How to become a witch

As Witch In fairy tales, myths and popular belief, a witch is a woman endowed with magical powers who can cast harmful spells. [1]

In European culture, since the late Middle Ages, it was classically seen in a connection in the form of a pact or a boogeyman relationship with demons or the devil, with other criteria also being added.

In classical antiquity, "witches" appear as sorcerous human women such as Kirke and Medea, who were said to be able to enchant people and animals with magic and poisons. In the Fasti, Ovid tells of Strigae, anthropomorphic, witch-like female figures, and Horace invented Canidia, a witch who, in this story, wants to perform the well-known act of infanticide in order to brew a love potion.

At the time of the witch hunt, the term Witch respectively. Witch sporadically applied as a foreign term to women and men who were persecuted on charges of sorcery ("witchcraft"). Later it became generally accepted, especially in the scientific study of the phenomenon of "witchcraft".

The term is also used today as a pejorative term or. a swearword for a vicious, quarrelsome, unpleasant, or ugly female person. [2]

On the application of the term to men as "sorcerer" or "warlock" See also Witcher.

Table of Contents

Methodology and sources of witch research

  1. First, the etymology of the word can be studied. Here one gets information about the ideas at a time when the etymological motivation was still alive, roughly estimated to be no later than 1000 n. Chr. This finding may also be used at most for West Germanic. In addition, other witch terms in the respective languages and contexts can be analyzed and then used for comparison.
  2. A second current comes from fairy tales and legends. However, other figures can also be found here that can take on the role of the Grażyna in the same subject, such as giant, man-eater, or dragon. It is remarkable that many subjects are widespread throughout Europe or beyond – but always with the respective regionally typical equivalents of witch or man-eater. Fairy tales and legends were also recorded late – so they are already influenced by the modern witchcraft ideas and witch trials. Of course, this does not apply to the Greek legends about witches (cf. below).
  3. Third, there is information about the belief in sorcery and the punishment of sorceresses from the Bible, i.e. from the Near East. So again, the ideas are only valid for one region and for the terms in the respective language.
  4. Fourth, there are documents on witchcraft beliefs from the Middle Ages and modern times, including files on witch trials. These sources are influenced by regional folk beliefs, but also by biblical tradition. It should also be noted that the early documents were not in German or. were written in the respective vernacular language. It is sometimes problematic to use the Latin terms malefica u. a. with German Witch while z. B. Evildoer often much more neutral would be.


The word "witch

The German word witch (to mhd. hecse, hesse, ahd. hagzissa, hagazussa) is an obscured compound whose cognates are found only in the West Germanic language area: Middle Dutch haghetisse and Old English hægtesse (in New English to hag shortened). [3] The exact meaning of the word is unclear; the determiner is traditionally used with Old High German hag ‘fence, hedge, enclosure’ linked. The base word is possibly connected with norwegian tysja ‘elf’ (esp. in hulda– and haugatysja) and tusul ‘ghost’, or further with Danish tøs, Swedish tos ‘girl’ and Norwegian (dialectal) thousand ‘maid’ related. [4]

From this point of view, there is no doubt that the term belongs to religion. However, it is not proven that the term witch (resp. its predecessor) was before the Christianization a designation for cultically active persons. They are also people with special knowledge (see: esotericism), lower mythical beings or goddesses before or. of non-Christian religions should be considered.

If the intention of the term refers to the legs hanging on different sides, the term could be understood metaphorically as a description of an entity that dwells with one leg in the realm of the living, with the other in the realm of the dead. There is also the variant that the profane and the sacred realm are here opposed to each other and thus form a border or the this world and the hereafter.

Gisela Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg [5], on the other hand, sees – here u. a. to Mircea Eliade, Erik Noreen , Lily Weiser-Aall , Joseph Hansen (Magic mania, inquisition and witch trial in the Middle Ages, Munich and Leipzig 1900), Hans von Hentig and Jan de Vries – in the Old High German hag not the fenced hedge, but the single Fencepost, on which the witchcraft was riding and which later developed to the typical broom in popular imagination. Furthermore it sees in the later as witchcraft the cult practices of the Bronze Age, maternal "nature religion", which had developed from the Stone Age shamanism, and recognizes in the hag an anthropological characteristic widespread in the classical shamanism of Asia and North America, i.e. the trance-producing music drumstick, about which it is literally said in most languages of the corresponding cultures that the shaman on this mallet goes into the spirit world ride. From this stone-age ride on the drumstick the conception of a female or feminine magical being riding on a fence rail had developed through the mediation of the Bronze Age maternal religion, which in turn had been strongly negatively reinterpreted and fought against by patriarchal Indo-European tribes migrating to Europe from the beginning of the Iron Age onwards.

Early use of the word

Witch hunts initially spread mainly in the francophone language area. In the German-speaking world, the term "Hexereye" first appeared in 1419 in a sorcery trial against a man in Lucerne, Switzerland. [6] However, already in 1402/03 an account book from Schaffhausen mentions a "hegsen brand", i.e. a burning of witches. [7] The Malleus Maleficarum of the Dominican Heinrich Kramer, gen. Institoris calls the witches "maleficae" [Pl.] instead of the masculine equivalent "malefici" [Pl.] originally ‘evildoer’, only later ‘sorcerer’.

The humanist and founder of Bavarian historiography Johannes Aventinus (1477-1534), actually Johannes Turmair, thought around 1526 that the term "witch" for the old sorceresses came from the "chief … woman Hacs" (variants: Hats, Hets, Hatz) off, the wife of the legendary King Theuer, brother of King Baier, the "a great doctor" and leader of the Amazons and later to have been deified. [8]

Dealing with the witch concept in the 20. and 21. Century

  • 1949: Simone de Beauvoir publishes the work The other sex. Woman’s custom and sexus, in which she calls witches the oldest and most hackneyed of all myths: Man is lured and sucked in by "the hackneyed vocabulary of the feuilleton novels in which woman is described as a witch, a sorceress". "The depraved witch opposes passion to duty, the present moment to the unity of time, she keeps the wanderer away from home, she spreads oblivion over him".
  • 1975: Alice Schwarzer in "The small difference and its big consequences": feminists are "man-wives", "politfuries" and "brocken witches. "I was very quick to try to undermine the marking as a ‘witch on duty’. For political reasons, but also for private ones: Such gloating hurts despite all knowledge of the motives of the droolers."
  • Elga Sorge writes the Manifesto of the professing women’s church as a witch convention.
  • 1975 Emma Bonino, feminist and politician, former EU commissioner, member of the Radical Party in Italy, is named by Pope Paul VI. called a witch after she founded the information center for sterilization and abortion.
  • 1970s, Italian women demonstrated against the abortion ban, walking through the streets with the words "Tremate, tremate, le streghe son tornate" ("Tremble, tremble, the witches have returned"). Silvia Bovenschen [9] is the earliest source for this; other sources date it to the 1960s or 1980s, also to the University of Padua to. As places Rome, Milan and the University of Padua circulate; as a reason is partly also mentioned the death of a woman as a result of a rape.
  • 1977 and 1978 there were demonstrations of women against rape in Freiburg and 1981 in Kassel during Walpurgis night.
  • The term "witch hunt" is used in the present day, in contrast to its historical meaning, in a figurative sense for public vociferous and disproportionate criticism of a person who has fallen out of favor in public opinion or is otherwise disliked.

Other names in German

An older German term for the witch is Fiends or Fiend, masculine form fiend. This term also refers to ghosts or demonic beings in general. In southern Germany Drude or Trude and Truderer, Trudner, in northern Germany the Low German expressions Toversche and Toverer (= "enchantress", cf. Dutch tovenaar, "sorcerer"), Vicker’s and Wicker, Galster’s [11] and Galsterer (Middle High German Galster means "magic song," compare Nachti-"gall") or Boterin and Boter (= health "praying", healing) used (ethnobotany).

According to the attributed characteristics and abilities of the witches, the terms Milk stealer and Milchstehler, [10] Bock-reiter and Bockreiter, Fork rider and Fork rider, fence riders (túnriđur), [11] Diviner and Diviner, Sign interpreter and Sign interpreter, coat rider and Cloak rider, Crystal seer and Crystal Seer or generally Evil people (Malefikanten) uses.

Designations in other European languages

Latin terms encountered, also in German sources, include: lamia (Demoness), saga (fortune teller), striga (ancient witch, Greek στρίγξ "owl"), venefica and veneficus (poisoner, to Latin venenum malum "evil juice," "poison."), maga and magus (enchantress, derived and reinterpreted from Persian lean), malefica and maleficus ("inflicting harm"), incantatrix and incantator (with a "spell" occupying), fascinatrix and fascinator (with the "evil eye" Behexende, to Greek βάσκανος "envious talking, bewitching"), [12] sortilega And sortilegus (lot oracle interpreter), pythonissa (summoner of a "python", Greek πύθων "rotten one; spirit of the dead"). Younger formations for the German expressions forked rider and forked rider seem bacularia and bacularius ("broom"-riding, to Latin baculus "staff", or "wand"-carrying, to the baculum "staff" of the augurs); in the Latin Bible (Vulgate) the words do not occur, and Middle and New Latin is bacularius a variant of baccalarius (dependent countryman; also Baccalaureus). [13] Similar is true for herbaria (herbalist, to herba "herb"): herbariae are "herbivorous" animals, herbarius (herbalist) is a neutral designation of botanist. [14]

The most common names for witches and sorcerers in Italian (strega/stregone, from striga) and French (sorcière/sorcier, from late lat. sortiarius, to lat. sors, "lot, lot oracle," also "fate") back to. Unresolved, however, is the etymology of Spanish bruja (as well as Portuguese bruxa, Catalan bruixa); probably this word comes from a pre-Roman substrate language, i.e., Celtic or Iberian.

The English word witch is attested in Old English since 890, initially only as a masculine (wicce, i.e. "sorcerer"), after 1000 then also as feminine (wicca), whereas the sources hardly give any information about which occult skills were attributed to the so-called magicians. Whether ae. wiccian "to conjure, to witch" from the noun wicce or whether it is the other way around is as uncertain as possible relationships to a whole series of phonetically similar words in English and its North Sea Germanic neighbors. The only certainty seems to be that the verb used in Low German and Frisian especially in the sense of "to tell the truth" is wikken is cognate with wiccian is. Plausible, but at least phonetically problematic, however, is the theory going back to Jacob Grimm, according to which wiccian

wikken are not only synonyms, but etymological doublets of ae. wīglian or. nd. wigelen are and with Dutch wichelen (also "to tell the truth") finally to the word clan around the common germanic root word *wīh- "sacred, consecrated", which also got. weihs and ahd. wīh "sacred" (cf. nhd. Weihnachten), as. wīh and order. "temple, sanctuary" as well as ae. wīg

wēoh "idol, idolatrous image"; a possible non-Germanic cognate in this case, moreover, is lat. victima "sacrifice." Walter W. Skeat interpreted wicce/wicca on the other hand, as a syncopated form of the Old English word wītega "prophet, seer, interpreter of destiny" (also wītiga, wītga; cf. New English wiseacre "smart aleck"), the ahd. wîȥago which in turn gives rise to nhd. "divination" (ahd. wîȥagunga) developed. In this case the root word would be germ. *weis(s)a- "knowing" (cf. "wise", "wit") and ultimately idg. *weis- "to see, to know," and a direct cognate of wicce/wicca would therefore also be Icelandic vitki ("sorcerer", from vita, "to know"), and last but not least the English word wizard, which in the 15. It first meant "wise man" or "philosopher", but today it means "sorcerer, warlock", i.e. the masculine counterpart of the generally feminine witch represents. [15]

Real people as objects of speaking about witches

Historical development of the witch belief

An essential element of the belief in witchcraft, also referred to as witchcraft, consists in the fact that the believer is not willing to accept the category "coincidence" as an explanation for outstanding events. According to Wolfgang Behringer, it is less the belief that witchcraft must be involved here that is astonishing and in need of explanation than the extent of the "disenchantment" of the modern world, d. h. the great extent of the willingness to judge, for example, the sudden death of an infant as mere bad luck. [16]

The belief in witches is a pan-European superstition (folk belief), whose roots lie in the pre-Christian belief in gods. However, it is also used in African culture, animistic religions, etc. still widespread. This far-reaching agreement does not catch the eye, because the designations are regionally different. Thus, in the post-Celtic culture of fairies (Morgane etc.) the speech, which could be good and evil, were represented two-faced in Ireland. In the post-Germanic area the term elf stands primarily for a good being, while otherwise there is rather (probably as a result of Christian indoctrination) the evil witch. The terms fairy and elf were not applied to humans and thus were not the object of witch hunts. They kept their character as mythical beings.

The fairy-tale stereotype of the witch, namely an old woman riding a broom – often accompanied by a black bird (probably one of Odin’s two ravens) or a black cat – derives from the idea of a being that resides in hedgerows or rather groves or rides on borders. Presumably the stereotype as such is relatively new and owed to illustrations in German fairy tale books, because exact equivalents (except the ability to fly) are missing in many places in neighboring countries. From the fence pole, usually forked branches, became in the pictorial representation of the witches broom. However, this version was already subject to Christian influence. There are several explanations for the image of the fence rider: On the one hand, it could have been a kind of archaic (forest) priestess; on the other hand, an abstract image is also invoked: beings sitting on fences are on a border from cultivated space to uncultivated nature.

If the hedge can perhaps be identified with the spell circle that surrounded pre-Christian places of worship and represents a dividing line between the world on this side and the world beyond, the witch is a person who can mediate between the two worlds. She thus possesses divinatory, but also healing abilities and high knowledge, and thus has the characteristics of the pre-Christian cult bearers.

From time immemorial, the term witch has included the meanings oracle-speaker, spell-speaker, (clairvoyant) seer, and others – all attributes that were also assigned to the Norse Freya, the Irish Brigid, and other archaic goddesses.

A possible origin of the archetype "witch" is, if the etymology of the English witch true, a woman with occult or natural healing knowledge, who possibly belonged to a priesthood. This is a transfer of the abilities (healing, spellcasting, divination) of the goddess Freya and comparable goddesses in other regions to their priestesses, who continued to act in the usual manner for a long time in the early Christian environment. With the advance of Christianity, the pagan teachings and their followers were demonized.

The concept of witchcraft is, moreover, ambiguous. It denotes not only the conviction of the real and threatening existence of witches, as it was rooted in popular belief and could increase as a reaction of the authorities to the witch craze. In addition, today he can describe the (natural-religious) beliefs that refer to a pre-Christian understanding, and certain people of both sexes, who allegedly have special skills and knowledge (see: Esotericism) have, as witches designate.


In the Old Testament of the Bible sorcery is threatened with the death penalty. Especially the passage ( 2 Mos 22:17 ) – You shall not let the sorceresses live – later served as a justification for the persecutors of witches.

In the 13. Century v. Chr. the Hittite Great King Muršili II accused the Hittites of being witches. his stepmother and reigning Great Queen Tawananna to have caused both his speech defect and the death of his wife by witchcraft. [17]

Also in many ancient cults there already existed the image of the harmful sorceress and herbalist [18] sorceress. Examples are the figures Kirke and Medea in Greek mythology. Both are powerful sorceresses with herbal knowledge and various magical abilities, which they use to help or harm.

Especially the ancient goddess Hekate was strongly connected with the ancient belief in witches. Originally she was considered a benevolent and charitable goddess, but from the 5. In the sixth century B.C. she became the patroness of all magical arts. She was believed to lead the sorceresses and teach them her arts. The witchcraft imagery of ancient Greece is strongly reminiscent of the witchcraft imagery that emerged in the late Middle Ages and early modern period (ability of transformation, casting spells, witchcraft flight, herbal knowledge, human sacrifice, and corpse abuse).

In ancient Roman law, harmful sorcery (z. B. by means of curse tablets) under penalty.

Middle Ages and modern times

In the wake of the European Enlightenment, the persecution of witches was seen in many places as an evil to be overcome. In the 18. and 19. century, the practice, now condemned as cruel and inhumane persecution of human beings, was commemorated by the erection of monuments, as on the outskirts of the small Saxon-Anhalt town of Eckartsberga, where in 1563 a woman accused of witchcraft was consigned to flaming death.

Since 2002, the city of Schonebeck (Elbe) has honored the women and girls who were sentenced to death as "witches" and subsequently burned in Schonebeck and Bad Salzelmen in the "Schonebeck Memorial Park" by naming them at a women’s site. [19]

Geographical distribution of witch hunts

The modern persecution of witches was mainly concentrated in the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, England, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Lorraine, Scotland and Poland. Historians attribute this fact to the relatively weak position of the central power in these countries. Spain, Portugal and Italy were largely spared the phenomenon of witchcraft persecution. Individual cases are also documented in the American colonies (Salem witch trials) and for Finland. In 17. Nearly 140 witch trials were held in Finnmark in the seventeenth century, the first in 1601.


Since earliest time the seeds were considered as particularly magic-knowledgeable. Saxo Grammaticus writes:

"Sunt autem Finni ultimi Septentrionis populi, vix quidem habitabilem orbis terrarum partem cultura ac mansione complexi. Acer iisdem telorum est usus. Non alia gens promptiore jaculandi peritia fruitur. Gandibus& latis sagittis dimicant, incantationum studiis incumbunt, veationibus callent. Incerta illis habitatio est, vagaque domus, ubicunque, ferma occupaverint locantibus sedes. Pandis trabibus vecti, conferta nivibus juga percurrunt."

"The Finns are a people in the far north, who inhabit a scarcely habitable part of the globe and cultivate the land there. The proficient use of spears is common among them. No other people derive better benefit from the practical knowledge of spear throwing. They fight with heavy and thick arrows, they devote themselves to sorcery, have experience in hunting. their residence is not fixed, and their house is unsteady, wherever, take up residence in the wilderness. When traveling, they walk on curved planks through contiguous mountain ranges full of snow."

and Adam of Bremen writes about Olav the Saint:

"Dicunt eum inter cetera virtutum opera magnum Dei zelum habuisse, ut maleficos de terra disperderet, quorum numero cum tota barbaries exundet, praecipue vero Norvegia monstris talibus plena est. Nam et divini et augures et magi et incantatores ceterique satellites antichristi habitant ibi, quorum praestigiis et miraculis infelices animae ludibrio daemonibus habentur."

"Among other capable accomplishments, he is said to have served God with such zeal that he exterminated from his country the sorcerers, who abound more than abundantly everywhere in the world of barbarians, but Norway is in a very special degree full of such devilish beings. Here dwell soothsayers, fowlers, sorcerers, conjurors, and other servants of Antichrist, and their juggleries and arts make the unhappy souls the play-work of evil spirits."

and about the seeds he writes:

"Omnes vero christianissimi, qui in Norvegia degunt, exceptis illis, qui trans arctoam plagam circa oceanum remoti sunt. Eos adhuc ferunt magicis artibus sive incantationibus in tantum prevalere, ut se scire fateantur, quid a singulis in toto orbe geratur; tum etiam potenti murmure verborum grandia cete maris in littora trahunt, et alia multa, quae de maleficis in Scriptura leguntur omnia illis ex usu facilia sunt."

"Also, all the inhabitants of Norway are good Christians, except those who live far to the north by the ocean. Who shall have such power by magic arts and incantations, that they shall boast that they know what every man on the whole earth is doing. They also draw great whales from the sea to the shore with effective incantations, and they are accustomed to perform with ease many other things that are read of sorcerers in the Scriptures."

Already in the Icelandic sagas sorceresses are mentioned. The magic usually referred to causing severe storms or making clothes that no sword could penetrate. How the practices were carried out is almost never described. One of the very rare accounts concerns a sorcerer’s wife’s attempt to protect her wayward son from persecution by making his opponents go insane.

"Og er þeir bræður komu að mælti Hogni: ‘Hvað fjanda fer her að oss er eg veit eigi hvað er?’ Þorsteinn svarar: ‘Þar fer Ljot kerling og hefir breytilega um búist.’ Hún hafði rekið fotin fram yfir hofuð ser og for ofug og retti hofuðið aftur milli fotanna. ofagurlegt var hennar augnabragð hversu hún gat þeim trollslega skotið. Þorsteinn mælti til Jokuls: ‘Dreptu nú Hrolleif, þess hefir þú lengi fús verið.’ Jokull svarar: ‘Þess he eg nú albúinn.’ Hjo hann þa af honum hofuðið og bað hann aldrei þrIfast. ‘Ja, ja,’ saidði Ljot, ‘nú lagði allnær að eg mundi vel geta hefnt Hrolleifs sonar mIns og eruð þer Ingimundarsynir giftumenn miklir.’ Þorsteinn svarar: ‘Hvað er nú helst til marks um það?’ Hún kvaðst hafa ætlað að snúa þar um landslagi ollu ‘en þer ærðust allir og yrðuð að gjalti eftir a vegum úti með villidýrum og svo mundi og gengið hafa ef þer hefðuð mig eigi fyrr seð en eg yður.’"

"And when the brethren came near, Hogni said, ‘What devil is there coming upon us? I do not know what it is.’ Thorstein replied: ‘There comes Ljot, the old woman, and has cleaned herself strangely.’ She had thrown her clothes over her head in front and walked backwards, stretching her head back between her legs. Greyish was the look of her eyes, as they knew how to shoot it like trolls. Thorstein shouted to Jokul: ‘Now strike Hrolleif dead. You burned for a long time on it.’ Jokul answered, ‘I am glad to do that,’ and cut off his head and wished him to the devil. ‘Yes, yes,’ said Ljot, ‘now it was near that I could have avenged my son Hrolleif. But the sons of Ingimund are mighty men of fortune.’ Thorstein replied: ‘Why do you think that??’ She said she had wanted to overthrow the whole country, ‘and you would have gone mad and stayed mad outside with the wild animals. And so it would have come to pass, if you had not seen me sooner than I saw you.’"

When the English Mystery and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places unknown tried to find the Northeast Passage to China, they gave up the attempt because of pack ice and storms. This experience led in the 17. In the nineteenth century on the claim of the English that there was a plague of witches in the north. On the ridge Domen near Vardo, one of the entrances to hell was identified in 1662 (another was the volcano Hekla in Iceland). The mountain was thought to be the meeting place of witches.


In Elfdal, Dalarne, after the Thirty Years War, the first burning of witches took place on 25. August 1669 took place, to which 84 adults and 15 children fell victim.


In total there were more than 91 deaths after witch trials. [24]

Reasons for and evaluation of the accusation of witchcraft

Ancient Laws

Already the Sagas report that witches and sorcerers are to be punished because they impose their will on others by illicit, magical means or interfere with nature to cause harm to others. For example, it is reported about EirIkr bloðøx that he burned 80 sorcerers. Among the South Germanic peoples, the preparation of potions that caused female infertility was punishable by death. Minimum sentence for poison mixing, weather making and sorcery was seven years – if this was also connected with the service or pact with evil or at least supernatural powers, then 10 years became from it. From 800 onwards, the secular power pushed the investigation of these crimes more and more onto the church, which subsequently invoked the Roman law of the imperial period, according to which against sorcerers and heretics as hostes publici the duty of denunciation applies. The popes of the High Middle Ages, so Innocent III. and especially Gregory IX., continued this and thus created the foundations of the Inquisition until 1233. With the mythological being Witch or a person skilled in magic, this has then nothing more to do; the charge against mortal men consists of the combination of the offenses of apostasy and heresy.

Early modern understanding of witchcraft

  1. the Witches flight on sticks, animals, demons or with the help of flying ointments
  2. Meeting with the Devil and others Witches on the so-called witches’ sabbath
  3. the pact with the devil
  4. the sexual intercourse with the Devil (in the form of incubus and succubus, the so-called devil’s witchcraft) and
  5. the damage spell (cf. the term witchcraft).

These five characteristics formed the elaborated witch code from about 1400 onwards.

The notion of limited goods played a role in damaging magic: if a farmer’s harvest, milk yield, or other goods decrease, the cause is that someone has taken them away by magical means.
Women who had practiced veterinary medicine were also quickly targeted by the persecutors, as it was assumed that they had bewitched the cattle and thus achieved their healing successes (resp. in case of failures, it was immediately suspected that the treatment was only due to the drying up of the milk, etc. was supposed to serve). [25]

Especially women were accused of witchcraft. Part of the reason was the church’s doctrine of original sin. It suggested that women were particularly susceptible to the whispers of the devil. The Witches’ Hammer asserts that women are inherently bad, and that the few good women are weak and more easily exposed to the seductions of the devil; it is precisely in their function as midwives that they come into contact with bad juices that corrupt them and make them susceptible to the seduction of the devil.

Of great importance was the idea of a general witchcraft conspiracy. From the transfer of stereotypes that had been attributed to the Jews for centuries, the idea of a "Synagoga Satanae" (Synagogue of Satan), later called "witches’ coven. One believed to be on the track of an orgiastic meeting here, where God and his church were mocked. It was believed that the entire existence of Christianity was threatened by this "sect of witches.

Thus a mixed new understanding of the witches arose. It was no longer the harm that the witches did that was their decisive characteristic, but the apostasy from the faith and the associated turning to the devil. Now they formed a spiritual Danger; the church proceeded against its apostate believers, according to the principles of Augustine of Hippo, with coercion and fire for their salvation of souls.

Belief in witches occurs in all cultures and continents and is closely associated with taboo aspects of female sexuality, fertility, and reproduction, such as rejection of expected chastity (sexual hedonism, often associated with prostitution), birth control (understood as infanticide , which includes abortion), rejection or reversal of classical gender roles and socially prescribed norms. In summary, entities that rebelled against the disciplining of the body, the functionalization of sexuality, and the enclosure of communally administered land. The figure of the witch is also seen in contemporary interpretations as a symbol of resistance to the spread of capitalism and its forms of exploitation. [26]

21. Century

Evaluations of the great churches

In the late ancient and early medieval church, there were two competing views on witchcraft. Augustinus of Hippo concluded from the physical impossibility of conjuring to an implicit invitation of the devil to accomplish the otherwise impossible task.

This semiotic view of witchcraft, however, initially took a back seat to a view derived from the Church Fathers’ regulations on dealing with women who believed they went out with Diana at night: These women, it was said there, were to be treated with leniency because, since what they believed they were doing was physically impossible, it was based on imagination. Likewise, the regulations of Charlemagne towards the Saxons are to be understood.

Later the doctrine of the devil’s pact was developed. Although nearly 1000 years passed before organized persecution, this is one of the foundations that led to the witch hunts. In the further course of the 15. century, the image of witches as a witch sect or cult with gatherings and rites that were intended to lead to the assumption of world domination was consolidated (J. Baptier et al. a.). This, together with torture as an interrogation method, later led to the explosive spread of accusations. The age of legal witch hunts had begun.

The Roman Catholic Church was hostile to witchcraft as well as other forms of magic and sorcery. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, such practices are "gravely contrary to the virtue of the worship of God," even if they were intended to "procure health" (CCC 2117). The Protestant Church evaluates magic as an attempt "to make divine things technically available to oneself" and as a violation of the first commandment. "Magic then becomes an illegitimate interference with the absolute freedom of God." [27]

Juridical evaluations

With the European Enlightenment, criminal offenses penalizing sorcery, magic and the like were abolished. [28] It is therefore quite predominantly assumed that the superstitious or unreal attempt is not punishable. However, this result is justified differently in terms of criminal law dogmatics. [29] Any behavior in which the perpetrator "trusts in the efficacy of magical powers that do not exist or, in any case, cannot be proven according to the state of scientific knowledge" is de iure considered "superstitious". [30]

According to another view, the unreal attempt is to be put on the same level with the grossly incomprehensible attempt. According to this, the court gem. § 23 para. 3 StGB to refrain from punishment or to mitigate the punishment. Harro Otto [31], in a constitutional interpretation of § 23 para. 3 StGB always refrain from punishment. In terms of legal policy, it is demanded that the grossly incomprehensible attempt – as well as the unreal attempt – should be completely exempt from punishment, since both are neither worthy of punishment nor in need of punishment.

The Austrian penal code determines in § 15 para. 3: "The attempt and the participation in it are not punishable if the completion of the act was not possible under any circumstances due to the lack of personal qualities or circumstances that the law presupposes in the actor, or due to the nature of the act or the object on which the act was committed."The corresponding provision of the Swiss Penal Code reads: "If the perpetrator, out of gross ignorance, fails to realize that the act cannot be completed at all due to the nature of the object or the means on or with which he intends to carry it out, he shall remain unpunished." [33]

  • the invocation of an angel of death is a criminal offense
  • there are angels (here: angels of death),
  • these are basically controllable by humans and
  • the suspect belongs to the privileged group of persons to whom this is possible.

The thesis that jurists committed to the Enlightenment could not react to the attempt to harm people by sorcery by imposing a penalty is illustrated by Maximilian Becker [35] with the words: "If at a holy place at midnight under a full moon, A puts a death curse on B, who is lying in bed at home, and B dies a few minutes later of a heart attack, no one would think of punishing A for a completed crime of homicide." Also attempts he who prays for the death of his neighbor, for example, does not mean killing him, but believe only that he was trying to.

Africa and Asia

In Saudi Arabia, as recently as 2011, a woman was beheaded as a "witch" for claiming to be able to supernaturally heal illnesses and getting paid for her alleged abilities. [36]

Until 2013, "witchcraft" could be punished by law in Papua New Guinea. Perpetrators who justified their attacks on women by claiming that they had been "bewitched" by them could expect to be granted extenuating circumstances by the country’s judiciary. [37]

In response to a major inquiry by members of the Bundnis 90/Die Grunen parliamentary group on the subject of "Witchcraft and sorcery in Africa", the German government replied on 16. July 2008: In the African countries that criminalize "witchcraft" and "sorcery", there is no uniform practice with regard to the application of the corresponding penal law paragraphs. In some countries, prosecution occurs in principle due to the relevant legal provisions (Gabon, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo); in other countries, prosecution remains absent in most cases despite the existing legal basis. In a number of countries, the acts associated with "witchcraft" and "sorcery" are only punished if they are also punishable by law, such as murder, bodily harm, disturbance of public order (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire , Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Chad and Uganda). Ghana and Sudan are special cases. In Ghana, despite the lack of criminal laws, the prosecution of women on arbitrary charges occurs. Non-governmental organizations estimate the number of women deported to so-called "witch camps" to be around. 3000. In Sudan, too, there are occasional outrages against women accused of "witchcraft" without the state adequately fulfilling its protective function. The federal government considers that acts related to "witchcraft" and "sorcery", which constitute an attack on the physical integrity of human beings, must be prosecuted under criminal law. [38]

"New Witches"

The concept of witchcraft in the European-American cultural area has undergone a transformation away from the mainstream influenced by the Enlightenment. Through Margaret Alice Murray’s book Witch-Cult in Western Europe ("Cult of Witches in Western Europe") the concept of witchcraft was published in 1921 in a new conception. With the reception of early research on witch hunts (u. a. Jules Michelet, in his less systematic than intuitive-romantic work of history La Sorcière) by an alternative scene and the women’s movement, especially the idea that the witches were actually "wise women" who were persecuted by the rulers, the witch topos offers a wide spectrum of identification for neo-paganism and the esoteric scene.

The term witch is understood here in a positive new way. Nowadays many women call themselves witches, who deal among other things with medicinal herbs [39] and old European religions.

The Wiccan religion, which today sees itself as a new form of a pagan "nature religion" of witches, has many followers in the USA and is recognized there as a religion. The Celtic Witches refer specifically to roots in Celtic mythology and religion.

Male witches

Men today sometimes refer to themselves as "witches," but also as sorcerers, wizards, or warlocks.

The female and the male expression do not originate, however, from the same historical origin and evoke therefore also in each case different associations.

Children of witches (Congo)

The economic and social disintegration has led to the stigmatization of children as witch children since 2000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also in Nigeria, Togo, Tanzania and other African countries. These children are believed to have magical abilities, which they are said to use to cast spells of harm. Children stigmatized in this way are often abandoned by their mothers, persecuted and murdered.

Fictional characters in literature, film and folklore

The archetypes of the idea of witches in stories and productions are the figures of Medea and Kirke from Greek-Roman mythology (See: Ancient Roots ).


How to become a witch

Tales of witches can be found in large numbers in the collection of the Children’s and Household Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. The best known is probably the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, in which the witch is portrayed with all the characteristics that popular belief has attributed to her. This includes in particular the threat to children. The two were supported by her brother Ludwig Grimm , who as an illustrator of the first edition of the witch gave her typical appearance.

The literary and cinematic adaptations of the witch motif are countless and range from Shakespeare’s Macbeth via Goethe’s Faust and Fontane’s The bridge on the Tay until about Blair Witch Project. The traditional (horror) image of the witch lives on in modern fairy tales such as Witches of Eastwick away.

Besides this, however, a new tradition of positive images of witches appears in literature. While The Little Witch While in Otfried Preubler’s (1957) fairy tale the witch becomes an outsider because of her good deeds, today’s children’s books know mainly "good" witches (Bibi Blocksberg, Lisbeth, Zilly, Charmed) or allow for good and evil witches alike (Harry Potter). The concept of the witch has here largely lost its former negative meaning.

Evidence that the threat could also come from male actors is the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. Here the mythical tenor of the fairy tales becomes particularly clear: It is in the core about the human sacrifices in the faith of the farmers. A woman who has become rich through harvesting is supposed to give up her child as a sacrifice. This is prevented at the last moment by calling the male by his name, i.e. being recognized.

The witch often lives in a special witch house. In the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, for example, it is a gingerbread house. The witch Baba Jaga, on the other hand, lives in a little house on a chicken leg that can turn around.


In the Harz, where for the Walpurgis night the meeting of the witches on the Blocksberg (Brocken) was assumed, the witch belief is further maintained as folkloristic custom. [40]

In the area of the Swabian-Alemannic carnival as well as in the Tyrolean carnival, carnival witches appear, who in the 20. Century above all in the Swabian-Alemannic area explosively multiply have. The extent to which they can be traced back to witchcraft or the fairy tale witch has not been sufficiently clarified in folkloristic research. As carnival fires, witch dolls are often burned on Shrove Tuesday or Spark Sunday in effigy of the carnival that is coming to an end. A so-called spark fire is piled up pile of wood with a tree trunk, on the top of which hangs a witch doll (spark witch), partly filled with gunpowder. When the flames of the spark reach the witch’s doll, it explodes loudly, promising special luck. In Spain, Portugal, Central and South America, such doll burnings, even explosive, are known as Judas burnings (sp. Quema do Judas) around the New Year, but especially before Easter known and folkloristically popular.

Especially in recent times, this led again and again to discussions, because the combination witch and pyre remind of the medieval witch burnings, even if the carnival fires have basically nothing to do with it.

  • Rottenburger Stadthexen – Narrenzunft Rottenburg-Burning of the "Grand Rababou" doll in the carnival in Freiburg ue.

Psychoanalytical interpretation

Analytical psychology in the tradition of Carl Gustav Jung considers the witches appearing in dreams, legends, myths and fairy tales to be an expression of the nefasten aspect of the so-called mother archetype, i.e. the destroying and devouring mother.

Famous (alleged) witches

Authentic persons

How to become a witch

    , was in the late 14. Century v. Chr. by her stepson Muršili II. u. a. deposed as grand queen for witchcraft and placed under house arrest., burned in Rouen 1431
  • Anna Truels , burned to death on the North Frisian island of Nordstrand in 1567 [41] , born by Strantz, Wife of the former town captain of Neustettin Melchior von Doberschuetz, was beheaded on 17. December 1591 beheaded and burned at the gates of Stettin.
  • The "child witch" Agatha Gatter
  • Margaretha Hedwig (1604-?) was a girl accused of witchcraft, who, rejected by the village community, went in 1616 at the age of 12 herself before the centurion’s court of the diocese of Wurzburg, which heard the case and considered the accusations as not proven. [42]
  • Margaret Barcley († 1618), a lady of a good Scottish house, was tried, tortured, and condemned as a witch in Irvine (Ayrshire). She was strangled and burned.
  • Sidonie von Borcke (1548-1620) from the virginal convent of Marienflieb was born on 28. September 1620 beheaded in front of the mill gate and burned at the stake.
  • Maria Holl , (1549-1634), the "Witch of Nordlingen", was one of the first women to withstand all the ordeals during the 1593/1594 witch trial against her. Through her power she freed the city of Nordlingen from the witch craze. Her constancy led to doubts about the correctness of witch trials and ultimately to the rethinking of the population and the authorities., called "the witch of Neuss", was arrested in 1635, tortured at the witch’s chair and beheaded and burned in front of the windmill in Neuss on Christmas Eve 1635 at the age of about 64 years. The complete protocol of the trial is preserved in Neuss.
  • Katharina Kepler , mother of Johannes Kepler, released in 1621., Anna Roleffes, was one of the last witches to be sentenced in Brunswick and executed there on 30 September. December 1663 after nine months of imprisonment and numerous interrogations in front of the Wendentor executed "witches"., called "La Voisin", provided with her Parisian coven Madame de Montespan, the mistress of Louis XIV., and his court society with poison and held black masses against payment. 1680 she was burned with her followers at the Place de Grève., one of the witches of Salem (USA). Salem is known for the witch trials that took place in 1692. This circumstance gave the city the nickname The Witch City a., born. Trutt (* around 1688 in Wyhl am Kaiserstuhl; † 24. April 1751 in Endingen am Kaiserstuhl) was one of the last women to be publicly executed as a witch in Germany. (also: Schwagele, Schwegele, Schwegelin; * 1729 in Lachen; † 1781 in captivity in Kempten) was a maid who in 1775 was the last "witch" in the territory of present-day Germany to be sentenced to death. It is now proven that contrary to older opinion the sentence was not executed and Schwegelin died in captivity., executed in Glarus in June 1782 as the last witch (in Switzerland).

Fictional witches

  • Atsuko Kagari, main character of the Japanese animated series Little Witch Academia, main character of the radio play, animated cartoon and feature film series of the same name, minor character from the Walt Disney universe, minor character from the Walt Disney universe and in the film The Witch and the Wizard
  • Sabrina Spellman, Zelda Spellman& Hilda Spellman main characters of the television series Sabrina – Totally Bewitched!, Simsalabim Sabrina Sabrina – Bewitched Again! and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, main character in the novel of the same name by Otfried Preubler by Eberhard Alexander-Burgh
  • Bilwis Babelin from the book for young people Among Jugglers by Arnulf Zitelmann, characters from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
  • Angela Spook , art figure of the street artist Angelika Tampier (1954-2020) performing on Dusseldorf’s Konigsallee (at the Ko-Center ) [43][44]
  • The witches in the novel witches witches by Roald Dahl and the 1990 and 2020 film adaptations of the same name
  • Samantha Stephens, main character of the television series In love with a witch, one of the main characters in the TV series Buffy – Under the Spell of Demons
  • Prue, Piper, Phoebe, Paige, main characters in the television series Charmed – Enchanting Witches
  • The Witch of Blair, theme of the feature film Blair Witch Project
  • Will, Irma, Taranee, Cornelia and Hay Lin, main characters of the comic book and television series W.i.t.c.h.
  • Kiki, main character from the Japanese anime feature film Kiki’s Little Delivery Service
  • Mildred Hoppelt, main character of the children’s book and television series A lousy witch, as well as her friends Mona Mondschein, Edith Nachtschatten and other characters, one of the main characters of the Harry Potter novels, as well as other novel characters
  • Geloe, character of the novel trilogy The Mystery of the Great Swords
  • Serafina Pekkala, minor character of the novel trilogy His Dark Materials
  • Ursula, antagonist in the movie Ariel the Mermaid
  • The main characters of the anime series Magical Doremi are pupils of the cursed witch Majorika.
  • Lady Grey and the witch organization WWS in the novels Witch Three and Hunting time by Claudia Toman , main character of the video game of the same name
  • Jeanne, minor characters of the video game Bayonetta
  • Alicia Claus, main character of the video game Bullet Witch
  • Elphaba Thropp, the "Wicked Witch of the West" in the novels Wicked, Son of a Witch and A Lion among Men by best-selling U.S. author Gregory Maguire, also the main character in the Broadway musical Wicked
  • Hope Mikaelson, Lizzie Saltzman and Josie Saltzman, the main characters in the series Legacies, a spin-off of Vampire Diaries and The Originals
  • Bonnie Bennett, one of the main characters in the television series Vampire Diaries
  • Freya Mikaelson and Davina Claire from the television series The Originals
  • Macy, Melanie and Maggie, main characters of the reboot of Charmed (television series)
  • Icy, Darcy and Stormy, antagonists of the animated series Winx Club
  • Regina Mills, Emma Swan, Zelena, Cora Mills, Ingrid, Maleficent, Ursula, Cruella de Vil, Drizella Tremaine, Anastasia Tremaine Alice and Gothel, characters in the series Once Upon a Time ..
  • Lena Duchannes, main character of the fantasy novel Sixteen Moons – An Immortal Love , who describes herself as a "caster", i.e. a higher-ranking witch

Witch characters in different cultures

  • Baba Yaga, Witch in (Eastern) Slavic mythology and fairy tales
  • Jenny Greenteeth , river witch from English folklore
  • Louhi, Witch of the Northland in the Finnish Kalevala Mythos
  • Ragana , Lithuanian and Latvian witch
  • Yamauba, Japanese mountain witch
  • Yuki Onna , Japanese Snow Witch
  • Grýla, Icelandic witch character

Witches and covens in world literature

    : Macbeth.: Walpurgis Night’s Dream from Faust. The tragedy’s first part.: The bridge on the Tay: The Master and Margarita.: Lolly Willowes


  • Gabriele Becker u. a. (ed.): From the time of despair. On the Genesis and Actuality of the Image of the Witch. 9. Edition. Edition Suhrkamp. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 3-518-10840-9 .: Witches and Witch Trials in Germany. dtv, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-432-02957-9 .
  • Wolfgang Behringer: Witch hunt in Bavaria. Folk magic, religious zeal and reason of state in the early modern period. Oldenbourg, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-486-53902-7 .
  • Wolfgang Behringer: Witches: Belief, Persecution, Marketing. 6., revised edition, C.H. Beck, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-406-41882-2 .
  • Johann Diefenbach : The witch craze before and after the division of faith in Germany. Mainz 1886.: Witches and Magic. A historical introduction. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-593-38302-6 .: Saints or Witches? Fates of conspicuous women in the Middle Ages and early modern times. Artemis, Zurich 1995 u.o. (ital. u. Czech. About.) (Ed.): Hexenwelten. Magic and Imagination from the 16.-20. Century. Frankfurt am Main 1987.: Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body and the Original Accumulation. Mandelbaum-Verlag, Vienna 2012, ISBN 978-3-85476-615-5 .: The witches. A Cultural Historical Analysis. (MarixKnowledge). Marix, Wiesbaden 2012, ISBN 978-3-86539-965-6 .: Magic Noire. About Witch Beliefs in Africa. Albin Michel, Paris 2003, ISBN 2-226-13642-8 .
  • Peter Gbiorczyk: Belief in Magic and Witch Trials in the County of Hanau-Munzenberg in the 16. and 17. Jahrhundert. Shaker, Duren 2021. ISBN 978-3-8440-7902-9
  • Ronald Hutton: The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present. Yale University Press, New Haven 2017, ISBN 978-0-300-22904-2 ., Heidi Staschen, Regina Troschke: Witches. Catalog for the exhibition at the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology. Hamburg 1979.
  • Franz-Josef Kuhlen : Witchcraft – Witch Drugs. In: Pharmacy History Review. Vol. 9, 1980, S. 29-31 and 46-48.: Against Divination, Blessing and Sorcery. Ecclesiastical attempts to exclude superstition and folk magic since the 16. Jh. In: Richard van Dulmen (ed.): Crime, Punishment, and Social Control. (Studies in historical cultural research, vol. 3). Frankfurt am Main 1990, pp. 15-55.
  • Anita Lackenberger : A Devilish Work. The Ordeals of the Witch of Vienna, Torture Protocol 1583. Freya, Unterweitersdorf 1998, ISBN 3-901279-68-7 .
  • Claude Lecouteux: Hagazussa-Striga-Witch. In: Hessian Sheets for Folk and Cultural Research. Marburg 1985, 18, ISSN 0175-3479 , S. 57-70., Dietrich Lucke: Burned for their sorcery. Witch hunts in the early modern period on the territory of Saxony-Anhalt. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle 2011, ISBN 978-3-89812-828-5 .: The Witch Trials in Franconia. 1957 (= Series on Bavarian regional history. Volume 56); 2., extended edition: C. H. Beck, Munich 1970, ISBN 3-406-01982-X , esp. S. 5-11 (The concept of witchcraft).
  • H. C. Erik Midelfort : Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundations. Stanford University Press, 1972., Konrad Lautenbach: Of fiends and witches. 1489. New into German by Nicolaus Equiamicus. Ubooks, Diedorf 2008, ISBN 978-3-86608-089-8 .
  • NN: Witches. In: Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, IV, 2201-2204.
  • NN: Witches – Analyses, Sources, Documents. Electronic Resource (CD-ROM), Directmedia Publishing, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-89853-493-6 .
  • Matthias Pohlmann (ed.): New Witches. Between cult, commerce and enchantment. (EZW Texts. Vol. 186). Protestant Central Office for Worldview Questions, Berlin 2006, ISSN 0085-0357 .
  • James R. Price, Paul Jureidini: Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and other Psychological Phenomena and their Implications on Military and Paramilitary Operations in the Congo. SONO/CINFAC/6-64 Special Operations Research Office – The American University – Counterinsurgency Information Center 8. August 1964, available online at [45] , as PDF, English.: Daemonolatreia or Devil’s Service. U-Books, Diedorf 2009, ISBN 978-3-86608-113-0 .
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  • Hans Sebald : Witches then – and today? Umschau, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-524-69063-7 .: Because of much practiced sorcery and witchcraft. Witch hunt in the south of the Palatinate and in the north of Alsace. Landau in the Palatinate 2003, ISBN 3-929893-14-2 .
  • Felix Wiedemann: Race mother and rebel. Images of Witches in Romanticism, the Folkish Movement, Neo-Paganism and Feminism. Konigshausen& Neumann, Wurzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8260-3679-8 . (revised diss. Free University of Berlin 2006. Study in the history of ideas, about the ideas of "the witches of earlier times" in Germany from the Romantic period until today)
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Web links

Wiktionary: Witch – explanations of meaning, word origin, synonyms, translations

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