Witch! Pagan! Heathen! To some these words
give them great pride and to others great fear. Witch
and Pagan are terms plagued with misconceptions and intolerance.
Step back in time to the witch persecutions, also known
as The Burning Times.
In a quiet village, a sweet elderly lady
sits in her den planning the evening meal. A knock at
her door interrupts her thoughts and she gets up to go
answer the door. "Good day, Mr. Johansson,"
she says with all sincerity. Before she can even blink
an eye, she is roughly grabbed and dragged through town.
She hears the cries of her friends and neighbors, "WITCH,
burn her!" Without so much as a spoken word, she
is thrown in jail and awaits her trial, and eventually
her death as she has seen happen to others. Her confusion
is great and her fears of upcoming events is immeasurable.
The sweet lady, Sally, was known in the
village as a very wise woman. She aided many births and
healed the sick with her herbal concoctions. Whenever
a neighbor needed counseling or help to get through a
hard time, she was always there to help. She volunteered
her time and told stories to the children of the village.
Sally never raised her voice or caused harm to anyone.
Everyone in the village knew her. What had she done?
The above scenario is fictional, yet it
tells the story of events that shook communities worldwide.
Why would such a loving, giving person be accused of Witchcraft
and be put to death?
There are many theories that range from
political upheaval, wars, religious conversions, greed
and misogyny. While we can speculate on these theories,
it is hard to really understand the entire drive behind
the persecutions. What we do know is that thousands of
people were terminated and that in some communities it
was genocide against the female population, as approximately
85% of those killed were women. Historical documentation
shows that some villages were left with only one woman
after the persecutors moved on to another location.
Research shows that there were witch persecutions
prior to the 1500's, but the major witch persecutions
took place between 1560 through 1760. Estimates of the
total number of people killed during the persecution range
from 10,000 to 100,000; some have estimated the number
to be over 9,000,000, however historical documentation
does not support that figure.
Were all these victims witches? The plain
and simple truth is no. Some were Pagan and some were
witches, but most were devout Christians who seemed to
be in the wrong places at the wrong time. Any woman who
had a mind of her own and spoke out towards men were branded
as a witch, especially those who were widowed or unmarried.
Paranoia gripped communities into a frenzy of hatred and
fear for those they believed to be worshipping the devil.
Women were perceived as being weak, sexually insatiable,
and easy prey for the devil. Natural disasters and sickness
plagued country after country; unfortunately the term
witch became the scapegoat of blame. People seriously
believed that witches were the cause of all humanities'
issues and that their pact with the devil brought great
hardships to those who lived among the witch. Science
eventually proved otherwise, but it was too late for many.
Witchcraft was outlawed by Church and State
and those accused were considered hazardous to their communities.
We cannot blame religious conversion alone, as greed and
hatred towards lower class civilians was evident. Politics
also played a key role in the craze. All one ha to do
to break down a person in power was accuse them or their
spouse of witchcraft. It happened time and time again.
Women suffered the most at the hands of the persecutors,
but we must understand that men, children, and animals
were also killed in the name of witchcraft.
To fuel the fury, a witch hunter's guidebook,
the Malleus Maleficarum, was published in 1486. The book
created by James Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer was written
to help the persecutors by providing step-by-step instructions
on locating witches and the means to obtain a confession
(mostly through vicious torture).
The torture methods used ranged from peeling
the skin off of the accused with red-hot pincers to crushing
bones in their bodies. While some confessed to devil worship,
it must be understood that of those who did many were
so brutally tortured that they would say or do anything
to end the pain. Many people took their own lives in prison
after being tortured and even to their death they continually
denied any wrong doing, but death was a warm welcome compared
to the torture and pain they had to endure.
According to Anne Llewellyn Barstow, author
of Witchcraze, the worst
recorded torture and murder happened to the Pappenheimers
in Bavaria. The Pappenheimers (Anna, Paulus, and their
three sons) were of the lowest class in society and did
not have much to their name, but Anna was accused and
the entire family was punished. After suffering with immense
torture throughout their trial, the Pappenheimers were
forced to endure more after they were convicted...
...There are thousands more stories like
the Pappenheimers and some that have never been recorded,
such as a village lynching. This tragedy of unspeakable
honor illustrated the travesty of the times. One can only
imagine the sheer terror that struck entire communities
and the people that lived in them. We at Ancient Cauldron
encourage you to research the witch persecutions to gain
your own understanding of the events of the past.
It is with great respect and love that we
honor those who died during The Burning Times. Let us
learn from the mistakes of the past and understand that
tolerance should be practiced in every aspect of life.
We cannot fault the current day people for mistakes of
the past, but we can look at the lessons and grow with
wisdom and love for all. We are all part of the Divine