Monday, April 14, 2014

Top 10 Most Notable Witch Trials

Original source :
Posted : July 2013
Author : the admin

Though having mutated into a term with a wholly metaphorical meaning today, ‘Witch Hunt’ has origins both un-ancient and un-settling. Surfacing in centuries passed as a name for those accused of the ability of harnessing certain dark magic or unholy powers*, Witch is a word still which has survived in popular culture. Today, it’s a word that you may associate with the annual festival of Halloween, or better yet several of the movies pivotal in shaping its contemporary connotations, such as ‘The Wizard of OZ’ or even, I suppose, ‘Hocus Pocus’. The more public affairs’ oriented of us may identify with the worrying reports of real life ‘Witch Hunts’ taking place in lesser developed parts of Africa upon hearing the term uttered. As interesting and conversation provoking as all of this is, we’re here for a more specific reason. Namely, to identify some of the more notable Witch Hunts to have taken place throughout history. Most of the following is derived from accounts dating back to post-Medieval era Europe (1600-1800), though admittedly there is an extremely famous North American case thrown in their for good measure. While maybe slightly entertaining now, one may only imagine the circumstances which called for such drastic consequence, and in turn be thankful for the seemingly more evolved era which we call home.

10. Essex
A series of trials famous amongst a host of others local to 17th century England, the Essex witch hunts were largely the brain child of the infamous Matthew Hopkins ‘Witchfinder General’. Hopkins was an Englishman who led a series of trials over a period of little over a year, resulting in the deaths of some 300 women. Though the hunts instigated by Hopkins during the Civil War era (1646/7) were usually exclusive to England’s south east, they were known to stray into other parts of the country- in turn influencing a chain of others like them. The Essex witch trials are particularly interesting on the basis that Hopkins claimed to be an official representative of the government the whole while, however his title as ‘Witchfinder General’, was never one bestowed onto him by parliament.

9. Doruchow
The last witch-hunt of its kind to take place in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, the Doruchow witch trial took place in the late 18th century in the township of Doruchow, Poland. Original documents place the trial to 1775 and claim that they resulted in the burning of 14 women, in turn acting as a catalyst in bringing about the eventual ban on witch burning in Poland. However, a recent reassessment concluded the actual year was 1783, the number of victims 6 and the influence on relevant legislation non-existent.

8. Fulda
Occurring between the years of 1603 and 1606, the Fulda Witch Trials saw the death of some 250 woman from in and around the central German city of Fulda. Following the 20 year exile of the Prince abbot Balthasar von Dernbach, he returned to power in the region with a strict agenda. Instigating a series of arrests, trials and executions with the help of his right-hand man Balthasar Nuss, the Prince abbot’s three year investigation remains infamous in the region to this day. Ceasing only after Dernbachs death, Nuss was subsequently imprisoned as a result of allegations that his actions were intended solely to enrich himself. He was beheaded in 1618.

7. Bamberg
Another example of a prolonged European witch trial, this one too occurring in central Germany, and just two decades after the hunt at Fulda, the Bamberg Witch Trials lasted for four years between 1626 and 1631. Resulting in the deaths of between 300 and 600 people, the trials at Bamberg were some of the largest to have occurred during this period, as well as constituting one of the largest scale executions of the entire Thirty Years War period. Though one of the largest witch trials to have happened in Europe around the time, Bamberg was in no way an isolated affair, with hundreds of similar instances happening all over Germany at the time, as well as in other parts of central and west Europe.

6. Trier
Though trials began in the diocese of Trier around 1581, they did not reach the city itself until around 1587. Known as being one of the largest cases of mass execution during peace time in recorded European history, the Witch Trials at Trier remain infamously notable with Medieval scholars. A huge process, the trials took place between the years of 1581 and 1593, claiming the lives of an estimated 1,000 people- both men and women. At this time, the vast majority of modern day Germany was the domain of the Holy Roman Empire, a fact which made it far more prone to religiously motivated purges. Before this rooting out of ‘witches’, Trier played host to periods of prolonged prosecution of both protestants and Jews.

5. Wurzburg
Yet another mass-scale witch hunt to have occurred in Germany, the trials at the Franconian city of Wurzburg occurred between the years of 1626-1631. Coinciding with the thirty years war, the atrocities claimed the lives of an estimated 900 men, woman and children all of whom were charged, tried and executed as witches. Many of those burned were done so because they were vagrants passing through the city without a good enough explanation for their presence. The thirty years war was a time of mass religious hysteria in central Europe, and witch burning was a commonly turned to option in Kingdoms both catholic and protestant. The prolonged hunt which enveloped Wurzburg was put to an end by Adolphus of Sweden following his capturing of the city.

4. Louden
A witch hunt with but one eventual victim, this trial at the French city of Louden occurred in 1634. Having made a stir upon his arrival in the vicinity, Catholic priest Urbain Grandier was soon to fall victim to an extremely elaborate plot constructed by his very own clergy. A reportedly very handsome man, Grandier was also very well connected politically and socially, as well as being extremely rich. As a result, it wasn’t long until he began to make enemies in his new hometown. Such distaste in the community culminated with a series of faked possessions carried out by members of Grandiers parish, even including several nuns, which were of course all blamed on the priest. It didn’t take long for the poor guy to receive a swift trial and execution by burning as a result of his so called demonic tendencies.

3. North Berwick
Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, Scotland played host to a very large number of witch trials in the late Medieval/early modern period. Still a predominantly Catholic nation at this time, the country was just as susceptible to religiously motivated hysteria as any of its neighbours. The North Berwick witch trials are of particular note due to their reputation as being the first major persecution of their kind to occur in Scotland, as well as holding direct association with the King of the country at the time, James VI. It is a widely held opinion that the first trial in the wider hunt which occurred throughout the county of East Lothian from 1590-92 was curated directly by the King. Having encountered perilous storms during his return from Copenhagen, where he travelled to marry Danish Princess Anne, James believed that known oppositional nobles were to blame- and soon had them punished accordingly. This impulsiveness in turn triggered an unstoppable wave of hysteria which took hold of the area, and later the entire nation. It is believed that some 4,000 people were burned as witches in Scotland in decades either side of the infamous trials at North Berwick.

2. Salem
An infamous witch hunt which has since been immortalised in countless pieces of literature, the Salem Witch Trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. Though still a series of colonies at this time, many of the areas of settlement, particularly those along the eastern seaboard (such as New England) were of an extremely devout Puritan faith. With the cases of religious paranoia and demonic hysteria which were occurring over the Atlantic at the time, it seems that the baton was at some point passed on to the new world. Amongst a series of North American witch trials at the time, Salem stands alone as the most notable as a result of the sheer number of people it incriminated.

1. Pendle
Culminating with trials at both Lancaster and York, the Pendle witch hunt was centred around the incrimination of some 12 individuals hailing from the region of Pendle Hill, Lancashire - North West England. A region declared as ‘lawless’ around the time, Pendle Hill noted the arrest of a dozen proposed witches in the summer of 1612, following a number of allegations made by local residents. It is now known that half of those accused came from either one of two families, and that the two had been in direct competition with one another- making a living through ‘healing’ and generally extorting their respective communities. It is highly likely that each is responsible for the others eventual incrimination as a result of this fact.

~Blog Admin~

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