What is a ‘Witch-hunt’?

What is the meaning of the expression ‘witch-hunt’? Witch-hunt is a term that has two meanings – one figuratively and the other literally. As a figure of speech, witch-hunt is a term that refers to a process whereby the authorities of a country or organization try to find out and punish people within the country or organization who they believe are a threat to the well-being of the country or organization. The term witch-hunt is used to show disapproval of such an action by the ‘powers that be’.

For example, the witch-hunt of gays in many African countries have forced them to flee to Europe for their lives.

What part of speech is witch-hunt?

Witch-hunt is a noun. The plural for witch-hunt is witch-hunts.

Another meaning of witch-hunt

The second meaning of witch-hunt is the literal meaning, which has become less common these days. The literal meaning of course is the process of hunting for persons believed to be witches or sorcerers. It is actually from this meaning that the figurative meaning came into being. Back in the olden days, society hunted and persecuted persons they believed were engaged in the practice of witchcraft or sorcery. More often than not these persons were women.

Back in the days, persons who were found guilty of practicing witchcraft were burnt alive as their punishment. The burning usually took place in the public for people to witness. These ‘witches’ or ‘sorcerers’ were sometimes also hanged in public.

According to historians, witch-hunts were very common in Europe and North America between 1480 and 1750. During this time, there were laws that were specially made to take care of crimes of supernatural natures. These laws made provisions for the capture and trial of people believed to be practicing witchcraft. If a person was found guilty of the crime of witchcraft, then the person was punished by execution. During this period, it is estimated that over 50,000 people believed to be practicing witchcraft were executed throughout Europe and North America.

By the 18th century, the practice of witchcraft seized being a crime in many parts of Europe and North America. It became illegal to punish anyone believed to be practicing sorcery.

Interestingly, some centuries after the last executions of witches took place in North America and Europe, today in certain parts of Africa and Asia where the belief in magic and the supernatural is common, there have still been several cases of the medieval practice of witch-hunts going on. The victims of modern witch-hunts are normally lynched by irate mobs or burned alive. Some are sent to prison camps outside their communities where they live lives devoid of their basic human rights. According to various human rights organizations, the majority of victims of modern witch-hunts are the elderly, women, and female children.