… Ere the bat hath flown
His cloister’d flight, ere, to black Hecate’s summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night’s yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note

William Shakespeare[1]

 [This is Phil again, and I’m tired of writing about witch hunts. Really, the subject is inexhaustible. Deal with one, and five more rise up: different facts of course, or should I say “alleged” facts? But the pattern is always the same. Attack a politician’s reputation, imply [but don’t prove] that bad things have happened, and trot out some secret witnesses to relate the one to the other. But of course the witnesses aren’t really “trotted out.” They’re quoted and characterized as heroic leakers, but not identified. That’s to protect them from hostile questioning by, say, the folks they’ve been maligning.

So we the public never get anything solid to look at; only gossip and rumors; and, of course, because today there’s a 24 hour news cycle, we hear the g & r over and over … and over. Of course, the victim of the hunt can always deny guilt but so what? After all that rumor mongering the victim will have such a bad reputation that many will think he [she] must be guilty of something![2] The legally inclined might decide that no real case has been made against the victim but the undecided, no doubt, will check the “don’t know” box in any survey. But really, with lousy evidence no one polled will have a sound basis to form any opinion other than “don’t know.”

Of course, I’m talking about political witch hunts, not the supernatural kind. Political witch hunts deal with philosophy, doctrine, economics, social theory and power. A supernatural witch hunt is grounded in religion, faith, fear and the need to counter occult threats. The two are different in principle, if not in practice. This time let’s venture into the supernatural, to check our roots, as it were. Let’s look at bats – filthy creatures – what they do and whether they should be tolerated in our modern age. There are many questions.]

Witches operate at night, and bats come out at night, so are they in collusion and if so, how? You may think that’s an idle question, but I’m not so sure. Bats aren’t human, but back in the Middle Ages people weren’t afraid to try animals for violating human law. We wrote a blog about that not too long ago.[3] So perhaps bats were equally culpable with humans in witchcraft and should have been tried along with them. Or perhaps they were the real culprits, and the witches should have been excused.

Let’s put aside the question of how to catch the bats to bring them to human justice and apply instead the ancient three part test to see if they’re guilty of something. If they are, then we can formulate the details of an anti-bat campaign.

Reputation

There’s no denying that bats hang in evil places and with evil things. First, of course, they come out at night and sleep in dark spaces during the day, usually with each other. And look at what Shakespeare said about them! The bat flies his cloistered flight around the same time the beetle, at Hecate’s order, sounds “night’s yawning peal.” Hecate, as we all know, is an ancient goddess of the night, and now of witches.[4] The beetle makes a sound, not like a bell, but a buzzing, so when night “yawns” it makes us drowsy. Other poets confirm this. “Now air is hushed, save where the weak-eyed bat, [w]ith short shrill squeak flits by on leathern wing, [o]r where the beetle winds [h]is small but sullen horn …”[5] And obviously the night is dangerous to humans; it makes us drowsy, so we’re not alert to its threats. So when we hear a bat, “the dry whisper of [its] unseen wings,[6]” we know definitely it’s not the sound of an angel.

And if you need more proof, just think of how relieved we are when night and its bat companions leave us for a time. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote about that. “Come into the garden, Maud,” he wrote, “[f]or the black bat, night, has flown … [a]nd the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, [a]nd the musk of the rose is blown.”[7] It was dawn, and the bats were gone, and he was awake and ready to get on with life.

Indications of the Deed

Well, what about sorcerous deeds? Do we have any indications of bat involvement in such things? The literature is full of relatively minor examples of bat complicity. Who can forget, for example: “Eye of newt and toe of frog, [w]ool of bat and tongue of dog … For a charm of powerful trouble, [l]ike a hell-broth boil and bubble”?[8] That’s some powerful spell-casting straight from Macbeth, and bats contributed to the potion. Then there’s Shakespeare’s other observation, that bats keep company with sprites and other magical beings. “On the bat’s back I do fly, [a]fter summer merrily; Merrily, merrily shall I live now, [u]nder the blossom that hangs on the bough.” That’s from The Tempest.[9]

But those are old examples, and I’m more interested in the here and now, and how bats may affect us today. And really, I didn’t worry much about that until I did some research. Did you know that it’s possible to believe bats will be there at the start of the next major war? Consider this:

Ponderous and uncertain is that relation between pressure and resistance which constitutes the balance of power. The arch of peace is morticed by no iron tendons …. One night a handful of dust will patter from the vaulting: the bats will squeak and wheel in sudden panic: nor can the fragile fingers of man then stay the rush and crumble of destruction.[10]

That’s from a 20th Century diplomat.[11] Frankly I’m speechless. If bats are correlated with the next Big War, will they be the cause of it, or an effect, or both? And if we don’t know, shouldn’t we just exterminate them to be safe? What would today’s witch hunting media recommend? Are there leaker-witnesses out there to support drastic action?

Witnesses

Well, we have plenty of witnesses in literature, Shakespeare, Tennyson, William Collins and the like, but they’re not likely to appear in person at a trial; and I haven’t found much current, say on YouTube, that’s really negative on bats. Instead there seem to be videos that portray bats as useful, cute, or at least valuable partners in maintaining the balance of nature. For one of the cute ones, take a look at Baby Bat Burritos, cite given below.[12] And so far I’ve found nothing that relates bats in a causal way to war. But that’s now; you never know what or who will turn up later. Perhaps Congress should sponsor an official inquiry into the question. People need to know if they are safe.

Conclusion

Bats are occult for sure and their reputation isn’t good; but they haven’t caused any harm recently; and the available You Tube witnesses mostly testify in favor of bats. So absent a new and spectacular bat expose’ there’s not a strong basis for mounting a bat witch hunt.

It’s a tough call, but I would defer any drastic action for now. You should do the same. After all, this is the 21st Century. We can always generate a mob via social media whenever we need one. There’s no need to act until circumstances favor us.

And by all means, don’t brood about occult things after the sun sets. As Francis Bacon once said, “Suspicions amongst thoughts are like bats amongst birds, they ever fly by twilight.”[13] Have a good dinner and forget about bats, and war, and turn off the TV. That alone may be a liberating experience. Bacon didn’t know about TV but, if he had, I’m sure he would have said the same.

 

[1] This is from Macbeth, Act 3, scene 2, lines 44-49. You can find it online at http://www.shmoop.com/macbeth/the-supernatural-quotes-3.html . Or, if you have a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, see Knowles (editor), Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2004) [hereafter, ODQ at __] go to it at Shakespeare, p.705, n. 22.

[2] Or should I have said: “he, she [or they] are” guilty of something? With all the gender confusion these days, it’s getting harder to write a sentence. How does one keep the gender option open for one person but at the same time connect him or her [or whatever] to a verb of some sort? When do he or she [or whatever] become a “they,” or should gender confused people be called “it” just to get on with the narrative?  These are questions. I don’t know the answers. If you do, please write!

[3] See the Elemental Zoo Two blog of 02/032013, Animal Rights in History, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/animal-rights-in-history/

[4] If you want to know more see the Wikipedia piece on her, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hecate .

[5] That’s from William Collins, an 18th Century poet. See ODQ at William Collins, p. 235, n. 11.

[6] See ODQ at R. S. Thomas, p. 790, n. 23:  “Or the dry whisper of unseen wings, Bats not angels, in the high roof.” For more information on him, take a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._S._Thomas .

[7] See ODQ at Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at p. 781, n. 23. The full quote is: “Come into the garden, Maud, [f]or the black bat, night, has flown. Come into the garden, Maud, I am here at the gate, alone. And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, [a]nd the musk of the rose is blown.”

[8] It’s from Macbeth, Act 4, scene 1, line 14. See ODQ at Shakespeare, p. 706, n. 12

[9] The quote is from The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1, line 88. If you don’t have Shakespeare handy you can find the quote in ODQ at Shakespeare, p. 719, n. 6.

[10] That’s a quote by Harold Nicolson, a 20th Century diplomat. See ODQ at Harold Nicholson, p. 563, n. 10 For more information on him, take a look at the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Nicolson .

[11] See n. 10.

[12] See Baby Bat Burritos, a video incorporated in Huffington Post, Dicker, Baby Bats Swaddled Like Little Burritos Are Way Cuter Than You Might Expect (Dec. 01, 2014), available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/baby-bats-swaddled_n_6247954.html

[13] See ODQ at Francis Bacon, p. 429, n. 5.