Witchcraft Factoids by Lise Rehanek and Gayla Terzian

The accusers of the witches always had more power in the society than the accused. The accused were mostly women and were too old to contribute to the society, or they were beggars that people did not want to deal with in a time when food was scarce. Rather than feel guilt, they would use these non-productive members of the society as scapegoats. Often women with property left to them by dead husbands or sons were targeted because the goods would go to the accusers. Or, like San Francisco's ill-conceived "Matrix" program, people were arrested because they were homeless, and because they had the umbrage to beg for food.

Devil's Mark - Searching women's bodies for the devil's mark was always performed by men, and included prolonged probing and examinations of the genitals, and buttocks. Anything could be suspect including moles, scars, scratches, or hemorrhoids. Often it was referred to a extra teat, thereby typifying it as something that occurs only on the female form. The accused was stripped naked and shaved, pricked for sensitive spots, and examined for blemishes. Jailers, prickers, judges, executioners, all were allowed sexual advances and sadistic torments, if a prisoner was raped or murdered or tortured to death it was blamed on the devil.

Power vs. the People - The witch hunts persisted in demonizing the poor, the sick, the societal outcasts, or those whose respect or renown as healers, midwifes, or advisers threatened those with power who did not want to see their positions marginalized. Women threatened church powers in that they had control over matters of propagation, in as far as contraception, abortions, and delivering babies.

Height of the Hunt: 1484- POPE INNOCENT VIII issuance of papal bull against witches. The hysteria was greatest for a period of 200 years between the mid 14th and mid 16th centuries. The witch hysteria had ended by in Europe, Britain, and America by the 1730's.

The Numbers Game - Overwhelmingly female: Women made up approximately 4/5th of those prosecuted for witchcraft, but there was nothing inherent in the definition of witchcraft that should have made women more suspect than their male counterparts. Totals for the number of people prosecuted vary greatly from 110,000 to 200,000 but the higher amount is probably the most accurate estimate, with about 50% of those accusations resulting in death. The worst tortures and wholesale exterminations were in Germany, France, Italy, and Switzerland. In Germany entire populations were so decimated that a cooling period of trials was necessary.

Hypocritic Oath - Quick to denounce others for doing so, priests themselves often used magic in their services, offering cures and exorcisms by using objects believed to be holy, or using the physical remnants of saints. The hypocrisy of pronouncing folk-healers evil, for beliefs that were inherent to the priests as well, did not seem to faze those in the hierarchy of the church.

The Repression Factor - As laws increased that restrained sexual conduct, the persecution of witches became more and more entwined with tortures and forced confessions and accusations of an intensely sexual nature. It often seemed that those who had the most zeal in finding and persecuting witches were those that worn sworn to celibacy. Many men claimed that a witch caused them to become impotent, some even claimed that she made their genitals disappear entirely. One priest claimed that the woman could only be saved by engaging in intercourse with him.

Killing Healers - The science of modern times has validated the efficacy of many of the herbal remedies that were used by village midwifes or healers. Women administering cures in the form of herbs, and being successful in healing their neighbors, were still betrayed by the very people whose pain they had alleviated. One can see the seeds of suspicion forming when a patient died after the administrations of the local healer, but why, even when the cure worked, did the community turn against her?

Bitter Relations- Outbreaks of witch hunting were often cause by the dynamics of the village, or driven by personal and familial vendettas. Often a man would accuse another man's wife of being a witch as a way of wreaking vengeance upon his enemy by exterminating the women in the family.

Taming of the Shrew - It was not unusual for a woman whose principle evil trait was a loud and barbarous tongue to be charged with witchcraft. Frequent lashing out at husband or neighbor sometimes caused a woman to be denounced as a witch.

Small but Deadly - Children were often believed over women accused of witchcraft, especially if those women were elderly. Children were often accusers, encouraged and coerced to give evidence against their parents, relatives, and neighbors. However, children were not themselves immune to charges of witchcraft; children as young as eight were executed for the crime.

- MORE -