A Brief History of Witchcraft

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This was a special type of court in English law established specifically to hear cases that are extraordinary and serious in nature. This court consisted of eight judges. Although the witch hunt started in Salem Village, it quickly spread to the neighboring towns, including Amesbury, Andover, Salisbury, Topsfield, Ipswich and Gloucester , and numerous residents of those towns were brought to Salem and put on trial. The number of accusations and arrests began to decline in June but still continued and soon the local jails held more than accused witches. Due to overcrowding in the jails, the accused witches were kept in multiple jails in Salem town, Ipswich and Boston.

The Salem jail was located at the corner of Federal Street and St. Peter Street. The jail was a small wooden structure with a dungeon underneath. Since the accused witches were considered dangerous prisoners, they were kept in the dungeon and were chained to the walls because jail officials believed this would prevent their spirits from fleeing the jail and tormenting their victims. In , the wooden structure of the jail was remodeled into a Victorian home and in the home was razed. A large brick building now stands on this spot with a memorial plaque dedicated to the old jail. There the accused were questioned by a judge in front of a jury, which decided whether or not to indict the accused on charges of witchcraft.

If the accused was indicted, they were not allowed a lawyer and they had to decide to plead guilty or not guilty with no legal counsel to guide them. Another interesting fact about the witch trials is not everyone in Salem actually believed in witchcraft or supported the trials. There were many critics of the witch hunt, such as a local farmer John Proctor, who scoffed at the idea of witchcraft in Salem and called the young girls scam artists. Critics such as Proctor were quickly accused of witchcraft themselves, under the assumption that anyone who denied the existence of witches or defended the accused must be one of them, and were brought to trial.

The trials were held in the Salem courthouse, which was located in the center of Washington Street about feet south of Lynde Street, opposite of where the Masonic Temple now stands.

✚ The History of Witch House Lesson 666 ✚

The courthouse was torn down in but a plaque dedicated to the courthouse can still be seen today on the wall of the Masonic Temple on Washington Street. Bridget Bishop was the first person brought to trial.


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Bishop had been accused of witchcraft years before but was cleared of the crime. Bridget Bishop was convicted at the end of her trial and sentenced to death. Five more people were hanged in July, one of which was Rebecca Nurse. Although many of the other accused women were unpopular social outcasts, Nurse was a pious, well-respected and well-loved member of the community.

When Nurse was first arrested, many members of the community signed a petition asking for her release. Her initial verdict was, in fact, not guilty, but upon hearing the verdict the afflicted girls began to have fits in the courtroom. Judge Stoughton asked the jury to reconsider their verdict. A week later, the jury changed their minds and declared Nurse guilty. On July 23, John Proctor wrote to the clergy in Boston. He knew the clergy did not fully approve of the witch hunts.

Proctor told them about the torture inflicted on the accused and asked that the trials be moved to Boston where he felt he would get a fair trial. The clergy later held a meeting, on August 1, to discuss the trials but were not able to help Proctor before his execution. Another notable person who was accused of witchcraft was Captain John Alden Jr. Alden was accused of witchcraft by a child during a trip to Salem while he was on his way home to Boston from Canada.

Alden spent 15 weeks in jail before friends helped break him out and he escaped to New York. He was later exonerated.

A Brief History of Witchcraft

Yet another crucial moment during the Salem Witch Trials was the public torture and death of Giles Corey. English law at the time dictated that anyone who refused to enter a plea could be tortured in an attempt to force a plea out of them. The torture consisted of laying the prisoner on the ground, naked, with a board placed on top of him. Heavy stones were loaded onto the board and the weight was gradually increased until the prison either entered a plea or died.

In mid-September, Corey was tortured this way for three days in a field near Howard Street until he finally died on September His death was gruesome and cruel and strengthened the growing opposition to the Salem Witch Trials. As the trials and executions continued, colonists began to doubt that so many people could actually be guilty of this crime. They feared many innocent people were being executed.

Local clergymen began speaking out against the witch hunt and tried to persuade officials to stop the trials. Around the end of September, the use of spectral evidence was finally declared inadmissible, thus marking the beginning of the end of the Salem Witch Trials. On September 22, eight people were hanged. These were the last hangings of the Salem Witch Trials. The 52 remaining people in jail were tried in a new court, the Superior Court of Judicature, the following winter. Now that spectral evidence was not allowed, most of the remaining prisoners were found not guilty or released due to a lack of real evidence.

Those who were found guilty were pardoned by Governor Phips. The governor released the last few prisoners the following May. The others were either found guilty but pardoned, found not guilty, were never indicted or simply evaded arrest or escaped from jail. Refused to enter a plea and tortured to death: Giles Corey September 19th, Escaped from Prison: John Alden Jr.

Edward Bishop Jr. Other victims include two dogs who were shot or killed after being suspected of witchcraft. The fact is, no accused witches were burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem was ruled by English law at the time, which only allowed death by burning to be used against men who committed high treason and only after they had been hanged, quartered and drawn. Crafts, circa As for why these victims were targeted in the first place, historians have noted that many of the accused were wealthy and held different religious beliefs than their accusers.

This, coupled with the fact that the accused also had their estates confiscated if they were convicted has led many historians to believe that religious feuds and property disputes played a big part in the witch trials. Daily chores, business matters and other activities were neglected during the chaos of the witch trials, causing many problems in the colony for years to come, according to the book The Witchcraft of Salem Village:.

The people had been so determined upon hunting out and destroying witches that they had neglected everything else.

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Planting, cultivating, the care of houses, barns, roads, fences, were all forgotten. As a direct result, food became scarce and taxes higher. Farms were mortgaged or sold, first to pay prison fees, then to pay taxes; frequently they were abandoned. Salem Village began that slow decay which eventually erased its houses and walls, but never its name and memory. As the years went by, the colonists felt ashamed and remorseful for what had happened during the Salem Witch Trials. Since the witch trials ended, the colony also began to suffer many misfortunes such as droughts, crop failures, smallpox outbreaks and Native-American attacks and many began to wonder if God was punishing them for their mistake.

On December 17, , Governor Stoughton issued a proclamation in hopes of making amends with God. The proclamation suggested that there should be:. The day of prayer and fasting was held on January 15, , and was known as the Day of Official Humiliation. In , afflicted girl Ann Putnam, Jr.

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Her apology states:. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.

Since some families of the victims did not want their family member listed, not every victim was named. This concept goes a long way toward explaining not just why witch-hunting mania exploded in Europe, but also why it took hold where it did. Namely, in Germany.

A Short History of Witchcraft.

Until the s, the Catholic Church had claimed a monopoly on religion. Per usual, the Pope declared Luther a heretic and banned the Ninety-five Theses. This decentralized structure made enforcing Catholicism and rooting out Protestantism much trickier. Plus, Luther had a hometown advantage. Before long, a slew of German princes had flipped over to Lutheranism—enough that, by , they were powerful enough to force the Emperor to decriminalize Lutheranism.

The name of this agreement, the Peace of Augsburg, belies its result. With Lutheranism now officially given the green light, violence broke out across the Holy Roman Empire, as princes fought to force their faith on neighboring territories. As a result, Germany became the bloodiest battleground in the Catholic-Protestant contest. With Catholic-Protestant rivalries now out in the open, officials had to boost the appeal of their brand to religious consumers by providing more services.

Among those selected post-Reformation were Albertus Magnus, the great German philosopher and patron saint of medical technicians, and Saint Charles Borromeo, a rabid witch-hunter who also happens to fend off ulcers.


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  5. A Short History of Witchcraft.!
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  7. For centuries, common folk had widely believed in witchcraft. People bought and sold magical services like love potions and spells to help find stolen belongings. That stance reversed by the mids, as Lutheranism gained ground.

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    Catholic leaders were getting nervous. That, in turn, inspired Lutheran authorities to up their witch-hunting game still more. Witch investigations were time-consuming and expensive. But the payoff could be worth it. While sometimes persecuted, they often played a key role in society. Witchcraft is often associated with the Druidism of the Dark Ages British Isles, and with similar pagan traditions across Europe.

    As the Dark Ages gave way to increasing Christianisation, many of these witchcraft traditions died out. Christianity brought with it a single epicenter of evil in the form of the Devil. Charlemagne among others actually prohibited the identification and burning of witches on these grounds. It would be a few hundred years before widespread persecution of witches began.

    In the Early Modern period, opinion on witchcraft shifted. Belief in witchcraft returned, and persecution came with it. The resulting executions killed more than 30, people. The reality behind these witch trials is complex. They were more often methods of ruling through fear, removing political opponents, and reinforcing Christian hegemony than any actual attempt to route out witchcraft.

    The Salem witch trials are perhaps the most famous example. These occurred in the New World, and still inform much of our pop cultural view of witches today. Increasing urbanization and the spread of scientific knowledge made superstitions a less dominant force in society. But this shifting system of belief did make the world safer for witches. Countries began to introduce laws to ban the persecution of witches. The rise of feminism empowered women to stand up for their rights as free individuals. Our language preserves the ridiculous nature of witch trials. Despite persecution and the march of industrialization, witchcraft found its way to the modern world.

    Since the turn of the 20th century, a revivalist movement has rebuilt the prominence of witchcraft.

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