As you have heard, witch legends credited the accused of some pretty extravagant and crazy things. Witchcraft and Sorcery were serious crimes and as such, had both serious trial procedures and very grave consequences. The people persecuting them, Inquisitors and lead hunters were well respected and thought be to doing good work. All of Europe had Witch trials and witch hunts. (And very famously, so did Salem Massachusetts.) I am going to talk to you a little bit about how two specific countries hunted and tried those accused of maleficium. As we heard, witches started off as scapegoats to blame a bad crop on. If your milk went bad because you forgot about it in the sun and didn’t want to take the rap, blame a witch! Over time however, witches got progressively more vilified and the crimes they were accused of committing got worse. The trials, treatments and torture got worse. From a modern perspective, where witchcraft is largely a joke rather something people really believe in, the question of identifying witches is intriguing. How do you find a witch? In our minds, you don’t! Very few people nowadays believe in witchcraft and much less in the methods used to determine who was a witch or not. And once you decide who is a witch, what do you do with them? According to statistics by William Monter, 60% of the 500,000 witches tried in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands were killed whereas only 10% of the 10,000 witches tried in Spain, Portugal and Italy died. And between North America and the British Isles, about 35% of the 5,000 accused were executed(Monter pg 12). Though all of the countries, 80% of those witches were women. But why such different numbers in different countries? If witches are always evil, shouldn’t the numbers be more uniform? Well the differences have to do with the fact that different countries had different laws and trail procedures. In Germany, if you were accused of being a witch, you were arrested and investigated. And more likely than not, you were a witch. In Spain, you had to be accused by two independent sources and have an actual case, with rigorous evidential standards to be committed of witchcraft. Not only did the Spanish have high standards for admissible evidence but they had many stipulations that had to be met before torture could be used or applied. Germany did not. In some extreme cases, such as Hexenbischof, the Witch Bishop, the accused weren’t even allowed to defend themselves. He ordered a special prison to be built for the accused to wait until being hung. There was no chance for defense, guaranteeing the death penalty in every single case (Encyc. Unusual site). While these cases were extreme, they showcase how emotionally involved people got. In Germany, where so many of the accused was executed, 60% of those accused were killed. In Spain, you had to be fed, questioned multiple times, have two reliable accusers willing to testify, and have some sort of proof to be a candidate for torture. However, superstition was legally backed until 1936, Spain’s last legal witch burning(expatica). It had full approval of both the church and the local government; the woman had confessed to being a witch and was mercifully strangled before her body was burned.
In both countries, a confession was a sure conviction and therefore a much easier trial that would usually result in the execution of the confessor. But how do you get someone to confess to something that doesn’t really exist, to something that they couldn’t have actually done? The answer is simple and cruel: torture. Confessions were very often tortured out of their victims. The victims were put under such intense pain that they were willing to confess to just about anything to make the pain go away. The inquisitors wanted to hear what the witches had done, so many would confess to acts they had only heard of in legends. They thought that telling the interrogators their deeds would make the torture...
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