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The Rock Star's Familiar
The Vampire's Familiar
The Witch's Familiar
Phantasia: Bad Day On Olympus
Ice Cave
Destiny, Desire & Murder
Close to the Truth

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Magic Thursday - Witches on Trial

Hello again.

Today I'm talking about the Witch Trials that occurred within 15th and 18th Centuries in Europe and America.

Depending on which resource you read (and I've read a few) anywhere between 40,000 - and 200 000 individuals were executed for allegedly practicing witch craft.

Why did they do it?
It seems to be a case of mass hysteria. Life was difficult in those times, illness, death and accidents were often supersititously viewed to be the work of the devil or some other harbinger of evil. As I'm sure you know, people like to feel safe and religious faith makes people feel safer. It's no surprise then that at Christianity was on the rise during this era and changes in its doctrine surrounding the devil had a significant impact on belief and persecution of witches.

Witches were considered the property of Satan, and therefore responsible for the bad things that happened in a town or village. The first Church inspired witch hunts began in earnest in the 15th century. It is perhaps wise to note, that it wasn't only women accused of witchery. Men, girls and boys were also accused. That said, approximately 75-80% of all accused were women. Leading the witch hunts to be called a 'gendercide' by feminist writers.

How did they find witches?

There were dedicated Witch-Finders. Yes indeedy. One such man was Matthew Hopkins, who decided it was his God sent duty to find and destroy all the witches in England. He called himself the 'Witch Finder General' and travelled from village to village sniffing out witches. During this time (1647) England was in the midst of civil war, and suspicions and mistrust were ripe. It didn't take much to coax someone into accusing another of witchcraft. As a result, in each village, anyone who was remotely unpopular or peculiar in any way, was put on trial for suspected witch craft.  Here's the thing, Hopkins would then examine their bodies for any birthmarks or blemishes (said to be the marks of the devil). Then he would 'test' them and torture them for confessions. Ultimately, this man was responsible for the deaths of some 230 individuals - and was paid handsomely for his efforts.

Hopkins had seven keys ways to identify a witch:
1. Having the diabolical mark - that is moles or marks on the body.
2. Owning a black cat.
3. Talking to yourself.
4. Talking to animals.
5. Spinning a round.
6. Having red hair or freckles.
7. Having unusual eyes.

Is this more subversive Disney devil worship? *kidding*

Other indicators or 'proofs' of being a witch:

-having a diabolical pact with the devil in return for rewards.
-being denounced by another witch.
-having a relationship with another witch.
-participating in the the Witches Sabbath.
-using sorcery.
-possession of items used for black magic.
-to express fear of interrogation.
-not to cry under torture.
-having sex with a demon.

Witch Trials, Interrogation and Torture.
The torture of witches began to increase in frequency after 1468 when the Pope declared witchcraft to be "crimen exceptum".
 Then following the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (the most comprehensive book about witchcraft at the time) hysteria about witchcraft intensified.

Individuals were subjected to sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, dunking, swimming tests (in which most drowned) and a multitude of other unpleasantness.
Ultimately, if you were convicted of witchcraft, you were either excommunicated or executed. Many individuals were burned alive at the stake (particularly in France) whilst others were strangled and then burnt at the stake.

Punishing Witches in Germany
Interestingly it appears that Germany had the highest rate of witch executions, an estimated 17 - 26,000 individuals, whilst Ireland only had 4. Despite the hype and fervour with the Puritans vs Witches in America only 35-37 individuals were actually executed.

So there you have it, a very brief history on Witch Hunts. Enjoy your Thursday!


Interesting Link:


  1. Thanks for a very informative post, Nicola. Especially of interest to me as the heroine of my current ms is a witch.

  2. Terrible to think of all those innocent women dying. Thanks for the interesting post.

  3. You are very welcome ladies. It was a very bizarre time in history.

  4. Boy, if you read Hopkins seven rules, most of us are witches.
    Apart from the Red hair and the unusual eyes, the other 5 rules pretty well describe me. lol

  5. A pretty horrible time, humanity at its worst.

  6. Another golden post. Thanks Nicola ( and sorry I'm late).

    Ha spinning around eh? That's it all kids are witches. :)