“Which witch do you like best?”

“Huh?”

“Choose one?”

“Between who?”

“Samantha on ‘Betwitched’ or Jeannie on ‘I Dream of Jeannie’?"

“Oh, I get it. Well, first of all, Samantha is a witch but Jeannie is a genie.”

“Same difference.”

“Not really.”

“They both have magical powers.”

“Well … that’s true but.”

"Hey, what brought all this up, anyway?”

“Halloween. I’ve been thinking about witches.”

“Yeah, well the wicked witch of the west in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was the scariest.”

“I agree. Especially when accompanied by those flying monkeys. I did a little research on witches and found out some pretty scary stuff. In the past, witches were thought to be real – and believers found them everywhere. From the 15th to 18th century more than 200,000 supposed witches – usually innocent victims of mass hysteria and paranoia – were tortured, burned or hanged."

“How did they spot them?”

“Lots of accused witches were simply old, poor and ‘crone-like’ — wrinkled face, a hairy lip, a squinty eye or a squeaking voice. And thought to be responsible for bad happenings in a community.”

“How did they tell if they were really a witch, not just a poor old lady?”

“Well there was the float test for one.”

“Float test?”

“Yes, the accused was thrown bound hands and feet into a pond or lake and if she floated she was considered a witch. If she sank, and inevitably drowned, she was innocent.”

“That’s pretty cruel.”

“There were lots of others, like stripping the suspects naked and publicly examining their bodies for Satan’s brands.”

“Brands?”

“Yeah, moles, pimples and birthmarks could condemn the innocent.”

“Sheesh.”

“Then there was the prayer test. Witches were believed incapable of speaking scripture — so suspects had to recite passages, usually the Lord’s Prayer, without a single error. Illiteracy or nerves were no defense and in 1712 Jane Wenham was hanged after missing the ‘not’ out of ‘Lead us not into temptation.’”

“Were all the accused women?”

“No. In1692 at the Salem Witch Trials, George Burroughs recited the Our Father flawlessly but was executed nonetheless as it was dismissed as a sorcerer’s trick.”

“Oh my. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

“And to further complicate the whole the business, at the same time, the Catholic Church recognized and revered saints and holy people who performed unexplainable miracles.

"According to Jesuit writer and researcher Father David Collins, ‘If miracles are evidence for holiness and magic is the product of sorcery, how in fact can you come up with a reliable way to distinguish saints from sorcerers, i.e. witches?”

“Hey, that’s kind of like dealing with social media these days. If lies and truths are posted on the Internet about an event or person with the same claims of credibility, how then can you come up with a reliable way to distinguish between fact and fiction?’”

“Bingo! It’s something of a modern day version of Arthur Miller’s play ‘The Crucible.’ Research shows most people tend to believe Facebook posts based on who sent them … rather than their credibility or original source, which is not a big deal if you’re talking about cat videos, but pretty serious when it comes to news or selecting someone for public office.”

“So just because grandma likes it on Facebook, or your favorite cousin Luke sent it in an email, doesn’t make it true? I wouldn’t want to do the float test on grandma, or strip and examine cousin Luke for Satan’s brands, but there’s gotta be a way to sort it out.”

“There is, but it takes just a little more time. Time to follow-up questionable ‘news’ to determine authenticity, i.e. look for things like context, promoting self-interest and who’s behind the work.”

“All good things to consider with the never-ending political posts and ads on the Internet and TV as we approach elections next Tuesday. Hey, back to ‘Bewitched’ and ‘I Dream of Jeannie,” I go for Jeannie. She was HOT!”

“Indeed, she was. But being ‘hot’ is one of the things you have to be wary of on the Internet — as passionate content, especially involving negative emotions, is the biggest reason people re-tweet or forward a message without verifying it.”

“Humm.”

“Remember, we were teenagers when those shows were on TV. These days it might be better to consider emulating Samantha, who although beautiful, was not considered ‘hot.’ But she did possess shrewd intelligence and awareness of human nature — and she used it to cast positive spells to counter the disruptive ones."

“So you’re saying a person can ‘cast a negative spell’ on people by posting or forwarding unverified ‘hot’ news?”

“Yep. And we can counter it by casting our own positive spell in not sending it on before verifying it. Or getting the facts or context straight and posting that.”

“Okay, I’ll try and approach it more like Samantha. But, given a choice, I still rather hang out with Jeannie in her sexy, two-piece genie costume.”

“Yeah, and given a choice, I’d rather use a couple of 16th century witch tests on certain politicians to see if they’re telling the truth, but I have to do the fact checking myself. I guess this is what’s meant by the price of progress.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net