Friday, 25 June 2010
Witchcraft in England, has an old, ancient history. Witchcraft is probably the oldest of all religions and was alive well before the Druids.
Long before the famed Salem Witch Trials, thousands upon thousands of men, women, and even children were being tortured and massacred throughout Europe. These horrible acts were even condoned by the churches. Towards the end of the thirteenth century witchcraft was proclaimed an act punishable by death. But death did not come easily to those accused.
But in the years prior to the thirteenth century, the witch was a respected member of the community; they were valued, not feared, since they helped ease pain and healed people and their animals. The fear factor came much later. Witches were feared because they could do things that the majority of other people could not do. For example, witches used hypnosis to make childbirth pain free. The Christian Church taught that such powers could only come from the Devil. Telepathy, faith healing, pre-cognition, clairvoyance, and astral-travelling was all part of witchcraft in the past, as was the knowledge of plants and healing herbs. In primitive times religion and magic were virtually the same. Priests were magicians and magicians were priests.
Those claiming to heal outside the context of the Church (faith healing through prayer) were thought to have obtained their skills from the Devil. In 1563, the Scottish Witchcraft Act said that even people, who consulted witches to cure their various maladies, were as guilty as those who practiced witchcraft. These patients were seen as supporting their cause. The witch was traditionally old, ugly, and female.
The Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for "The Hammer of Witches", or "Der Hexenhammer" in German) is a famous treatise on witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and was first published in Germany in 1487. Jacob Sprenger is also often attributed as an author, but some scholars now believe that he became associated with the Malleus Maleficarum largely as a result of Kramer's wish to lend his book as much official authority as possible.
The Malleus Maleficarum, was essentially a guidebook on what to look for in a witch and how to successfully kill them. France and Germany were especially known for their gruesome punishments.
The main purpose of the Malleus was to attempt to systematically refute arguments claiming that witchcraft does not exist, discredit those who expressed scepticism about its reality, to claim that witches were more often women than men, and to educate magistrates on the procedures that could find them out and convict them.
The first law against witchcraft was laid down by King Henry VIII in 1542.
Two further laws, in 1563 and 1604, made a person liable to receive the death penalty for using witchcraft, charms or sorcery.
These laws came in quite handy since a charge of witchcraft was used against one of his wives, Ann Boleyn.
During the witch hunts' period, which lasted almost two centuries, 2000 people were accused in England and 1000 executed.
Most supposed witches were usually old women, and invariably poor. Any who were unfortunate enough to be 'crone-like', snaggle toothed, sunken cheeked and having a hairy lip were assumed to possess the 'Evil Eye'. If they also had a cat this was taken a proof, as witches always had a 'familiar', the cat being the most common.
In Essex alone, 317 women and 23 men were tried for witchcraft, and over 100 were hanged. Suffolk saw 68 executions.
This was largely the work of the notorious Matthew Hopkins, resident of Manningtree and the Witch-Finder General of Essex.
Hopkins began his career in 1644 by questioning one of his elderly neighbours, a one-legged woman named Elizabeth Clarke.
Under torture, she gave evidence leading him to another five witches.
The trial took place at Chelmsford. In all, 32 women were implicated and 28 were convicted.
Hopkins preferred tortures which shed no blood.
Sleep deprivation seems to have been the most popular form of torture, as it caused hallucination and was a very effective way of obtaining confessions, but he also employed the ‘pricking' method.
It was believed that if a person entered into a pact with the Devil, he kissed or bit them, leaving his mark on their body.
A mole or birthmark could be seen as a witch mark. Many witchfinders would stab at these marks and, if the accused did not bleed or no impression / indentation appeared on their skin, guilt had been established.
It has been suggested that Hopkins often used a spring-loaded knife, with retractable blade, to ensure conviction.
With the publication of Malleus Maleficarum all across Europe fingers began to fly.
Accusations were made, and the guilty party was often tortured and made to confess to witchcraft and evil deeds. No evidence was needed to convict. Europe became obsessed with ridding themselves of witches. Witch hunters popped up all throughout the Continent.
As the need to punish and kill witches grew, dozens and dozens of torture tools and methods were developed. One such item was the bootikens. These were boots that went from the person's ankles to knees. Wedges were hammered up the length of the boot into the person's leg, breaking and crushing bones as it went. Another tool used was called the Pear. It was a pear shaped apparatus that was often inserted into orifices. It was then expanded by way of a screw. It was often expanded enough until it tore and mangled which ever orifice it had been inserted in. Death would follow shortly, from either blood loss or infection. It was usually equipped with sharp spikes at the end so that a person could also be stabbed with it, usually in the neck. Another device known as Turcas was used to tear the fingernails out. This was followed by sticking pins or needles into the raw and exposed skin of the fingers.
Using red hot pincers against a witch's body was also a favourite. Often a pincer was used to tear off pieces of flesh and in some cases inserted into vaginas and rectums. Many times a person would be stripped naked, horse whipped, and then would have the pincers used on them. Women sometimes had their breasts torn off with hot pincers to further humiliate them.
Crushing a witch was often used both to kill and force a confession. The accused would be made to lie on the ground or a table and usually a board was placed on top of them. As they lay there being questioned, they would slowly place large rocks upon the board. They would add more and more until the person confessed and then, once having a confession, would add more until the person was no longer able to breathe. It was a slow and painful death.
A variation on crushing was stoning. Stoning allowed a mob of people to gather around the accused and pelt them with stones until the person was killed. Depending on the situation a person could be battered for minutes or hours before succumbing to death. Stonings were not always organized events, in some communities a mob would develop before the so-called witch could be tried.
Another method used to gain a confession was called the Strappado. In this case, the persons wrists were bound behind their back with a rope. The rope was then hoisted over a ceiling beam. The rope was pulled until the person was suspended in the air and then they were viciously dropped. This was repeated until the persons shoulders became dislocated.
From country to country, the methods varied. But no matter where you were, if you were accused, you were in for pain, humiliation, and ultimate suffering.
I'll be posting this to Frequently Felt in a day or so.