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European Witch Trials


Historically, witches have always been considered practitioners of magic and considered objectionable in one way or the other, but in European history, these were heretics and worshippers of the devil. The European society as a whole was well distinguished from the non-Western counterparts in terms of political systems, family structure, and educational structure at the time of the witch trials. The activities of the witch were often related to the killing of children and men and women, cattle, destruction of crops and other witty acts. It was often difficult to identify a witch due to her invisible nature.

European Witch Hunt

The European witch hunts took place in three phases that include an initial trial period from 1435 to 1500, trial activity till 1560 and a series of hunts till 1760. Germany had the largest number of witch trials, particularly in the third phase known as witch-craze that involved mass killings of 300 women.

As early as 1643, the largest witch hunt was initiated for an aged widow named Jeanne the Biau who was known to her neighbors as non de Mathieu, who was finally arrested in the village of Mont Gaillard. Her confession of the crime and the gradual emergence of five others involved in the crime are one of the highest documented cases in the European history. She had been charged with poisoning others and had unusual marks on her skin. She initially denied the charges, but later confessed her crimes.

The European witch trial had certain peculiarities. One of the distinct features of these trials is that these were often closely related with each other. One arrest of an accused often opened doors for the arrest of other suspects in the crime. The second feature of these trials is the involvement of older women in the crime that resided in a remote village. Third distinct feature was the reluctance of the officials to start the trials and these trials were often initiated by the people residing in the villages. The fourth distinct feature of these trials was that the accused were often not arrested and if arrested were not sentenced to death.


The witch trials multiplied in central and western Europe due to the fact that religious fanaticism that was encouraged by both Protestant and Catholic reformations exaggerated the fear of the ignorant and suspicious people. Both Protestant and Catholic governments sponsored witch hunting. The two great leaders of the Protestant Reformation, Luther and Calvin both supported the conduct of witch trials in their residential areas of Wittenberg and Geneva. It is estimated that nearly nine million people died in witch hunts and about seventy five percent of the victims were women.

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