The Witch Trials Chronicled Part 1
What is a witch hunt? The term today has a very different significance than it did a few hundred years ago. Unless you live under a rock it is fairly certain that you have heard about the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600’s but have you ever really looked into where else these same trials have taken place and how many victims to this nonsense there have been? The witch trials did not begin and end in Salem; such obscenities have been recorded as far back as 182 BC. It is recorded by Roman historians that between 182 BC and 331 BC there were upwards of 5,000 executions that were thought to be linked to witchcraft although back then it was not called that per se, often it was called an “epidemic illness” or some might have considered it to be something like a mass hallucination or hysteria.
There are many passages in the Hebrew Bible that are associated with witches and witchcraft such as Deuteronomy 18:10-12 states "No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one that casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord;" and Exodus 22:18 prescribes "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." It is believed that in the 1st Century BC the Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach of the Judean Second Temple period ordered the execution of 80 women in a single day claiming them to be witches and practicing witchcraft.
Jump ahead to 785 AD where it is recorded that the Council of Paderborn outlawed any belief in witches or witchcraft; this was later upheld by Charlemagne in 794 BC where he decreed during the Council of Frankfurt that witchcraft was naught but a superstition and that those that seek to burn witches shall get the death penalty themselves. From this point on it becomes very spotty as to who did what and when, there are those that believe the Roman Catholic Inquisition began in the early 14th Century only after the Templar Knights and Cathars were all executed that witch hunts became the next “big thing.” Then we have others who believe that witch hunts began with commoners in Croatia and possibly Switzerland that then pressed on in civil courts for support for the hunting of witches.
It is known however that Pope John XXII authorized the inquisition to prosecute sorcerers in 1320 but no records show that the inquisitors were involved in this activity till much later. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the Summis desiderantes affectibus , a Papal bull that authorized two inquisitors to streamline the persecution of witches. As a result, the notorious Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487, at the end of the medieval period that ushered in the period of witch hunts in Europe that would last for two centuries. It is believed that between the years of 1480 and 1750 there were somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 executions. It is not known if all executed were tried as witches and then executed, or if they were just out right executed, either way it is unthinkable.
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