Witchcraft and Witch Hunts
A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic, mass hysteria and mob lynching, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials.
The classical period of witch-hunts in Europe fall into the Early Modern period or about 1450 to 1700, spanning the upheavals of the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War, resulting in tens of thousands of executions.
Many cultures throughout the world, both ancient and modern, have reacted to allegations of witchcraft either by superstitious fear and awe, and killed any alleged practitioners of witchcraft outright; or, shunned it as quackery, extortion or fraud. Witchhunts still occur in the modern era, in many and various communities where religious values condemn the practice of witchcraft and the occult.
1533 account of the execution of a witch charged with burning the town of Schiltach in 1531.
Wicca (Part 1)
Wicca Part Two
The Early Modern concept of a witch began to develop already in pre-Christian times, as its elements can be found in the Roman cult of Bacchanalias, especially when led by Paculla Annia, and in the Roman mythological creature of strix.
The Bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Roman god Bacchus. Introduced into Rome from lower Italy by way of Etruria (c. 200 BC), the bacchanalia were originally held in secret and attended by women only. The festivals occurred on three days of the year in the grove of Simila near the Aventine Hill, on March 16 and March 17. Later, admission to the rites was extended to men and celebrations took place five times a month. According to Livy, the extension happened in an era when the leader of the Bacchus cult was Paculla Annia - though it is now believed that some men had participated before that.
Livy informs us that the rapid spread of the cult, which he claims indulged in all kinds of crimes and political conspiracies at its nocturnal meetings, led in 186 BC to a decree of the Senate—the so-called Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, inscribed on a bronze tablet discovered in Apulia in Southern Italy (1640), now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna—by which the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout all Italy except in certain special cases which must be approved specifically by the Senate. In spite of the severe punishment inflicted on those found in violation of this decree (Livy claims there were more executions than imprisonment), the Bacchanalia survived in Southern Italy long past the repression.
Modern scholars hold Livy's account in doubt and believe that the Senate acted against the Bacchants for one or more of three reasons. First, because women occupied leadership positions in the cult (contrary to traditional Roman family values). Second, because slaves and the poor were the cult's members and were planning to overthrow the Roman government. Or third, according to a theory proposed by Erich Gruen, as a display of the Senate's supreme power to the Italian allies as well as competitors within the Roman political system, such as individual victorious generals whose popularity made them a threat to the senate's collective authority.
The term bacchanalia has since been extended to refer to any drunken revelry. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses the phrase "the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities."
* Within the philosophy of Hegel, a Bacchanalian revel is used within the Preface, paragraph 47.
* Bacchanalia is an annual party at Rice University thrown by Brown College. It involves masses of people dressing up in togas and usually involves various forms of debauchery.
* The Bacchanalia is also an annual party at Harvard University thrown by Lowell House. It serves as the Spring Formal and among other things involves the "arrival of Bacchus to the House".
* Bacchanalia is the annual festival of the English department at Hindu College, University of Delhi.
* San Diego has a venue called Bacchanal Club, where live bands perform.
* Bacchanalia is also a yearly party at Sarah Lawrence College to celebrate the end of conference work and the school year. The party is thrown by the Sarah Lawrence College Student Senate. It is a day of live music outdoors and free alcohol.
* At the University of Mississippi, ""Bacchanalia"" is an annual spring, male-only party thrown by the Epsilon Xi chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity. This massive festival includes live music and assigned costumes.
Representation in the arts:
* One of the best-known melodies from Camille Saint-Saëns's 1877 opera Samson and Delilah is the Bacchanalia.
* Bacchanalia is also a highly-regarded Atlanta restaurant by owner-chefs Anne Quatrano and Cliff Harrison, located in a former meatpacking plant.
* Bacchanalia and Bacchanal is the term used to describe the drinking, dancing and general revelry associated with Trinidad and Tobago's annual carnival.
* Bacchanalian is also a Montreal-based rock band.
* A Bacchanal is held in Donna Tartt's book The Secret History, and is a pivotal plot device allowing a justification of the pre-defined murder.
* Bacchanal is the title of the fifth track from the Clutch album, Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, and Undeniable Truths.
* A Brief Tutorial In Bacchanalia is a song by Fear Before The March Of Flames
Pagan Rome Part II
Witchcraft In The Middle Ages
During the Early Middle Ages, the Church did not conduct witch trials. The Council of Paderborn in 785 explicitly outlawed the very belief in witches, and Charlemagne later confirmed the law. The first medieval trials against witches date to the 13th century with the institution of the Inquisition, but they were a side issue, as the Church was concentrating on the persecution of heresy, and witchcraft, alleged or real, was treated as any other sort of heresy.
There were still secular laws against witchcraft, such as that promulgated by king Athelstan (924-999)
And we have ordained respecting witch-crafts, and lybacs, and morthdaeds: if any one should be thereby killed, and he could not deny it, that he be liable in his life. But if he will deny it, and at threefold ordeal shall be guilty; that he be 120 days in prison: and after that let kindred take him out, and give to the king 120 shillings, and pay the wer to his kindred, and enter into borh for him, that he evermore desist from the like.
It had been proposed that the witch-hunt developed in Europe after the Cathars and the Templar Knights were exterminated and the Inquisition had to turn to persecution of witches to remain active. In the middle of 1970s, this hypothesis was independently disproved by two historians (Cohn 1975; Kieckhefer 1976). It was shown that the pursuit originated amongst common people in Switzerland and in Croatia that pressed on the civil courts to support them. Inquisitorial courts became systematically involved in the witch-hunt only in the 15th century: in the case of the Madonna Oriente, the Inquisition of Milan was not sure what to do with two women who in 1384 and in 1390 confessed to have participated in a type of white magic.
The Worlds Best Complete Witchcraft Magic Shop
Punishments for witchcraft in 16th century Germany. Woodcut from Tengler's Laienspiegel, Mainz, 1508
Witchcraft In Early Modern Europe
The European witchhunts only began on a large scale during the Early Modern period, starting around 1450. Rather than a theologically sanctioned campaign of the church, the phenomenon has all traits of mass hysteria. The classical attributes of a witch, flying on brooms, intercourse with the Devil, and meeting of demons and other witches at sabbaths, became canonical from around 1400, although similar accusations had been issued against heretics since the 11th century. The idea of witch sabbaths fostered a classical conspiracy theory, with fantasies of an underground witch sect plotting to overthrow Christianity. The areas mainly affected by this were the Holy Roman Empire and adjacent parts, as well as Scotland. Reprints of the Malleus Maleficarum in 29 editions between 1487 and 1669 mark the peak of the European craze. This book had been condemned by the Catholic Church in 1490 but continued to be widely used by secular witch-hunting courts. The clergy and the intellectuals spoke out against the trials from the late 16th century. Johannes Kepler in 1615 could only by the weight of his prestige keep his mother from being burnt as a witch. The 1692 Salem witch trials were a brief outburst of witch hysteria in the New World at a time when the practice was already waning in Europe. Winifred King was the last person tried for witchcraft in New England; Winifred's daughter Winifred Jr and mother Mary Hale were also tried for witchcraft.
Although there are debates of why the witch scares took place, there is a correlation between centralized government and acquittals in Witch trials. Most witch trials that resulted in convictions took place in rural areas. In these areas there was ~90% conviction (and execution) rate. Although most citizens during the time did believe in witchcraft as real, at the same time they were not ignorant to how personal interests could be involved in accusations. Another interesting aspect of witchcraft in the early modern period is how the highest concentration of trials took place in border areas lacking strong central authority and in social turmoil, especially in northern Italy, Switzerland, Germany, eastern France and the French-Spanish border.
Witch trials were significantly less common in Catholic and Orthodox countries than in the Reformation-torn regions of central and north-western Europe. The Spanish Inquisition was generally skeptic on the reality of witchcraft, while in Italy (except Lombardy under French laws) the trials were rare and with relatively mild consequences. In England this was largely due to the 1563 Witchcraft Act and the Anglican doctrine of lack of miracles.
The period of witch trials came in waves and then subsided. There were early trials in the 15th and early 16th century, but then the witch scare went into decline, before becoming a big issue again and apexing in the 17th century. Some scholars argue that a fear of witchcraft started among intellectuals who believed in maleficium, that is bad deeds. What had previously been a belief that some people possessed supernatural abilities (which sometimes resulted in protecting the people), now became a sign of a pact between these people with supernatural abilities and the devil. Witchcraft became associated with wild Satanic ritual parties in which there was much naked dancing, orgy sex, and cannibalistic infanticide.
Witch-hunts were seen across early modern Europe, but the most significant area of witch-hunting in modern Europe is often looked at as southwestern Germany. In Germany the number trials compared to other regions of Europe is viewed as a relatively late starter. Witch-hunts first showed to have appeared in large numbers in southern France and Switzerland during the 14th and 15th centuries. The peak years of witch-hunts in southwest Germany occurred between the years of 1561-1670. The first major persecution in Europe is recorded in 1563 in a pamphlet called “True and Horrifying Deeds of 63 Witches” that caught, tried, convicted, and burned witches in the imperial lordship of Wiesensteig in southwestern Germany.
After 1666, the number of witchcraft trials declined from earlier larger scale trials, to smaller scattered ones. Opposition against witchcraft trials began to decline as preachers used enlightened thinking to adapt ideas about witchcraft.
The History Of The Witchcraft Trials
There were extensive efforts to root out the supposed influence of Satan by various measures aimed at the people who were accused of being servants of Satan. To a lesser degree, animals were also targeted for prosecution, as described in the article animal trial. People suspected of being "possessed" by Satan were put on trial. These trials were biased against the witch. On the other hand, the church also attempted to extirpate the superstitious belief in witchcraft and sorcery, considering it as fraud in most cases.
The evidence required to convict an alleged witch varied from country to country - but prosecutions everywhere were most frequently sparked off by denunciations, while convictions invariably required a confession. The latter was often obtained by extremely violent methods. Although Europe's witch-frenzy did not begin until the late 1400s - long after the formal abolition of "ordeal" in 1215 - brutal techniques were routinely used to extract the required admission of guilt. They included hot pincers, the thumbscrew, and the 'swimming' of suspects (an old superstition whereby innocence was established by immersing the accused in water for a sufficiently long period of time). Investigators were consequently able to establish many fantastic crimes that could never have occurred, even in theory. That said, many judicial procedures of the time required proof of a causative link between the alleged act of witchcraft and an identifiable injury, such as a death or property damage.
The flexibility of the crime and the methods of proving it resulted in easy convictions. Any reckoning of the death toll should take account of the facts that rules of evidence varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and that a significant number of witch trials always ended in acquittal. :"At the height of the Great Hunt (1567–1640) one half of all witchcraft cases brought before church courts were dismissed for lack of evidence. No torture was used, and the accused could clear himself by providing four to eight "compurgators", people who were willing to swear that he wasn't a witch. Only 21% of the cases ended with convictions, and the Church did not impose any kind of corporal or capital punishment." In the Pays de Vaud, nine of every ten people tried were put to death, but in Finland, the corresponding figure was about one in six (16%). A breakdown of conviction rates (along with statistics on death tolls, gender bias, and much else) can be found in Brian Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (2nd ed, 1995).
There are particularly important differences between the English and continental witch-hunting traditions. The checks and balances inherent in the jury system, which required a 23-strong body (the grand jury) to indict and a 12-strong one (the petit jury) to convict, always had a restraining effect on prosecutions. Another restraining influence was its relatively rare use of torture: the country formally permitted it only when authorised by the monarch, and no more than 81 torture warrants were issued (for all offences) throughout English history.Continental European courts, while varying from region to region, tended to concentrate power in individual judges and place far more reliance on torture. The significance of the institutional difference is most clearly established by a comparison of the witch-hunts of England and Scotland, for the death toll inflicted by the courts north of the border always dwarfed that of England. It is also apparent from an episode of English history during the early 1640s, when the Civil War resulted in the suspension of jury courts for three years. Several freelance witch-hunters emerged during this period, the most notorious of whom was Matthew Hopkins, who emerged out of East Anglia and proclaimed himself "Witchfinder General".Such men were inquisitors in all but name, proceeding pursuant to denunciations and torture and claiming a mastery of the supposed science of demonology that allowed for identification of the guilty by, for example, the discovery of witches' marks. Research into the laws and records of the time show that the witchfinders often used peine forte et dure and other torture to extract confessions and condemnations of friends, relatives and neighbors.
Besides torture, at trial certain "proofs" were taken as valid to establish that a person practiced witchcraft. Peter Binsfeld contributed to the establishment of many of these proofs, described in his book Commentarius de Maleficius (Comments on Witchcraft).
* The diabolical mark. Usually, this was a mole or a birthmark. If no such mark was visible, the examiner would claim to have found an invisible mark.
* Diabolical pact. This was an alleged pact with Satan to perform evil acts in return for rewards.
* Denouncement by another witch. This was common, since the accused could often avoid execution by naming accomplices.
* Relationship with other convicted witch/witches
* Participation in Sabbaths
* To cause harm that could only be done by means of sorcery
* Possession of elements necessary for the practice of black magic
* To have one or more witches in the family
* To be afraid during the interrogatories
* Not to cry under torment (supposedly by means of the Devil's aid)
* To have had sexual relationships with a demon
In England, witch-pricking was common. It was believed that the diabolical mark would neither bleed, hurt nor show a wound when stabbed by a needle.
The sentence generally was death (as Exodus 22:18 states, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"). There were other sentences, the most common to be chained for years to the oars of a ship, or excommunicated then imprisoned.
The most common death sentence was to be burnt at the stake while still alive. In England it was common to hang the person first and then burn the corpse, a practice adopted sometimes in other countries (in many cases the hanging was replaced by strangling). Drowning was sometimes used as a means of execution. England was also the only country in which the accused had the right to appeal the sentence.
The most common methods used to execute alleged witches were burning and hanging. The frequent use of 'swimming' to test innocence/guilt means that an unknown number also drowned more or less accidentally prior to conviction. Burning at the stake was common on the Continent as a penalty for heresy, but the common-law jurisdictions of England and colonial America invariably sent people convicted of witchcraft to the gallows. (In a handful of exceptional cases, such as that of Giles Corey at Salem, alleged witches who refused to plead were pressed to death without trial.) More generally, the majority of trials have always occurred within "Christian/European/American cultures; they were most often justified there with reference to the Bible's prescriptions: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22:18) and "A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones" (Leviticus 20:27).
The measures employed against alleged witches were some of the worst ever to be legally sanctioned in the Western world. In A History of Torture, George Ryley Scott says:
"The peculiar beliefs and superstitions attached to or associated with witchcraft caused those who were suspected of practising the craft to be extremely likely to be subjected to tortures of greater degree than any ordinary heretic or criminal. More, certain specific torments were invented for use against them."
It has been suggested that the execution of persons association with witchcraft resulted in the loss of much traditional knowledge and folklore, which was often regarded with suspicion and tainted by association.
Number of executions
Estimates of the number of men, women, and children executed for participating in witchcraft vary wildly depending on the method used to generate the estimate. The total number of witch trials in Europe which are known for certain to have ended in executions is around 12,000.
Brian Levack, author of The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, took the number of known European witch trials and multiplied it by the average rate of conviction and execution. This provided him with a figure of around 60,000 deaths.
Anne Lewellyn Barstow, author of Witchcraze, arrived at a number of approximately 100,000 deaths by attempting to adjust Levack's estimate to account for what she believed were unaccounted lost records, although historians have pointed out that Levack's estimate had already been adjusted for these.
Ronald Hutton, author of Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles and Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, in his unpublished essay "Counting the Witch Hunt", counted local estimates, and in areas where estimates were unavailable attempted to extrapolate from nearby regions with similar demographics and attitudes towards witch hunting. He reached an estimate of 40,000 total executions, which appears to be emerging as the most widely accepted figure among academics. Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons, p. 253 denounces as "fantastic exaggerations" numbers of several hundred thousands.
Assuming 40,000 executions over 250 years in Europe, which had a population of approximately 150 million at the time with a life expectancy of ca. 40 years, we get roughly one execution for witchcraft per 25,000 deaths, ranking about 3.5 times higher as cause of death than death by capital punishment (for any offense) in the USA in the late 20th century, or roughly 5 times lower than death by capital punishment in the People's Republic of China.
End of the witch-trials in the 18th century
During early 18th century, the practice subsided. The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1716, when Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth were hanged. Jane Wenham was among the last subjects of a typical witch trial in England in 1712, but was pardoned after her conviction and set free. However as late as 1944, Helen Duncan was the last person to be convicted under the British Witchcraft Act, authorities fearing that by her alleged clairvoyant powers she could betray details of the D-Day preparations. She spent nine months in prison. The Act was repealed in 1951.
Helena Curtens and Agnes Olmanns were the last women to be executed as witches in Germany, in 1738. In Austria, Maria Theresa outlawed witch-burning and torture in the late 18th century; the last capital trial took place in Salzburg in 1750. The last execution in Switzerland was that of Anna Göldi in 1782, at the time it was widely denounced as state-sponsored murder throughout Switzerland and Germany, and not technically a witch trial since explicit allegations of witchcraft were avoided in the official trial.
Salem Witch-Trials Memorial
Typical AccusationsThe characterization of the witch in Europe is not derived from a single source. Popular neopagan beliefs suggest that witches were female shamans who were made into malicious figures by Christian propaganda. This is an erroneous oversimplification and presumes that a recognizable folklore figure must derive from a single historical precedent (a female, maligned magic-worker). The familiar witch of folklore and popular superstition is a combination of numerous influences.At the end of the Middle Ages, the reoccurring beliefs about witches were: 1. The ride by night 2. The pact with the Devil 3. The formal repudiation of Christianity 4. The secret nocturnal meeting 5. The desecration of the Eucharist and crucifix 6. The orgy 7. Sacrificial infanticide, and 8. CannibalismThe Malleus Maleficarum (1486) declared that the four essential points of witchcraft were renunciation of the Catholic face, devotion of body and soul to evil, offering up unbaptized children to the Devil, and engaging in orgies which included intercourse with the Devil; in addition, witches were accused of shifting their shapes, flying through the air, abusing Christian sacraments, and confecting magical ointments.Witches were credited with a variety of magical powers. These fall into two broad categories: those that explain the occurrence of misfortune and are thus grounded in real events, and those that are wholly fantastic.The first category includes the powers to cause impotence, to turn milk sour, to strike people dead, to cause diseases, to raise storms, to cause infants to be stillborn, to prevent cows from giving milk, to prevent hens from laying and to blight crops. The second includes the power to fly in the air, to change form into a hare, to suckle familiar spirits from warts, to sail on a single plank and perhaps most absurd of all, to go to sea in an eggshell. Eggshells are still superstitiously crushed to prevent this usage.Witches were often believed to fly on broomsticks or distaffs, or occasionally upon unwilling human beings, who would be called 'hag-ridden'. Horses found sweating in their stalls in the morning were also said to be hag-ridden.The accused witch Isobel Gowdie gave the following charm as her means of transmuting herself into a hare: I shall go into a hare, With sorrow and sych and meickle care; And I shall go in the Devil's name, Ay while I come home again.Witches also appear as villains in many 19th- and 20th-century fairy tales, folk tales and children's stories, such as "Snow White", "Hansel and Gretel", "Sleeping Beauty", and many other stories recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Such folktales typically portray witches as either remarkably ugly hags or remarkably beautiful young women. In the classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, witches from both ends of this spectrum play important roles.