In the past, people believed in the existence of witchcraft, therefore, those people whom they found to be peculiar or suspicious had to undergo a trial. In extreme cases, people were tortured or even more so, lynched. The most common way of doing this was by burning them alive. Such so called traditions began because of people’s ignorance, fear and paranoia. It is in our human nature to seek for an explanation when something bad or eccentric happens to us. However, when we cannot find a plausible explanation for things we go a step further and we blame it on the dark forces and witches. Once that’s done, we need a doormat, someone to blame it on. Such tradition rotten to the very core, led towards the deaths of nearly 200.000 people.
Petronilla de Meath
Lady Alice Kyteler and her associate Petronilla de Meath were persecuted for demonism, murder and witchcraft. This was one of the earliest trials which took place in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1324. Namely, the Bishop of Ossory accused them of these deeds simply because he thought they earned a lot of money by killing their husbands. They were tortured in order to confess. De Meath finally said that it was true and if she could put unguent to a beam of wood, both she and Kyteler would start flying. Alice Kyteler managed to escape somehow and save De Meath’s son Basil but Petronilla and her servants were burned at the stake. This is known to be one of the earliest group sorcery accusations that happened in history.
The Pendle Witches
England was no longer Elizabethan. Under the reign of King James I, England has changed. James I was a misogynist and an advocate of witchcraft and sorcery. He even wrote a book called Daemonologie where he further on explored on the subject of sorcery. Witch hunts and trials were common during his reign. The most infamous trial was the one of the Peddle Witches in 1612. Alizon was charged with witchery because the son of a peddler said that she cursed his father and he died because of it. Not only that Alizon confessed but she also blamed her neighbors of doing the same. To top it all, Alizon’s mother, Elizabeth, threw a party on Good Friday when Catholics were supposed to go to church. The trial lasted for 2 days and afterwards, 9 people were charged. One person died before the end of the trial and only one was proclaimed innocent. All the others were hanged. The major witness in the trial was Elizabeth’s little daughter.
The Pappenheimers – Paulus, 57; his wife, Anna, 59; and their three sons, Gumpprecht, 22, Michel, 20, and Hansel, 10, were itinerants who lived in Bavaria in 1600. They used to earn some money by the cleansing of privies also known as restrooms. In February that year, they were arrested on dubious allegations. The Duke of Bavaria wanted to make good use of the family by making them a reminder for future criminals. In order to hinder robbery and murder, he tortured them while the interrogation lasted. Hansel, a 10-year-old said that the family was witches and soon after that the rest of the family confessed to being able to fly on a stick. The family was executed on July 29th. First, they were tortured and amputated publically and then Hansel was forced to watch his family be burnt at stake. After their deaths, he was burned alive as well. A fun fact about this witch trial is the fact that not only it was macabre, but also provided details on the ways of their torture, confessions, and executions which led to a new law in Bavaria. Namely, this was a huge problem there and to cut its roots drastic changes were needed to happen.
The Paisley Witches
An 11-year-old Christian Shaw allegedly became possessed in 1696. She accused seven or eight people in the Paisley town that they bewitched her. Witnesses professed of seeing Shaw fly and of seeing her cough up weird things, like coal and hair strokes. As the year 1697 advanced, more than 30 people were accused; four women and three men were sentenced to death. Out of the seven, one of the men committed suicide in his cell and did not wait out for his execution like the rest. The others were crucified and burned. As to their ashes, they would put them in a grave and seal it with a horseshoe. Before dying anyhow, one woman cursed everyone. Upon such event people created myths about witches and thus created an ongoing fear of the supernatural. This would have been just another witch trial in the line had it not been for the following. During the 1960s and the ongoing construction, the horseshoe was removed. Immediately afterwards, the economy took a slump. The town of Paisley experienced empty shops and a decline which lasted for a while. The root of all evil of course, was the curse being cast upon the town.
Trier Witch Trials
Among the largest witch trials in Europe’s history was the one in 1581, in Trier. The Archbishop of Trier, Johann von Schöneburg was leading it. Johann was known to be a tyrant. When he took power in 1581, he ordered the purging of Jews, Protestants, and certainly, witches. Between the period of 1581 and 1593, over 368 supposed witches were executed. Revered citizens were among the accused. Estimable people like professors, headmasters, and judges. In some cases, villages were obliterated and with few survivors. The 368 executions were only recorded in 22 villages but that number does not encompass other peripheral areas, so the number is lynched people is even higher.
Gilles Garnier was not a very capable man when it comes to hunting. In order to treat his inferiority, he started doing the unimaginable. He started hunting for children. The first murder took plase around September 29, 1572, when Garnier killed a 10-year-old girl, because according to him, she took the form of a wolf, and brought some flesh of the girl for his family to eat. He continued this ill practice which made villagers conclude that a werewolf was attacking and killing. Finally in January 1573, they were able to pinpoint Gilles Garnier as the gruesome murderer and they accused him of both lycanthropy and conjuring. They burned him and his wife at the stake since more than 50 people witnessed against him.
Salem Witch Trials
The most infamous trials happened in the village of Salem, Massachusetts. Betty and Abigail were diagnosed with witchery since they would convolute their bodies driven by violent and thrusting screams of no control. Later one, 3 more women were arrested of conjuring but people could not entirely finish the trial due to their screams and spasms. Two of the women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn denied the accusations but Tituba confessed. To make it worse, she pointed at others of doing witchcraft. Because of her allegations, both Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn were prosecuted and killed. A man was stoned to death and many others hanged. For the sake of irony, Tituba was not charged with witchcraft. In 1711, after tremendous damage and loss of human life, the governor of Massachusetts decided to stop the madness and pardon all the arraigned people. Additionally, he provided financial support for the families who lost their loved ones in vain.