The Witch Trials

Witch trials in the early modern period

Equally, the concepts of demons began to become more prominent, in particular the idea that male demons known as incubi , and female ones known as succubi , would roam the Earth and have sexual intercourse with humans. As Thurston noted, "By about , it would have been difficult to be a Christian and not frequently hear of the devil In the 14th and 15th centuries, the concept of the witch in Christendom underwent a relatively radical change.

No longer were they viewed as sorcerers who had been deceived by the Devil into practicing magic that went against the powers of God, as earlier Church leaders like Saint Augustine of Hippo had stated [ citation needed ]. Instead, they became the all-out malevolent Devil-worshiper, who had made a pact with him in which they had to renounce Christianity and devote themselves to Satanism. As a part of this, they gained new, supernatural powers that enabled them to work magic , which they would use against Christians.

  • No one really knows the true motives of the character central to one of America’s greatest secrets;
  • History of the Salem Witch Trials – History of Massachusetts Blog!
  • Context & Origins of the Salem Witch Trials.
  • The Immortals.
  • Setting the scene!

It was believed that they would fly to their nocturnal meetings, known as the Witches' Sabbath , where they would have sexual intercourse with demons. On their death, the witches' souls, which then belonged to the Devil, subsequently went to Hell. For many educated Christians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including theologians and judges, there was a great concern about the idea that witches were in league with the Devil.

While the witch trials only really began in the 15th century, with the start of the early modern period , many of their causes [ citation needed ] had been developing during the previous centuries, with the prosecution of heresy by the Medieval Inquisition during the late twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, and during the Late Medieval period , during which the idea of witchcraft or sorcery gradually changed and adapted. The inquisition had the office of protecting Christians against the "internal" threat of heresy as opposed to "external" military threats such as those of the Vikings , the Mongols , and the Saracens or Turks.

During the High Middle Ages , a number of heretical Christian groups, such as the Cathars and the Knights Templar had been accused of performing such anti-Christian activities as Satanism, sodomy and malevolent sorcery in France. While the nucleus of the early modern "witch craze" would turn out to be popular superstition in the Western Alps , reinforced by theological rationale developed at or following the Council of Basel of the s, what has been called "the first real witch trial in Europe," [34] the accusation of Alice Kyteler in , occurred in 14th-century Ireland , during the turmoils associated with the decline of Norman control.

Thurston speaks of a shift in Christian society from a "relatively open and tolerant" attitude to that of a "persecuting society" taking an aggressive stance towards minorities characterized as Jews , heretics such as Cathars and Waldensians , lepers or homosexuals , often associated with conspiracy theories assuming a concerted effort on the part of diabolical forces to weaken and destroy Christianity, indeed "the idea became popular that one or more vast conspiracies were trying to destroy Christianity from within.

The catalog of typical charges that would later be leveled at witches, of spreading diseases, committing orgies sometimes incestuous , cannibalizing children , and following Satanism , emerged during the 14th century as crimes attributed to heretics and Jews. Witchcraft had not been considered a heresy during the High Medieval period. Indeed, since the Council of Paderborn of , the belief in the possibility of witchcraft itself was considered heretical.

While witch-hunts only became common after , an important legal step that would make this development possible occurred in , when Pope John XXII authorized the inquisition to prosecute witchcraft as a type of heresy. The anti-semitic sentiment prevalent in the Medieval era would also influence the later witch trials, with the alleged witches' meetings being termed "sabbaths" and "synagogues". The historian Richard Kieckhefer suggested that the late medieval trials "paved the way for more dramatic prosecutions to come".

By the late 14th century, a number of "witch hunters" began to publish books on the topic, including Nicholas Eymeric , the inquisitor in Aragon and Avignon , who published the Directorium Inquisitorum in The earliest known witch trials in which the accused were associated with the fully developed stereotype of the demonic witch was in the Valais witch trials of , which took place in communities of the Western Alps , in what were at the time Burgundy and Savoy. Soon, the idea of identifying and prosecuting witches spread throughout the neighboring areas of northern Italy, Switzerland and southern Germany, and it was at Basel that the Council of Basel assembled from to This Church Council, which had been attended by such anti-witchcraft figures as Johann Nider and Martin Le Franc , helped to standardize the stereotype of the Satanic witch that would be propagated throughout the rest of the trials.

The development of the printing press allowed for a number of books to be published which outlined the existence of demonic witchcraft and described how to deal with it; circulating throughout the literate sectors of Western Europe, they stimulated increased interest in the subject and advocated a coherent intellectual response to it. Works published in this vein included Johannes Nider 's Formicarius c.

On December 5, , Pope Innocent VIII issued the Summis desiderantes affectibus , a papal bull in which he recognized the existence of witches and gave full papal approval for the inquisition to move against witches. In the bull, which is sometimes referred to as the "Witch-Bull of ", the witches were explicitly accused of having "slain infants yet in the mother's womb" abortion and of "hindering men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving" contraception [ dubious — discuss ].

Prior to the main period of witch hunts, men and women were equally accused of witchcraft and their social status was not as important as it would become. The height of the European trials was between and , with the large hunts first beginning in In , the North Berwick witch trials occurred in Scotland, and were of particular note as the king, James VI , became involved himself.

Accessibility Navigation

Most of the trials were not motivated by stupidity or a love of violence, but of a belief that it was the morally appropriate course of action for people to take; while some of those carrying out the trials appeared to exhibit sadism , most appear to have acted "from a spirit of duty and a concern for the public welfare. It threatened to topple the church and subvert the country. Diseases Can Bewitch Durum Millers. That darn Satan fooled them good. The height of the European trials was between and , with the large hunts first beginning in We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.

James had developed a fear that witches planned to kill him after he suffered from storms whilst traveling to Denmark in order to claim his bride, Anne , earlier that year. Returning to Scotland, the king heard of trials that were occurring in North Berwick and ordered the suspects to be brought to him—he subsequently believed that a nobleman, Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell , was a witch, and after the latter fled in fear of his life, he was outlawed as a traitor. The king subsequently set up royal commissions to hunt down witches in his realm, recommending torture in dealing with suspects, and in he wrote a book about the menace that witches posed to society entitled Daemonologie.

Gary Foxcroft in had an article appear in the World Policy Journal suggesting that a minor change King James made to the Bible justified "horrific human rights violations and fuel[ed] the epidemic of witchcraft accusations and persecution across the globe. The Geneva Bible which precedes the King James version by 51 years includes the term "witch" in Exodus Even throughout the 16th century, there had been isolated expressions of scepticism regarding the trial, increasing throughout the 17th century.

In , the Roman Inquisition acknowledged that it had "found scarcely one trial conducted legally". Whilst the witch trials had begun to fade out across much of Europe by the midth century, they continued on the fringes of Europe and in the American Colonies. In the Nordic countries, the late 17th century saw the peak of the trials in a number of areas: The Salem witch trials were a brief outburst of witch hysteria in the New World while the practice was waning in Europe.

In the s Winifred King Benham and her daughter Winifred were thrice tried for witchcraft in Wallingford, Connecticut , the last of such trials in New England. The 18th century witnessed increased urbanization and technological development in Europe, giving European Early Modern society an increased belief in its own abilities to fashion the world and leading to the decrease in the belief of invisible forces affecting humanity.

In France, scholars have found that with increased fiscal capacity and a stronger central government, the witchcraft accusations began to decline. During the early 18th century, the practice subsided. Jane Wenham was among the last subjects of a typical witch trial in England in , but was pardoned after her conviction and set free.

The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in , when Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth were hanged. Janet Horne was executed for witchcraft in Scotland in The Witchcraft Act put an end of the traditional form of witchcraft as a legal offense in Britain. Those accused under the new act were restricted to those that pretended to be able to conjure spirits generally being the most dubious professional fortune tellers and mediums , and punishment was light.

In Austria, Maria Theresa outlawed witch-burning and torture in the late 18th century the last capital trial occurring Maria Pauer in Salzburg in While the educated elites had largely abandoned their belief in the reality of witchcraft, this belief remained widespread in popular culture. The last person in Germany to be executed for witchcraft was fifteen-year-old Veronika Zeritschin , who was beheaded and then burned on April 2, in Landshut.

In the later 18th century, witchcraft had ceased to be considered a criminal offense throughout Europe, but there are a number of cases which were not technically witch trials but are suspected to have involved belief in witches at least behind the scenes. Despite the official ending of the trials for Satanic witchcraft, there would still be occasional unofficial killings of those accused in parts of Europe, such as was seen in the cases of Anna Klemens in Denmark , Krystyna Ceynowa in Poland , and Dummy, the Witch of Sible Hedingham in England In France, there was sporadic violence and even murder in the s, with one woman reportedly burnt in a village square in Nord.

In the s a prosecution for witchcraft was commenced against a man in Fentress County, Tennessee named either Joseph or William Stout, based upon his alleged influence over the health of a young woman. The case against the supposed witch was dismissed upon the failure of the alleged victim, who had sworn out a warrant against him, to appear for the trial. However, some of his other accusers were convicted on criminal charges for their part in the matter, and various libel actions were brought. In , Bridget Cleary was beaten and burned to death by her husband in Ireland because he suspected that fairies had taken the real Bridget and replaced her with a witch.

The persecution of those believed to perform malevolent sorcery against their neighbors continued into the 20th century. In two Russian farmers killed a woman and injured five other members of her family after believing that they had used folk magic against them. There were extensive efforts to root out the supposed influence of Satan by various measures aimed at the people who were accused of being servants of Satan. To a lesser degree, animals were also targeted for prosecution see animal trial.

People suspected of being " possessed by Satan " were put on trial. On the other hand, the church also attempted to extirpate the superstitious belief in witchcraft and sorcery, considering it as fraud in most cases. Most historians agree that the majority of those persecuted in these witch trials were innocent of any involvement in Devil worship. Geoffrey Scarre and John Callow erroneously thought it "without doubt" that some of those accused in the trials had been guilty of employing magic in an attempt to harm their enemies, and were thus genuinely guilty of witchcraft.

Most of the trials were not motivated by stupidity or a love of violence, but of a belief that it was the morally appropriate course of action for people to take; while some of those carrying out the trials appeared to exhibit sadism , most appear to have acted "from a spirit of duty and a concern for the public welfare.

There were many regional differences in the manner in which the witch trials occurred. The trials themselves emerged sporadically, flaring up in some areas while neighbouring areas remained largely unaffected. One of the areas that witnessed the largest number of panics, trials, and executions were the German-language of the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, there were regional variations here, with relatively few executions in southern Bavaria and the Lower Rhine area.

When they did occur in these nations, it was in the northern regions such as Spain's Basque Country ; being close to neighbouring countries, these areas were more open to foreign influences and had a weaker central authority. There was much regional variation within the British Isles. In Ireland, there were few trials, and those that did take place lacked the demonic elements present elsewhere on the continent.

A country's government and legal system often made a major difference. England, for instance, had and has a long history of strong judicial centralization and therefore regulations prevented easy convictions, except for periods such as the English Civil War and the periods of Witch-hunting ; Scotland, on the other hand, lacked the strong central government that England had and authorities had greater trouble controlling local justice or even contributed to the problem.

Navigation menu

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February and May . The period of witch trials in Early Modern Europe were a widespread moral panic suggesting that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized.

During the time of the Witch Hunts, Germany was a patchwork of more than autonomous territories and was highly decentralized politically, therefore making Germany highly vulnerable to massive witch hunts that spun out of control in the absence of judicial regulations. There are particularly important differences between the English and continental witch-hunting traditions. The checks and balances inherent in the English jury system, which required a strong body the grand jury to indict and a strong one the petit jury to convict, always had a restraining effect on prosecutions.

Another restraining influence was its relatively rare use of torture: The significance of the institutional difference is most clearly established by a comparison of the witch-hunts of England and Scotland, for the death toll inflicted by the courts north of the border always dwarfed that of England.

Several freelance witch-hunters emerged during this period, the most notorious of whom was Matthew Hopkins , who emerged from East Anglia and proclaimed himself "Witchfinder General". Italy saw much less witchcraft accusation, and even fewer cases where witch trials ended in execution. In , the establishment of the Roman Inquisition effectively retrained secular courts under its influence from liberal application of torture and execution.

In contrast with other parts of Europe, trials the Venetian Holy Office never saw conviction for the crime of malevolent witchcraft, or "maleficio". Spain also had a tighter grip on is governmental institutions and thus saw far less convictions in witchcraft. Rodney Stark notes the Inquisition in Spain gained a strong hold to combat the mob mentality regarding the prosecution of witches and to provided fair trials for those accused.

Levack also notes of those nineteen hundred accused, most were never formally charged.

Stark also noted that in Spain the punishment for a first-time offenses were often light, if any at all. Oftentimes, the Inquisitors would just have the offender reconcile with the Church. It was only if this reconciliation was refused was the "witch" sentenced to death. Because The Holy Office viewed witchcraft as a theological violation toward Catholic doctrines, torture was used sparingly, with the purpose of making subjects renounce their errors and thus be reintegrated back into Catholic society.

Fits and contortions

The majority of those accused were from the lower economic classes in European society, although, in times of severe panic, wealthier and high ranking individuals were accused as well, including priests, judges and, in very rare cases, members of the nobility.

In various instances, it was men rather than women who constituted the majority of the accused. Although it was far more common for them to be accusers rather than accused, children were sometimes put on trial for witchcraft. As a result, fifteen boys over the age of 16 were executed, while forty younger children were whipped.

Various acts of torture were used against accused witches to coerce confessions and cause them to name their co-conspirators. The torture of witches began to increase in frequency after when the Pope declared witchcraft to be "crimen exceptum" and thereby removed all legal limits on the application of torture in cases where evidence was difficult to find.

Witch trials in the early modern period - Wikipedia

If he mentioned a book, she could describe it. While she was hauntingly specific, she was also gloriously vague. Indeed she had glimpsed the diabolical book. But she could not say if it was large or small. The devil might have had white hair; perhaps he had not. While there were many marks in the book, she could not decipher names other than those of the two women already under arrest.

Other confessors would not be so careful. Did she see the book? Could she at least say where the nine lived? She had signed her pact with the devil in blood, but was unclear as to how that was accomplished. God barely figured in her testimony. At a certain point she found that she could simply not continue. The devil had incapacitated her, furious that Tituba liberally dispensed his secrets. There was every reason why the girls—who had howled and writhed through the earlier hearings—held stock still for that of an Indian slave.

There was equal reason why Tituba afterward caused grown men to freeze in their tracks. Confessions to witchcraft were rare. It assured the authorities they were on the right track. Doubling the number of suspects, it stressed the urgency of the investigation. It introduced a dangerous recruiter into the proceedings. It encouraged the authorities to arrest additional suspects. A satanic conspiracy was afoot! Tituba had seen something of which every villager had heard and in which all believed: She had conversed with Satan but had also resisted some of his entreaties; she wished she had held him off entirely.

She was deferential and cooperative. All would have turned out very differently had she been less accommodating. Portions of her March account would soon fall away: The tall, white-haired man from Boston would be replaced by a short, dark-haired man from Maine. If she had a culprit in mind, we will never know who it was. Her nine conspirators soon became 23 or 24, then 40, later , ultimately an eye-popping According to one source, Tituba would retract every word of her sensational confession, into which she claimed her master had bullied her.

By that time, arrests had spread across eastern Massachusetts on the strength of her March story, however. One pious woman would not concede witchcraft was at work: The woman hanged, denying—as did every victim—any part of sorcery to the end. Others among the accused adopted her imagery, some slavishly.

Described as Indian no fewer than 15 times in the court papers, she went on to shift-shape herself. As scholars have noted, falling prey to a multi-century game of telephone, Tituba evolved over two centuries from Indian to half-Indian to half-black to black, with assists from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who seemed to have plucked her from Macbeth , historian George Bancroft and William Carlos Williams.

To go with her new heritage, Miller supplied a live frog, a kettle and chicken blood. He has Tituba sing her West Indian songs over a fire, in the forest, as naked girls dance around. Sounding like a distant cousin of Mammy in Gone With the Wind , she says things like: After The Crucible , she would be known for her voodoo, of which there is not a shred of evidence, rather than for her psychedelic confession, which endures on paper. Why the retrofitted racial identity? Arguably bias played a role: A black woman at the center of the story made more sense, in the same way that—as Tituba saw it—a man in black belonged at the center of a diabolical conspiracy.

Her history was written by men, working when African voodoo was more electrifying than outmoded English witchcraft. All wrote after the Civil War, when a slave was understood to be black. Miller believed Tituba had actively engaged in devil worship; he read her confession—and the 20th-century sources—at face value. By replacing the Salem justices as the villain of the piece, Tituba exonerated others, the Massachusetts elite most of all.

In her testimony and her afterlife, preconceptions neatly shaped the tale: Her details tallied unerringly with the reports of the bewitched. Moreover, her account never wavered. A liar, it was understood, needed a better memory. It seems the opposite is true: The liar sidesteps all inconsistencies. The truth-teller rarely tells his story the same way twice. Pled Guilty and Pardoned: Other victims include two dogs who were shot or killed after being suspected of witchcraft. The fact is, no accused witches were burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem was ruled by English law at the time, which only allowed death by burning to be used against men who committed high treason and only after they had been hanged, quartered and drawn.

As for why these victims were targeted in the first place, historians have noted that many of the accused were wealthy and held different religious beliefs than their accusers. This, coupled with the fact that the accused also had their estates confiscated if they were convicted has led many historians to believe that religious feuds and property disputes played a big part in the witch trials. Daily chores, business matters and other activities were neglected during the chaos of the witch trials, causing many problems in the colony for years to come, according to the book The Witchcraft of Salem Village:.

The people had been so determined upon hunting out and destroying witches that they had neglected everything else. Planting, cultivating, the care of houses, barns, roads, fences, were all forgotten. As a direct result, food became scarce and taxes higher. Farms were mortgaged or sold, first to pay prison fees, then to pay taxes; frequently they were abandoned. Salem Village began that slow decay which eventually erased its houses and walls, but never its name and memory. As the years went by, the colonists felt ashamed and remorseful for what had happened during the Salem Witch Trials.

Since the witch trials ended, the colony also began to suffer many misfortunes such as droughts, crop failures, smallpox outbreaks and Native-American attacks and many began to wonder if God was punishing them for their mistake. On December 17, , Governor Stoughton issued a proclamation in hopes of making amends with God.

Unraveling the Many Mysteries of Tituba, the Star Witness of the Salem Witch Trials

The proclamation suggested that there should be:. The day of prayer and fasting was held on January 15, , and was known as the Day of Official Humiliation. And according to his infinite benignity and sovereignty, not visit the sin of him, or of any other, upon himself or any of his, nor upon the land: But that he would powerfully defend him against all temptations to sin, for the future; and vouchsafe him the efficacious, saving conduct of his word and spirit. In , afflicted girl Ann Putnam, Jr. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.

Since some families of the victims did not want their family member listed, not every victim was named. The bill cleared the names of: Since some of the law enforcement involved in the Salem Witch Trials were being sued by some of the surviving victims, the bill also stated: At the announcement ceremony, playwright Arthur Miller made a speech and read from the last act of his play, The Crucible, which was inspired by the Salem Witch Trials. On October 31, , the state amended the apology and cleared the names of the remaining unnamed victims, stating:. Everything we know now about the trials comes from just a handful of primary sources of the Salem Witch Trials.

In addition to official court records there are also several books written by the ministers and other people involved in the trials:. The Salem Witch Trials. Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather: Morrisiana, Jackson, Shirley. The Witchcraft of Salem Village. Random House, Fowler, Samuel Page. Samuel Parris of Salem Village. William Ives and George W. Smithsonian Institute, 23 Oct. This site helped a lot for me to understand the history of Salem. It also helped with my reading assignment. I wonder how many people ran away from The Salem Witch Trials. It seems like an easier thing to do than just sit there and be accused.

Also i seems like a smarter thing to do at the moment if you had a rival with one of the families in town. Not many people fled Salem, only a handful did, because Salem was their home and had been for a long time. Where can I get a copy of the Salem map that you posted? I could use this for classroom use…. The Salem Village map can now be purchased on zazzle: I think they where viewed in an horrible way, because the people who where accused where not really witches.

Hi Sarah, I am the author and publisher of this blog. This site is not a part of the Smithsonian website. Hope that helps with your bibliography. I love this site! Did you know they executed 2 dogs?! It disgusts me but at the same time interests me, and makes me want to learn more. When was this site last edited? Do you have a version number for this site?

Also, when was his last updated? Thank you, using this as a source! This article was last updated on Nov 22, Thank you so much for this! Do you know if their are any reports from some of the people in the villiage? Most of the eyewitness accounts can be found in the court records and the books written by the ministers involved in the trials. You can check out my article on books about the Salem Witch Trials here: I find the history interesting and would like to find more information on this matter.

I think in some forms that witches still exist in hidden arenas. If there is anyone has found anymore supporting theories please share. I am looking forward to the challenge of uncovering a multitude of analysis on this matter. Hi Rebecca…I saw that you have a lot of knowledge about Mary Easty…I was told this year at a funeral that I am a direct decendent of hers…I live in Salem and My Grandfather was name William Estey…do you by any chance have any history of the family tree?

Unfortunately, I do not have any information on her family tree but you might want to check out a genealogy site like ancestry. Ancestry is the easiest way. Just pay for a month and go nuts adding records to a tree. Lines going back to Salem and Colonial New England in general are usually well documented. It will be very easy. I have countless ancestors out of Massachusetts Bay Colony and one of my grandmothers was Martha Carrier. Her son Richard is one of my 8th great grandfathers and I keep waiting for a DNA match to pop up with one of his other descendants.