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 Universal Life.

   Blessed Be.     



Written by Lynx for Ancient Cauldron
Revised by Webmistress April, 2003

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Last updated April 8, 2012

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