Witch Hunts and Trials

The witching hour has started. Thank you for joining me tonight.

Witch-hunts a term used to refer to moral panics and or crazed persecution against perceived enemies.
Secular courts controlled Witchcraft laws until the time of the Protestant Reformation.

I won’t have info here on the Salem witch trials. I feel like everyone already knows enough of that, if I get a request for it I will go over it next time.

Ancient witch laws.
Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians killed witches. Roman law allowed execution. Things like epidemics, and damages to crops were some of the reasons the Romans killed women. The Hebrew Bible condemned sorcery by exile. In 785 AD, the Catholic Church decreed the Council of Paderborn. It condemned the death of anyone who burns a witch. The church thought it was superstitious folly.
Charlemagne (794 AD) also ordered the death penalty for anyone who burned witches. He thought witchcraft was “superstitious.”

In European and North American history the trials, tortures, and executions of tens of thousands of victims lasted for 300 years from 1480-1750. About 75% of the victims were women.

Around 1550 BC persecution rose to an all time high. “The Burning Times” it’s commonly known, was a mass hysteria of witch-hunts and trials mostly occurred in one century 1550-1650.  “The Great Hunt” in the 17the century passed as suddenly as it occurred. Trials dropped after 1650 disappearing completely after the 18th century.

During the Trials

It’s believed that the Reformation was the cause of most witch-hunts. The Catholic Church feeling the change of the Reformation were desperate to keep its control, the witch-hunts were that way. The weakest Catholic countries like Germany, France, and Switzerland experienced an infectious witch-hunt craze. Countries that were under stronger Catholic hold like Spain, Italy, and Portugal hardly had any craze. This would seem to show that belief as fact, but Protestants and Catholics both felt threatened and both persecuted witches.

The majority of witches were condemned by secular courts. In most countries, it was standard procedure to bring the persecuted before investigating tribunals to be interrogated. In some parts of Europe (England), torture wasn’t usually used. Where the hunts were more intense it was a standard procedure. Many confessions were due to the torture endured. About half of all convicted witches received sentences short of execution. The unlucky were killed in public often “en masse” by hanging or burning. It’s estimated that 20-25% of the persecuted were men.


In France, there was a difference, in the 1,300 witches whose cases were brought to parliament just over half were men, mostly peasants, artisans. In Iceland 90% were men in Estonia 60% and in Finland 80%
In Hungry, Denmark, and England 90% of the persecuted were women.

In 1645, forty-six years before the Salem witch trials. In Springfield Massachusetts Husband and wife, Hugh and Mary Parson, were the first accusations, they accused each other! At the trial, Hugh was found innocent. Mary was acquitted of witchcraft. She was sentenced to hanging, for the death of her child. She died in prison. About 80 people throughout Mass. Bay Colony were accused. Thirteen women and two men were executed in New England during 1646-1663. The Salem witch trials were in 1692-1693

When a case was brought to trial prosecutors hunted for accomplices. Magic was considered wrong, not because it failed but because it worked, and it just didn’t work but it worked well, and for the wrong reasons. When witches were called to assist in illnesses or deliver babies (along with religious ministers) when something went wrong no one ever questioned the minister or the witch’s power. They questioned the witch’s intention.

In the 300 years, it’s estimated that there were 100,000 trials, 48% (about 40,000 to 60,000) ended in death.

The Salem Witch Trials

In the kingdom of Great Britain witchcraft stopped being punishable in 1735 when the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was signed. In Germany, it remained punishable into the 18th century.

Modern Hunts
As hard as it is for some of us to believe witch-hunts still happened today where the belief in magic is still predominant. Lynching, (execution by a mob by handing or burning at the stake or shooting), happens in Sub-Saharan Africa, Papua New Guinea. Some countries have legislation against the practice of sorcery.

Witch-hunts in Africa are often by family members who want the accused land or assets.

Women who are accused, usually, in an attempt to take land away from them, settle scores or as punishment for refusing sexual advances. Those accused of being a witch usually are forced to abandon her home and family, in extreme cases they commit suicide. It’s hard for the poor and illiterate women to travel from isolated rural areas to urban cities, to document their cases and most cases aren’t documented. In 2010, it was estimated that 150-200 women were killed, less than 2% were actually convicted.

Papua New Guinea
The 1976 Sorcery Act allows a penalty of up to two years in jail for practicing “Black” magic, “White” magic or healing magic isn’t punished. In 2009, the government reported the spread of mob related torture and murder, of alleged witches’ mostly lone women, from Highland areas to cities, because villagers are moving to urban areas.

Saudi Arabia
In 2009, 118 people were arrested for practicing magic and using the Book of Allah in a derogatory manner. Seventy-four percent were female.

Photo Credits:
Witch Trials:  http://www.spiritualtravels.info
Burning Witches: http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/photo-gallery-accused-of-dancing-with-the-devil-fotostrecke-76376.html
Burning Witches: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-salem-witch-trials-2


10 thoughts on “Witch Hunts and Trials

  1. This is such a great post, full of so much information. I really enjoyed reading it. Brightest Blessings

  2. Copious Corpses says:

    Hey Mari!
    Great post. Your research was very thorough. The witchcraft laws and punishment in Saudi, Papa NG, etc.., were intriguing. Wasn’t hip to that. Always good to come visit ya. : )


    • mari wells says:

      Thank you, CLS.

      I spent 3 weeks researching. I tried to stay away from the Salem trials, because we all have a pretty good idea of what happened, I wanted to give new information. It was hard finding anything that wasn’t about Salem.
      Come visit more often! You’re not here enough! 😀

  3. Very interesting post! I’m so glad we live in a society where women aren’t regularly burned for witchcraft! Lol.

  4. Morrighan says:

    ah yes, glad i don’t live in india and those other 2 countries! very nice post indeed. very interesting!!

    • mari wells says:

      Thank you so much. I’m glad I don’t live there either. Woman -witch or otherwise- have very little to no rights there. Thank you for coming by and commenting.

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