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Were the Witch Trials and Burnings for No Good Reason?

In research on the topic of witchcraft of the early modern era, little attention in given to those deemed witches. Feminist versions of the witch trials hold that the accused were often mid-wives and healers of peasant society who were burned for “no good reason” or because of poorly explained “hysteria.” Others claim it was indiscriminate prosecution of pagans.

The gimmick being employed up to the present day (including Pedogate) involves acting incredulous and slinging neuro-lingustic programming terms like “moral panic” or “ignorant haters” at those who question accepted narratives. In fact, the entire Wikipedia page on Satanism is filed with whitewashed, moral-panic accusations, canards and doth-protest-too-loudly ad hominems against those exposing the iterations of the concept of Satanism, admitted witchcraft or other forms of skulduggery.

In Defense of Carl Raschke’s ‘True Story of How Satanism is Terrorizing Our Communities’

Generally, this is a pervert justice warrior (PJW), very low-value narrative that dismisses attempts to reveal and counter Satanism, or just flat out evil as discrimination, hatred and prejudice. It is astonishing how frequently this scam is incorporated any time the awakened are asked to deny their lying eyes about the slime creatures crawling under the rocks. The following YouTube video actually does a very good job describing the brainwashing operation.

No, not much attention has been given to the behavior of accused witches. The term “witchhunt” used in current vernacular implies persecution for no valid reason. But was that the case with accused witches of that period?

The reasons the church and authorities focused attention on these individuals seems centered around Maleficium (hexic activities), which is causing harm by supernatural means. The modern version of this is psychological gangstalking.

It was no novelty for peasants and people of higher rank to suspect their neighbors of harming them by occult means. In the witch-burning era, there were groups of conjurers preying upon the vulnerable. As far back as the sixth century, the Visigoths made laws to deal with tempestarii (storm makers) who were touring the countryside and intimidating the peasants. People were paying them to spare their fields and blast the next man’s instead.

White-magic witches, called berandantes, marketed themselves as hex and curse removal specialists and conjurers of good fortune. Black magic witches were available as poisoners and disrupters. The later laid curses aka damage charms on people, in a gangstalking mode. There was an underbelly of criminal parasites operating in the witch-fear business. Many thought of the benandante as good witches, who healed and protected the crops by going out on the Ember days to fight bad witches.

Most of both witch factions were lowlife swindlers, medical quacks and extortionists. That was a social reality. One white magic poser was burned in Nuremburg for false allegations against black magicians, and of selling magic wraps against sorcery. The drama in these cases can get very twisted.

Resistance toward the benandante grew due to the financial burden and anti-social rackets they placed on the community. When a desperate person desired for a loved one to be healed, the benandante may agree to heal them but only if provided some sort of payment. Of course, even with payment — since the white witches were often quacks — the person was likely not “healed.” As such, the benandante began being viewed as “clever swindlers.” In the documentation of accusations against witches (aka conjurers), it’s maleficium that predominates. Keep in mind that this was an era when criminals were hung for simple theft.

Sometimes, participating in-groups or sects engaged in Bacchic-type orgies, or devil worship, or a form of degenerate ultra-rebellion.

See “Vicious Serial Killer Israel Keyes and the Insane Clown Posse

Rome’s Own Version of an ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ Cult: Bacchanalia Runs Amok

Heresy in and of itself was problematic during this period — but when fused with sorcery and perceived evil doings, it was a red flag and threatened the social order. Many ultra-rebellionist discordians, who rejected social and religious norms, went over to the dark side. The eccentric weirdness was noted, and these individuals sometimes self-identified as witches.

Martin Le Franc’s “The Defender of Ladies” describes the witches’ sabbath. It states, “Ten thousand old women in a troop were there, as in a great assembly in the shapes of cats or goats … pleased themselves in dancing, others still in banqueting and booze.”

Burning was also used as a form of eugenics to eliminate the criminally mentally ill, as well as ultra-rebellionists, vagrants and indigents. Those with a “malignant spirit” (demons) were targeted, and this included those with schizophrenia, disassociative identity disorder, hysteria and epilepsy. And it included nasty, mean, mentally unbalanced people. Not all accused witches were women. In Russia, the large majority of the condemned were male

They also practiced necromancy. The “Oxford English Dictionary’s” first recorded the word “necromancy” in 1456. It’s the “practice of magic involving communication with the deceased – either by summoning their spirit as an apparition or raising them bodily – for the purpose of divination, imparting the means to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge, to bring someone back from the dead, or to use the deceased as a weapon.”

Since the first century, tales of witches using necromancy for power and insight have appeared in the lore of multiple cultures. Even medieval scholars and clerics believed necromancy could help them achieve many feats, including manipulating the minds of others.

Sometimes making a blood sacrifice alongside desired food and drink would encourage the entity to feed off of those offerings instead of the necromancer’s soul.

Necromancers addressed the dead in “a mixture of high-pitch squeaking and low droning” that was comparable to the trance-state mutterings of shamans.

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The necromancer might also surround himself or herself with morbid aspects of death, which often included wearing the deceased’s clothing and consuming foods that symbolized lifelessness and decay, such as unleavened black bread and unfermented grape juice. Some also engaged in necrophilia, with the belief that sex and sexual secretions could reanimate the dead. Some necromancers even went so far as to take part in the mutilation and consumption of corpses. These ceremonies could carry on for hours, days or even weeks leading up to the eventual summoning of spirits. These went on in melancholy places, cemeteries and near battlefields or conflict zones.

All of these morbid practices were just a warm up for the eventual summoning of the spirit. To raise a physical body from the other side, the process had to occur within one year of the death, otherwise the necromancer would only be able to evoke the ghost, not the real person.

The witch-burning era was rife with warfare. The peak of burnings was during the 30 Years War (1618-1648) in Germany and Central Europe. The necromancer witches were very interested in the “restless dead,” or those who did not receive a proper burial or who died violently or too young, and who were believed to be readily accessible for necromantic rites. Necromancers preferred to summon the recently departed based on the premise that their revelations were spoken more clearly.

As a result, battlefields and wrecked towns during the 30 Years War were a boon to necromancers, who could easily recover body parts of the restless dead for their magical workings. Body snatching occurred on a vast scale. And looting the possessions of the fallen was also a prime preoccupation for people otherwise impoverished and debauched by the economic breakdowns and desolation of war.

There were also incredible numbers of civilians and soldiers left dead to be defiled, snatched and looted in the 30 Years War. Such behavior was frowned upon in villages and considered a severe sin by church authorities. An apprehended perp could be burned as necromancer witch. Stripping and looting dead bodies who fought and fell for their side angered both the Protestant and Catholic factions to no end.

Smithsonian magazine in an article on a recent mass grave excavation at a battle site:

Figuring out just who the soldiers were has proved particularly difficult because it is believed the inhabitants of the Lutzen area did a thorough job of stripping the corpses of any clothing or identifying marks. Impoverished by the long-running war, Gannon reports the locals likely had little reverence for the 9,000 soldiers that died on both sides of the conflict. Killgrove reports that even the body of Sweden’s king Adolphus, whose forces had won the battle, was stripped of clothing and jewelry by the time he was found several hours after the end of the fighting.

This activity dissipated once peace was restored in 1648 and after a number of bad actors in the death business had been executed. The greatest concentration of witch burning and civilian war casualties very much overlap as seen in red on the second map below.

The witch trials were greater and more frequent in Germany and Switzerland, where religious contests and war were the most heated. More than 40 percent of Europeans executed for witchcraft were in Germany. In Catholic strongholds — where Inquisitors were busily persecuting “heretics” — witches were mostly ignored. The Spanish Inquisition executed no more than two dozen alleged witches; Portugal put to death around seven.

Percentage of civilian deaths in conflict zones
Areas in red indicate high numbers of recorded witch burnings.

In the eyes of most Christians, bringing back non-living spirits was nothing short of demon-summoning. They believed that regardless of any perceived benefit, raising the dead flew in the face of God’s authority and only led to suffering. The medieval world typically believed the resurrection of the dead required God’s help, thereby labeling all other kinds of divination as “demon magic.”

With these bizarre-acting, ghoulish people in operation and the value of life diminished, there was heightened awareness of evil within the culture. And it’s no small wonder that the Reformation and Counter-Reformation conflict became a catalyst for the witch hunt by increasing the fear of Satan.

Early modern Europeans believed “the danger that Satan presented to a person was both physical and spiritual. Everyone, even the holiest individual, could be deceived and ensnared by the cunning treachery of Satan.”

An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 burned during the peak of the Thirty Year War and Counter Reformation period

Winter Watch Takeaway

One study found that witchcraft beliefs are associated with the acceleration of antisocial attitudes and lower levels of trust in society. It wasn’t just scapegoating poor innocent pagan witches. The more extreme and twisted behaviors of witches came from the famine, deprivations and wars of that era, as did the reactions against the witches. This was a cauldron and a prime example of the nature of war and murderous conditions in which all sorts of criminal behavior emerged from many parties. Net-net, then as now, it represents a low-point in the human spirit of these impacted locales.

19 Comments on Were the Witch Trials and Burnings for No Good Reason?

  1. Ever notice the ((( World Community ))) never hardly bothers with the victimization of the practice of “VooDoo” and other African or non-white religions???!!!

    It seems they only care about trashing anything “White”. I just caught a segment on BBC world where they were heralding the “Aztecs” and implying we have misunderstood their advanced civilization measures.

        • Casteneda’s books WERE fiction (they are even listed as fiction) but they were very interesting to read, especially Tales of Power and The Eagle’s Gift. These fiction books however WERE based on actual events. And didn’t Casteneda (spelling?) have his own cult in Pahrump, Nevada? One thing is for sure–NEVER consume jimsonweed aka devil’s claw aka Datura…stuff could kill you (nearly killed a friend of mine when his wife cooked some not knowing how dangerous it was.) That was one aspect of Cateneda’s novels I’ll never understand…didn’t they have psychedelic experiences with jimsonweed? Wow! (Datura, BTW, grows like crazy in the Southwest where I live, and northern Mexico. Yaqui’s used it like crazy!)

  2. Catholics controlled all four of the major centers of witch-burnings during the 30 Years War:

    From Wikipedia:

    “The Bamberg witch trials, which took place in Bamberg in 1626–1631, were one of a series of mass witch trials in southern Germany, contemporary with the Würzburg witch trials and others. Over an extended period these trial resulted in the executions of around 1,000 people. It belonged to the largest witch trials in history, among the largest during the Thirty Years’ War, and one of the four largest witch trials in Germany alongside the Trier witch trials, the Fulda witch trials, and the Würzburg witch trial.[1]”

    Every one of those cities’ witch burning leaders and functionaries were Catholics servicing the cause of the CounterReformation. At least three out of the four were also instigated and led by Jesuits.

    Please explain how you have confused this notion of Protestant versus Catholic practice.

    The Guardian wrote a piece on this phenomenon and related it to contemporaneous dynamics in America, also laying blame at the hands of the Protestants who happen to comprise the vast bulk of pro-whites.

    Why is this essay following a compelling series of investigations into Roman-times child and human sacrifice?

    • Protestants and Catholics literally competed in this arena. To attribute solely to Catholics is not historically accurate. In the Catholic countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and France there was little witchburning.Look at map above of England, Denmark and Sweden, all Protestant.

      • You say,

        “The witch trials were greater and more frequent in Germany and Switzerland, where religious contests and war were the most heated. More than 40 percent of Europeans executed for witchcraft were in Germany. In Catholic strongholds — where Inquisitors were busily persecuting “heretics” — witches were mostly ignored. The Spanish Inquisition executed no more than two dozen alleged witches; Portugal put to death around seven.”

        This is what is not accurate, among a few other aspects. I personally researched every one of the four epicenters of German cities mentioned in the Wikipedia passage I quoted. Every one’s witch burning movement was led by Catholics and they were all Catholic-controlled cities or undergoing a conflict over whether to remain dominated by Catholics.

        Witch burning was considered on the spectrum of the Inquisition’s line of questioning and punishing. As I said, all but three of those epicenters’ Catholic witch-hunting interrogation forces were Jesuit-run or strongly dominated by Jesuits. One famous Jesuit ‘witch’ investigator eventually wrote a penitent report in following years after realizing that all his torture-wrought confessions identifying witches were meaningless and essentially fake. It had to be smuggled out of a Catholic region to be published in a Protestant city.

        Further, you seem to conflate the practice of vandalizing dead people’s and especially soldiers’ bodies with sorcery and other types of actions that were associated with the practice of witchcraft. I don’t think most of the people accused of being witches by Catholic authorities in the accounts I read were the types who would have been rummaging through a battlefield trying to find small trinkets and used shoes, etc. They were more often the affluent secular government officials from whom power and economic resources could be wrested; typically Protestant ‘reformer’ types were targeted by Catholic Inquisitors or ‘investigators’ like the Jesuits. The non-Jesuit lower level Catholic priests who may have leaned Protestant or exhibited defiance towards the Counter-Reformers for various reasons were also targeted, but the more random peasant types who would have scavenged among the dead weren’t numbering as high among those suspected by the Catholics.

        Maybe those types were more often hunted down by Protestants for some reason(s), I don’t know, but certainly part of your or your source’s basic premise is inaccurate. The Catholic Inquisition absolutely formed a continuum of both people and practices with witch burning in those years, and far more witch-burnings were perpetrated by Catholics than by Protestants.

        And it’s unclear whether political or ‘partisan’ agendas informed the Protestants so much as their version of ‘witch hunting’ may have equated to meting out justice to robbers, swindlers and necrophiliacs – true criminals and threats to society.

        • I have read over the Wikipedia and several other internet sources of the four cities you mentioned. The sources all repeat themselves- so perhaps there are denser sources or books? Wurzburg has the most detail. Among those targeted for burning were nineteen Catholic priests. I don’t see Protestant heresy mentioned here at all. I have more citations and background on the Spanish Inquistion in Sunday’s post. So yes I upped the ante on this topic. For the record I am not Catholic.

          Looks like mostly demon possession, attending witch gatherings and sorcery, etc. Arson was mentioned. In Holland werewolf behavior was a factor.
          Some were vagrants which I also mentioned as a causation. Fulda and Trier were pre-30 Years War, so would be in far less context of the necromancer aspect.

          So I don’t exactly get your point- as the reasons for the executions are consistent with what I wrote in the post. Was it all hysteria for no good reason? Much may have been, but there are few details given about the evidence against the accused and their activities. No information is provided in the list of the executed shown on the page. There is an odd lack of context. We really once again fail to learn much about who these people were and to what extent they went to the dark side. And that brush over aspect was the primary point of my post.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I spent 20 years in a Christian church and graduated public schools and never heard any of these gruesome details.

  4. Dentures back then were made from human teeth, and dentists (or rather the surgeons who often doubled as dentists and other things) would often harvest teeth from fallen soldiers (often young men in their prime with few cavities).

  5. I reckon a heightened awareness of evil is needed in our culture. There’s no such thing as white magic or good witches. I remember only the very slightest peeps of protest from people who brought this up regarding the harry potter movies, and I was trying to find anyone in the media speaking out against them. The inversion of good into bad has obviously been happening for a long time, and it seems fewer and fewer people know the score. I was saddened to hear my 8 year old nephew was watching the disgusting show “Lucifer”- “But he’s a good guy in the show, he tortures demons!” he told me… I in no uncertain terms advised him to pull his head out of his posterior. Just another reason to cancel Netflix subscriptions. People need to stop practicing suspension of disbelief and rail against this shit in their own spheres of influence, because most people are mentally lazy and won’t do it on their own. Makes me sick

  6. I’d say burning witches etc. did not do a dang thing to end witchcraft…. Oh, and as someone who actually took part in a calling-up-the-dead-“Ouija board” (made of paper) “ritual” that scarred the crap outta me and two friends when demons showed up (including levitating the glass we used with the “Ouija board”), I’d say legislating morality won’t work either. (Event happened winter of 1970). Only thing that works is experiencing the negative consequences of practicing witchcraft, without the “burning at the stake” part. If you get scared crap-less (and have to have your friends walk you home over a mile at midnight since you’re too scared to walk home by yourself) but still continue to practice witchcraft, then any negativity you experience later is between you and God (and Satan). But without experiencing what I did and other occultist stuff, I never would have been able to author my good vs. evil redemption story prodigal band novels.

  7. Looking at the map, no persecution in Druidic Wales and Ireland (Catholic, eh?) makes sense, while persecution in Scotland (protestant) makes no sense! So Russ, again, is right….don’t just blame Catholics! (I used to be one….)

  8. Once labeled a witch, women, knowing what was in store for them, they bargained for their freedom with their sexuality. The Witch Finder General knew excactly what opportunity were coming. Male War deaths would have left scores of women unprotected.

  9. Fascinating article. What a refreshing change from the usual “poor persecuted witches were just harmless herbalists” we so often hear from dabblers in paganism. The discussion of peasants stripping fallen warriors, and all the other depravities, reminded me of the Jewish Kaballah sorcery described in the Talmud (see the “Spirits & Cemeteries” section in the “Demonology & the Pharisees” chapter of Elizabeth Dillings’ translation of the Talmud here:

    It also reminded me of a surprising thing I learned from reading a biography of Martin Luther: even he, so fearless towards the might of Rome, was worried about travelling in the countryside between towns during his preaching, because of all the Jewish gypsies, peddlers & robbers who infested it, forbidden to enter the Christian towns.

    It also made me wonder what the Jews were doing during the Thirty Years War, and it turns out that they actually benefitted from it, as this reference article shows (extract below). Just as another Jewish researcher pointed out that Jews benefitted from the invention of Islam.

    “Despite the wealth of published studies on individual German, Austrian, and Czech Jewish communities of the early modern era, it is remarkable how rare have been the attempts to synthesize the material and reach an overall assessment of the impact of the Thirty Years’ War on Central European Jewish life. This gaping lacuna was noted some years ago by S. W. Baron, whose own general discussion of this subject is virtually unique. Immensely erudite, Baron’s piece not only reveals the vast scope of the relevant material but tentatively suggests that the great European conflict was a key formative episode in the development of German Jewry, reversing earlier trends and preparing the way for the “Court Jews” of the later seventeenth century. This it undoubtedly was. Even so, Baron’s evaluation is open to criticism on several counts. In particular, he fails to bring out, or make clear, just how crucial and how favorable a phase the Thirty Years’ War was for the Jews of the Holy Roman Empire. Furthermore, while some effort is made in his essay to identify the key shifts of the period, such as an alleged drift of Jews from the countryside to the towns, it is arguable that this is not handled very convincingly or with sufficient precision. In any case, it is evident that a fuller, more systematic explanation is needed if we are to account for the singular fact that during this period of almost unparalleled disruption, turmoil, and suffering Christendom’s perennial scapegoat fared considerably better than most of the rest of German society.”

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