Witches and Witchcraft in History

Old, ugly women who soar in the night sky with their flying broomsticks, who do black magic, dance with the devil, and strike fear with their high-pitched laughter. Surely everyone thinks of such an image when the word Witch is mentioned. In a way, witches actually attract everyone's attention because they are mysterious, charming, and magical. At the same time, everyone is afraid of them because it is not known exactly what they are doing and they cannot be trusted, if they really exist. To resolve this confusion, it is necessary to look at the history of witches, who can be called the scapegoats of all times. Before starting, it is worth noting with sadness that any recipe for a potion will not be shared in this article.



Margaret Hamilton aka The Wicked Witch of the West. From the movie, The Wizard of Oz, 1939.


The existence of witches actually dates back to ancient times. The Witch of Endor is known as the first witch in written records. According to the Hebrew Bible, King Saul asks the Witch of Endor to summon the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel and help him defeat the Palestinian army. The witch indeed awakens Samuel and he prophesies the death of Saul and his sons. The next day, Saul's sons die in a battle and Saul commits suicide. From this point on, witches were always known as people to be feared, who could communicate with the other world and spirits. It should also be underlined that witches are especially imaged through the female gender. However, as stated below, many men and young children were also tried and killed on suspicion of being witches.

In fact, these 'witch' women used to do practices such as toothing, giving birth, having abortions, healing people using herbs, which are practiced by current doctors in those ancient times. Because of this, in the beginning, midwives and healer women were chosen as targets for allegedly using magic, but in the later stages, this distinction disappeared. In 1486, a witch-hunting delirium gripped Europe with the publication of the book Malleus Maleficarum written by two respected Catholic German Dominicans. Often translated as "Hammer of Witches," the book was essentially a guide to how to spot, hunt, and interrogate witches. According to this book, which is considered the Bible of witch hunters, witchcraft was considered heresy. Starting from the belief that women were created weak, these two priests and their followers were looking for witches and interrogating them with Malleus Maleficarum in their hands. Interestingly, admitting the existence of witches during interrogation meant being a witch, and denying it meant lying. In other words, the person being questioned was in any case convicted of doing witchcraft.



Salem Witch Trials. Photo credit: MPI/Getty Images


It was a time when one single accusation was enough to be accused of witchcraft. Some of the accusations are tragicomic, for example; a woman's candid prayer on Sunday mass was proof that she had sinned a lot. Similarly, the fact that a woman slept during the day proved that she had spent the night with the devil. The very beautiful or the very ugly woman must have had a relationship with the devil. Thus, the witchcraft of the woman who had a relationship with the devil was proven. Also, some experiments were done to find out if some of them were witches. For example, a woman would be thrown into the water with her feet tied, and if she came to the surface of the water, it would be proven that she was a witch, and then she would be executed by burning. If she drowned, she would be found not guilty. Grace Sherwood, while on trial in 1706, did not sink in the water in this experiment, so it was decided that she was a witch, she was not killed but spent 8 years in prison.

Over time, massive witch-hunting which actually started in Europe spread to America. The most well-known witch trial in history took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The first witch, killed during the Salem Witch Trials was Bridget Bishop, who was hanged from the gallows on June 10. In total, around 200 people were accused and 18 were killed. This time women were not the only victims of the Salem Witch Trials; six men were also convicted and executed. As it turned out, everyone was a potential witch, and witches were guilty of everything bad, that is, they were almost scapegoats.


Witch-hunting is an example of the most brutal violence and brutality inflicted on women in history. Over time, the accusation of men and children as witches has also increased the number of victims, thus, it is thought that around 80.000 people were killed in this witch hunt. Innocent people were tortured, imprisoned, which was a product of mass madness, and the concept of a "witch" symbolized by the figure of an evil woman remained. If one asks if the witches are still among us, the answer is obvious: Yes, witches are still among us, whoever does not fit into the created system, who is beyond their time, marginal, who is not well understood, they are the witches of today. The witch hunt, on the other side, just changed shape.


References:

  • Aksan, Yücel. “1450–1750 Yılları Arasında Avrupa’da Cadılık.” Tarih Araştırmaları Dergisi, 2013, dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/58874.

  • Kara, Burcu. “Cadıların kökeni: MÖ 900’den günümüze.” UNGO, 20 Oct. 2021, ungo.com.tr/2021/03/cadi-nedir-ve-tarihi.

  • “Letters from the Witch Trial of Rebekka Lemp.” Women’s History, 2015, departments.kings.edu/womens_history/witch/lemp.html.

  • Martin, Lois. A Brief History of Witchcraft by Lois Martin (2010–10-19). Running Press (2010–10-19), 2021.

  • “Witch of Endor.” Wikipedia, 9 Oct. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_of_Endor.

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Umut Açıkgöz

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