More Witchcraft Factoids from Rehanek and Terzian
Salem does it -1692-1693
141 arrested as suspects, 19 hanged, 1 pressed to death repressed sexual and generational hostility
The ergot theory: Ergot is a plant fungus that permeated the bread flour supply of Salem in 1692, during the time of the witch trials. Ergot is a food poisoning that generates lysergic acid, the base substance of LSD, and therefore may have led to mass hallucinations. Linnda Caporael feels that this hallucinogen might have explained the odd behavior and descriptions given by both witnesses and accusers.
In the American colonies public disgust was so great after the Salem debacle that public leaders criticized the methods of the court, a risky thing at the time.
Joan of Arc was charged with witchcraft when the judges responsible for deciding her fate were unable to convict her for hearing voices in her mind (which they of course believed belonged to Satan). There were rumors that the young Joan had danced around a haunted tree as a small child (a practice typical to generations of children before her who were under the impression fairies gathered there). It was also believed that as an adult Joan of Arc revived a dead child. In reality, she had simply prayed for a dead newborn that was successfully brought back to life for several days. Like most people accused of being witches, Joan of Arc had merely made herself a nuisance to the authorities. Her "magic deeds" were simply common activities for people of the time, grossly exaggerated in court.
Interestingly, it was Joan of Arc's wearing of mens' clothing (seemingly, the most trivial of the charges against her) that finally led to her conviction and execution. After being asked by the court to refrain from wearing these offensive garments, the prison guards provided her with nothing to wear at all. Sick and exhausted, Joan of Arc refused to remain nude, and instead put her old clothes on. Her action was regarded as proof that Joan of Arc was indeed returning to her wicked ways and had no intention to reform.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks The most famous image of the witch is of a darkly clad woman flying through the air on a broomstick, usually past a full but misty yellow moon. In large part it was the witches themselves who were responsible for making this notion such a popular one. They would often boast of this unusual form of transportation to impress and shock their audiences. So, how was this image born? Witches of days gone by would often dance with brooms while performing a magic rite. This ceremony commonly took place in cemeteries and consisted of much leaping in the air. Grave distortions of incidents such as these resulted in the image we have today. Though it is not totally impossible that some witches actually did achieve levitation, it would be safe to say that most didn't.
Animality - It was widely believed that witches transformed themselves into wild animals or even the devil himself during certain rituals. This was gathered from various observers who had, accidently or purposely, stumbled upon such ceremonies in the forest. This myth is easily explained. It was common for witches to don ritual masks, furs and hides during these ceremonies. To a frightened and highly superstitious onlooker, the costumed witches could easily appear to be changing into an animal.
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Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze: A New History of the European
Witch Hunts. San Francisco: Pandora/HarperCollins San Francisco, 1994.
Levack, Brian P. The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe. London, New
York: Longman, 1987.
Summers, Rev. Montague. Malleus Maleficarum. New York: Benjamin
Blom, Inc., 1928.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft. New York,
Oxford: Facts On File, 1989
Summers, Montague. The History of Witchcraft. New York, University
Books Inc., 1956.