A Burning Question

Jun. 22 - Today is Sankt Hans dag ("Saint John's Day" or "Midsummer's Day") in Denmark. I'm excited about this because tonight we'll be going to Frederiskberg Garden to watch the burning of a witch, and despite having grown up a few miles from Salem, Massachusetts, I've never actually seen such a black-magic barbecue.

I should mention that I'm not entirely comfortable with the burning of witches. I was raised to believe there was something innately wrong about the process—was taught that the only thing more heinous than a witch-hunt was its fiery climax.

But I was young, then, and didn't believe in witches. How could I approve the burning of something I didn't believe existed? It would have been like approving unicorn steaks or grilled mermaid. It's important to object to the destruction of the mythological and phantasmagorical. But if unicorns started running riot through the streets, skewering innocents with their razor-sharp horns, or if mermaids were found to subsist entirely on dolphins and baby seals, you can bet you'd start seeing mermaid and unicorn filets in your frozen food section.

You're probably wondering how I could possibly think of witches as anything but products of the human imagination. I'll tell you how: I've met them. Lots of them. I've tried to be circumspect in my relations with them because, from my own understanding of witchcraft, they could only be one of two things: evil minions in league with Satan, or batshit crazy. Because all of them have been fairly friendly people, I've assumed the latter.

(Of course, all but one of them have claimed to be practicing "white" magic, but this strikes me as a precious distinction—even racist. If they can't be colorblind in their relations with magic, why should I be colorblind in my judgment of witchcraft? White witch, black witch, green witch, sand witch: a witch is a witch is a witch, as Gertrude Stein should have said.)

Do we really have to burn them? Well, I can't see the harm. If the universe is composed not of matter governed by a discernible set of natural laws, but by fantasy and illusion governed by unseen forces readily manipulated by anyone with a wand and a will to do so, why not burn them? The Salem logic we applaud ourselves for despising—if she drowns she wasn't a witch and we're sorry, but if she doesn't drown she's a witch and we better burn her—makes a lot of a sense in a fairy-tale world of magic. I mean, you don't get worked up when Frodo kills an orc or Harry Potter zaps a zombie ghoul or something. And if a guy looked like an orc, walked like an orc, and grunted like an orc, and was even given an opportunity to prove he wasn't an orc but couldn't—well, if you killed him as an orc and only afterwards learned he was just an elf in drag, you'd feel bad, but was there really anything else you could have done?

Look, I didn't believe in witches. It was the witches themselves that told me they exist—not only exist, but demand recognition. If I dismiss them as crazy, I find myself dismissed as a cranky, judgmental stick-in-the-mud. Fair enough: witches exist and they're not crazy, so let's get the fire started.

* * *

And before I get my tongue wedged out from my cheek, get a load of how relaxed they appear to be about the whole thing here in Europe. I submit these pictures from the 4th Pan-European Conference of Environment Ministers, which took place in Denmark.

If Environment Ministers from all over Europe can stand by smiling while witches shriek and twitch in their sulphurous death agony, then the burning of witches must be the ecologically responsible thing to do. So even if you can't follow my own impeccable logic, you should still accept the burning of witches on environmental grounds.

I'm bringing marshmallows—and a camera.

I'll let you know how it went.

* * *

Today is the birthday of Frances McDormand (1957), Wilma Rudolph (1940), Bob Fosse (1927), Alan Turing (1912), and Josephine Martinique Bonaparte (1763). Besides being Midsummer's Day in Denmark, it's also Victory Day in Estonia and the Grand Duke's Birthday in Luxembourg.

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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