Monday, December 29, 2014

What it is like to shoot an elephant:

There was a young bull elephant in Zimbabwe named Buddy, who had been fed when he was little. He grew up to be the African equivalent of a nuisance bear in Yellowstone Park. He began chasing cars. A professional hunter named Sam was tasked with executing him. I was to back up Sam. He had me study elephant anatomy and read books by the famous Great White Hunters: Selous, Ruark, Selby, Corbett, Bell, etc. An elephant's brain is the size of a loaf of bread, surrounded all the way around by about 18" of bone. I practiced every day with a .458 Winchester Magnum. The recoil was very unpleasant. Every shot knocked me backwards two steps, and after five shots I'd have a headache for the rest of the day. 
We baited him with alfalfa cubes, trying to get him downwind from the rest of the herd so that they wouldn't get involved. After three days we finally got him alone in neck-high elephant grass. I was facing him from about seventy-five yards away. Sam worked around to his side to get a lateral brain shot. I was looking through my rifle's scope head-on at Buddy when Sam fired. The impact was incredible. His whole head bounced like Jello, and dust came off all around. He spun 180 degrees and started running away. I should have been shooting by then, but I was stunned and simply couldn't believe that he had survived that impact. Sam shot him again, in the ass. Buddy slammed on the brakes, spun back around, and started scanning the grass like a radar. The only thing sticking up above it was me, like the idiot in one of those Far Side cartoons. I heard the trackers behind me take off running. Buddy locked onto me and started coming. 
When elephants charge, they fan out their ears and trumpet. It's difficult to stand your ground, but it's the only viable option. If you run, they will catch you. If you climb a tree, they'll pick you like an apple. If you hide, they'll sniff you out. My rifle felt tiny, and I wished that I had a larger one. 
I willed myself to be deliberate and pulled off a shot that seem perfect. I knew it was beautiful when the trigger broke. Right between the eyes. Buddy didn't react at all, and kept on coming. Sam shot him in the side of the head again. He kept on coming. I had this sense of disbelief, that it just wasn't possible for him to absorb that much energy. I still wonder how many people have had that as their last thought. Buddy put his head down to use his tusks, and I shot him farther up his forehead. He came down like a falling building, and a cloud of dust rolled over me. We measured the distance at 27 yards, but it seemed like half that at the time. Turned out that all the head shots but the last had angled up over his brain without penetrating it. 
Shona who we hadn't even realized were watching started popping out of the bush with axes and knives. They dragged out the innards and were running around inside the rib cage. Scores of huge dung beetles arrived. Fascinating bugs that look like flying turtles. They each rolled a grape-fruit sized ball of dung away. The trackers started a fire and cooked Buddy's heart. We ate it to get elephant magic. They call it "muti". The local chief staggered away carrying the trunk. We filled a pickup truck with meat. In a few hours, everything was gone. 
On the flight back to the US a couple days later, the movie was "Godzilla". Japanese soldiers were shooting him with bazookas as he crossed a bridge, but he just wouldn't die. I knew exactly how they felt. 
I told some flight attendants that I'd shot an elephant. Some shunned me like an Amish apostate. Others confronted me to share their (negative) opinions. I've discovered that flight attendants don't appreciate my elephant muti as a rule.


The Last Witches:

There are many biblical passages dealing with witchcraft, such as Exodus 22:18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”). In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII ordered the Inquisition to move against witches as well as heretics. The fever for witch hunting reached a peak between 1560 and 1630, then slowly faded.

The Dutch Republic executed its last witch around 1613. 

In Denmark, Anna Palles was the last, in 1693.

Scotland: Janet Horne had a daughter with deformed hands and feet. Neighbors accused her of using her daughter as a pony to ride to the Devil. Horne was stripped, tarred, paraded through the town on a barrel and burned in 1727.

England: Mary Hickes and her nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth were hanged in 1716, for taking off their stockings in order to raise a storm. Janet Wenham was accused of flying and bewitching a servant in 1712. A magical potion was found under her pillow. She was searched and "witch marks" (blemishes obtained when a pact is made with Satan) were discovered. She requested the swimming test, in which hands and feet are bound and the accused is cast into water. (Since witches spurn baptism, water - a pure element - rejects their bodies and prevents them from sinking.) She was instead ordered to recite the Lord's Prayer. (Witches are unable to do so without mistakes.) She stumbled. Fortunately, a sympathetic aristocrat secreted her in a cottage on his lands until she died in 1730.

France: Louis Debaraz in 1745.

Germany: Anna Schwegelin was convicted in 1775, but her sentence was not carried out.

Switzerland: Anna Göldi was a maidservant reported to have put needles in bread and milk through supernatural means. She confessed under torture to having a pact with the Devil, who appeared to her as a black dog. She withdrew her confession after the torture ended, but was beheaded in 1782.

Poland: two women with inflamed eyes, who were said to have enchanted their neighbor's cattle, were burned in 1793.

Europe's witch hunts ended with the execution of Barbara Zdunk in Prussia. She was a 38-year-old woman with a teenage boyfriend and a fondness for magic. Her conviction was upheld through several appeals, including to the King. She was burned at the stake in 1811

In the New World, Indians were commonly thought to be devils, or at least devil worshippers. Colonists first turned on themselves in Connecticut. Witches were executed in Windsor, Fairfield and Hartford. Connecticut sniffed out its last witch in 1697.

In Massachusetts, witches were executed in Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Cambridge and Springfield. The largest hunt was in 1692, when 24 were executed at Salem, Massachusetts.

Most of the witchcraft trial records for the southern colonies were destroyed during the Civil War, but accusations seem to have been taken less seriously than in Puritan New England, and penalties were less severe. In Virginia, Grace Sherwood was accused of bewitching pigs and cotton. The swimming test was administered. She floated. "Witch Duck Creek" is named for her. She was imprisoned until 1714.

The last formal witchcraft trial in the mainland colonies was probably that of a woman named Mary, also in Virginia, who was whipped 39 times in 1730 for using magic to find lost items. That same year, Benjamin Franklin published a satire that helped shift American perception of sorcery from terrifying reality to puritanical fantasy.

Witches are still being hunted on a small scale in New Guinea and northern India. They are being hunted on a large and growing scale in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria. The practice is spreading rapidly with the Pentecostal movement there. The accused have traditionally been the elderly, the disabled, and albinos, but children are increasingly being targeted.