A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WITCH TRIALS
It’s almost Halloween and we’re feeling witchy. Here is a brief history of the witch trials and one case we find particularly interesting…
Where it happened?
In Europe the worst were witch trials were in Scotland and Germany. From about 1590 to 1670 at least 4000 people were killed in Scotland and some estimates go as high as 7000 deaths. 75% of them were women. In Germany it ran from about 1560 – 1670 and the numbers of those killed were higher – certainly over 10 000 people and some estimates go as high as 20 000. There were witch trials all over the Europe and America, famously in Salem. The Scottish and German trials were undoubtably the most far reaching and gruesome.
What happened after the trial?
Once they were found guilty, witches were drowned. It was believed that their bodies might rise from the dead, so the corpses were burned publicly. A lot of people believe that witches were burnt alive at the stake but this was quite rare. Some women escaped but in the main if you were accused you were convicted – it was very difficult to get out of. In many cases several charges were brought against individual women and they might manage to get out of some of the charges but not that of being a witch.
Who were the witches?
Mostly it was women on the fringes. Those without protection. So working class women and often older women were those particularly prosecuted. Anyone could be accused but those who were ‘different’ or who spoke out, perhaps fell out with their neighbours were more likely to be accused. Sometimes people with disabilities were targeted. Once a woman was accused she was questioned (and that included torture) to see if she would turn evidence on her coven. These women were terrified. Many turned in neighbours, family and friends just to stop the pain.
Where can we find out more about witch trials?
The court records still exist in archives – the handwritten notes from the trials. Parish records where they survive can also be helpful.This was a time before birth certification and so details of people’s lives were held by the church. Most archives are available to the public though you have to provide ID and follow the rules of the individual institution like only being able to take in pencils (no pens). There are also lots of witchy artefacts in museums – spell boxes for example and instruments of torture. If you’re interested in finding out the real nitty gritty about female history your local archives and libraries are a good place to start.
Here is little about a witch trial that us bitches and witches think is particularly interesting…
There isn’t much information about the women prosecuted of witchcraft unless they were particularly well to do or the odd infamous case. Because most women accused of witchcraft were workers, we mostly don’t have many details about their lives – birth dates are out of the question, as there was no system of certification in those days. They have, however, left their marks in some places on the landscape. Take Kitty Rankine who was burned as a witch in Scotland in 1603. Growing up in a small village, Kitty was said to have second sight, which she inherited from her mother. When her mother died, Kitty found work at Abergeldie Castle and the Lady of the house consulted her, for her powers. Kitty would have been well advised not to play ball, but she screed (put water in a bowl and looked into the future) The Laird of the castle was overseas and she saw him sporting with other women. She told the lady, who was furious, and asked Kitty to raise a storm to kill her husband on his way home. Kitty refused, saying she didn’t have that kind of power. But as it happened, a storm did kill the Laird when he was on his way home and Kitty was charged with causing it and drowning him. The 400th anniversary of her execution was marked in 2003 by a bonfire on the Creag nam Bam (Hill of the Women) near Ballater, where she was killed. The wind on the top of the Creag is very loud and locals say it is the ghost of Kitty Rankine, screaming.
“We are the grand daughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn” – an apt quote from Tish Thawer.
Although historical witch craft is often portrayed in the media there are still cases of women being prosecuted. In 2011 Amina Bint Abdul Halim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft.
So we are the grand daughters of the witches that you weren’t able to burn, but we stand by the women still being persecuted. Witches unite.
We want to highlight forgotten females from history. If you have a story you’d like to share get in touch with Molly at email@example.com