Witchcraft is the use of supernatural and spiritual practices to solve problems that can’t be explained in a reasonable and understandable way. Witchcraft was feared and hated throughout the Middle Ages mostly by the Christians and their church because it was believed to be associated with the devil.
Witches could be anyone but single mother, midwives and old women who lived alone were the most likely to fall under suspicion. Witches were believed to use their special powers to inflict suffering and unhappiness into the world. People blamed witches for many things, from natural disasters such as famine and the failure of a harvest to their own misfortune. Some people accused others of being witches because of jealousy or for the purpose of revenge. People who were accused of witchcraft were labelled as heretic.
There were many ways people used to identify a witch. People assumed that witches were mainly woman who were ugly, who lived alone, had a familiar (an animal following them around, most commonly a black cat or dog) and that they had the mark of the devil which was a birth mark or mole on the skin.
Witches were thought to have supernatural powers which they used to influence the lives of others, usually in a cruel way. Witches were believed to destroy social and religious order. They were also thought to have supernatural abilities such as shape-shifting and healing powers.
The two different types of magic are white magic and black magic. White magic was believed to have healing properties and was pure compared to that of black magic which was considered dark and was believed to be use to cause chaos in the world.
About 80% of the accused victims were woman.
Joan of Arc was a famous woman who was accused of witchcraft and got burnt at the stake.
Witches were known to use a variety of things including brooms, scrolls to write spells on, and herb and animal parts to make potions to cure diseases and heal wounds and a cauldron.
ï A Witch Hunt is the search for people accused of witchcraft. It was a campaign started by the church to get rid of witches; it lasted for over 75 years. Accused witches were put on trial.
ï Since there were no judicial courts prior to the twelfth century, the accused often had to prove their own innocence through a trial by ordeal. As the Church was a huge part of the society it was believed that if the individual was innocent God would ensure their protection.
ï A common ordeal for suspected witches was the ‘test of the cold water.’ This test involved the victim’s hands and feet being tied, before the person was thrown into deep water, such as a stream.
It was believed that if the accused was innocent, he or she would drown. If the accused was guilty, however, many believed that the purity of the water would reject the person and allow the individual to float to the top. If the victim was found guilty of witchcraft she/he would be burnt alive or at the stake. Witches were burnt because fire was believed to purify the victim. If the accused made a last-minute confession to being a witch, the person was granted a ‘less painful’ death by being strangled before being burnt.
ï It was during the 16th and 17th centuries when hunting for witches became a profitable industry.
ï Torture during a witch trial also became a common way in which to obtain a confession. Methods of torture included using thumbscrews which was basically used to crush the bones located in the thumbs and the strappado was another method used to gain confession. For this method the victim is suspended by a rope tied to his or her arm before being dropped in a way which pulled the arms from their sockets.
ï Charges of witchcraft could be dropped by a relative’s defence through trial of combat or by 12 people swearing an oath of the victim’s innocence.
ï The last execution for witchcraft in Europe took place in Poland in 1793
ï The last execution for witchcraft in England was in 1864
ï The main punishment for witchcraft was execution.
Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch trials occurred between 1692 and 1693
It started because a group of young girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local woman of witchcraft.
200 people were accused and out of that 20 people were executed. They were mainly woman.
The Pendle Witch Trials
ï,§ The Pendle Witch Trials began at Lancaster in the autumn of 1612.
ï,§ Two families were at the centre of the Pendle Witch Trial case
ï,§ Both families had old widows as the head of the family
ï,§ 12 people were accused of witchcraft, one died in custody and the rest went to trial
ï,§ 6 of the 11 witches on trial came from rival families, the Demdike family and the Chattox family.
ï,§ The Pendle Witch madness started in March 1612 when Alice Davis met a peddler named John Law. She asked him for a pin but he refused. He became paralysed on one side of his body. Witchcraft was suspected and a local magistrate Roger Nowell was informed.