty, since the belief was that a witch would be rejected by water.

So we need to ask if Sarah Palin believes in witches and demonic possession and the efficacy of witch-hunts. It does not matter if she thinks it's "personal" -- we need to know.

This is the 21st century. Are we at the threshold of another Dark Age? Is the 21st century going to be a darker time than the 20th century? It's difficult to tolerate even thinking about it.

If Sarah Palin believes in witches and witch-hunting and possession by demons, we need to know it as fast as possible -- before there's any chance at all that she gets within a hundred yards of the Oval Office. We need to demand a full-length interview with her on the subject -- an interview broadcast to the entire nation. Hard questions, not soft questions. Clear answers and not evasions. We need it now.