American Witchcraft Laws

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A reader writes in, “I notice that there are a lot of references made to the English Witchcraft Laws, but what about law in America? Didn’t the Salem witches in Massachusetts get burned at the stake because of laws against witchcraft?

The Salem witch trials were indeed held in Massachusetts. However, in 1692, when these trials took place, Massachusetts was not “American” at all. It was a British colony, and therefore fell under British rule and law. In other words, the Salem Colony was not American in 1692, because “America” didn’t exist. In fact, it didn’t exist until about eighty years later. Also, no one has ever been burned at the stake for witchcraft in America. In Salem, a number of people were hanged, and one was pressed to death. It is unlikely that any of those people were actually practicing any sort of witchcraft (

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English Witchcraft Laws

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Until 1951, England had laws strictly prohibiting the practice of witchcraft. When the last act was repealed, Gerald Gardnerbegan to publish his work, and brought witchcraft back into the public eye without threat of prosecution. Put into effect on June 1, 1653, the Witchcraft Laws mandated the outlawing of any kind of witchcraft-related activities. The 1951 repeal made it easier for modern Wiccans — Gardner was able to go public just a few years later, when he published Witchcraft Today in 1954.

It’s important to note that the 1653 Witchcraft Laws were not the first to appear in the English judicial system. In 1541, King Henry VIII passed a piece of legislation that made witchcraft a felony, punishable by death. In 1562, Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, passed a new law that said witchcraft would only be punished with death if harm had been caused – if no…

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The Pendle Witches

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n 1612, a dozen people were accused of using witchcraft to murder ten of their neighbors. Two men and nine women, from the Pendle Hill area of Lancashire, eventually went to trial, and of these eleven, ten were eventually found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Although there were certainly other witchcraft trials taking place in Englandduring the fifteenth to eighteenth century, it was rare for so many people to be accused and tried at once, and even more unusual for so many people to be sentenced to execution.

Of the five hundred or so people executed for witchcraft in England over three hundred years, ten were the Pendle witches. Although one of the accused, Elizabeth Southerns, or Demdike, had been known in the area as a witch for a long time, it’s entirely possible that the accusations which led up to formal charges and the trial…

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Witch Trials in Europe and North America

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I’m a big fan of history, as many Pagans are, so this week we’re going to look at a few key incidents in “witchy history.” Let’s take a moment to look at the “burning times,” which is the name applied to the European witch hunts – and which may not have involved as many victims as once thought. We’ll also talk about the Pendle witch trials in England, and the Hartford trial that was a precursor to the hysteria of Salem in 1692.

5 Things You Might Not Know About the Salem Witch Trials  
The Salem witch trials of 1692 are pretty well-known – but many people get the facts wrong. Let’s look at five things you may not know about Salem.

There are more parts to this article by Patti Wigington on About.com. If you click on the link above it will take you to them.

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The 1662 Hartford Witch Trials

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Mention witchcraft in America, and people immediately think of Salem. After all, the famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) trial of 1692 went down in history as a perfect storm of fear, religious fanaticism, and mass hysteria. What most people don’t realize, however, is that three decades before Salem, there was another witchcraft trial in nearby Connecticut, in which four people were executed.

In Salem, twenty people were put to death – nineteen by hanging, and one pressed with heavy stones – for the crime of witchcraft. It is, by far, one of the best-known legal debacles in American history, in part because of the sheer number of people involved. Hartford, on the other hand, was a much smaller trial and tends to get overlooked. However, it’s important to talk about Hartford, because it did set a bit of a legal precedent for witchcraft trials…

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