The time of the witch hunt

According to legend, the witches gather for "Walpurgis Night" am 1. May on Blocksberg to celebrate an eerie witch festival and gain new magic powers in league with the devil. In the imagination, witches are often old women with humps and warts who cast spells on others. In the crystal ball, witches see into the future and observe events in other places – or they mix a witch’s potion from unsavory ingredients like spider legs and frog eyes that unleashes magical powers. The image of the witch was created to give a name to inexplicable things – but also to create a "scapegoat" to have embodied evil. The cruel persecution of witches is a dark chapter in European history

The time of the witch hunt

Gradually, the image of the wicked witch riding a broom through the night caught on.

These customs of "paganism – The story of the witchcraft, which is not a religion based on the belief in one God, condemned the Christian church and described it as "the devil’s work" dar. The spring festival eventually gave rise to the legend of Walpurgis Night, the 1. May was considered the feast of the name of St. Walburga. It was said, that the patron saint Walburga protected the people from the witches and dark forces. Now in the night on the 1. May drive away the evil witches with scary costumes and masks.

Even today, this night is called "Dance into May" in many places people dress up as witches and parties are held or large "May fires" are lit sparked. There are different customs for May Day in different regions, where the celebration of fertility and spring is in the foreground, which is welcomed with decorated trees, dances and celebrations. This has nothing to do with the tradition of the expulsion of witches, although today’s customs have been influenced by old pagan as well as Christian rituals and by the myth of Walpurgis Night. How did the image of the wicked witch come into being??

The image of the witch

The time of the witch hunt

Image of a demonic witch kitchen.

The word "witch" can be interpreted quite differently. There is the wicked fairy tale witch, the wise herb woman and the "modern witch", Using the forces of nature and dealing with spiritual things. Witches do not necessarily mean demonic beings. In paganism, the witch image corresponded to a person – usually female – with supernatural abilities and special knowledge of natural healing, who often belonged to the priesthood.

The goddess Freya and other goddesses transferred their magic power and wisdom to their priestesses. As Christianity became more and more widespread, these pagan teachings and their followers were increasingly demonized and demonized. In northern and central Europe, the Germanic tribes were still convinced that witches lived in the woods and were responsible for the weather and the forces of nature. People were much more dependent on the weather at that time.

Droughts or storms determined the harvest and whether people suffered from hunger or had enough to eat. Disasters were attributed to witches, who soon became responsible only for evil. These witches rode on a fence in the imagination of the people at that time. This later changed into the image of witches riding on a broom. Already at the end of the dark Middle Ages, many women were considered "witches" called and burned at the stake. They were attributed with supernatural, diabolical powers. People thought they were allied with evil demons.

Dark time of the witch hunt

Medieval writing about the persecution of witches.

In reality, many of these women simply knew their stuff – for example, they knew how to use wild herbs to heal illnesses. Some also advised other women who were pregnant, wanted to prevent pregnancy or had a child. In a time when little was known about how a child is conceived and grows in the womb of the mother, this knowledge was scary to many. Many women were considered "witches" because they knew more than others, because they had a special effect, were simply different, or were otherwise conspicuous by their appearance.

Often, however, it was merely revenge, envy or personal gain that drove people to accuse others of witchcraft. Women, especially in the lower classes, had far fewer rights than men, were considered less intelligent – and not infrequently "hysterical". Especially strong, wise, smart and influential women did not fit into the female role model of that time and were feared or slandered. Since time immemorial, people have been looking for a scapegoat to whom everything negative could be attributed and who could be held responsible for their misery or misfortune.

Scapegoat for people’s dark fantasies

The time of the witch hunt

During the Christian Middle Ages and early modern times, the image of "sinful women" was very widespread prevalent, who brew magic potions and celebrate witch festivals.

Once you had found a culprit who combined all the dark fantasies of the people, you could "wash yourself in innocence" and pointing fingers at others. Witches were persecuted by the church because they were supposedly in league with the devil and "unchristian" in the eyes of religion were. The dark chapter of the European witch hunt took place from 13. Century to the 18. century took place. It is estimated that the persecution throughout Europe lasted between 40.000 to 60.000 deaths claimed.

The murder of women reached its peak during the 30 Years War from 1618 to 1648. The war and an unusually cold climate had ensured that the houses were destroyed, the fields devastated and the population died of hunger and disease. Many people wrote to the "wicked witches" the terrible conditions to. One quickly fell under the suspicion of being a witch. Finally, it was enough if a neighbor did not like the nose or something else allegedly "peculiar" found. A woman was also considered suspicious if she was unusual – either because she was desired by many men or because she was a witch.

Especially in the Christian late Middle Ages and early modern times, the image of the "sinful seductress" was created The witches were a form of magic, which exploited its effect on men who would unsuspectingly fall for it. At that time, witches were not necessarily imagined as ugly, old women, but also as seductive beauties. The alleged witch was denounced – and under torture the women finally said what their tormentors wanted to hear. Death at the stake killed many thousands of people. Especially women were persecuted, but sometimes men were also called "witches". Even children and animals were accused of witchcraft and killed.

Betrayal of fellow human beings and cruel torture

The time of the witch hunt

Alleged witches were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, sentenced and finally burned at the stake.

Another decisive factor was that so-called "denunciators" were persecuted, that the "witches" were not disclosed to the accused. So they had nothing to fear. Other alleged witnesses were then also sought, who took part in the conspiracy. In case of conviction they received rewards: The denunciator had the prospect of a third of the fortune – but at least two gulden.

The accusation was mostly based on pure rumors and inflammatory speeches. The accused women usually did not have the right to defend themselves. They were locked up in cellar dungeons and dark towers to await judgment. If they did not confess voluntarily, they were forced to confess their guilt under mistreatment.

In the invention of particularly torturous tortures, the cruel imagination of people at that time was unlimited. Also "witch trials were applied to recognize an alleged witch. They put her in mortal danger to test whether she could find her way out of this hopeless situation through her "magic powers" could save. For example, they were thrown into a raging river and tested to see if they could survive. If she died, then she had not been a witch – if she remained alive, she was burned as a witch.

Click on the continue arrow at the bottom right to get to the second part of the article. Find out when the last witch trial took place in Europe and in which countries there are still cruel witch persecutions today.

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