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Cheryl Cook: Dragons in our forests; witches at the stake

Once upon a time, villages that didn’t understand phenomena like wildfires or plagues made up stories to have some control over their ignorance about things far beyond their comprehension. It gave them comfortable parameters to pillow their nightmarish thoughts.

In the Middle Ages, when fires burned their forests, they blamed a dragon who roamed the countryside.

When a plague swept across Europe leaving death in its wake, rumors pointed to the presence of any old woman dressed in black who carried a broom.



Five centuries later, we are haunted by this rancorous specter of demented thinking within the dangerous world of Q-Anon.

The Norse may have feared the legendary monster Kraken, who pulled unsuspecting sailors into the sea. But we have Q-Anon, the right-wing network that pulls believers into the depths of conspiracy theories that make the eight-legged Kraken of lore look like a limp piece of dried calamari.




Q-Anon is based on a Medusa headful of theories involving a tangle of conspiracies, often contrary to each other. The core belief is in a deep state of Satan worshipping pedophiles in government, business and journalism who allegedly plotted to overthrow the former president.

“Stop the Steal” is now “Stop the Vaccine.“ Because we still negate the science.

At the writing of this column, only 52% of Americans above the age of 12 are fully vaccinated. We trail 11 countries, including Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom, in vaccinations per capita. Instead of fighting the virus, some have taken to fighting the government with anti-vaxxer and anti-mask misinformation.

They have targeted research scientists like Dr. Fauci, state governors requiring vaccinations for public service workers, and school board members requiring masks in their districts. They are threatened and burned at the stake of public opinion.

The unvaccinated are dying, and the vaccinated are living, but that’s not enough of a logical statistic to change a mind still locked in the Dark Ages. We would rather drink horse dewormer cocktails than help save our village with an FDA-approved vaccine in our arm.

There are no dragons. Our forests are burning because we are in the throes of a catastrophic warming of the globe caused by the increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The melting of polar ice caps and glaciers are adding so much additional water to the atmosphere that we are experiencing extreme weather patterns.

We tear out our junipers, reduce our water usage, and plan our escape when the dragon comes, but we are only staving off the reality of disaster. Because we still negate the science.

There are no evil witches. Modernday crusaders attack the weakest among us to encourage a false sense of brotherhood. Once again, they look to those women carrying a broom. If she should carry a fetus, they put a bounty on her and any associate who refuses to comply with their personal religious belief.

“Turn in your neighbor!” they shout. “You will be rewarded handsomely!” Texans light a torch that will be passed to others states, not necessarily to knock down a 50-year-old law, but to ignite old fires in medieval minds that will bring them victories in the next election.

To quell communal anxiety during the Dark Ages, women were sacrificed to appease the God of choice.

Virgins were drugged and left as offerings on the high cold mountains of Peru. Women felt the flames of ignorance consume their bodies on the platzes of Heidelberg. In the generations to follow, these religious superstitions followed us to the New World, where the tightened noose of religious intolerance choked the life from women on the squares of Salem, Massachusetts.

Women were tortured until they confessed to the use of supernatural powers with a Satanic connection. Then they were executed for Heresy: The belief or opinion contrary to Orthodox Religious Doctrine.

In times of dragons in the forest and plagues in the village, we have always looked for witches to burn at the stake. But we are the witches who descend from survivors of the burnings, the lynchings, and the drownings. We survived death at the hands of those who promoted Orthodox religious doctrine during the Catholic Inquisition, the Crusades, and the rapes during religious wars.

There are no dragons. No evil witches. There is science. And the real disease that plagues us is the immobility of people to overcome irrational fears and unite to fight for our common good.

Cheryl Cook lives in Penn Valley.


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