The period of persecution and execution of so-called witches stands as a venomous chapter of Western civilisation. The participation of small children and adolescents, whether as the accused or as the accusers, was pivotal. It linked the power of the inquisitor to the fates of many unsuspecting men and women - people who often became hapless victims, devoured by a ravenous inquisition that stretched across two continents.Dr Hans Sebald maintains that the classic "Salem syndrome" is anything but past history; it is frequently re-enacted in the modern courtroom. We observe children as they accuse others of molesting or seducing them within a public mind-set that is predisposed to believe them. Why would they lie? A mythomaniacal child - one who has not yet fully recognised the contours of reality - is in a position to wreak havoc on the lives of innocent persons. And it matters little whether the authorities are judges, juries, inquisitors of centuries past, or counsellors and therapists of more recent vintage.
Hans Sebald (1929 - 2002) was professor of sociology at Arizona State University. Sebald taught courses in the sociology of youth and social psychology, but was perhaps best known for his work on witchcraft. He is the author of four books, including Witchcraft: The Heritage of a Heresy and Witch-Children: From Salem Witch-Hunts to Modern Courtrooms.