NOTE: Please pay attention to the comments at the end of this post. Historians of the era tend to deeply disagree with what I say here. I still contend that the list of witch killings tends to skip the 13th century, and that major events in that century almost certainly led to genocide level loss of life, and those killings were justified with the same rhetoric and “logic” as later witch killings. Also I think the typical estimates accepted by historians are very conservative since they can’t possibly adequately sample the behavior. So, my estimate is probably very high, but the standard accepted estimates are probably very low.

I recently came across a reference to the total number of people killed for being Witches in Europe since the historically documented practice began in the early Middle Ages. (The idea of Witches is much broader than the European practice.) The number was in the tens of thousands. Looking at the reference for this in Wikipedia, this seems to be about the number accepted by Teh Wiki and whoever it is that is in charge of this particular knowledge at this time. The Wikipedia article also gives a very late date for worship of “Satan” as part of defining a “Witch.” None of this seemed right to me because of a document I recently read, which gave me the impression that Satan was a big deal quite a bit earlier on, and that the number 40 or 50 thousand was way to small.

In looking around at various sources, I’ve noticed what might be hyper skepticism over this topic. Darin Hayton is nearly vitriolic, even hyperbolic, in chastising someone else for using the phrase “hundreds of thousands.” In his post addressing the question “How Many Witches were Executed?!?”, he mentions the 40-50 thousand number, but also provides a table that adds up a bunch of numbers, by country, adding up to low vs. high estimates for executions between 57,401 and 61,651. These data are from the 14th through 17th century.

There are a few problems with these data. One is that Witch killing did not begin in 1300. There are important pre-1300 documented cases. Also, it did not end in 1700, though the post 1700 numbers are probably small. Another problem is that these numbers, as far as I can tell, are known cases or estimates of the outcome of known “Witch Hunts.” However, there seems to have been times and places where the trial and execution of Witches had become a poorly documented local matter that may have gone on as a routine slowly piling up bodies but entirely under the radar of those who must see it on paper for it to exist. As an archaeologist who has frequently compared the documented and the undocumented realities of Euro-American culture I would not finch at a 10-1 ratio of cases estimated from historical documents to actual cases. If the numbers add up to 60,000, than 600,000 would not shock me.

Nor am I proposing such a large number. I am merely noting that the method of estimation that seems to be preferred is probably way too conservative, and the time period included is at least a century too short.

I also would like to challenge the idea suggested by Teh Wiki (well, by the page maintainers) that Satan was a late comer to the equation. There seems to be evidence that a link between Witchcraft and Satan as an entity goes back farther. And, I’m going to make this challenge on the basis of a single source. Feel free to have at it.

This is said to be a 13th century depiction of witches. I don't know a thing about it. If you do, please comment below.

UPDATE: Here is a higher resolution image of the above. (See comments below about the image.) Google “Medieval Penis Tree” for more fun.

massa_marittima-mural

The following account is related in Charles MacKay’s “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions: Part I” published in 1841, in the chapter called “The Witch Mania.” The version of this that I first encountered is an audiobook I thought it would be fun to bring to the gym (and it was!), Charles MaKay’s “Witch Mania” read by Greg Waglandicon. It is also available as a book here and elsewhere. The passages quoted below are from the Gutenberg site.

This passage describes the genocide of the people living in a particular part of northern Europe. They were the people of Stedinger. “The Stedinger were settlers, mostly from Holland, who opened up marshy land next to Friesland, on the Weser. For refusing to pay tithes to the Archbishop of Bremen, a crusade was preached against them and they were wiped out in 1234.” (source) It is a little hard to say how many people were killed in this event. Eight thousand were killed on the field of battle, then the entire population was wiped out, supposedly. What percentage of a typical 13th century European population goes to the field of battle (when all possible arms are raised)? Half? A fourth? Let’s take those two numbers, and assume that somewhere between 25% of the population and 80% of the non-combatant population was actually killed. If 8,000 is half the population and 25% of the balance after battle were killed, than about 10,000 people died in this once incident in the early 13th century because they were considered to be witches, the entire population having been so declared by the Pope and others. If those in battle represented only 25% of the population and 80% of the balance after the battle were killed, then the number is more like 33,000 people killed as Witches in that one event.

In other words, I don’t think the number 50,000 holds up given that this one instance may have accounted for a number nearly that large.

I know people will object to this by saying that the people of Stedinger, who really were “wiped out” if this account is accurate, were killed because they were Witches. But, that is true of all the people who were killed as Witches. They were all not Witches, or nearly so, and the practice of “playing the Witch card” applied to all of them, including the people of Stedinger as well as the old lady down the street that someone found annoying. Go ahead and read this account and see if you can make an argument that this was not a systematic genocide using the assertion that everyone in Stedinger was a Witch as the impetus for doing so.

After this time, prosecutions for witchcraft are continually mentioned, especially by the French historians. It was a crime imputed with so much ease, and repelled with so much difficulty, that the powerful, whenever they wanted to ruin the weak, and could fix no other imputation upon them, had only to accuse them of witchcraft to ensure their destruction. Instances, in which this crime was made the pretext for the most violent persecution, both of individuals and of communities, whose real offences were purely political or religious, must be familiar to every reader. The extermination of the Stedinger, in 1234; of the Templars, from 1307 to 1313; the execution of Joan of Arc, in 1429; and the unhappy scenes of Arras, in 1459; are the most prominent. The first of these is perhaps the least known, but is not among the least remarkable. The following account, from Dr. Kortum’s interesting history ["Entstehungsgeschichte der freistadlischen Bunde im Mittelalter, von Dr. F. Kortum." 1827.] of the republican confederacies of the Middle Ages, will show the horrible convenience of imputations of witchcraft, when royal or priestly wolves wanted a pretext for a quarrel with the sheep.

The Frieslanders, inhabiting the district from the Weser to the Zuydersee, had long been celebrated for their attachment to freedom, and their successful struggles in its defence. As early as the eleventh century, they had formed a general confederacy against the encroachments of the Normans and the Saxons, which was divided into seven seelands, holding annually a diet under a large oaktree at Aurich, near the Upstalboom. Here they managed their own affairs, without the control of the clergy and ambitious nobles who surrounded them, to the great scandal of the latter. They already had true notions of a representative government. The deputies of the people levied the necessary taxes, deliberated on the affairs of the community, and performed, in their simple and patriarchal manner; nearly all the functions of the representative assemblies of the present day. Finally, the Archbishop of Bremen, together with the Count of Oldenburg and other neighbouring potentates, formed a league against that section of the Frieslanders, known by the name of the Stedinger, and succeeded, after harassing them, and sowing dissensions among them for many years, in bringing them under the yoke. But the Stedinger, devotedly attached to their ancient laws, by which they had attained a degree of civil and religious liberty very uncommon in that age, did not submit without a violent struggle. They arose in insurrection, in the year 1204, in defence of the ancient customs of their country–refused to pay taxes to the feudal chiefs, or tithes to the clergy, who had forced themselves into their peaceful retreats, and drove out many of their oppressors. For a period of eight-and-twenty years the brave Stedinger continued the struggle single-handed against the forces of the Archbishops of Bremen and the Counts of Oldenburg, and destroyed, in the year 1232, the strong castle of Slutterberg, near Delmenhorst, built by the latter nobleman as a position from which he could send out his marauders to plunder and destroy the possessions of the peasantry.

The invincible courage of these poor people proving too strong for their oppressors to cope with by the ordinary means of warfare, the Archbishop of Bremen applied to Pope Gregory IX. for his spiritual aid against them. That prelate entered cordially into the cause, and launching forth his anathema against the Stedinger as heretics and witches, encouraged all true believers to assist in their extermination. A large body of thieves and fanatics broke into their country in the year 1233, killing and burning wherever they went, and not sparing either women or children, the sick or the aged, in their rage. The Stedinger, however, rallied in great force, routed their invaders, and killed in battle their leader, Count Burckhardt of Oldenburg, with many inferior chieftains.

Again the pope was applied to, and a crusade against the Stedinger was preached in all that part of Germany. The pope wrote to all the bishops and leaders of the faithful an exhortation to arm, to root out from the land those abominable witches and wizards. “The Stedinger,” said his Holiness, “seduced by the devil, have abjured all the laws of God and man; slandered the Church–insulted the holy sacraments–consulted witches to raise evil spirits–shed blood like water–taken the lives of priests, and concocted an infernal scheme to propagate the worship of the devil, whom they adore under the name of Asmodi. The devil appears to them in different shapes; sometimes as a goose or a duck, and at others in the figure of a pale, black-eyed youth, with a melancholy aspect, whose embrace fills their hearts with eternal hatred against the holy church of Christ. This devil presides at their Sabbaths, when they all kiss him and dance around him. He then envelopes them in total darkness, and they all, male and female, give themselves up to the grossest and most disgusting debauchery.”

In consequence of these letters of the pope, the Emperor of Germany, Frederic II, also pronounced his ban against them. The Bishops of Ratzebourg, Lubeck, Osnabruek, Munster, and Minden took up arms to exterminate them, aided by the Duke of Brabant, the Counts of Holland, of Cloves, of the Mark, of Oldenburg, of Egmond, of Diest, and many other powerful nobles. An army of forty thousand men was soon collected, which marched, under the command of the Duke of Brabant, into the country of the Stedinger. The latter mustered vigorously in defence of their lives and liberties, but could raise no greater force, including every man capable of bearing arms, than eleven thousand men to cope against the overwhelming numbers of their foe. They fought with the energy of despair, but all in vain. Eight thousand of them were slain on the field of battle; the whole race was exterminated; and the enraged conquerors scoured the country in all directions–slew the women and children and old men–drove away the cattle–fired the woods and cottages, and made a total waste of the land.

Admittedly, this was a different situation than the day to day “burning” (or otherwise) of Witches, but the enormity of this does not obviate the nature of the genocide as a particular kind of act. Not counting this event when tallying up the number of killings of people in Europe during this period with the accusation of Witchcraft being the key indictment would be a little like ignoring the Holocaust in enumerating the murder of Jewish People in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. It would preposterous, don’t you think?

But still, it is a bit different than the average Witch Hunt, so I thought I’d quote another passage from MacKay’s book to give you an idea of the overall level of intensity of Witch Mania, as he calls it, during the height of it:

For fear the zeal of the enemies of Satan should cool, successive Popes appointed new commissions. One was appointed by Alexander VI, in 1494; another by Leo X, in 1521, and a third by Adrian VI, in 1522. They were all armed with the same powers to hunt out and destroy, and executed their fearful functions but too rigidly. In Geneva alone five hundred persons were burned in the years 1515 and 1516, under the title of Protestant witches. It would appear that their chief crime was heresy, and their witchcraft merely an aggravation. Bartolomeo de Spina has a list still more fearful. He informs us that, in the year 1524, no less than a thousand persons suffered death for witchcraft in the district of Como, and that for several years afterwards the average number of victims exceeded a hundred annually. One inquisitor, Remigius, took great credit to himself for having, during fifteen years, convicted and burned nine hundred.

In France, about the year 1520, fires for the execution of witches blazed in almost every town. Danaeus, in his “Dialogues of Witches,” says they were so numerous that it would be next to impossible to tell the number of them. So deep was the thraldom of the human mind, that the friends and relatives of the accused parties looked on and approved.

They were doing this for a couple of hundred years. For there to have been 40,000 deaths over that time, 200 people need to have been killed as Witches per year across Europe. Seems low to me.

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Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

Comments

  1. #1 Artor
    December 2, 2012

    In the Pagan community, there’s a meme going around that the number of “witches” killed through the Inquisition was around 9 million. I’m not sure where the number originated, but I assume it counts every tangential death, and many that couldn’t be counted as witches by any standard. I think it’s been getting discredited as more people with educations are involved in Paganism. I used to be one of them, but the anti-intellectual & historical revisionism tendencies really chafed.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2012

    I’ve heard that. I think 9 million is high but 1 or 2 million would not surprise me too much. People need to remember, though, that the populations levels were low. I’d like to know how many Europeans above the age of 10 yers. old ever existed from 1200 to 1700. I think it would NOT be in the high tens of millions.

  3. #3 Nice Ogress
    December 2, 2012

    I dunno, Europe was pretty densely packed. I mean, that’s why the plagues hit so hard, Right? Because there were cities and towns and things and people lived very closely together with terrible hygiene.

  4. #4 Stu Savory
    Germany
    December 2, 2012

    How many were killed as witches?
    About 666 % of them :-(

  5. #5 Thony C.
    December 2, 2012

    Your passage on the Stedinger Crusades is complete rubbish. They were attacked as heretics not witches and sensible sources give the total death toll as 5000 and even that is probably too high as an estimate of the entire population of a largely marsh area in the 13th century. 19th century history books are unfortunately often closer to being fantasy novels than real academic history.

  6. #6 Thony C.
    December 2, 2012

    Artor: Do you pagan sources have any idea of the real population figures in the High Middle Ages in Europe when the majority of the witch executions took place? The figure 9 million is to put it mildly a joke.

  7. #7 Thony C.
    December 2, 2012

    That should read “your sources” and not “you sources”.

  8. #8 gaian
    cascadia
    December 2, 2012

    “witches and heretics” was the chrge used to justify torturing and killing people in the name of jesus – or the pope, to be honest.

    do these figures include the ethnic cleansing of the Moors from Spain? they should.

    and the crusades against the anabaptists, the free spirits, and christian communities that did not recognize the authority of the pope. i think the 1 – 2 million guestimate is a bit low. and maybe the 9 million is too high, but somewhere in the 4-6 million range sounds likely.

    excellent article, especially now, when “christians” in the u.s. are so ready to start a religious, racial war.

  9. #9 wereatheist
    Berlin, Germany
    December 2, 2012

    I think Tony C. is right that the source cited in the article should be taken with a grain, or a handful, of salt. It´s some sort of leyenda nera. Even the Enlightenment wasn´t perfect :)

  10. #10 wereatheist
    still here
    December 2, 2012

    But then, population in western Europe, i.e. not counting Poland-Lithuania and Russia, was probabely like ~20 million during most of the Period 1300-1700, so overall number of adults (50%, or some such) and life expectancy of 30yrs gives +100 million adults during that time.

  11. #11 Flacotex
    December 2, 2012

    The charge of heresy became relevant in Europe in the 10th century as a way to destroy ones political foes. I wish the author of this piece well in his research of heresy and witchcraft.

  12. #12 wereatheist
    December 2, 2012

    After reading around a little, I´m convinced that my population numbers are far too low :( Wrong guesstimate.

  13. #13 wereatheist
    December 2, 2012

    And then, its leyendanegra. Mixing Italian and Spanish is not recommended.

  14. #14 willowmoon
    December 2, 2012

    Even one person murdered for religious reasons was too many!

  15. #15 guthrie
    December 2, 2012

    You do know that Mackay’s book is so old that it is horrendously wrong in many ways? It’s years since I had a look through it, and even then some errors were clear. I suppose I’ll have to go back and look at the alchemy section again, since I’m something of an expert at that now.

    Certainly we need a cite from Mackay regarding the alleged accusations of witchcraft; you should also read some more modern sources on the topic, because as with everything else, there’s been a lot more found out in the last 30 years. (Including the destruction of the ‘persecuted witches were inheritors of ancient pagan religion’ idea)

    On the demons being associated with witchcraft point you are likely on sounder ground. E.g. on page 604 of volume 2 of Throndike’s “History of magic and experimental science”, he writes about Thomas Aquinas writing that magic is really done by the use of demons. And for Aquinas to think that, it is likely that the idea goes back much earlier in the 13th century. I think it probably goes back to the 11/12th century and the absorption of Islamic learning in places like Sicily, which is one of the ways in which a belief in ‘magic’ of various types was modernised, i.e. they started to ask why and how instead of just accepting it.

  16. #16 guthrie
    December 2, 2012

    Hah, found the section on alchemy, spelt “alchymy”. It is the greatest collection of half truths, fables, myths and legends I have seen since I last read something by a creationist.

    One example – regarding Pope John 22nd, who in 1322 issued some piece of paper against alchemy and alchemists who defraud people, Mackay wrote:
    “This Prelate is said to have been the friend and pupil of Arnold de Villeneuve, by whom he was instructed in all the secrets of alchymy.”
    Which is of course totally wrong in every way, or at least, no modern researcher has ever published anything in support of such an assertion.

    Of course Mackay didn’t know any better, and there are some facts in there, but I wouldn’t use the Memoirs etc. as anything more than a starting point.

  17. #17 guthrie
    December 2, 2012

    Regarding the population of Europe, the internet is full of stuff, you just have to look it up.
    E.g. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pop-in-eur.asp
    = = = =
    I’d like to know how many Europeans above the age of 10 yers. old ever existed from 1200 to 1700. I think it would NOT be in the high tens of millions. = = =

    So if we take the above statement at something approaching face value, you’d be completely wrong in every way. With Britain, France, Germany, etc, you’re looking at something like 22 to 35 million, depending on before and after the plague. That suggests that in a rather smaller area than is usually used as Europe, in your 500 years, assuming 50 year lifespan, which is sort of what you expect if you survive past early childhood, you’d be looking at 200 million or more people. But that’s a guestimate, you can do a lot better than that. It’ll certainly be over 150 million, I guarantee it.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2012

    Ok, I get that 19th century sources of earlier histories are problematic in a number of ways. What are the better, more reliable sources on this particular event? (If they exist?)

    I’m seeing a lot of reasonable questions or cautions but I’m not seeing a lot of specifics. Why aren’t you people doing my homework for me???!!

    There must be a couple of papers or chapters you can assign me. I do appreciate the comments.

  19. #19 peicurmudgeon
    http://peicurmudgeon.wordpress.com/
    December 3, 2012

    Wikipedia has a page for Vox in Rama, the papal bull condemning the Stedingers. There are references to relatively recent books on the subject. I have no idea on the accuracy, although one note references a German translation of Papal bulls as a source.

  20. #20 guthrie
    December 3, 2012

    I’m sure that better sources exist. The bibliography in the back of the British Library book on “Magic in medieval manuscripts” by Sophie Page includes
    “Magic in the middle ages”, by R. Kieckhefer, Cambridge university press 1989, so it’s probably a solid book.

    There might be something useful in “The occult in Mediaeval Europe” by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart,(Palgrave, 2005) although since his book on alchemy from which I am transcribing this reference isn’t that great, I have my doubts about his book on magic; although he has spent many years lecturing at the University of St Andrews on the topic of magic and the occult, and is up to date with the literature.
    As a general rule, much more so than with science, it is best to start with books and sources from the last 30 years because so much rubbish was written in the past (and still is) and it took a disturbingly long time for people to really start mining the historical evidence that is now available.

  21. #21 mgr1
    December 3, 2012

    Attribution of nine million likely considers the crusades against the Cathars as addressing witchcraft rather than heresy. Jeffrey Russell’s book Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, suggests a transistion in the Inquisition away from the Albigiansian heresy towards witchcraft in the late twelfth century.

    Mike

  22. #22 Thony C.
    December 4, 2012

    Greg, on twitter you asked for a more detailed comment on your post and I have now found the time to fulfil your wish

    Firstly I find that your comments on Darin Hayton and his article verge on an ad hominem. Darin is an excellent professional historian, with a very good reputation, who specialises in the history of the occult in the High and Late Middle Ages. His real speciality is the history of astrology but of necessity he knows his way round the history of magic. Your attempt to dismiss his figures shows signs of hubris. The figure of 50 to 60 000 executions for witchcraft between 1450 and 1750 is also that given by Jeffrey B. Russell, a leading historian of the subject, in his A New History of Witchcraft, (Thames & Hudson, 2007). To reject these figures out of hand, as you do, is totally insulting to all historians. These figures are based on serious academic research and are not the product of somebodies imagination as are those produced by several people in your comments. Given the difficulty of the sources the figures are not as certain as scientific data but even if they were off by 100%, highly unlikely, the death toll would only be a maximum of 120 000.

    The figures are calculated for the given period because this is the period in European history of the so-called witch craze during which the hunting down, persecution and murder of people for witchcraft reached hysterical proportions. In fact the majority of these activities actually took place within the century between 1550 and 1650. The wider spectrum is to catch the beginnings and tailing off of this very strange historical phenomenon.

    Naturally people were executed for witchcraft outside of the period but the occurrences of execution for witchcraft are in comparison to the witch craze period relatively seldom. Executions for witchcraft go back into the mist of time and are still going on today in West Africa.

    We now turn to the story of the Stedinger, which is a story of a political and fiscal power struggle. These were Dutch settlers on the banks of the river Weser west of Bremen in Northern Germany. When the first settlers came in the eleventh century this was an unsettled area of marshland. They negotiated with the local feudal lord for permission to settle there. They received this permission, which included tax privileges, all of which was fixed in a written contract. Two centuries later the settlers had turned the area into a thriving agricultural settlement. This was a period in which the Catholic Church was trying to establish political dominance over Europe. One of the local Bishops tried to enforce new taxes and above all tithes on the Stedinger who quoting their contract told him to go take a jump. A local knight launched a punitive expedition against the Stedinger and got his arse kicked. At this point the Bishop realised that he needed support if his was going to subdue the Stedinger and wrote to the Pope denouncing them as heretics and requesting the official announcement of a crusade against them. The first crusade took place and also got its arse kicked at which point the Bishop turned up the heat denouncing the Stedinger as Satanists. Now within Christian persecution all witches are Satanists but not all Satanists are witches and the Stedinger were falsely accused of Satanism but not of being witches.

    This blanket accusation of Satanism against supposed heretics is very common in the High Middle Ages. It’s part of a standard smear campaign that includes such socio-political gems as well poisoning and eating babies. One finds the same accusations being levelled at Jews and Muslims throughout European history.

    Having whipped up the hatred against the Stedinger the Church launched the second crusade against them. This time a vastly superior force defeated the Stedinger militias at the battle of Altenesch and then carried out the massacre you reference. The contemporary accounts differ in the total number of people slaughtered giving figures of 6000, 4000 and 2000 somewhat different to the figures you juggle with in your post.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    December 4, 2012

    Thanks very much for the comments and for the info on the Stedinger. Is there a reference for any of that? It sounds like the accepted version is much the same as the version given in MacKay but for two points: The number involved and the satanist/witchcraft nomenclature.

    For my purposes, looking at the traditions of using witchcraft in the manners discussed in the post, I would want to combine the two into one thing. I’m not sure that a distinction is helpful other than to add detail to the traditions. (My own fieldwork has been with folks making reference to both satanism, a concept introduced by missionaries, and witchcraft, in Central Africa.)

    Regarding your initial remarks, they are very funny if you mean to be ironic about ad hominem! Of course I want to know what established historians say and I’ll figure they are probably right more often than wrong because of who they are. But that is still subject to documentation and verification.

  24. #24 Doug Alder
    December 5, 2012

    Greg, I would not find the 40-50K too far off the mark if it were confined to a tight definition of witch where the accusers (and any behind them) truly believed the person accused was a witch casting spells. This eliminates all the village herbalists/healers that were condemned by the church for not letting God heal the sick with prayer etc. All the old crones who pissed someone off etc etc etc.

    That’s the problem with this type of research – the term witch was used for so many different situations – it became a term of convenience for political control (secular and theocratic.) Another problem of course is how many “real” witches were there at the time – ones who used charms, potions and ritual to attempt to change the course of fate – a.k.a. hedge witches?

    The concept of the coven was a figment of the church’s imagination, albeit a very convenient figment. Unfortunately people like Gerald Gardner imported that concept and bunch of stuff from 19th C.Masonry, Rosicrucian, Golden Dawn and other mystical sects to create the modern concept of Wicca and much nonsense has prevailed ever since.

  25. [...] at Jethro and the mesmerist is particularly troubling. The film is set in the 1860′s and witch burnings had only ended a few decades before. The film does not shy away from the repugnance of [...]

  26. #26 Don ,MD
    Far northern Canada
    August 8, 2013

    The 9 million figure originates in 1970 era feminist critiques of traditional, and therefore male-dominated, Christianity. I wondered why that figure was picked, why not 90 million or 190 million ? people who comment on this subject need to be able to distinguish clearly in their minds the difference between medieval/catholic persecutions of. ‘heresy’ ( ie inquisitions) and early modern trials of witches ( virtually all conducted by civil courts in Protestant countries ) . Totally separate historical phenomena. The catholic church had officially suppressed witch hunting, a social problem that was inherited from pagan Rome, since the mid 5th century. Catholics could not hunt witches without formally breaking church law ; tho I do not know how exactly these laws were enforced, very few witches died in Mediterranean areas. Contemporary witch killing in Africa and Asia now exceeds any former European levels in intensity. The only third world areas which are spared seem to be in Latin America.

  27. [...] of 19 people.  The trials in America’s colonies were not the only witch trials.  In Europe, the church and state hung thousands of individuals after labeling them witches or heretics.  This practice went on for hundreds of [...]

  28. #28 Tom Mukasa
    United States
    November 2, 2013

    How have mass killing and murders been resolved over time? That was the question I was researching and a random question brought me to your link and comments of your followers. Please accept me as a follower too. Thanks for showing the way.

  29. #29 paris reilley
    February 8, 2014

    the 9 million came from the song , burning times http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeFHk4kqv1Q

  30. #30 phillydoug
    February 10, 2014

    I want to apologize in advance for hijacking this conversation. Sort of. And for an unreasonably long comment.

    I will be making reference to the Nazi program of eliminating ‘undesirables’, to draw a parallel to this discussion, not to make facile comparisons of perpetrators of genocide or witch hunts, but rather to focus on our sense of the wider society in which such events occur.

    Getting a handle on the true numbers, whatever they may be, is important in its own right. This is crucial work that historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic investigators do for the rest of us. The point of obtaining better estimates, and greater clarity and consensus of terminology (i.e., what examples are to be included in the count, and which excluded), is to allow us to better comprehend not only what it might have been like to live in Europe of the middle ages (Pinochet’s reign in Chile comes to mind), but also, perhaps, to re-evaluate the institutions and traditions that have been carried forward to today, including conventional wisdom about the origins of contemporary social and economic hierarchies worldwide.

    So, here’s the example of outstanding historical and archaeological inquiry reported last year:

    http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/war/130303/nazis-concentration-camps-holocaust-death-toll-Hitlerpreviously

    “Researchers at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum spent 13 years analyzing evidence and cataloged some 42,500 ghettos and forced labor camps run by Hitler’s regime…

    One of the lead editors in the project, called the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, Geoffrey Megargee said when the study began in 2000, he had assumed they would find about 7,000 camps and ghettos.

    But as their work continued and they discovered more and more camps, the numbers skyrocketed to 11,500, “then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.”

    (a link to the center and it’s research can be found here: http://www.ushmm.org/research/publications/encyclopedia-camps-ghettos)

    The issues raised, whether talking about witch hunts, or the Holocaust, or genocides of the modern era, include: the extent to which such brutality was a common part of everyone’s experience; the extent to which anyone might claim to be an ignorant or innocent bystander; the degree to which individuals and institutions might be viewed as culpable.

    These are, of course, questions of moral judgement.

    If the number of witch killings is closer to 2 million, or even 9 million, than to 50, 000 over a four hundred year period, it makes a big difference how we might understand the daily life of any individual living in this era: facing the very real prospect that they, or a loved one, might be fingered as a witch or a satanist, and summarily tried and executed. Talk about a terrorized populous!

    I would suggest it is also important not to view the killing of accused witches, satanists, or heretics in isolation, but instead to see these actions within a broader framework of what today would be characterized as ‘crimes against humanity’, which include forced relocation, dispossession of property, forced labor and torture:

    http://www.cs.unc.edu/~plaisted/estimates.doc‎

    ESTIMATES OF THE NUMBER KILLED BY THE PAPACY IN THE MIDDLE AGES AND LATER
    David A. Plaisted 2006
    CHAPTER 2. The plausibility of massive persecution

    “The following statement concerning England in about the year 1400 gives more insight into the extent of the persecutions.

    By this it was enacted that any one whom an ecclesiastical court should have declared to be guilty, or strongly suspected, of heresy, should, on being made over to the sheriff with a certificate to that effect, be publicly burnt.

    [footnote, page 298] It is remarked that England was the only country where such a statute was needed, as elsewhere the secular powers at once carried out the sentence.

    – James C. Robertson, History of the Christian Church, The Young Churchman Co., 1904, p. 297.

    These persecutions were not necessarily directed by the hierarchy of the church, but for the most part probably originated at a much lower level, from the “ecclesiastical feudalism” of the Middle Ages, as described by Williams:

    Abbes and bishops in consequence became suzerains, temporal lords, having numerous vassals ready to take up arms for their cause, counts of justice – in fact all the prerogatives exercised by the great landlords. … This ecclesiastical feudalism was so extensive, so powerful, that in France and England it possessed during the Middle Ages more than a fifth of all the land; in Germany nearly a third.

    – Williams, Henry Smith, The Historian’s History of the World, vol. 8, p. 487.

    Probably the greatest number of those who perished by the Papacy in Europe did so at the hands of these local authorities, on the grounds of suspected heresy or opposition to the church, and not necessarily at the direction of the Pope, preceded by a trial, nor mentioned in records. Who would there have been to interfere with the actions of the local abbes and bishops? The constant elimination of a few heretics here and there, in many locations, continued for many years, could easily have added up to a total of millions without making much of an impression on recorded history. Throughout the Middle Ages as the possessions of the church increased, so would the number and power of these officials have increased, together with the number of their victims. During the Crusades, their attention may have been externally directed, but with these ending in about 1272, the number of martyrs within Europe could have greatly increased.
    The persecutions were not at all limited to the Inquisition, but took many forms. Many of the victims were killed secretly and never brought to trial or sentenced. These deaths would never have appeared in the official records of the Inquisition. Such persecutions even continued until very recent times, as illustrated by the following (quoting Brownlee)…
    But woe to the patriot who shall whisper an insinuation, or print an effusion of a noble spirit, bursting with holy indignation against the hypocrisy, the priestly espionage, and despotism of popery! This is the only unpardonable sin at Rome. It can never be forgiven him, either in this world, or in purgatory! The dungeon cells, placed by papal care, at the bishop’s service, in each cathedral; and the cells of the inquisition, and the agonies, and moanings, and shrieks of the oppressed, breathed only on the ear of heaven -these-these are the overwhelming proofs of popery’s deadly hostility to the freedom of speech, and the press!
    This description of persecution derives from the testimony of many travelers to Catholic countries at that time. If such persecution took place in the early nineteenth century, how much more must it have occurred in the Middle Ages when the Papacy was at the height of its power! For example, M’Crie relates (The Reformation in Spain, pp. 181-188) how a Spaniard in the year 1546 converted to Protestantism and was in consequence killed by his brother, who never was punished for his deed. There must have been many such assassinations in the Middle Ages by loyal Catholics who were jealous for the reputation of the Virgin Mary. In fact, threats and persecution even took place in the United States, according to Brownlee, pp. 210-211”

    (According to Prof. Plaisted’s UNC biography, he received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University. He served on the faculty of the computer science department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until 1984, and since then has been a full professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

    *****

    You get the point.

    In my view, of trying to achieve a more accurate accounting of atrocities by the collaborative efforts of religious institutions, governing authorities, and local officials, allows us to better grapple with these same atrocities being carried out to this day around the world; carried out, I might add, by an uncannily similar group of institutions and individuals, for much the same religious, political, and economic reasons as they were six hundred years ago.

    We also might begin to look more critically at the deference and moral authority historically granted these institutions, and those fortunate enough to occupy positions of status and privilege within them.

  31. #31 Ginger
    Buffalo
    March 7, 2014

    Yes, but how many of the murdered were WOMEN? That’s really what the witch hunts were all about – the RCC in it’s fanatical misogyny feared those women who were medically knowledgablek who clung to the old ways and didn’t accept their sacred MALE god and this after centuries of wiping out all Goddess worshiping peoples. . Why this evil entity still continues to exist, still holds sway over so many weak minds, I’ll never understand.

  32. #32 susan
    March 25, 2014

    check out the book “Women Church and State” by Gage (who actually lived in the small NE town I live in)–it is another 19th century book. it is a feminists take on the oppression of women by the church. she says the number of women killed as witches were 6 million. i don’t remember if she justified that number in any way. http://www.amazon.com/Woman-Church-Classics-Womens-Studies/dp/1591020077

  33. […] 2. In Medieval Times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

  34. […] 2. In Medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

  35. […] 2. In medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

  36. […] than a perfection to be ascended to.  And through the burning at the stake of tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of women, so called witches during the dark ages, removing their wisdom from our […]

  37. […] Een ideale zondebok was geboren. Eva symboliseerde de inferioriteit van de vrouw en verexcuseerde daarmee de vrouwenhaat van geestelijken en andere mannelijke autoriteiten. Zij beschuldigden vrouwen van ontembare seksuele lusten, slangachtig gekonkel en heulen met de duivel. Alleen leven als Maria, in de vorm van kuisheid en onderdanigheid aan mannen, konden vrouwen redden. En dan nog bleven ze onder verdenking staan. Met als uitwas de heksenvervolgingen, die al met al in Europa tienduizenden vrouwen de dood injoegen. […]

  38. #39 Women are Wrong
    July 9, 2014

    […] external perfection to be ascended to.  And through the burning at the stake of tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of women, so called witches during the dark ages, removing their font of wisdom from our […]

  39. #40 Joanna
    UK
    August 5, 2014

    This whole post is, I believe, based on the misnomer that burning at the stake was the punishment for ‘witchcraft’ when in reality it was the punishment for heresy.
    Heresy was actually much broader than witchcraft, and could involve such offenses as denying the authority of the Pope, or sexual immorality as part of a religious ritual. Many people were killed for heresy, but I think the number who were accused of ‘witchcraft’ was actually far lower. I think the problem is that people today have conflated the two, and think that everyone who was ever burned was burned as a ‘witch’. This was not the case.
    The Lollards, Hussies and Albigenses were not ‘witches’, nor were they accused of being such. Nor were the likes of William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer. Indeed, the vast majority of people killed for heresy in the Middle Ages would probably have considered themselves to be Christians, not witches or neo-pagans……

  40. #41 Greg Laden
    August 5, 2014

    Heresy certainly is a broader category. Historians rarely look to before 1300 for Witchcraft/Witches in Europe. What I’m proposing here, essentially, is that there are pre 1300 precursors or even,simply, early examples.

    According to the contemporary pope, “The Stedinger, seduced by the devil, have abjured all the laws of God and man, slandered the Church, insulted the holy sacraments, consulted witches to raise evil spirits, shed blood like water, taken the lives of priests, and concocted an infernal scheme to propagate the worship of the devil, whom they adore under the name of Asmodi.”

  41. #42 Joanna
    UK
    August 5, 2014

    Allow me to elaborate further on my previous comment. I am inclined to suspect that the extremely high figures, in the millions quoted here, do not take account of the difference between witchcraft and heresy.

    Witchcraft and devil worship were considered a form of heresy, but a very specific form, and many people who were accused, convicted or executed for heresy were, I think not accused of practicing anything remotely related to witchcraft or occultism.

    Some of the Lollards of England, for instance, seem to have been considered especially dangerous because of some of their teachings on property ownership and temporal authority. This was a prime example of a ‘heretical’ sect which had little or nothing to do with ‘witchcraft’, but one of whom some members were executed for heresy.

    Herein is the point- as related before- heresy was in fact, much broader than witchcraft, but both could carry the same penalty. Yet they were not the same.
    Hence, I believe that that those who claim ‘millions’ were executed as ‘witches’ are in fact, lumping together all those accused or executed for heresy. Most ‘heretics’ were not ‘witches’ are were not probably, accused of being such.

    It would be rather like taking all the figures for vehicle and driving related offenses in the US, and compiling them together to claim that the figures Grand Theft Auto are in fact, far higher than is generally believed.

  42. #43 Greg Laden
    August 5, 2014

    That makes sense.

  43. #44 Joanna
    UK
    August 5, 2014

    …I also wonder at the correlation between convictions for heresy/witchcraft and actual executions. To my knowledge, one did not necessarily follow the other, and its was often only ‘obdurate’ heretics who suffered the death penalty.
    This was those tho refused to recant, or who had recanted (perhaps repeatedly) but subsequently ‘lapsed’ back into ‘heresy’ again.
    Many, however, do seem to have recanted and been spared- even Joan of Arc was not initially condemned to death but to life imprisonment.

    Thus, I think if account is taken of how many witches and heretics who went through the courts actually escaped with a non-capital punishment such as penance, imprisonment or fines the figures of execution would again be lower.

    …as for those like Ginger who claim the ‘witch-hunts’ were some misogynistic crusade on the part of the Catholic Church- they may wish to note that a number of historians today recognize not actual ‘witch-hunts’ in the Middle Ages. These began in the 16th and 17th century, after the Renaissance, Reformation and even at the beginning of the Enlightenment.

    Nor were the ‘witches’of the past ‘witches’ in the sense that we would know them today. As much as modern pagans and Wiccans might like to wallow in a collective persecution complex over their supposed forbears, the vast majority of Medieval Heretics were not almost certainly not goddess worshipers or practitioners of the ‘old religion’.

    Not least because modern paganism is just that- a modern religion- many of the rites and rituals of ancient paganism would not be legal in the Western world today, and many of the underpinning beliefs (ensuring the fertility of the land, hastening the return of the spring etc) are obsolete today.

    Also, because such practices as astrology and herbalism were technically quite legitimate and even sometimes recognized as such by the church- herbalists were not closet pagans brewing spells in cauldrons- they were probably more like Brother Cadfael…..and like as not invoked the name of the Christian God and the Saints in their charms or rites.

  44. #45 Draak
    August 7, 2014

    Little off topic, but if you are still interested in that painting, i found out some things. It depicts a tree from which dozens of exceptionally realistic penises hang like enormous pieces of fruit. At the foot of the tree is a group of women waiting for them to fall; two of them squabble over one. A group of crows threatens to attack the “fruit”; a large eagle is a symbol of Pisa and the emblem of the Holy Roman Empire. Ehm… Anyway pardon my English. I am not native speaker.

  45. #46 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2014

    Draak, is there a high resolution version of this picture somewhere?

  46. #47 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2014

    OK, I found one. Inserted above. Apparently penis trees were a thing.

  47. #48 Lilly Tilly
    Canada
    September 1, 2014

    Simple arithmetic will tell us that the figures in the area of 10,000 are an insulting patriarchal/catholic perpetuated joke. Just to take the number of 400 (years) multiplied by say 300 (towns across Europe), equals 12,000.

    That means if ONE “Witch/Woman/Pagan’ were killed in each of 300 towns, in the span of 400 years, the total killed/tortured/burned would be 12,000 thru out the whole European Burning Times.

    BUT one “Witch” killed in each town across Europe for the whole of 400 years is obviously a joke… “The Malleus Maleficarum lay on the bench of every judge, on the desk of every magistrate, and was second only to the bible in popularity. The Witch killing craze spread with the frenzy of wildfire.

    This was not just males being violent/misogynist … it was the church/govts/good old boys club, destroying a culture where people were still independent to a degree. The male dominated institutions wanted to CONTROL people, and so the pagan way of life, where WOMEN were Healers, midwives, where men knew how to grow enough food for their families etc, where people WERE independent, had to be destroyed.

    It is NO coincidence that destruction of an Earth Centered way of life, made way for the Industrial Revolution. Now ONLY males were Doctors. Women went from being Mystics and Healers to being a man’s property. . Now people lost their wisdoms of living on the land. People were now moving away from the country, to live in cities, dependent on “jobs” and buying food and fuel… which were controlled by the “system”.

    Also not coincidentally, the VERY same slaughter of a natural, Earth-based way of life was happening in North America.

    To have some understanding of the horrific implications of the Burning Times, we need to know where and how it fits into HIS-story. This was NO small event by any means. This was enormous… enough so that it (intentionally) changed the course of HIS-story more than any other single event.

  48. #49 bossladyxo
    bossladytown
    September 17, 2014

    witches were mostly burnt alive