The Salem Witch trials are perhaps one of the most well known cases of a witch hunt. Have you ever heard of the Torsåker witch trials; the Basque witch trials; the Würzburg witch trial; or the Pendle witch trials? Witch trials and witch hunts, were most prominent during the mid 1500’s to the late 1600’s. Sadly, persecution of “witches”, or some wiccans is still prevalent today. (Witchcraft should not be confused with wicca, as the practice of wicca was founded in 1920’s.)
Salem Witch Trials
The Salem witch trials took place between February 1692 and May 1693, in Salem, Ipswich, and Boston, Massachusetts. They were instigated by two young girls Betty Paris age 9 and her cousin Abigail Williams age 11. The two girls suffered from fits, that closely describe the symptoms of Ergotism. Ergotism is an illness derived from eating rye bread baked with contaminated grain. Ergot an ingredient in LSD, can cause hallucinations, convulsions, gang-green and inevitably death. The doctor of the time could see no physical signs of illness. The first three accused of witchcraft were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba. From these accusations derived several others accused of withcraft. All for different victims. In total over 150 were arrested, 29 were convicted of witchcraft, 19 people were hung, and at least one man was pressed to death.
Torsåker witch trials
The Torsåker witch trials took place during 1675 in Torsåker, Sweden. The trials began when Laurentius Hornaeus was asked to investigate, incidents of witchcraft and eliminate it. Religious zealotry took over Laurentius. On June 1st 1675 a climatic persecution of “witches” took place. 65 women, 2 men and 4 boys were beheaded and burned at the stake for their heresy. Unfortunately, this was only the pinnacle of the Torsåker trials and they did not end until 1676.
Basque witch trials
The witch trials of Basque took place at Logroño,Spain on January 1609. The Spanish inquisition ferreted over 7000 cases of witchcraft. Most were baptized descendants of the jews or moors, while others were book smugglers. In 1610 the first 12 accused of witchcraft were burned at the stakes. After this Alonso de Salazar Frías was appointed to investigate the matter further. During 1611 he travelled across the country returning with confessions of devilry and witchcraft from close to 2000 people. Over 1300 were children accusing another 5000 people. In the end many retracted their confessions as they were instigated by the torturous techniques of thee inquisition.
Würzburg witch trial
The Würzburg witch trial occurred during 1627-1629 in Wurzburg, Germany. During this time at least 157 persons were burned alive for collusion with the devil and practice of witchcraft. During this time the thirty years war was near its 20 year mark. The plague was prevalent, as well as famine, and poverty. Many of these events were blamed upon witches and as such the witch hunts began. Mostly single women were accused, and many children. Not much is written on the Würzburg trial other than it was result of rampant panic and religious fervor.
Pendle witch trials
Perhaps the next most famous witch trial is the Pendle witch trial. On August 20,1612 ten people were hanged, accused of witchcraft and the murder of 17 people in England. Of the accused, some confessed, others denied their guilt to the end, and the lucky few were acquitted when fabricated evidence was found. The executions occurred atop Pendle Hill in England, which like Salem, Massachusetts has become a popular place for Halloween visits.
These are not the only witch trials and accusations to have occurred. According to Ronald Hutton, author of Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles and Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, he has estimates of witch related deaths as high as 63,850 people and recorded deaths totaling 12,545 people. The mania that ensued from the late 16th century to 17th century is truly horrifying and mostly forgotten. It’s a wonder though that pinnacle Occult texts such as Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy even survived .