What Were the Burning Times?

What Were the Burning Times?

Facts and Fiction About the European Witch Hunts

We’ve all seen the bumper stickers and the t-shirts: Never Again the Burning Times! It’s a rally cry for many born-again Pagans and Wiccans, and indicates a need to reclaim what’s ours – our rights to worship and celebrate as we choose. The phrase Burning Times is often used in modern Paganism and Wicca to indicate the era from the Dark Ages to around the nineteenth century, when charges of heresy were enough to get a witch burned at the stake.

Some have claimed that as many as nine million people were killed in the name of “witch hunts.” However, there’s a lot of discussion within the Pagan world about the accuracy of that number, and some scholars have estimated it significantly lower, possibly as few as 200,000. That’s still a pretty big number, but a lot less than some of the other claims that have been made.

For the past thirty years or so, scholars – as well as many members of the Pagan and Wiccan communities — have debated the validity of the astronomical numbers of victims cited during the Burning Times. The problem with the early estimates of numbers is that, much like in war, the victor writes the history. In other words, the only documentation we have about the European witch hunts was written by the people who actually conducted those same witch hunts!

Jenny Gibbons’ thesis, Recent Developments in the Great European Witch Hunt, goes into great depth about some of these inflated numbers. Essentially, Gibbons states, bigger numbers of witches looked better for the witch hunters, who were the ones keeping track of things in the first place.

As time progressed, countries like England eventually repealed their proscriptions against witchcraft, and the Neopagan and Wiccan movements later moved into place both in Britain and the United States. As feminist writers latched on to the Goddess-centered movement, there was a tendency to portray the healer-midwife-village wisewoman as an innocent victim of evil patriarchal Catholic oppressors.

In the past, Wiccans and Pagans were often the first to point out that the European witch hunts targeted women – after all, these poor country girls were simply the victims of the misogynistic societies of their times. However, what is often overlooked is that although overall about 80% of the accused were female, in some areas, more men than women were persecuted as witches. Scandinavian countries in particular seemed to have equal numbers of both male and female accused.

Timeline

Let’s look at a brief timeline of the witch craze in Europe:

  • 906 C.E. The Canon Episcopi is written by a young abbot named Regino of Treves. Regino’s treatise reinforces the Church’s existing stance on witchcraft, which is that it doesn’t exist.
  • Around 975 C.E. The Church decides that the penalty for witchcraft – which apparently does in fact exist, despite the Canon Episcopi’s assertions to the contrary – is fairly mild. A woman convicted of the use of “witchcraft and enchantment and … magical philters” shall be sentenced to a year-long diet of bread and water.
  • 1227 C.E. Pope Gregory IX announces that it’s time to form an Inquisitorial Court to weed out heretics, who are summarily executed.
  • 1252 C.E. Pope Innocent III carries on the Inquisitions. However, he discovers that a much higher rate of confession is obtained if torture is permitted.
  • 1326 C.E. The Church authorizes the Inquisition to go beyond the investigations of heresy. Now they are encouraged to ferret out people practicing Witchcraft. The theory of demonology is created, establishing a link between witches and the Christian Satan.
  • 1340’s C.E. Europe is pummeled by the Black Plague, and a significant amount of people die. Witches, Jews and lepers are accused of spreading disease intentionally.
  • 1450 C.E. The Catholic Church announces that witches eat babies and sell their souls to the Devil. Witch hunts begin in earnest throughout Europe.
  • 1487 C.E. Publication of Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches’ Hammer). This book describes all sorts of vile activities allegedly practiced by Witches, and also details some creative methods of getting confessions out of the accused.
  • 1517 C.E. Martin Luther leads the way to the Protestant Reformation, which in turn causes a decrease in the number of witchcraft convictions in England – because the Protestants won’t allow torture.
  • 1550 – 1650 C.E. Trials and executions reach their peak. Many of the people accused of witchcraft are actually being targeted in battles between Catholics and Protestants, and others are landowners whose property has been seized by the Church.
  • 1716 C.E. The last accused witches – Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth — are executed in England. Other countries eventually follow suit and stop executing people for witchcraft.

 

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Animals, Nature, and the Craft

Animals, Nature, and the Craft

Author:   Flame warped mind 

I love animals — not all of them mind you, little bugs, spiders, bees, and rodents still freak me — but I respect each for what they are. Respect. It’s a big part of being Pagan. Ants and spiders are just as important as cows and elephants, each being distinctly different from the next.

‘Witches only love their black cats! They sacrifice everything else to the Devil!’

Really? I don’t like cats at all, and I’ve never sacrificed anything to the devil. I’m just far too busy trying to gather what understanding I can from the animal kingdom to worry about sacrificing to a being I don’t believe exists. “What we have here is failure to communicate.” –Cool Hand Luke.

For as long people outside the Craft have known about any form of earth based spirituality and the people involved in such practice (whom we will refer to as Pagan for the remainder of this piece) , there have been misconceptions involving animals and the Craft. An animal spiritually tied to a person practicing witchcraft (often called a familiar) , was and still is often thought of as a demon in animal form sent to assist in spells against and bewitchment of the God-fearing public. This theory is both prejudicial and nonsensical, not just to the person but also to the animal involved as well. During the Witch Hunts, animals were routinely sentenced and executed for witchcraft along with their masters. This practice went so far that in medieval Europe cats were massacred based on the theory that all cats were Witches’ familiars.

Oftentimes people assume that all Pagans have cat familiars (as though it were a requirement) and while cats have been a part of Pagan society since before the Pyramids were built, they are not by any means spiritual requirements for practicing Pagans.

Another old (incorrect) theory, which has become common knowledge is that Pagans routinely sacrifice animals to appease the devil, a demon, or a god or goddess. The vast majority of Pagans love and respect animals as much, if not more so, than the average person because of an inherent desire to be close to nature. Some pagans forgo all meats in order to avoid the feeling of having caused the death of an animal. The confusion here lies in the difference between “animal sacrifice” and an animal that was hunted to be eaten. Sometimes a ritual item or personal belonging fulfills this function. Sometimes the sacrifice is the worshiper’s dinner. Ask a deity bound pagan, a bought offering is rarely as desirable as an offering strived for.

In my home we have several animals. If at any time animals are used in my practice, the cat is the absolute last choice for a spiritual partner I would seek out. For me, there is only one choice of animal to partner myself with spiritually, ball pythons. Don’t run away screaming just yet.

Snakes are amazingly beautiful creatures contrary to their poor reputation. Captive bred snakes are wonderful animals to work with. The temperament is different between wild (aggressive) to captive bred (calm) snakes. You can have an animal very close to its naturally occurring instinct, (usually) without the aggressive nature. I have three beautiful ball pythons all of which have been involved with some ritual or another. One of their biggest strengths in a ritual is how predicable they are. Dogs, cats, rodents, arachnids, lizards, all have a tendency to be unpredictable, and occasionally volatile. Dogs bark and fight. Cats don’t do what their pets (owners) tell them. Arachnids are entirely unpredictable and easily injured in my estimation. Lizards have a tendency to run away or get into obnoxious places when no ones looking. They’re all too impatient for my taste.

A snake will sit still until they smell food, get too cold/hot, or get curious enough to slowly wander off. They don’t make noise, and, for the most part, don’t resist where they are placed. Best of all, when there is an occasion where they get aggressive/defensive, the posturing and hissing gives those around ample warning as to the change in demeanor. If this occurs, it is normally during a very active part of the ritual; snakes don’t like things being moved past their heads quickly. (At this point most other species of animals are retired from the rites anyway.) Also as long as the surrounding temperature is amiable, they can be placed in a bag, which is then tied up, to prevent wandering and to bolster the animal’s sense of security. I’ll bet your dog wouldn’t let you do that!

When humans allow themselves to be as close to nature as animals, our instincts take over. Some of the most powerful and well-balanced magical workings I have ever witnessed involved Pagans reverting to base instinct. Powerful and pure, Nature is instinct. Nature is not always civilized and pleasant; oftentimes it is harsh, cruel, and gory. The more “civilized” humans become, the more we forget how powerful instinct can be. Animals are the epitome of instinct, and so it is wise to sit back, watch, and learn from the varying multitudes our scaly, slimy, furry, feathered, chitinous, brethren encompass. Even though their speech is limited to sounds that mean nothing to humans, they each have something to say. There is always something new to learn, an untapped facet of primal knowledge… if only we know where to look.

Some of the smallest animals often teach us the most valuable lessons. The ants learned long ago that to cooperate is to survive; infighting only leads to ruin. Salmon show that life is an uphill battle, but anything worth doing should receive our full effort. A snake could have easily inspired Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” These are but a few of the lessons that nature offers those willing to listen.

So sit back, shut up, watch and learn, and above all remember nature is “natural”. It’s not good or evil. It’s not right or wrong. It is spectacular and beautiful, bountiful, and calm and at the same time, nature is savage, bloody, vicious, and violent… a self-sustaining balance at its finest.

______________________________________

Footnotes:
Cool Hand Luke
Theodore Roosevelt

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The Witch

The Witch

Women have strange powers men do not: the power to bear children and feed them from their own bodies, to bleed without being hurt or sick, and to provoke
erections in heterosexual men. Perhaps these strange beings have even more
remarkable powers.

Or perhaps when the image of a Goddess dwindles until all that remains is the
memory of Her uncanny powers, She becomes a Witch.

Witches have been credited with such magical feats as blasting crops, cursing
people to sickness, lameness or death and causing men to become impotent or
even stealing their penises.

The Renaissance Christian myth of the witch is complex and grotesque. Most
witches were women, the Malleus Maleficarum stated, because “All witchcraft
arises from lust, which in women is insatiable.” Their lust was supposedly for
the Devil, who initiated the witch at the Sabbat and copulated with her often,
according to the accounts of the churchmen.

These witches gathered at mass meetings called Sabbats, to which they flew via
brooms or animal companions. There, the Devil appeared, usually in the form of
a black goat. They kissed his buttocks in greeting. Then they informed him of
all the harmful spells they had done since the last Sabbat. Wild dancing and often sex with gathered demons followed, along with a feast often consisting of
the corpses of babies.

There is no evidence that a real conspiracy of witches who worshipped the Devil
ever existed. But many European clergymen devoutly believed in it during the
great Witch Hunt. Estimates as to how many people, mostly women, were burned or hanged for witchcraft range from a few thousand to nine million.

But the witches of pagan stories had no need for a male Devil. Long before the
great Witch-Hunt, European women were accused of believing that they travelled with the goddess Diana or Signa Oriente or Herodias at night, entering people’s homes and being given food. Roman witches were thought to worship Hecate.

Morgan Le Fay tormented King Arthur and his knights. Circe turned the men who invaded her island into pigs. The volva told Odin how the Aesir gods would
fall. The witches in The Golden Ass can command even the Greek gods with their
spells.

The myths have led to a real Witchcraft religion springing up — one that worships Goddesses, not the Christian’s Devil.

Many other cultures have known the fear of the witch, which may date back to
the Stone Age. Some Native American tribes feared witches, such as the Iroquois
and Navajo (Dina). Certain African tribes believe in female witches who ride
trained hyenas to meetings and cast evil spells.

The urban legends of child-molesting Satanist conspiracies that spring up even
today show how enduring the myth of the witch is. As in Renaissance times, most of the accused are women.

Above: “The Witches’ Sabbat”, by Francis Goya. Below: From a collage.

Further Reading

* Europe’s Inner Demons: The Making of the Great European Witch Hunt. Norman
Cohn.

* Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Arthur Evans. Fag Rag Press, 1971.

A Witch Is…

Witchy Comments=
TO BE A WITCH

To be a witch is to love and be loved.
To be a witch is to know everything, and nothing at all.
To be a witch is to move amongst the stars while staying on earth.
To be a witch is to change the world around you, and yourself.
To be a witch is to share and give, while receiving all the while.
To be a witch is to dance and sing, and hold hands with the universe.
To be a witch is to honor the gods, and yourself.
To be a witch is to be magick, not just perform it.
To be a witch is to be honorable, or nothing at all.
To be a witch is to accept others who are not.
To be a witch is to know what you feel is right and good.
To be a witch is to harm none.
To be a witch is to know the ways of old.
To be a witch is to see beyond the barriers.
To be a witch is to follow the moon.
To be a witch is to be one with the gods.
To be a witch is to study and to learn.
To be a witch is to be the teacher and the student.
To be a witch is to acknowledge the truth.
To be a witch is to live with the earth, not just on it.

To be a witch is to be truly free!

Good Saturday Morning My Dear Friends & Family! Let’s Make It A Great One!

Witchy Comments & Graphics

TO BE A WITCH

To be a witch is to love and be loved.
To be a witch is to know everything, and nothing at all.
To be a witch is to move amongst the stars while staying on earth.
To be a witch is to change the world around you, and yourself.
To be a witch is to share and give, while receiving all the while.
To be a witch is to dance and sing, and hold hands with the universe.
To be a witch is to honor the gods, and yourself.
To be a witch is to be magick, not just perform it.
To be a witch is to be honorable, or nothing at all.
To be a witch is to accept others who are not.
To be a witch is to know what you feel is right and good.
To be a witch is to harm none.
To be a witch is to know the ways of old.
To be a witch is to see beyond the barriers.
To be a witch is to follow the moon.
To be a witch is to be one with the gods.
To be a witch is to study and to learn.
To be a witch is to be the teacher and the student.
To be a witch is to acknowledge the truth.
To be a witch is to live with the earth, not just on it.
To be a witch is to be truly free!

WITCHCRAFT

 WITCHCRAFT

In the modern world witchcraft is a form of nature religion that emphasizes
the healing arts. The term is also applied to various kinds of MAGIC practiced
in Asian, African, and Latin American communities. Little is known about the
history of witchcraft in Europe, and what is known comes from hostile sources. In traditional European society witchcraft was believed to be a kind of harmful sorcery associated with the worship of SATAN, or the devil (a spirit hostile to God). The European doctrine of witchcraft was formulated in the late Middle Ages. Just how many of the beliefs about witches were based on reality and how many on delusion will never be known. The punishment of supposed witches by the death penalty did not become common until the 15th century. The first major witch-hunt occurred in Switzerland in 1427, and the first important book on the subject, the Malleus maleficarum (Hammer of Sorceresses), appeared in Germany in 1486. The persecution of witches reached its height between 1580 and 1660, when witch trials became almost universal throughout western Europe.

Geographically, the center of witch-burning lay in Germany, Austria, and
Switzerland, but few areas were left untouched by it. No one knows the total
number of victims. In southwestern Germany alone, however, more than 3,000 witches were executed between 1560 and 1680. Not all witch trials ended in deaths. In England, where torture was prohibited, only about 20 percent of accused witches were executed (by hanging); in Scotland, where torture was used, nearly half of all those put on trial were burned at the stake, and almost three times as many witches (1,350) were killed as in England. Some places had fewer trials than others. In the Dutch republic, no witches were executed after 1600, and none were tried after 1610. In Spain and Italy accusations of witchcraft were handled by the INQUISITION, and although torture was legal, only a dozen witches were burned out of 5,000 put on trial. Ireland apparently escaped witch trials altogether. Many witch trials were provoked, not by hysterical authorities or fanatical clergy, but by village quarrels among neighbors. About 80% of all accused witches were women. Traditional theology assumed that womenwere weaker than men and more likely to succumb to the devil. It may in fact be true that, having few legal rights, they were more inclined to settle quarrels by resorting to magic rather than law. All these aspects of witchcraft crossed over to the Americas with European colonists. In the Spanish and French territories cases of witchcraft were under the jurisdiction of church courts, and no one suffered death on this charge. In the English colonies about 40 people were executed for witchcraft between 1650 and 1710, half of them in the famous SALEM WITCH TRIALS of 1692. Witch trials declined in most parts of Europe after 1680; in England the death penalty for witchcraft was abolished in 1736. In the late 17th and 18th centuries one last wave of witch persecution afflicted Poland and other areas of eastern Europe, but that ended by about 1740. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782.

Beginning in the 1920s, witchcraft was revived in Europe and America by groups that considered it a survival of pre-Christian religious practices. This
phenomenon was partly inspired by such books as Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921). Some forms of modern witchcraft follow the traditions of medieval herbalists and lay healers. The term witch-hunt is used today to describe a drive to punish political criminals or dissidents without regard for the normal legal rules. E. William Monter

Bibliography: Baroja, Julio C., The World of Witches (1964); Guiley, Rosemary,The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (1990); Levack, Brian, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (1987); Luhrmann, T.M., Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (1989); Monter, E. W., ed., European Witchcraft (1969).

The Witch Hunts of Old Hit Home

I have been thumbing through some of my books. Truthfully as I look through them, I can’t find anything at all that interests me to talk about. Except one thing that I learned about not to long ago that happened in my hometown.

All of my family came out of the mountains of Eastern and Central Kentucky. Most of the men were coal miners and the women were homemakers. I remember my father had come from a family of 13 children. There would have been 15 but two of them died as babies. My mother came from only a family of 3 children. Her baby sister passed on when she was 12 from lockjaw. She stepped on a rusty nail and there was no cure at the time. My father and mother met, married and moved to Western Kentucky. I grew up in this area and have lived here all my life. I always thought it was a very peaceful and lovely place to live. All those thoughts were scattered to the wind the other day. I learned of something terrible that had happened here. Down where the floodwall now stands on the other side of it, three witches were hanged. I cried.

The thought of those women or so called witches has been weighing on my mind. The is the first time, I had ever heard of the witch hunts and executions coming this far south. The details of the hanging are unknown to me. The names of the victims and what they were accused of is also. I want to know about these women. I feel a yearning to know. Perhaps it is a sisterhood or perhaps there Spirits are calling to me, I don’t know. But I want to find out.

I haven’t mentioned any of these to my husband yet. I know what he will say, “leave it alone. Don’t go snooping.” I had an aunt on my father’s side to just disappear. No one in the family ever talked about her. The only reason I know is because I did a little genealogy on my own. She showed up in the censuses and I also found a birth record of her. I even asked my sister about her and she had never heard of her either. It was always public knowledge that women on both sides of the family practiced healings and witchcraft. It makes me wonder if one of those women could have been my aunt.

I cannot even begin to think how to go about researching something like this. I know my husband runs across transcripts of Witch Trials no one had ever heard of before. He gave me one not to long ago about a trial in Pennsylvania that I have found no record of anywhere. I would love to find out more about these women. I would especially like to know if one of them was my aunt.

Perhaps this explains the strong feelings I have in regards to the Burning Times. Perhaps it explains why I am always talking about our Ancestors. I know I had several stoned and hung, distant ones not like an aunt. To me, an aunt is blood, real blood. I feel a responsible to find out what happened to her. Then I stop to think, if it was my aunt could I honestly handle the cruelty that I found out she suffered. Who knows if she was an actually practitioner? She might have been one of my relatives that was completely innocent. The thought of that makes me sick. The thought of her being tortured and no telling what else, just to make her confess. Then taken out to a gallows or even a tree and hung, it makes me cry. It is different when you read and heard about the old ones back in the 1600’s. But when you wonder if one of these women could have been your  aunt hung back in the early 1900’s. It hits home. It hits you square in your heart and soul.

The cruelty of people. How could people treat any of them the way they did? Did these people have any regrets? Didn’t they have any compassion for another human being? What happened back then, did the world go mad? I guess due to my tolerance and compassion for others, I will never understand it.

All I know is I want to know who these women were. Whether any of them were my aunt or not, I pray the Goddess gave them peace and comfort. I truly pray they were reborn into a much kinder and gentler world from which they came.

To Be A Witch

Witchy Comments TO BE A WITCH

To be a witch is to love and be loved.
To be a witch is to know everything, and nothing at all.
To be a witch is to move amongst the stars while staying on earth.
To be a witch is to change the world around you, and yourself.
To be a witch is to share and give, while receiving all the while.
To be a witch is to dance and sing, and hold hands with the universe.
To be a witch is to honor the gods, and yourself.
To be a witch is to be magick, not just perform it.
To be a witch is to be honorable, or nothing at all.
To be a witch is to accept others who are not.
To be a witch is to know what you feel is right and good.
To be a witch is to harm none.
To be a witch is to know the ways of old.
To be a witch is to see beyond the barriers.
To be a witch is to follow the moon.
To be a witch is to be one with the gods.
To be a witch is to study and to learn.
To be a witch is to be the teacher and the student.
To be a witch is to acknowledge the truth.
To be a witch is to live with the earth, not just on it.
To be a witch is to be truly free!

  
~Magickal Graphics~

OTHER WAYS OF MARKING OESTARA

OTHER WAYS OF MARKING OESTARA

 

* Celebrate the arrival of spring with flowers. Bring them into your own home and, in keeping with the theme of balance, give them to others. You do not have to spend a lot of money – one or two blooms given for no other reason than ‘spring is here’ can often bring a smile to even the most gloomy face.

* Do a bit of ‘personal housekeeping’. We live in an age where guilt is more often encouraged then pride, where we are encouraged to dwell upon our ‘negative’ points and habits. This is not the way of the Witch. As Witches we must learn to be as honest about our plus points as society would like us to be about our minuses.

Advertising, probably the most pervasive kind of propaganda, encourages us to think
of ourselves as ‘less than perfect’ unless we look and dress like the people in the
adverts and possess all the things that the advertisers would like us to spend money
on. It is worth bearing in mind that if we truly needed these products then there would
be no need to put them into commercials!

However, to return to the ‘personal housekeeping’, write a list of 20 of your plus points,
things you are good at, and 20 minus points, things you would like to improve. Try
not to be influenced by stereotypes – many female Witches include ‘outspoken’ on
their list of negatives, while males will describe the same quality as positive! If you
absolutely must include your physical attributes on the minus list, then make sure
that these are things which you can sensibly expect to change, but don’t fall into the
advertisers’ trap. From the perspective of the Witch it is far more important that you
should come to terms with the person that you are, rather than worry about the way
people see you.

One of the first tasks of the Witch is to understand and accept themselves, with all
their good and bad points, because it is only when you understand yourself that you
will be in a position to understand others, and therein lies a good portion of Witches’
Magic.

Start to learn about some of the plants and herbs which have been traditionally used
as remedies. A basic knowledge of herbs is part of the heritage of the Witch.

In The News……Haunted Happenings in Salem

Massachusetts town famous for its 1692 witch trials is the busiest Halloween tourist destination in North America

 
By DAVID JOHNSTON, The GazetteOctober 15, 2011
 
 

The busiest Halloween tourist destination in North America has no shortage of costumed ghosts and goblins wandering through town in the weeks before the arrival of the witching hours of Halloween night Oct. 31.

But there was nothing theatrical about the shock and the horror that gripped the seaside Massachusetts town of Salem in 1692, when 20 local residents were accused of witchcraft and put to death after the infamous Salem witch trials.

Ever since then, witch hunts in various shapes and forms have been a recurring metaphor in U.S. society. When Arthur Miller based his 1952 play The Crucible on the events of 1692, it was seen as an allegory for the anti-Communist fear and hysteria that was sweeping the United States at the time.

The historical and cultural backdrop to the Salem witch trials is a subject that is exhaustively interpreted by the many different niche museums in Salem devoted to this grim chapter in early U.S. history.

But the witch trials have also given rise, more than three centuries later, to a busy local tourist industry revolving around witchcraft in general, one that peaks in October with an annual Halloween festival, Haunted Happenings that attracts more than 200,000 people. (hauntedhappenings.org/)

The month-long celebration features parades, costume balls, various children’s events and witch-themed activities ranging from light fun to serious exploration of the world of witchcraft past and present. These activities include Ask a Witch – Make a Wand, a weekend event hosted by the local Witches Education League, where the public gets to ask questions of women and men who are self-described witches.

The Witches Education League is an outreach organization that reflects the demographic reality of Salem, a city north of Boston with a population of 38,000 where 2,000 people describe themselves as witches. Some are formally affiliated with the worldwide religious movement of Wicca, while others are known locally for their commercial profile. The commercialism is evident along the downtown Essex St. pedestrian mall where stores like Omen or Bewitched in Salem sell witch-themed products, but also conduct crystal-ball readings and seances, and give workshops in witchcraft magic.

The best way to see Salem is to start out by taking the Salem Trolley tour of the downtown area. It begins in the city’s fascinating old port district, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and then loops back from there into the downtown area, pointing out places of special interest relating to the Salem witch trials, and to architectural history as well.

The spiritual centre of Salem’s tourist industry is the Salem Witch Memorial, inaugurated in 1992 by Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel. It’s a little garden bounded on three sides by a low stone wall. Embedded into the interior sides of the wall are 20 stone benches, each one bearing the name, date and method of execution of one of the 20 people put to death in 1692.

Not to be missed is the Salem Witch Museum, which tells the story of the witch trials using special sets, and life-size figures in a darkened auditorium, and then projects forward in time in connecting rooms to show how outbreaks of mass fear and intolerance have been a recurring theme in U.S. history.

The narrator of the auditorium show explains how the early Puritan settlers of Salem lived with a variety of overlapping fears that induced a form of paranoia. There was fear of their colonial charter being revoked, of Indian raids, of smallpox, of crop failure. Most of all, there was fear of the Devil, as common belief among the Puritans held that the Devil had come to New England to undo God’s new Kingdom – even creaky floors suggested the Devil’s presence.

And so when a group of local girls in Salem in 1692 started going into hysterical fits and accusing fellow citizens of having bewitched them, the underlying conditions were already in place to produce a witch hunt. Family feuds over property rights were also a contributing factor, and those forced Salem’s 550 residents to take sides during the witch trials.

Today, of course, Salem is a much different place. It is a busy northern Boston suburb, part of the metropolitan transit network. And so while Salem can be visited by commuter train as a day trip from Boston, Salem can also be used as a place to stay while visiting Boston more generally. Hotels are generally cheaper in Salem than in Boston.

The two main hotels in downtown Salem are the Hawthorne Hotel and the Salem Waterfront Hotel; there are also plenty of bed and breakfasts. The Salem Waterfront has an indoor pool and might be the better option for families with young children. The Hawthorne, built in 1925 when 1,000 local residents chipped in to buy shares to create a new “modern” hotel for the town, has a well-regarded local restaurant, Nathaniel’s (named after Nathaniel Hawthorne, a noted 19th-century Salem author), which serves up a famous apple-pumpkin bisque soup. Another renowned Salem edible delight is Gibraltar rock candy, which is sold at Ye Olde Pepper Compagnie, near Salem harbour. The store was founded in Salem in 1806 and is the oldest candy store in the U.S.

Short hops returns in mid-December with ideas for winter excursions.

IF YOU GO

To get to Salem from Montreal by car, drive as if you are going to Boston. That is to say, take Interstate 93 South. There are two ways to get to the 93 – either from Interstate 89 at the Philipsburg/ Highgate Springs, Vt., border crossing, or Interstate 91 from the Stanstead/Derby Line, Vt., crossing. As you approach Boston on the 93, take Exit 37A in order to get on Interstate 95 North. After a brief stint on the 95, take Route 128 North and Route 114 East into Salem. There are also air and bus options to Boston, but no direct rail link.

“Witch”

“Witch”

 

The Random House College Dictionary derived “witch” from medieval English wicche, formerly Anglo-Saxon wicca (masculine), or wicce (feminine): a corruption of witga, short form of witega, a seer or diviner; from Anglo-Saxon witan, to see, to know. Similarly, Icelandic vitki, a witch, came from vita, to know; or vizkr, clever or knowing one. Wizard came from Norman French wischard. Old French guiscart, sagacious one. The surname Whittaker came from Witakarlege, a Wizard or a Witch. The words “wit” and “wisdom” came from the same roots.

There were many other words for witches, such as Incantatrix, Lamia, Saga, Maga, Malefica, Sortilega, Strix, Venefica. In Italy a witch was a strega or Janara, an old title of a priestess of Jana (Juno). English writers called witches both “hags” and “fairies,” words which were once synonymous. Witches had metaphoric titles: bacularia, “stick-rider”; fascinatrix, “one with the evil eye”; herberia, “one who gathers herbs”; strix, “screech-owl”; pixidria, “keeper of an ointment-box”; femina saga, “wise-woman”; lamia, “night-monster”; incantator, “worker of charms”; magus, “wise-man”; sortiariae mulier, “seeress”; veneficia, “poisoner”; maliarda, “evil-doer.” Latin treatises called Witches anispex, auguris, divinator, januatica, ligator, mascara, phitonissa, stregula.

Dalmatian witches were krstaca, “crossed ones,” a derivative of the Greek Christos In Holland a witch was wijsseggher, “wise-sayer,” from which came the English “wiseacre.” The biblical passage that supported centuries of persecution, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18), used the Hebrew word kasaph, translated “witch” although it means a seer or diviner.

Early medieval England had female clan-leaders who exercised matriarchal rights in lawgiving and law enforcement; the Magna Carta of Chester called them iudices de wich (judges who were witches). Female elders once had political power among the clans, but patriarchal religion and law gradually took it away from them and called them witches in order to dispose of them. In 1711. Addison observed that “When an old woman begins to doat and grow chargeable to a Parish, she is generally turned into a witch.”

Reginald Scot remarked that the fate of a witch might be directly proportional to her fortune. The pope made saints out of rich witches, but poor witches were burned. Among many examples tending to support this opinion was the famous French Chambre Ardente affair, which involved many members of the aristocracy and the upper-class clergy in a witch cult. Numerous male and female servants were tortured and burned for assisting their masters in working witchcraft; but in all the four years the affair dragged on, no noble person was tortured or executed.

Illogically enough, the authorities persecuted poor, outcast folk as witches, yet professed to believe witches could provide themselves with all the wealth anyone could want. Reginald Scot, a disbeliever, scornfully observed that witches were said to “transfer their neighbors’ corn into their own ground, and yet are perpetual beggars, and cannot enrich themselves, either with money or otherwise: who is so foolish as to remain longer in doubt of their supernatural powers?” Witchcraft brought so little profit to Helen Jenkenson of Northants, hanged in 1612 for bewitching a child, that the record of her execution said: “Thus ended this woman her miserable life, after she had lived many years poor, wretched, scorned and forsaken of the world.”

“Women which be commonly old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul, and full of wrinkles; poor, sullen, superstitious, and papists; or such as know no religion; in whose drowsy minds the devil hath gotten a fine seat; so as, what mischief, mischance, calamity, or slaughter is brought to pass, they are easily persuaded the same is done by themselves . . . They are lean and deformed, showing melancholy in their faces, to the horror of all that see them. They are doting, scolds, mad, devilish; and not much differing from them that are thought to be possessed with spirits.”

Persecutors said it was heretical to consider witches harmless. Even in England, where witches were not burned but hanged, some authorities fearfully cited the “received opinion” that a witch’s body should be burned to ashes to prevent ill effects arising from her blood. Churchmen assured the arresting officers that a witch’s power was lost the instant she was touched by an employee of the Inquisition; but the employees themselves were not so sure.

Numerous stories depict the persecutors’ fear of their victims. It was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner’s face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal leprosy. Inquisitors’ handbooks directed them to wear at all times a bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch’s eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches’ prison. Peter of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment made him fall down a flight of stairs – which he proved later by torturing her until she confirmed it.

Numerous stories depict the persecutors’ fear of their victims. It was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner’s face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal leprosy. Inquisitors’ handbooks directed them to wear at all times a bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch’s eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches’ prison. Peter of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment made him fall down a flight of stairs – which he proved later by torturing her until she confirmed it.

Numerous stories depict the persecutors’ fear of their victims. It was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner’s face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal leprosy. Inquisitors’ handbooks directed them to wear at all times a bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch’s eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches’ prison. Peter of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment made him fall down a flight of stairs – which he proved later by torturing her until she confirmed it.

Any unusual ability in a woman instantly raised a charge of witchcraft. The so-called Witch of Newbury was murdered by a group of soldiers because she knew how to go “surfing” on the river. Soldiers of the Earl of Essex saw her doing it, and were “as much astonished as they could be,” seeing that “to and fro she fleeted on the board standing firm bolt upright . . . turning and winding it which way she pleased, making it pastime to her, as little thinking who perceived her tricks, or that she did imagine that they were the last she ever should show.” Most of the soldiers were afraid to touch her, but a few brave souls ambushed the board-rider as she came to shore, slashed her head, beat her, and shot her, leaving her “detested carcass to the worms.”

From ruthlessly organized persecutions on the continent, witch-hunts in England became largely cases of village feuds and petty spite. If crops failed, horses ran away, cattle sickened, wagons broke, women miscarried, or butter wouldn’t come in the churn, a witch was always found to blame. Marion Cumlaquoy of Orkney was burned in 1643 for turning herself three times widdershins, to make her neighbor’s barley crop rot. A tailor’s wife was executed for quarrelling with her neighbor, who afterward saw a snake on his property, and his children fell sick. One witch was condemned for arguing with a drunkard in an alehouse. After drinking himself into paroxysms of vomiting, he accused her of bewitching him, and he was believed.

A woman was convicted of witchcraft for having caused a neighbor’s lameness – by pulling off her stockings. Another was executed for having admired a neighbor’s baby, which afterward fell out of its cradle and died. Two Glasglow witches were hanged for treating a sick child, even though the treatment succeeded and the child was cured. Joan Cason of Kent went to the gallows in 1586 for having dry thatch on her roof. Her neighbor, whose child was sick, was told by an unidentified traveler that the child was bewitched, and it could be proved by stealing a bit of thatch from the witch’s roof and throwing it on the fire. If it crackled and sparked, witchcraft was assured. The test came out positive, and the court was satisfied enough to convict poor Joan.

Witches were convenient scapegoats for doctors who failed to cure their patients, for it was the “received” belief that witch-caused illnesses were incurable. Weyer said, “Ignorant and clumsy physicians blame all sicknesses which they are unable to cure or which they have treated wrongly, on witchery.” There were also priests and monks who “claim to understand the healing art and they lie to those who seek help that their sicknesses are derived from witchery.” Most real witch persecutions reflect “no erotic orgies, no Sabbats or elaborate rituals; merely the hatreds and spites of narrow peasant life assisted by vicious laws.”

Witches provided a focus for sexist hatred in male-dominated society, as one writer pointed out:

“The spirit of the Church in its contempt for women, as shown in the Scriptures, in Paul’s epistles and the Pentateuch, the hatred of the fathers, manifested in their ecclesiastical canons, and in the doctrines of asceticism, celibacy, and witchcraft, destroyed man’s respect for woman and legalized the burning, drowning, and torturing of women . . . “Women and their duties became objects of hatred to the Christian missionaries and of alternate scorn and fear to pious ascetics and monks. The priestess mother became something impure, associated with the devil, and her lore an infernal incantation, her very cooking a brewing of poison, nay, her very existence a source of sin to man. Thus, woman, as mother and priestess, became woman as witch. . . . Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and higher criticism, the scholars never touch the position of women.”

Men displayed a lively interest in the physical appearance of witches, seeking to know how to recognize them-as men also craved rules for recognizing other types of women from their physical appearance. It was generally agreed that any woman with dissimilar eyes was a witch. Where most people had dark eyes and swarthy complexions, as in Spain and Italy, pale blue eyes were associated with witchcraft. Many claimed any woman with red hair was a witch.

This may have been because red-haired people are usually freckled, and freckles were often identified as “witch marks,” as were moles, warts, birthmarks, pimples, pockmarks, cysts, liver spots, wens, or any other blemish. Some witch-finders said the mark could resemble an insect bite or an ulcer.

No one ever explained how the witch mark differed from an ordinary blemish. Since few bodies were unblemished, the search for the mark seldom failed. Thomas Ady, one of the few 17th-century English debunkers of the witchcraft craze, author of A Perfect Discovery of Witches (1661), recognized this, and wrote: “Very few people in the world are without privy marks upon their bodies, as moles or stains, even such as witchmongers call the devil’s privy marks.” But no one paid attention to this.

Trials were conducted with as much injustice as possible. In 1629 Isobel Young was accused of crippling by magic a man who had quarreled with her, and causing a water mill to break down. She protested that the man was lame before their quarrel, and water mills can break down through neglect. The prosecutor. Sir Thomas Hope, threw out her defense on the ground that it was “contrary to the libel,” that is, it contradicted the charge. When a witch is on trial, Reginald Scot said, any “equivocal or doubtful answer is taken for a confession.”

On the other hand, no answer at all was a confession too. Witches who refused to speak were condemned: “Witchcraft proved by silence of the accused.” Sometimes mere playfulness “proved” witchcraft, as in the case of Mary Spencer, accused in 1634 because she merrily set her bucket rolling downhill and ran before it, calling it to follow her. Sometimes women were stigmatized as witches when they were in fact victims of unfair laws, such as the law that accepted any man’s word in court ahead of any number of women’s. A butcher in Germany stole some silver vessels from women, then had them prosecuted for witchcraft by claiming that he found the vessels in the woods where the women were attending a witches’ Sabbat.

Sometimes the accusation of witchcraft was a form of punishment for women who were too vocal about their disillusionment with men and their preference for living alone. Historical literature has many references to “the joy with which women after widowhood set up their own households, and to the vigor with which they resisted being courted by amorous widowers.” The solitary life, however, left a woman even more vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, since men usually thought she must be somehow controlled.

Those who tortured the unfortunate defendant into admitting witchcraft used a euphemistic language that showed the victim was condemned a priori. One Anne Marie de Georgel denied making a devil’s pact, until by torture she was “justly forced to give an account of herself,” the record said. Catherine Delort was “forced to confess by the means we have power to use to make people speak the truth,” and she was “convicted of all the crimes we suspected her of committing, although she protested her innocence for a long time.” The inquisitor Nicholas Rémy professed a pious astonishment at the great number of witches who expressed a “positive desire for death,” pretending not to notice that they had been brought to this desire by innumerable savage tortures.

The extent to which pagan religion, as such, actually survived among the witches of the 16th and 17th centuries has been much discussed but never decided. Dean Church said, “Society was a long time unlearning heathenism; it has not done so yet; but it had hardly begun, at any rate it was only just beginning, to imagine the possibility of such a thing in the eleventh century.” In 15th-century Bohemia it was still common practice at Christmas and other holidays to make offerings to “the gods,” rather than to God. European villages still had many “wise-women” who acted as priestesses officially or unofficially. Since church fathers declared Christian priestesses unthinkable, all functions of the priestess were associated with paganism. Bishops described pagan gatherings in their dioceses, attended by “devils . . . in the form of men and women.” Pagan ceremonies were allowed to survive in weddings, folk festivals, seasonal rites, feasts of the dead, and so on. But when women or Goddesses played the leading role in such ceremonies, there was more determined suppression. John of Salisbury wrote that it was the devil, “with God’s permission,” who sent people to gatherings in honor of the Queen of the Night, a priestess impersonating the Moon-goddess under the name of Noctiluca or Herodiade.

The Catholic church applied the word “witch” to any woman who criticized church policies. Women allied with the 14th-century Reforming Franciscans, some of whom were burned for heresy, were described as witches, daughters of Judas, and instigated of the Devil. Writers of the Talmud similarly tended to view nearly all women as witches. They said things like, “Women are naturally inclined to witchcraft,” and “The more women there are, the more witchcraft there will be.”

Probably there were few sincere practitioners, compared with the multitudes who were railroaded into the ecclesiastical courts and legally murdered despite their innocence. Yet it was obvious to even the moderately intelligent that Christian society deliberately humiliated and discriminated against women. Some may have been resentful enough to become defiant. “Women have had no voice in the canon law, the catechisms, the church creeds and discipline, and why should they obey the behests of a strictly masculine religion, that places the sex at a disadvantage in all life’s emergencies? Possibilities for expressing their frustration and defiance were severely limited; but voluntary adoption of the witch’s reputation and behavior was surely among such possibilities.

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Author: Zan Fraser

It seems that there is a recent body of misinformation regarding the Burning Times making its way through the Wiccan/Pagan community, which amounts to a revisionist “take” on the Witches’ Holocaust. Being something of a debunking, this new school of thought asserts that the Burning Times is “over-hyped” and hysterically blown out of proportion. While as a rule, I am a huge fan of revisionist history, I find this development (which adds up to a sort of “Burning Times denial-ism”) a bit depressing.

Proponents of this new school of thought seem to me mistaken in a number of important ways. (1) They tend to describe the Burning Times as a sort of invention of Margaret Murray’s, the Egyptologist whose “pro-Pagan” interpretation of European history was so influential to the early Craft revival. (2) They challenge the conventional belief in huge numbers of Burning Times victims as overwrought, with the numbers inflated. (3) They question the interpretation of the Great Witch-Hunts as a “War on Women.”

Far from being a concept of Murray’s, among the broadest reaching of her theories, the first realizations of the Burning Times emanate centuries before her writing, expressed in horror by the period’s contemporaries. As early as the 1560s, Weyer was publishing denunciations of the excesses of German Witch-Hunting; Spee (confessor during the Wurzburg trials of the 1620s) , theology professor Meyfarth (in the 1630s) , and Junius (a torture-victim who generated one of the few Witch-Hunting documents told from the perspective of the tortured Witch) powerfully describe the hysterical panic of the populace and the agonized suffering of the accused. They leave no doubt as to the alarm and trauma that must have pervaded the German regions in the latter 1500s and early 1600s.

Burning Times revisionists make the vital point that the German cases (for their exceptional violence and cruelty) give us a skewed picture of the Hunt Periods. In the 1620s alone, some 600 persons were said to have been killed as devil-worshipping Witches at Bamberg, with some 900 more in Wurzburg. There are many reasons for this, notably that the German Prince-Bishops ruled as absolute authorities on both the secular and religious levels, and the particular Prince-Bishops during this period and in these regions appear to have been especially sadistic sorts. These numbers may be inflated to a certain degree (they probably don’t have a modern bureaucratic accounting system to keep track of such things) , but they clearly intend to describe large numbers of victims, with much resulting social terror and disruption. Revisionists are correct to point out that these levels of destruction are not matched elsewhere and tend to provide a somewhat distorted view of the Witch-Hunts.

(On more than one occasion, I have heard Wiccans describe the “Burning Times” in England as if the English Witch-cases were on a par with those of Germany, or to relate how English Witches “fled the Burning Times in England, ” to come to the New World of America in order to keep the “Old Ways” in safety. This ignores the reality that the English were relatively lenient in their regards to Witchcraft. Importantly they never accepted the idea of Witches as demonic- sparing themselves the hysterical “Satan panic” reactions experienced on the Continent- and they observed legal proprieties in their judgment of Witch-cases, as opposed to the German regions, which held Witchcraft to be such a subversive and lethal instrument that it justified abandoning basic legal protections for the accused. In an important difference, the English did not employ torture in Witchcraft cases.

This is not to say that on the social level the English never responded hysterically to fears or accusations of Witchcraft or that there were not English miscarriages of justice- but it is to say that the English made an effort to hold themselves in check regarding Witchcraft, which makes the Burning Times period in England of a different character than that in other parts of Europe.)

Conceding the point that the extreme degree of persecution in Germany leaves a lop-sided impression, it should be remembered that even in England, Reginald Scot was so alarmed over what he saw as the rise of “anti-Witch” prejudice that he published Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, decrying the stereotyping of elderly ladies as Witches (the English overwhelmingly imagined Witches to be elderly single women) ; according to Scot, this exposed defenseless old women to acts of violence. In A Briefe Historie of Wytches, , I collect from the period-drama several examples in which assault is thought justifiable if its victim is imagined to be a Witch.

In Sweden, Queen Christina was so dismayed over Witch-Hunting in her realm that in 1649 she ordered a series of reforms; this is the one instance in 300 years in which a European monarch so used the royal power, which Robbins finds “notable as the first legislation curbing witch hunts.” (Rossell Hope Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, “Sweden, Witchcraft In”) In all of these cases, the individuals involved- Weyer, Spee, Meyfarth, Junius, Scot, and Christina- are identifying “Witch-Hunting” as a feature of life around them, expressing the first glimmerings of understanding that they were living through a “Burning Times.”

In the early 1800s, the famous novelist Walter Scott was studying the Scots Witch-cases, publishing his summaries in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. The eminent Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan conducted another early scholarly review of the medieval Witch-Business, presented in 1843; this was followed by the majestic history collected by Joseph Hansen, published in German in 1900. We see here that identification and study of the Burning Times commenced well before Margaret Murray, who first published in the early 1920s.

One of her initial critics, Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, issued his fine volume Witchcraft in Old and New England in the latter 1920s. Although he hardly agrees with Murray, it is clear that the Burning Times is “set” in his mind as a historical phenomenon (p. 243) : “Such were the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath as systematized in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the scholastic ingenuity of devout theologians and described in confessions innumerable wrung by torture from ignorant and superstitious defendants in response to leading questions framed by inquisitors who had the whole system in mind before the trial began.”

I believe that- far from being among Margaret Murray’s “theories”- the medieval Burning Times is indeed a well-documented and reasonably well-understood phenomenon.

Another assertion made by the promoters of this new reading of the Burning Times is that not really very many persons were killed. They will quite properly dismiss the hysterically overwrought 9 million citation, then quote “recorded data” as giving an extremely paltry number, with “many countries” reporting only 3-10 victims, or certainly less than 50.

I find Anne Llewellyn Barstow to be persuasive on the issue of numbers: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Books, 1994 (p. 19-23) . Acknowledging the woefully imperfect state of records (many lost or defective) , Barstow nonetheless finds herself compelled to keep careful count as she works her way through the dim documentation of the past. Although this pains-taking approach adds hours of extra work, and great though the temptation is to start rounding off numbers, she retains “each awkward figure, ” remembering Holocaust historian Joan Ringelheim’s observation: to drop numbers now was to kill that individual twice. Accordingly Barstow provides in her Appendix B “the most complete record available at this time.”

Barstow comments upon Levack’s work (p. 22) , crediting him with producing the “most careful totals made so far.” She finds his figures “reasonable, ” but “almost certainly too low.” Given the faulty state of records, with additional cases emerging “steadily, ” and given that posse-style murders and lynching-deaths will not be recorded, Barstow finds it judicious to expand Levack’s numbers to 200, 000 accused, with 100, 000 dead. She finds it interesting that- just after the “recently ended holocaust”- Voltaire estimated that about 100, 000 had been put to death.

Contrary to the assertion of Burning Times revisionists that “many countries” had less than 50 Witch-Victims apiece, Barstow’s Appendix B describes only Montbeliard (55+) , Vaud (90) , Labourd (80) , Champagne (50+) , Essex (74) , New England (35) , Estonia (65) , Russia (10+) , Logrono (6) , Catalonia (45) , and Navarre (50) with less than 100 murdered Witches. She finds some 50, 000+ to have been killed in the German states; some 5000 in France; some 1000 in England; 1, 337+ in Scotland; 1500-1800 in Scandinavia; and approximately 15, 000+ in Poland.

The third claim of this would-be up-ending of conventional Hunt-Period consideration is that in “many countries” the “vast majority” of victims were male. Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland are listed as places where “nearly all of the accused” were men. From this, the interpretation of the medieval Witch-Hunts as a “Holocaust of women” is questioned.

Barstow notes that the trials in Finland, Estonia, and Iceland (“which did not have a true witch hunt”) offer the “rare phenomenon” of predominantly male Witches. (p. 86) Finns had traditionally presumed sorcery to lie with men and some 60% of Estonia’s accused were males, often with reputations as healers or magic-workers. (Barstow, by the way, notes that Witchcraft in Scandinavia and the Baltic regions- the areas isolated from Christianity the longest- is “deeply rooted in European folk customs”; Robbins observes that “heathen beliefs in natural and magical powers” lingered in Finland longer than anywhere else in Europe, as Christianity was not introduced until 1157. (Encyclopedia, “Finland, Witchcraft in”)

Interesting though that is, male Witches appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Barstow remarks that the figures show women to have been “overwhelmingly victimized, ” constituting roughly 80% of the accused and 85% of the executed. (p. 23) In places such as Essex, females make up 92% of the accused, as they do during a Hunt in Belgium. During a Scare in Basel, the percentage of women accused shoots to 95%. Barstow quotes the observation of historian Christina Larner, “the chronicler of Scottish witchcraft, ” who felt that there must have been periods in East Lothian or Fife when no woman could have “felt free from the fear of accusation.” She notes the two German villages finally left with but one female inhabitant apiece, and the Rhenish village where one person (generally female) out of every two families was killed. (p. 24)

Barstow feels that her statistics “document an intentional mass murder of women.” To not see that is to “deny the most persistent fact about the persecutions.” (p.26)

Burning Times revisionists conclude that the Burning Times is a farce, a “theory” of Margaret Murray’s run amuck, fed by pumped-up numbers and a hysterical view of a “Holocaust of Women.”

With all respect, I feel that:

(1) The Burning Times is established as a medieval phenomenon well beyond Murray.

(2) Anne Llewellyn Barstow provides extremely well-researched figures, pointing to some 200, 000 accused, with some 100, 000 executed, around 85% of whom were women.

(3) Far from men being the primary victims during the Burning Times (Iceland, Finland, and Estonia notwithstanding) , I believe that so many women were targeted that the Burning Times might well be understood as a Religious War on Women- predicated upon the interesting assumption that Witches are most likely to be Female.

It is for this reason that one of the rallying cries of the Modern Wiccan Witchcraft Revival is: Never Again the Burning Times.

The Broom

The Broom
 

The broom might be, along with the cauldron, the most famous tool connected popularly with witches. Traditionally an element symbolising the union of the masculine and feminin principles, was used not for flying, but for the ritual cleaning of the working space, and protection and fertility rites. Some authors suggest the broom was the perfect place to hide the wand during the Witch Hunt, disguising it as an element of daily use.

Sir James Frazer in “The Golden Bough” gathers multiple examples of rituals that involved the use of a broom, generally as a symbol of fertility or fecunding energy. According to one of those, to assest the fertility of the fields a young woman had to circle them once they were sown, naked and riding a broomstick. In these rituals might be seen the remains of the primal fertility rituals, where the High Priest and the High Priestess symbolised the marriage of Earth and Sky, the Goddess and the God, renewing the fertility of the land.

Another version suggests that if we want a cleansing broom, it should be made of willow wands, which was believed of old to cast off evil spirits. This was believed to the point of considering the whipping with willow wands a sure method of exorcism.

The truth is, our ritual broom must be of the old style, made of wigs or straw, and it must be reserved to a symbolic pass to cleanse the place of any type of energies before starting any ritual, and as every tool named so far, must be kept for this purpose only. The best results will be achieved if we make it ourselves, but due to the difficulty of this task, we can safely leave it in someone else’s hands, if we’re careful enough to do the energetical cleansing before using it.

It’s use is not strictly necesary, so let us not despair if we can’t find a broom maker where we are: we can easily go on with our celebrations without the broom, as long as we replace the cleansing action with a similar one.

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Author: Zan Fraser

It seems that there is a recent body of misinformation regarding the Burning Times making its way through the Wiccan/Pagan community, which amounts to a revisionist “take” on the Witches’ Holocaust. Being something of a debunking, this new school of thought asserts that the Burning Times is “over-hyped” and hysterically blown out of proportion. While as a rule, I am a huge fan of revisionist history, I find this development (which adds up to a sort of “Burning Times denial-ism”) a bit depressing.

Proponents of this new school of thought seem to me mistaken in a number of important ways. (1) They tend to describe the Burning Times as a sort of invention of Margaret Murray’s, the Egyptologist whose “pro-Pagan” interpretation of European history was so influential to the early Craft revival. (2) They challenge the conventional belief in huge numbers of Burning Times victims as overwrought, with the numbers inflated. (3) They question the interpretation of the Great Witch-Hunts as a “War on Women.”

Far from being a concept of Murray’s, among the broadest reaching of her theories, the first realizations of the Burning Times emanate centuries before her writing, expressed in horror by the period’s contemporaries. As early as the 1560s, Weyer was publishing denunciations of the excesses of German Witch-Hunting; Spee (confessor during the Wurzburg trials of the 1620s) , theology professor Meyfarth (in the 1630s) , and Junius (a torture-victim who generated one of the few Witch-Hunting documents told from the perspective of the tortured Witch) powerfully describe the hysterical panic of the populace and the agonized suffering of the accused. They leave no doubt as to the alarm and trauma that must have pervaded the German regions in the latter 1500s and early 1600s.

Burning Times revisionists make the vital point that the German cases (for their exceptional violence and cruelty) give us a skewed picture of the Hunt Periods. In the 1620s alone, some 600 persons were said to have been killed as devil-worshipping Witches at Bamberg, with some 900 more in Wurzburg. There are many reasons for this, notably that the German Prince-Bishops ruled as absolute authorities on both the secular and religious levels, and the particular Prince-Bishops during this period and in these regions appear to have been especially sadistic sorts. These numbers may be inflated to a certain degree (they probably don’t have a modern bureaucratic accounting system to keep track of such things) , but they clearly intend to describe large numbers of victims, with much resulting social terror and disruption. Revisionists are correct to point out that these levels of destruction are not matched elsewhere and tend to provide a somewhat distorted view of the Witch-Hunts.

(On more than one occasion, I have heard Wiccans describe the “Burning Times” in England as if the English Witch-cases were on a par with those of Germany, or to relate how English Witches “fled the Burning Times in England, ” to come to the New World of America in order to keep the “Old Ways” in safety. This ignores the reality that the English were relatively lenient in their regards to Witchcraft. Importantly they never accepted the idea of Witches as demonic- sparing themselves the hysterical “Satan panic” reactions experienced on the Continent- and they observed legal proprieties in their judgment of Witch-cases, as opposed to the German regions, which held Witchcraft to be such a subversive and lethal instrument that it justified abandoning basic legal protections for the accused. In an important difference, the English did not employ torture in Witchcraft cases.

This is not to say that on the social level the English never responded hysterically to fears or accusations of Witchcraft or that there were not English miscarriages of justice- but it is to say that the English made an effort to hold themselves in check regarding Witchcraft, which makes the Burning Times period in England of a different character than that in other parts of Europe.)

Conceding the point that the extreme degree of persecution in Germany leaves a lop-sided impression, it should be remembered that even in England, Reginald Scot was so alarmed over what he saw as the rise of “anti-Witch” prejudice that he published Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, decrying the stereotyping of elderly ladies as Witches (the English overwhelmingly imagined Witches to be elderly single women) ; according to Scot, this exposed defenseless old women to acts of violence. In A Briefe Historie of Wytches, , I collect from the period-drama several examples in which assault is thought justifiable if its victim is imagined to be a Witch.

In Sweden, Queen Christina was so dismayed over Witch-Hunting in her realm that in 1649 she ordered a series of reforms; this is the one instance in 300 years in which a European monarch so used the royal power, which Robbins finds “notable as the first legislation curbing witch hunts.” (Rossell Hope Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, “Sweden, Witchcraft In”) In all of these cases, the individuals involved- Weyer, Spee, Meyfarth, Junius, Scot, and Christina- are identifying “Witch-Hunting” as a feature of life around them, expressing the first glimmerings of understanding that they were living through a “Burning Times.”

In the early 1800s, the famous novelist Walter Scott was studying the Scots Witch-cases, publishing his summaries in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. The eminent Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan conducted another early scholarly review of the medieval Witch-Business, presented in 1843; this was followed by the majestic history collected by Joseph Hansen, published in German in 1900. We see here that identification and study of the Burning Times commenced well before Margaret Murray, who first published in the early 1920s.

One of her initial critics, Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, issued his fine volume Witchcraft in Old and New England in the latter 1920s. Although he hardly agrees with Murray, it is clear that the Burning Times is “set” in his mind as a historical phenomenon (p. 243) : “Such were the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath as systematized in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the scholastic ingenuity of devout theologians and described in confessions innumerable wrung by torture from ignorant and superstitious defendants in response to leading questions framed by inquisitors who had the whole system in mind before the trial began.”

I believe that- far from being among Margaret Murray’s “theories”- the medieval Burning Times is indeed a well-documented and reasonably well-understood phenomenon.

Another assertion made by the promoters of this new reading of the Burning Times is that not really very many persons were killed. They will quite properly dismiss the hysterically overwrought 9 million citation, then quote “recorded data” as giving an extremely paltry number, with “many countries” reporting only 3-10 victims, or certainly less than 50.

I find Anne Llewellyn Barstow to be persuasive on the issue of numbers: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Books, 1994 (p. 19-23) . Acknowledging the woefully imperfect state of records (many lost or defective) , Barstow nonetheless finds herself compelled to keep careful count as she works her way through the dim documentation of the past. Although this pains-taking approach adds hours of extra work, and great though the temptation is to start rounding off numbers, she retains “each awkward figure, ” remembering Holocaust historian Joan Ringelheim’s observation: to drop numbers now was to kill that individual twice. Accordingly Barstow provides in her Appendix B “the most complete record available at this time.”

Barstow comments upon Levack’s work (p. 22) , crediting him with producing the “most careful totals made so far.” She finds his figures “reasonable, ” but “almost certainly too low.” Given the faulty state of records, with additional cases emerging “steadily, ” and given that posse-style murders and lynching-deaths will not be recorded, Barstow finds it judicious to expand Levack’s numbers to 200, 000 accused, with 100, 000 dead. She finds it interesting that- just after the “recently ended holocaust”- Voltaire estimated that about 100, 000 had been put to death.

Contrary to the assertion of Burning Times revisionists that “many countries” had less than 50 Witch-Victims apiece, Barstow’s Appendix B describes only Montbeliard (55+) , Vaud (90) , Labourd (80) , Champagne (50+) , Essex (74) , New England (35) , Estonia (65) , Russia (10+) , Logrono (6) , Catalonia (45) , and Navarre (50) with less than 100 murdered Witches. She finds some 50, 000+ to have been killed in the German states; some 5000 in France; some 1000 in England; 1, 337+ in Scotland; 1500-1800 in Scandinavia; and approximately 15, 000+ in Poland.

The third claim of this would-be up-ending of conventional Hunt-Period consideration is that in “many countries” the “vast majority” of victims were male. Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland are listed as places where “nearly all of the accused” were men. From this, the interpretation of the medieval Witch-Hunts as a “Holocaust of women” is questioned.

Barstow notes that the trials in Finland, Estonia, and Iceland (“which did not have a true witch hunt”) offer the “rare phenomenon” of predominantly male Witches. (p. 86) Finns had traditionally presumed sorcery to lie with men and some 60% of Estonia’s accused were males, often with reputations as healers or magic-workers. (Barstow, by the way, notes that Witchcraft in Scandinavia and the Baltic regions- the areas isolated from Christianity the longest- is “deeply rooted in European folk customs”; Robbins observes that “heathen beliefs in natural and magical powers” lingered in Finland longer than anywhere else in Europe, as Christianity was not introduced until 1157. (Encyclopedia, “Finland, Witchcraft in”)

Interesting though that is, male Witches appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Barstow remarks that the figures show women to have been “overwhelmingly victimized, ” constituting roughly 80% of the accused and 85% of the executed. (p. 23) In places such as Essex, females make up 92% of the accused, as they do during a Hunt in Belgium. During a Scare in Basel, the percentage of women accused shoots to 95%. Barstow quotes the observation of historian Christina Larner, “the chronicler of Scottish witchcraft, ” who felt that there must have been periods in East Lothian or Fife when no woman could have “felt free from the fear of accusation.” She notes the two German villages finally left with but one female inhabitant apiece, and the Rhenish village where one person (generally female) out of every two families was killed. (p. 24)

Barstow feels that her statistics “document an intentional mass murder of women.” To not see that is to “deny the most persistent fact about the persecutions.” (p.26)

Burning Times revisionists conclude that the Burning Times is a farce, a “theory” of Margaret Murray’s run amuck, fed by pumped-up numbers and a hysterical view of a “Holocaust of Women.”

With all respect, I feel that:

(1) The Burning Times is established as a medieval phenomenon well beyond Murray.

(2) Anne Llewellyn Barstow provides extremely well-researched figures, pointing to some 200, 000 accused, with some 100, 000 executed, around 85% of whom were women.

(3) Far from men being the primary victims during the Burning Times (Iceland, Finland, and Estonia notwithstanding) , I believe that so many women were targeted that the Burning Times might well be understood as a Religious War on Women- predicated upon the interesting assumption that Witches are most likely to be Female.

It is for this reason that one of the rallying cries of the Modern Wiccan Witchcraft Revival is: Never Again the Burning Times.