Monday, December 29, 2014
The Last Witches:
There are many biblical passages dealing with witchcraft, such as Exodus 22:18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”). In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII ordered the Inquisition to move against witches as well as heretics. The fever for witch hunting reached a peak between 1560 and 1630, then slowly faded.
The Dutch Republic executed its last witch around 1613.
In Denmark, Anna Palles was the last, in 1693.
Scotland: Janet Horne had a daughter with deformed hands and feet. Neighbors accused her of using her daughter as a pony to ride to the Devil. Horne was stripped, tarred, paraded through the town on a barrel and burned in 1727.
England: Mary Hickes and her nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth were hanged in 1716, for taking off their stockings in order to raise a storm. Janet Wenham was accused of flying and bewitching a servant in 1712. A magical potion was found under her pillow. She was searched and "witch marks" (blemishes obtained when a pact is made with Satan) were discovered. She requested the swimming test, in which hands and feet are bound and the accused is cast into water. (Since witches spurn baptism, water - a pure element - rejects their bodies and prevents them from sinking.) She was instead ordered to recite the Lord's Prayer. (Witches are unable to do so without mistakes.) She stumbled. Fortunately, a sympathetic aristocrat secreted her in a cottage on his lands until she died in 1730.
France: Louis Debaraz in 1745.
Germany: Anna Schwegelin was convicted in 1775, but her sentence was not carried out.
Switzerland: Anna Göldi was a maidservant reported to have put needles in bread and milk through supernatural means. She confessed under torture to having a pact with the Devil, who appeared to her as a black dog. She withdrew her confession after the torture ended, but was beheaded in 1782.
Poland: two women with inflamed eyes, who were said to have enchanted their neighbor's cattle, were burned in 1793.
Europe's witch hunts ended with the execution of Barbara Zdunk in Prussia. She was a 38-year-old woman with a teenage boyfriend and a fondness for magic. Her conviction was upheld through several appeals, including to the King. She was burned at the stake in 1811
In the New World, Indians were commonly thought to be devils, or at least devil worshippers. Colonists first turned on themselves in Connecticut. Witches were executed in Windsor, Fairfield and Hartford. Connecticut sniffed out its last witch in 1697.
In Massachusetts, witches were executed in Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Cambridge and Springfield. The largest hunt was in 1692, when 24 were executed at Salem, Massachusetts.
Most of the witchcraft trial records for the southern colonies were destroyed during the Civil War, but accusations seem to have been taken less seriously than in Puritan New England, and penalties were less severe. In Virginia, Grace Sherwood was accused of bewitching pigs and cotton. The swimming test was administered. She floated. "Witch Duck Creek" is named for her. She was imprisoned until 1714.
The last formal witchcraft trial in the mainland colonies was probably that of a woman named Mary, also in Virginia, who was whipped 39 times in 1730 for using magic to find lost items. That same year, Benjamin Franklin published a satire that helped shift American perception of sorcery from terrifying reality to puritanical fantasy.
Witches are still being hunted on a small scale in New Guinea and northern India. They are being hunted on a large and growing scale in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria. The practice is spreading rapidly with the Pentecostal movement there. The accused have traditionally been the elderly, the disabled, and albinos, but children are increasingly being targeted.