Witch-hunt

Witch-hunt

Overview

A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft
Witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

, often involving moral panic
Moral panic
A moral panic is the intensity of feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order. According to Stanley Cohen, author of Folk Devils and Moral Panics and credited creator of the term, a moral panic occurs when "[a] condition, episode, person or group of...

, mass hysteria and lynching
Lynching
Lynching is an extrajudicial execution carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people. It is related to other means of social control that...

, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials. The classical period of witchhunts in Europe
Early modern Europe
Early modern Europe is the term used by historians to refer to a period in the history of Europe which spanned the centuries between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century...

 and North America falls into the Early Modern period
Early modern period
In history, the early modern period of modern history follows the late Middle Ages. Although the chronological limits of the period are open to debate, the timeframe spans the period after the late portion of the Middle Ages through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions...

 or about 1480 to 1750, spanning the upheavals of the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 and the Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War was fought primarily in what is now Germany, and at various points involved most countries in Europe. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history....

, resulting in an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 executions.

The last executions of people convicted as witches in Europe took place in the 18th century.
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A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft
Witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

, often involving moral panic
Moral panic
A moral panic is the intensity of feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order. According to Stanley Cohen, author of Folk Devils and Moral Panics and credited creator of the term, a moral panic occurs when "[a] condition, episode, person or group of...

, mass hysteria and lynching
Lynching
Lynching is an extrajudicial execution carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people. It is related to other means of social control that...

, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials. The classical period of witchhunts in Europe
Early modern Europe
Early modern Europe is the term used by historians to refer to a period in the history of Europe which spanned the centuries between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century...

 and North America falls into the Early Modern period
Early modern period
In history, the early modern period of modern history follows the late Middle Ages. Although the chronological limits of the period are open to debate, the timeframe spans the period after the late portion of the Middle Ages through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions...

 or about 1480 to 1750, spanning the upheavals of the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 and the Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War was fought primarily in what is now Germany, and at various points involved most countries in Europe. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history....

, resulting in an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 executions.

The last executions of people convicted as witches in Europe took place in the 18th century. In the Kingdom of Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

, witchcraft ceased to be an act punishable by law with the Witchcraft Act of 1735. In Germany
18th century history of Germany
The Holy Roman Empire in the 18th century entered a period of decline that would finally lead to its dissolution during the Napoleonic Wars.Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Empire had been fragmented into numerous independent states ....

, sorcery remained punishable by law into the late 18th century. Contemporary witch-hunts are reported from Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea , officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands...

. Official legislation against witchcraft is still found in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

 and Cameroon
Cameroon
Cameroon, officially the Republic of Cameroon , is a country in west Central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon's coastline lies on the...

.

The term "witch-hunt" since the 1930s has also been in use as a metaphor to refer to moral panics in general (frantic persecution of perceived enemies). This usage is especially associated with the Second Red Scare of the 1950s (the McCarthyist persecution of communists in the United States).

Ancient Near East


Punishment for malevolent sorcery
Sorcery
Sorcery may refer to:* Magic * Maleficium * Witchcraft* Sorcery , a video game for the PlayStation 3 utilizing the PlayStation Move* Sorcery , 1995* Sorcery , 1974...

 addressed in the earliest law codes preserved; both in ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 and in Babylonia
Babylonia
Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

 it played a conspicuous part. The Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi
The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating to ca. 1780 BC . It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted the code, and partial copies exist on a human-sized stone stele and various clay...

 (18th century BCE short chronology) prescribes that
If a man has put a spell upon another man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him and he is drowned, the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him.

Classical Antiquity


The pre-Christian Twelve Tables of pagan
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

 Roman law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

 has provisions against evil incantations and spells intended to damage cereal crops. In 331 BC, 170 women were executed as witches in the context of an epidemic illness
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

. Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

 emphasizes that this was a scale of persecution without precedent in Rome, but smaller-scale witch-hunts. In 184 BC, about 2,000 people were executed for witchcraft (veneficium), and in 182-180 BC another 3,000 executions took place, again triggered by the outbreak of an epidemic. There is no way to verify the figures reported by Roman historiographers, but if they are taken at face value, the scale of the witch-hunts in the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 in relation to the population of Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 at the time far exceeded anything that took place during the "classical" witch-craze in Early Modern Europe. Persecution of witches continued in the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 until the late 4th century AD and abated only after the introduction of Christianity as the Roman state religion in the 390s.

The Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficiis promulgated by Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix , known commonly as Sulla, was a Roman general and statesman. He had the rare distinction of holding the office of consul twice, as well as that of dictator...

 in the 2nd century BC became an important source of late medieval and early modern European law on witchcraft. Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

, Gaius Maecenas
Gaius Maecenas
Gaius Cilnius Maecenas was a confidant and political advisor to Octavian as well as an important patron for the new generation of Augustan poets...

 and Cassius Dio all reiterate the traditional Roman opposition against sorcery and divination, and Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 uses the term religio-superstitio to class these outlawed observances. The emperor Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 strengthened legislation aimed at curbing these practices.

The Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

 condemns sorcery. Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, and of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch...

 18:10-12 states "No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one that casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord;" and Exodus 22:18 prescribes "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"; tales like that of 1 Samuel 28, reporting how Saul
Saul
-People:Saul is a given/first name in English, the Anglicized form of the Hebrew name Shaul from the Hebrew Bible:* Saul , including people with this given namein the Bible:* Saul , a king of Edom...

 "hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land" suggest that in practice sorcery could at least lead to exile.

In the Judaean Second Temple period
Second Temple Judaism
Second Temple Judaism refers to the religion of Judaism during the Second Temple period, between the construction of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 515 BCE, and its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE This period witnessed major historical upheavals and significant religious changes that...

, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach
Simeon ben Shetach
Simeon ben Shetach or Shimon ben Shetach was a Pharisee scholar and Nasi of the Sanhedrin during the reigns of Alexander Jannæus and his successor, Queen Alexandra Salome , who was Simeon's sister...

 in the 1st century BC is reported to have sentenced to death eighty women who had been charged with witchcraft on a single day in Ashkelon
Ashkelon
Ashkelon is a coastal city in the South District of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, south of Tel Aviv, and north of the border with the Gaza Strip. The ancient seaport of Ashkelon dates back to the Neolithic Age...

. Later the women's relatives took revenge by bringing (reportedly) false witnesses against Simeon's son and causing him to be executed in turn.

Late Antiquity


The 6th century AD Getica of Jordanes
Jordanes
Jordanes, also written Jordanis or Jornandes, was a 6th century Roman bureaucrat, who turned his hand to history later in life....

 records a persecution and expulsion of witches among the Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 in a mythical account of the origin of the Huns
Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

. The ancient fabled King Filimer
Filimer
Filimer was an early Gothic king, according to Jordanes.He was the son of Gadareiks and the fifth generation since Berig settled with his people in Gothiscandza. When the Gothic nation had multiplied Filimer decided to move his people to Scythia where they defeated the Sarmatians. They then named...

 is said to have
"found among his people certain witches, whom he called in his native tongue Haliurunnae. Suspecting these women, he expelled them from the midst of his race and compelled them to wander in solitary exile afar from his army. There the unclean spirits, who beheld them as they wandered through the wilderness, bestowed their embraces upon them and begat this savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps, a stunted, foul and puny tribe, scarcely human, and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech."

Middle Ages


The Council of Paderborn
Council of Paderborn
The Council of Paderborn of 785, debating the matter of the Christianization of the Saxons, resolved to make punishable by law all sorts of idolatry, as well as the belief in the existence of witchcraft. It ordered the death penalty for self-appointed witch-hunters who had caused the death of...

 in 785 explicitly outlawed the very belief in witches, and Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 later confirmed the law. The Council of Frankfurt
Council of Frankfurt
The Council of Frankfurt in 794 was called by Charlemagne. This church council condemned the Adoptionist heresy and revoked decrees regarding the holy icons which were established in 787 at the Second Council of Nicaea...

 in 794, called by Charlemagne, was also very explicit in condemning "the persecution of alleged witches and wizards", calling the belief in witchcraft "superstitious", and ordering the death penalty for those who presume to burn witches.

There were also secular laws against witchcraft, such as that promulgated by King Athelstan (924-939)
And we have ordained respecting witch-crafts, and lybacs [read lyblac "sorcery"], and morthdaeds ["murder, mortal sin"]: if any one should be thereby killed, and he could not deny it, that he be liable in his life. But if he will deny it, and at threefold ordeal shall be guilty; that he be 120 days in prison: and after that let kindred take him out, and give to the king 120 shillings, and pay the wer
Weregild
Weregild was a value placed on every human being and every piece of property in the Salic Code...

 to his kindred, and enter into borh for him, that he evermore desist from the like.


Witch-hunts sponsored by the Roman Catholic Inquisition
Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

 begin only in the Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

. Although it has been proposed that the witch-hunt developed in Europe from the early 14th century, after the Cathar
Cathar
Catharism was a name given to a Christian religious sect with dualistic and gnostic elements that appeared in the Languedoc region of France and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries...

s and the Templar Knights were exterminated, and the Inquisition had to turn to persecution of witches to remain active, this hypothesis has been rejected independently by two historians (Cohn 1975; Kieckhefer 1976). They showed that the Inquisition witch hunts originated among common people in Switzerland
Old Swiss Confederacy
The Old Swiss Confederacy was the precursor of modern-day Switzerland....

 and in Croatia
Kingdom of Croatia (medieval)
The Kingdom of Croatia , also known as the Kingdom of the Croats , was a medieval kingdom covering most of what is today Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Balkans.Established in 925, it ruled as a sovereign state for almost two centuries...

, who pressed the civil courts to support them. Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII , born Jacques Duèze , was pope from 1316 to 1334. He was the second Pope of the Avignon Papacy , elected by a conclave in Lyon assembled by Philip V of France...

 had authorized the Inquisition to prosecute sorcerers in 1320, but inquisitorial courts became systematically involved in witch-hunts only in the 15th century. In the case of the Madonna Oriente
Madonna Oriente
Madonna Oriente or Signora Oriente ', also known as La Signora del Gioco ', are names of an alleged religious figure, as described by two Italian women who were executed by the Inquisition in 1390 as witches.The story which they are reported to have told is an elaborate and fantastical tale of...

, the Inquisition of Milan
Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

 was not sure what to do with two women who in 1384 and in 1390 confessed to have participated in a type of white magic
White Magic
White Magic may refer to:* White magic, healing or "good," as opposed to Black magic; see also magic * White Magic , an American rock band* White Magic , album by Swedish musician ceo...

. A major public figure who helped pave the way for the explosion of the later Witch Craze of Renaissance Europe was popular Franciscan preacher, Bernardino of Siena
Bernardino of Siena
Saint Bernardino of Siena, O.F.M., was an Italian priest, Franciscan missionary, and is a Catholic saint.-Early life:...

 (1380–1444), whose vociferous, incessant, and widely-circulating sermons against witches, witchcraft, and superstition, not only spread the belief in the reality of witches as an organized subversive band of demon-worshippers but also frightened the populations into taking extreme measures against all suspected witches. Bernardino's extensive pages on the topic of witches and witchcraft are valuable primary sources into the history of these phenomena. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, a Papal bull
Papal bull
A Papal bull is a particular type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Catholic Church. It is named after the bulla that was appended to the end in order to authenticate it....

 authorizing two inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to systemize the persecution of witches. As a result, the notorious Malleus Maleficarum
Malleus Maleficarum
The Malleus Maleficarum is an infamous treatise on witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and was first published in Germany in 1487...

was published in 1487, at the very end of the medieval period, ushering in the period of witch hunts in Early Modern Europe which would last for the following two centuries.

Early Modern Europe


The witch trials in Early Modern Europe
Early modern Europe
Early modern Europe is the term used by historians to refer to a period in the history of Europe which spanned the centuries between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century...

 came in waves and then subsided. There were trials in the 15th and early 16th centuries, but then the witch scare went into decline, before becoming a major issue again and peaking in the 17th century. Some scholars argue that a fear of witchcraft started among intellectuals who believed in maleficium: that is, harm committed by magic. What had previously been a belief that some people possessed supernatural abilities (which were sometimes used to protect the people) now became a sign of a pact between the people with supernatural abilities and the devil. To justify the killings, Christianity and its proxy secular institutions deemed witchcraft as being associated to wild Satanic
Satanism
Satanism is a group of religions that is composed of a diverse number of ideological and philosophical beliefs and social phenomena. Their shared feature include symbolic association with, admiration for the character of, and even veneration of Satan or similar rebellious, promethean, and...

 ritual parties in which there was much naked dancing, orgy sex
Orgy
In modern usage, an orgy is a sex party where guests engage in promiscuous or multifarious sexual activity or group sex. An orgy is similar to debauchery, which refers to excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures....

, and cannibalistic infanticide
Blood libel
Blood libel is a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays...

. It was also seen as heresy
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 for going against the first of the ten commandments
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

 (You shall have no other gods before me) or as violating majesty
Lèse majesté
Lese-majesty is the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.This behavior was first classified as a criminal offence against the dignity of the Roman republic in Ancient Rome...

, in this case referring to the divine majesty, not the worldly.

Witch-hunts were seen across early modern Europe, but the most significant area of witch-hunting in modern Europe is often considered to be central and southern Germany. Germany was a late starter in terms of the numbers of trials, compared to other regions of Europe. Witch-hunts first appeared in large numbers in southern France and Switzerland during the 14th and 15th centuries. The peak years of witch-hunts in southwest Germany were from 1561 to 1670. The first major persecution
Wiesensteig witch trial
Wiesensteig witch trial took place in Wiesensteig in Germany in 1562-1563. It led to the execution of 67 women for sorcery. This has been described as the first of the great witch trials of Germany and the starting point of the continuing European witch hunt...

 in Europe, when witches were caught, tried, convicted, and burned in the imperial lordship of Wiesensteig in southwestern Germany, is recorded in 1563 in a pamphlet called "True and Horrifying Deeds of 63 Witches".

In Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, the burning of witches increased following the reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 of 1536. Christian IV of Denmark
Christian IV of Denmark
Christian IV was the king of Denmark-Norway from 1588 until his death. With a reign of more than 59 years, he is the longest-reigning monarch of Denmark, and he is frequently remembered as one of the most popular, ambitious and proactive Danish kings, having initiated many reforms and projects...

, in particular, encouraged this practice, and hundreds of people were convicted of witchcraft
Witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

 and burnt. In England, the Witchcraft Act
Witchcraft Act
In England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland a succession of Witchcraft Acts have governed witchcraft and provided penalties for its practice, or for pretending to practise it.- Witchcraft Act 1542:...

 of 1542 regulated the penalties for witchcraft. In the North Berwick witch trials
North Berwick witch trials
The North Berwick witch trials were the trials in 1590 of a number of people from East Lothian, Scotland, accused of witchcraft in the St Andrew's Auld Kirk in North Berwick. They ran for two years and implicated seventy people. The accused included Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell on charges...

 in Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, over 70 people were accused of witchcraft on account of bad weather when James VI of Scotland
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

, who shared the Danish king's interest in witch trials, sailed to Denmark in 1590 to meet his betrothed Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark was queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland as the wife of King James VI and I.The second daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark, Anne married James in 1589 at the age of fourteen and bore him three children who survived infancy, including the future Charles I...

. The Pendle witch trials
Pendle witch trials
The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history, and some of the best recorded of the 17th century. The twelve accused lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, and were charged with the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft...

 of 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history.

Witch hysteria also erupted in the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

. In 1645, 46 years before the Salem witch trials, Springfield, Massachusetts
Springfield, Massachusetts
Springfield is the most populous city in Western New England, and the seat of Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States. Springfield sits on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River near its confluence with three rivers; the western Westfield River, the eastern Chicopee River, and the eastern...

 experienced America's first accusations of witchcraft
Witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

 when husband and wife, Hugh and Mary Parsons, accused each other of witchcraft. At America's first witch trial
Witch trial
A witch trial is a legal proceeding that is part of a witch-hunt. * Witch trials in Early Modern Europe, 15th–18th centuries** Salzburg witch trials - 1675-1690, Salzburg, Austria** Spa witch trial - 1616, Belgium...

, Hugh was found innocent, while Mary was acquitted of witchcraft but sentenced to be hanged for the death of her child. She died in prison. About eighty people throughout England's Massachusetts Bay Colony
Province of Massachusetts Bay
The Province of Massachusetts Bay was a crown colony in North America. It was chartered on October 7, 1691 by William and Mary, the joint monarchs of the kingdoms of England and Scotland...

 were accused of practicing witchcraft, thirteen women and two men were executed in a witch-hunt that lasted throughout New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 from 1645-1663. The Salem witch trials
Salem witch trials
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693...

 followed in 1692-93.

Once a case was brought to trial, the prosecutors hunted for accomplices. Magic was not considered to be wrong because it failed, but because it worked effectively for the wrong reasons. Witchcraft was a normal part of everyday life. Witches were often called for, along with priests, to help the ill or to deliver a baby. They help positions of pitual power in their communities. When something went wrong, no one questioned the priests or the power of the witchcraft. Instead, they questioned whether the witch intended to inflict harm or not.

Current scholarly estimates of the number of people executed for witchcraft vary between about 40,000 and 100,000. The total number of witch trials in Europe which are known to have ended in executions is around 12,000.

Prominent contemporary critics of witch hunts included Gianfrancesco Ponzinibio (fl. 1520), Johannes Wier (1515–1588), Reginald Scot
Reginald Scot
Reginald Scot was an English country gentleman and Member of Parliament, now remembered as the author of The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which was published in 1584. It was written against the belief in witches, to show that witchcraft did not exist...

 (1538–1599), Cornelius Loos
Cornelius Loos
Cornelius Loos , also known as Losaeus Callidius, was a Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and Professor of Theology, and was the first Catholic official to write publicly against the witch trials then raging throughout Europe...

 (1546–1595), Anton Praetorius
Anton Praetorius
Anton Praetorius was a German Calvinist pastor who spoke out against the persecution of witches and against torture.-Life and writings :...

 (1560–1613), Alonso Salazar y Frias (1564–1636), Friedrich Spee (1591–1635), and Balthasar Bekker
Balthasar Bekker
Balthasar Bekker was a Dutch minister and author of philosophical and theological works. Opposing superstition, he was a key figure in the end of the witchcraft persecutions in early modern Europe.-Life:...

 (1634–1698).

Execution statistics



Most modern scholarly estimates place the total number of executions for witchcraft in the 300 year period of European witch-hunts at the order of 40,000 executions.

Of those tried and prosecuted, over 80 percent were women.
Approximate statistics on the number of trials for witchcraft and executions in various regions of Europe in the period 1450–1750:
Region Number of trials Number of executions
British Isles and North America ~5,000 ~1,500–2,000
Empire (Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Lorraine, Austria and Czech) ~50,000 ~25,000–30,000
France ~3,000 ~1,000
Scandinavia ~5,000 ~1,700–2,000
Eastern Europe (Poland and Lithuania, Hungary and Russia) ~7,000 ~2,000
Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal and Italy) ~10,000 ~1,000
Total: ~80,000 ~35,000

Robert Rapley (1998) estimates that between 75 and 80 percent of the victims were women.

End of European witch hunts in the 18th century


In England, Scotland and Ireland, between 1542 and 1735 a series of Witchcraft Acts enshrined into law the punishment (often with death
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

, sometimes with incarceration
Incarceration
Incarceration is the detention of a person in prison, typically as punishment for a crime .People are most commonly incarcerated upon suspicion or conviction of committing a crime, and different jurisdictions have differing laws governing the function of incarceration within a larger system of...

) of individuals practising, or claiming to practice witchcraft and magic. The last executions for witchcraft in England had taken place in 1682, when Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards were executed at Exeter. Jane Wenham
Jane Wenham
Jane Wenham was the subject of what is commonly but erroneously regarded as the last witch trial in England. The trial took place in 1712 and was reported widely in printed tracts of the period, notably F...

 was among the last subjects of a typical witch trial in England in 1712, but was pardoned after her conviction and set free. Janet Horne
Janet Horne
Janet Horne was a Scottish alleged witch, the last person to be executed for witchcraft in Great Britain.Janet Horne and her daughter were arrested in Dornoch in Scotland and imprisoned on the accusations of her neighbours. Horne was showing signs of senility, and her daughter had a deformity of...

 was executed for witchcraft in Scotland in 1727. In 1711, Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison was an English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. He was a man of letters, eldest son of Lancelot Addison...

 published an article in the highly respected The Spectator
The Spectator
The Spectator is a weekly British magazine first published on 6 July 1828. It is currently owned by David and Frederick Barclay, who also owns The Daily Telegraph. Its principal subject areas are politics and culture...

journal (No. 117) criticizing the irrationality and social injustice in treating elderly and feeble women (dubbed Moll White) as witches. The final Act of 1735 led to persecution for fraud
Fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

 rather than witchcraft since it was no longer believed that the individuals had actual supernatural powers or traffic with Satan
Satan
Satan , "the opposer", is the title of various entities, both human and divine, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible...

. The 1735 Act continued to be used until the 1940s to prosecute individuals such as spiritualists
Spiritualism
Spiritualism is a belief system or religion, postulating the belief that spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living...

 and Gypsies. The act was finally repealed in 1951.

The last execution of a witch in the Dutch Republic was probably in 1613. In Denmark this took place in 1693 with the execution of Anna Palles. In other parts of Europe, the practice died down later. In France the last person to be executed for witch craft was Louis Debaraz in 1745. In Germany the last death sentence was that of Anna Schwegelin in Kempten
Kempten
Kempten can refer to:* Kempten im Allgäu, a town in Bavaria, Germany* Kempten ZH, a district of the town of Wetzikon in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland* Kempton Park, Gauteng, a city in South Africa which was named after Kempten in Bavaria...

 in 1775 (although not carried out).
The last known official witch-trial was the Doruchów witch trial in Poland in 1783.
Two unnamed women were executed in Posnan, Poland, in 1793, in proceedings of dubious legitimacy.

Anna Göldi
Anna Göldi
Anna Göldi Anna Göldi Anna Göldi (also Anna Göldin, October 24, 1734 – June 13, 1782 is known as the "last witch" in Switzerland. She was executed for murder in June 1782 in Glarus....

 was executed in Glarus
Glarus
Glarus is the capital of the Canton of Glarus in Switzerland. Glarus municipality since 1 January 2011 incorporates the former municipalities of Ennenda, Netstal and Riedern....

, Switzerland, in 1782, and Barbara Zdunk
Barbara Zdunk
Barbara Zdunk, , was an ethnically Polish alleged arsonist and witch who lived in the city of Reszel, now in Poland but between 1772 and 1945 part of Prussia. She is considered by many to have been the last woman executed for witchcraft in Europe. This is doubtful because witchcraft was not a...

 in Prussia in 1811. Both women have been identified as the last person executed for witchcraft in Europe, but in both cases, the official verdict did not mention witchcraft, as this had ceased to be recognized as a criminal offense.

Modern witch-hunts


Witch hunts still occur today in societies where belief in magic
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

 is predominant. In most cases, these are instances of lynching
Lynching
Lynching is an extrajudicial execution carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people. It is related to other means of social control that...

, reported with some regularity from much of Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

, from rural North India
North India
North India, known natively as Uttar Bhārat or Shumālī Hindustān , is a loosely defined region in the northern part of India. The exact meaning of the term varies by usage...

 and from Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea , officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands...

. In addition, there are some countries that have legislation against the practice of sorcery. The only country where witchcraft remains legally punishable by death is Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

.

Sub-Saharan Africa


In many societies of Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

, the fear of witches drives periodic witch-hunts during which specialist witch-finders identify suspects, with death by mob often the result. Countries particularly affected by this phenomenon include the Cameroon
Cameroon
Cameroon, officially the Republic of Cameroon , is a country in west Central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon's coastline lies on the...

, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

, the Gambia
The Gambia
The Republic of The Gambia, commonly referred to as The Gambia, or Gambia , is a country in West Africa. Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, surrounded by Senegal except for a short coastline on the Atlantic Ocean in the west....

, Ghana
Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...

, Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

, Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone , officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of and has an estimated population between 5.4 and 6.4...

, Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

 and Zambia
Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

.

Witch-hunts against children were reported by the BBC in 1999 in the Congo and in Tanzania, where the government responded to attacks on women accused of being witches for having red eyes. A lawsuit was launched in 2001 in Ghana, where witch-hunts are also common, by a woman accused of being a witch. Witch-hunts in Africa are often led by relatives seeking the property of the accused victim.

Audrey I. Richards, in the journal Africa, relates in 1935 an instance when a new wave of witchfinders, the Bamucapi, appeared in the villages of the Bemba people
Bemba people
The Bemba belong to a large group of peoples mainly in the Northern, Luapula and Copperbelt Provinces of Zambia who trace their origins to the Luba and Lunda states of the upper Congo basin, in what became Katanga Province in southern Congo-Kinshasa...

 of Zambia. They dressed in European clothing, and would summon the headman to prepare a ritual meal for the village. When the villagers arrived they would view them all in a mirror
Mirror
A mirror is an object that reflects light or sound in a way that preserves much of its original quality prior to its contact with the mirror. Some mirrors also filter out some wavelengths, while preserving other wavelengths in the reflection...

, and claimed they could identify witches with this method. These witches would then have to "yield up his horns"; i.e. give over the horn
Horn (anatomy)
A horn is a pointed projection of the skin on the head of various animals, consisting of a covering of horn surrounding a core of living bone. True horns are found mainly among the ruminant artiodactyls, in the families Antilocapridae and Bovidae...

 containers for curse
Curse
A curse is any expressed wish that some form of adversity or misfortune will befall or attach to some other entity—one or more persons, a place, or an object...

s and evil potion
Potion
A potion is a consumable medicine or poison.In mythology and literature, a potion is usually made by a magician, sorcerer, dragon, fairy or witch and has magical properties. It might be used to heal, bewitch or poison people...

s to the witch-finders. The bamucapi then made all drink a potion called kucapa which would cause a witch to die and swell up if he ever tried such things again. The villagers related that the witch-finders were always right because the witches they found were always the people whom the village had feared all along. The bamucapi utilised a mixture of Christian and native religious traditions to account for their powers and said that God (not specifying which God) helped them to prepare their medicine. In addition, all witches who did not attend the meal to be identified would be called to account later on by their master, who had risen from the dead, and who would force the witches by means of drums to go to the graveyard, where they would die. Richards noted that the bamucapi created the sense of danger in the villages by rounding up all the horns in the village, whether they were used for anti-witchcraft charms, potions, snuff or were indeed receptacles of black magic.

The Bemba people believed misfortunes such as wart
Wart
A wart is generally a small, rough growth, typically on a human’s hands or feet but often other locations, that can resemble a cauliflower or a solid blister. They are caused by a viral infection, specifically by human papillomavirus 2 and 7. There are as many as 10 varieties of warts, the most...

ings hauntings and famine
Famine
A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure, overpopulation, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Every continent in the world has...

s to be just actions sanctioned by the High-God Lesa. The only agency which caused unjust harm was a witch, who had enormous powers and was hard to detect. After white rule of Africa, beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft grew, possibly because of the social strain caused by new ideas, customs and laws, and also because the courts no longer allowed witches to be tried.

Amongst the Bantu tribes of Southern Africa
Southern Africa
Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. Within the region are numerous territories, including the Republic of South Africa ; nowadays, the simpler term South Africa is generally reserved for the country in English.-UN...

, the witch smeller
Witch smeller
Witch smellers, almost always women, were important and powerful people amongst the Zulu and other Bantu speaking peoples of Southern Africa, responsible for rooting out evil witches in the area, and sometimes responsible for considerable bloodshed themselves...

s were responsible for detecting witches. In parts of Southern Africa several hundred people have been killed in witch hunts since 1990.

Several African states, including Cameroon
Cameroon
Cameroon, officially the Republic of Cameroon , is a country in west Central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon's coastline lies on the...

 have reestablished witchcraft-accusations in courts after their independence.

It was reported on 21 May 2008 that in Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 a mob had burnt to death at least 11 people accused of witchcraft.

In March 2009 Amnesty International reported that up to 1,000 people in the Gambia
The Gambia
The Republic of The Gambia, commonly referred to as The Gambia, or Gambia , is a country in West Africa. Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, surrounded by Senegal except for a short coastline on the Atlantic Ocean in the west....

 had been abducted by government-sponsored "witch doctors" on charges of witchcraft, and taken to detention centers where they were forced to drink poisonous concoctions. On May 21, 2009, The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

reported that the alleged witch-hunting campaign had been sparked by the Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh
Yahya Jammeh
Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh is the President of The Gambia...

.

In Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone , officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of and has an estimated population between 5.4 and 6.4...

, the witch-hunt is an occasion for a sermon by the kɛmamɔi (native Mende
Mende people
The Mende people are one of the two largest and most dominant ethnic group in Sierra Leone, along with the Temne. The Mende make up 30% of Sierra Leone's total population or 1,932,015 members...

 witch-finder) on social ethics : "Witchcraft ... takes hold in people’s lives when people are less than fully open-hearted. All wickedness is ultimately because people hate each other or are jealous or suspicious or afraid. These emotions and motivations cause people to act antisocially". The response by the populace to the kɛmamɔi is that "they valued his work and would learn the lessons he came to teach them, about social responsibility and cooperation."

India


In India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, labeling a woman as a witch is a common ploy to grab land, settle scores or even to punish her for turning down sexual advances. In a majority of the cases, it is difficult for the accused woman to reach out for help and she is forced to either abandon her home and family or driven to commit suicide. Most cases are not documented because it's difficult for poor and illiterate women to travel from isolated regions to file police reports. Less than 2 percent of those accused of witch-hunting are actually convicted, according to a study by the Free Legal Aid Committee, a group that works with victims in the state of Jharkhand.

A 2010 estimate places the number of women killed as witches in India at between 150 and 200 per year, or a total of 2,500 in the period of 1995 to 2009. The lynchings are particularly common in the poor northern
North India
North India, known natively as Uttar Bhārat or Shumālī Hindustān , is a loosely defined region in the northern part of India. The exact meaning of the term varies by usage...

 states of Jharkhand
Jharkhand
Jharkhand is a state in eastern India. It was carved out of the southern part of Bihar on 15 November 2000. Jharkhand shares its border with the states of Bihar to the north, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the west, Orissa to the south, and West Bengal to the east...

, Bihar
Bihar
Bihar is a state in eastern India. It is the 12th largest state in terms of geographical size at and 3rd largest by population. Almost 58% of Biharis are below the age of 25, which is the highest proportion in India....

 and the central state of Chattisgarh.

Papua New Guinea


Though the practice of "white" magic (such as faith healing
Faith healing
Faith healing is healing through spiritual means. The healing of a person is brought about by religious faith through prayer and/or rituals that, according to adherents, stimulate a divine presence and power toward correcting disease and disability. Belief in divine intervention in illness or...

) is legal in Papua, the 1976 Sorcery Act imposes a penalty of up to 2 years in prison for the practise of "black" magic
Black magic
Black magic is the type of magic that draws on assumed malevolent powers or is used with the intention to kill, steal, injure, cause misfortune or destruction, or for personal gain without regard to harmful consequences. As a term, "black magic" is normally used by those that do not approve of its...

. In 2009, the government reports that extrajudicial torture and murder of alleged witches - usually lone women - are spreading from the Highland areas to cities as villagers migrate to urban areas.

Saudi Arabia


Witchcraft or sorcery remains a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia, although the precise nature of the crime is undefined.

The frequency of prosecutions for this in the country as whole is unknown. However, in November 2009, it was reported that 118 persons had been arrested in the province of Makkah that year for practising magic and “using the Book of Allah in a derogatory manner”, 74% of them being female. According to Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Beirut, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo,...

 in 2009, prosecutions for witchcraft and sorcery are proliferating and "Saudi courts are sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police."

In 2006, an illiterate Saudi woman, Fawza Falih
Fawza Falih
Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali was a Saudi woman who made international headlines after she was condemned to death for practicing witchcraft in 2006. In April 2011, Saudi authorities reported that she had died in 2010....

, was convicted of practising witchcraft, including casting an impotence spell, and sentenced to death by beheading, after allegedly being beaten and forced to fingerprint a false confession that had not been read to her. After an appeal court had cast doubt on the validity of the death sentence because the confession had been retracted, the lower court reaffirmed the same sentence on a different basis.

In 2007, Mustafa Ibrahim, an Egyptian national, was executed, having been convicted of using sorcery in an attempt to separate a married couple, as well as of adultery and of desecrating the Quran.

Also in 2007, Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki, a Sudanese national, was sentenced to death after being convicted of producing a spell that would lead to the reconciliation of a divorced couple.

In 2009, Ali Sibat, a Lebanese television presenter who had been arrested whilst on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to death for witchcraft arising out of his fortune-telling on an Arab satellite channel. His appeal was allowed on appeal, but a court in Medina upheld his death sentence again in March 2010, stating that he deserved it as he had publicly practised sorcery in front of millions of viewers for several years. In November 2010, the Supreme Court refused to ratify the death sentence, stating that there was insufficient evidence that his actions had harmed others.

Anthropological causes


The wide distribution of the practice of witch-hunts in geographically and culturally separated societies (Europe, Africa, India, New Guinea) since the 1960s has triggered interest in the anthropological background of this behaviour. The belief in magic
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

 and divination
Divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

, and attempts to use magic to influence personal well-being (to increase life, win love, etc.) are human cultural universal
Cultural universal
A cultural universal , as discussed by George Murdock, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Donald Brown and others, is an element, pattern, trait, or institution that is common to all human cultures worldwide. Taken together, the whole body of cultural universals is known as the human condition...

s.

Belief in witchcraft has been shown to have similarities in societies throughout the world. It presents a framework to explain the occurrence of otherwise random misfortunes such as sickness or death, and the witch sorcerer provides an image of evil
Evil
Evil is the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good. Definitions of evil vary along with analysis of its root motive causes, however general actions commonly considered evil include: conscious and deliberate wrongdoing,...

. Reports on indigenous practices in the Americas, Asia and Africa collected during the early modern age of exploration have indeed been taken to suggest that not just the belief in witchcraft but also the periodic outbreak of witch-hunts are a human cultural universal.

Metaphorical usage




In modern terminology 'witch-hunt' has acquired usage referring to the act of seeking and persecuting any perceived enemy, particularly when the search is conducted using extreme measures and with little regard to actual guilt or innocence. It is used whether or not it is sanctioned by the government, or merely occurs within the "court of public opinion".

The first such use reported by the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

dates to 1932. Another early instance is George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

's Homage to Catalonia
Homage to Catalonia
Homage to Catalonia is political journalist and novelist George Orwell's personal account of his experiences and observations in the Spanish Civil War. The first edition was published in 1938. The book was not published in the United States until February 1952. The American edition had a preface...

(1938). The term is used by Orwell to describe how, in the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, political persecutions became a regular occurrence.

The term is used when a hunt for wrongdoers becomes abused, and a defendant can be convicted merely on an accusation. For example, in the History Channel documentary America: The Story of Us
America: The Story of Us
America: The Story of Us is a six-part, 12-hour documentary television miniseries that premiered on April 25, 2010, on History...

, narrator Liev Schreiber
Liev Schreiber
Isaac Liev Schreiber , commonly known as Liev Schreiber, is an American actor, producer, director, and screenwriter. He became known during the late 1990s and early 2000s, having initially appeared in several independent films, and later mainstream Hollywood films, including the Scream trilogy of...

 explains that "the search for runaway slaves becomes a witch hunt. A black man can be convicted with merely an accusation. Unlike white people, they do not have the right to trial by jury. Judges are paid ten dollars to rule them as slaves, five to set them free."

Use of the term was popularized in the United States in the context of the McCarthyist
McCarthyism
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

 search for communists during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, which was discredited partly through being compared to the Salem witch trials
Salem witch trials
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693...

.

From the 1960s, the term was in wide use and could also be applied to isolated incidents or scandals, specifically public smear-campaigns against individuals. The phenomenon of day care sex abuse hysteria, most notably the McMartin preschool trial
McMartin preschool trial
The McMartin preschool trial was a day care sexual abuse case of the 1980s. Members of the McMartin family, who operated a preschool in California, were charged with numerous acts of sexual abuse of children in their care. Accusations were made in 1983. Arrests and the pretrial investigation ran...

 of 1984 to 1990, is another iconic example of a moral panic
Moral panic
A moral panic is the intensity of feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order. According to Stanley Cohen, author of Folk Devils and Moral Panics and credited creator of the term, a moral panic occurs when "[a] condition, episode, person or group of...

 which saw day care providers accused of what was dubbed "satanic ritual abuse
Satanic ritual abuse
Satanic ritual abuse refers to the abuse of a person or animal in a ritual setting or manner...

", i.e. the charge of physical
Physical abuse
Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm.-Forms of physical abuse:*Striking*Punching*Belting*Pushing, pulling*Slapping*Whipping*Striking with an object...

 and sexual child abuse out of an alleged Satanist
Satanism
Satanism is a group of religions that is composed of a diverse number of ideological and philosophical beliefs and social phenomena. Their shared feature include symbolic association with, admiration for the character of, and even veneration of Satan or similar rebellious, promethean, and...

 motivation. The case and the associated media coverage has been frequently termed a witch-hunt by commentators and social researchers. More generally the societal reaction to child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities , indecent exposure with intent to gratify their own sexual desires or to...

 has been criticized as a witch-hunt by some academics and commentators since the early 1990s.

See also

  • Auto-da-fé
    Auto-da-fé
    An auto-da-fé was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition or the Portuguese Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed...

  • Basque witch trials
    Basque witch trials
    The Basque witch trials of the 17th century represent the most ambitious attempt at rooting out witchcraft ever undertaken by the Spanish Inquisition...

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    Marie-Josephte Corriveau , better known as "la Corriveau", is one of the most popular figures in Québécois folklore. She lived in New France, and was sentenced to death by a British court martial for the murder of her second husband, was hanged for it and her body hanged in chains...

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    Death by burning is death brought about by combustion. As a form of capital punishment, burning has a long history as a method in crimes such as treason, heresy, and witchcraft....

  • Pierre de Lancre
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Further reading

  • Behringer, Wolfgang. Witches and Witch Hunts: A Global History. Malden Massachusetts: Polity Press, 2004.
  • Briggs, Robin. 'Many reasons why': witchcraft and the problem of multiple explanation, in Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Studies in Culture and Belief, ed. Jonathan Barry, Marianne Hester, and Gareth Roberts, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Burns, William E. Witch hunts in Europe and America: an encyclopedia (2003)
  • Cohn, Norman. Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom, Revised Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • Golden, William, ed. Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition (4 vol. 2006) 1270pp; 758 short essays by scholars.
  • Klaits, Joseph. Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985
  • Levack, Brian P. The Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1661-1662, The Journal of British Studies
    Journal of British Studies
    The publication of the , The Journal of British Studies is an academic journal published by the University of Chicago Press aimed at scholars of British culture from the Middle Ages through the present. JBS presents scholarly articles and book reviews from renowned international authors who share...

    , Vol.20, No, 1. (Autumn, 1980), pp. 90–108.
  • Levack, Brian P. The witch hunt in early modern Europe, Third Edition. London and New York: Longman, 2006.
  • Macfarlane, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and Comparative Study. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row Publishers, 1970.
  • Midlefort, Erick H.C. Witch Hunting in Southeastern Germany 1562-1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundation. California: Stanford University Press, 1972. ISBN 0804708053
  • Monter, William. "The Historiography of European Witchcraft: Progress and Prospect," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol 2 (1972), 435-451.
  • Oberman, H. A., J. D. Tracy, Thomas A. Brady (eds.), Handbook of European History, 1400-1600: Visions, Programs, Outcomes (1995) ISBN 9004097619
  • Oldridge, Darren (ed.), The Witchcraft Reader (2002) ISBN 0415214920
  • Poole, Robert. The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories (2002) ISBN 0719062047
  • Purkiss, Diane. "A Holocaust of One's Own: The Myth of the Burning Times." Chapter in The Witch and History: Early Modern and Twentieth Century Representatives New York, NY: Routledge, 1996, pp. 7–29.
  • Robisheaux, Thomas. The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (2009) ISBN 9780393065510
  • Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World, Random House, 1996. ISBN 039453512X
  • Thurston, Robert. The Witch Hunts: A History of the Witch Persecutions in Europe and North America. Pearson/Longman, 2007.
  • Purkiss, Diane. The Bottom of the Garden, Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things. Chapter 3 Brith and Death: Fairies in Scottish Witch-trials New York, NY: New York University Press, 2000, pp. 85–115.
  • West, Robert H. Reginald Scot and Renaissance Writings. Boston: Twayne Publishers,1984.
  • Briggs, K.M. Pale Hecate’s Team, an Examination of the Beliefs on Witchcraft and Magic among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and His Immediate Successors. New York: The Humanities Press, 1962.

External links