Matthew Hopkins by Alexis Baydoun

Matthew Hopkins, The World’s First Witch-Hunter, Is My Enemy

In the middle ages, if you were disabled, cranky or poor, you were burnt at the stake for witchcraft.

I finish watching a documentary about the witchcraft craze in the middle ages with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. Usually I only watch things when I’m having dinner alone: it never lingers. But I can’t get myself to rid off what I have just seen. I know the story of how the Catholic nobility in the fifteenth century could pay the church for “seats” in heaven, I know how Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for “pacting with the devil” after giving France her freedom in 1941, but this specific Matthew Hopkins, I can’t shake him off my mind. I give myself the permission to learn more.

Over the course of the next couple of months, I embark on a side research when time allows it. I save a picture of him from Wikipedia, invert it and set it as a desktop background image for a couple of days. How extremely teenage-like of me. I know.

I imagine him seizing the opportunity to build a career in an England dismantled by war and poverty and attempting to find any possible way to make a name and a living for himself. An entrepreneur of middle-age times. I imagine him walking into a courtroom, every cell in his body bathed in self-worship, his testosterone levels shooting up, hungry for the next paycheck and the next victim to claim a Godly power over; to torture, abuse, then execute, and getting the fee for his “service” in return.

I imagine him standing courteously on the side, studying society’s hidden politics and doctrines, and making feast of the weakest and most incapable members of society: those who live with illnesses or disabilities, those who have lost their children and spouses to war, those who don’t know how to smile or how to laugh or how to worship a society-blasted God, and, last but not least, those who legally own a piece of land and an X member of their family wants it for themselves.

Of course, one must separate reality from fiction. Reality says in 1644 when England was torn up by a civil war between Parliamentarians and Royalists and it was still battered after coming through an apocalyptic half-century, a Matthew Hopkins appeared out of nowhere, created the title “Witchfinder General” for himself, and, with the help of the patriarchal order of course, managed to conduct an unprecedented wave of trials and execution for witchcraft by that time. Maidens were persecuted, monks were persecuted, mothers and fathers, widows, the elderly, you name it. And eventually, after a couple of years of “running” his business, villages in England could no longer afford to pay him for his fees. He died from Tuberculosis soon after.

Now I am genuinely not surprised: A whole history of patriarchal order documents how people like Hopkins have been honored for thousands of years perfectly well. An order that we are still working to wash ourselves off til this very day. A system adjusted to honor the hungry, the predator and the dominant character first, and to naturally dismiss the traits of the altruistic, the creative, and the broken (because nature isn’t these things too, right.) What Matthew Hopkins did, however, was by that point superior in its poignancy to his contemporaries: he stood exactly at the opposite end of his so-called character and conducted to torture everyone who was in that place. His work was targeted precisely to destroy the broken ones, and to make money off of their suffering. His enemy were those who were fiercely independent, who didn’t succumb to the patriarchy or to society’s rules in general, and who, inevitably, by the very laws of human nature, were eventually marginalized and thus rejected by their own environment.

He claimed:

  1. To be spiritually in-line with God and have the God-like knowledge of recognizing someone’s spiritual blueprint, and
  2. To be in-line with society’s righteousness as a collective.

What he actually was behind the scenes: a servant of society’s hidden politics and strategies, a slave to the politics that revolve around who the lazy are gossiping about, who the ethic-less want out of their way, and who the uneducated poor can no longer feed.

Fast forward almost 600 years later, and I must be honest with you: it is quite a disappointment how much the patriarchy is still in charge of those very systems. It is a disappointment how much we still honor traits of hunger and dismiss the altruistic values collectively as being “invisible”. With the rise of modern technology connecting us one to another, with everyone occasionally putting important conversations on the table, you’d think the archetype of Matthew Hopkins would lose credibility and be moved backwards in modern day society, but the archetype is still being honored everyday, and so many of our corporate governances and digital platforms are still built to cater to predators first, to the hungriest and most dominant members of society, and to acknowledge them and move them to the top ranks.

One thing is for sure though, if I was alive in the 1640’s and accused by the patriarchal order of pacting with the devil, it would’ve brought me tears of utter bliss to be rejected by society as a whole and burnt at the stake for witchcraft.

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Alexis Bei

Alexis Bei

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I do branding, advertising and art direction. Creative Lead in Silicon Valley. I also write on the side and have published a book of poetry.