Lest We Not Forget

The year is 1500. Thousands of your friends, relatives, and even enemies are being tortured, hung, burned and worse. Your local church says that it's in the name of God to protect others from the devil's ways, but you're not sure you totally agree with what's going on. Now stop for a moment. Answer these questions.

  1. Do you have a birthmark, mole, disfigurement, or do you even have a pimple?
  2. Are you a liberal type?
  3. Do you like to dance?
  4. Do you have a pet cat, mouse, snake, goat?
  5. Do you own a broom?
  6. Do you speak out against what you don't believe is right?
  7. Do you sometimes give your husband or mother grief or do you "obey his/her every command like you should?"
  8. Have you ever had any enemies or just someone who didn't think highly of you?
  9. Have you ever lived near someone that lost their job? Had a pet that died? Had a bad crop? Had a family member that died? That got sick?
  10. Have you ever gone out for a walk by yourself after nightfall?
  11. Has there ever been a hail storm or even a wicked thunder storm in the same area that you live?

Answering yes to just one of these questions would have gotten you tried, persecuted, tortured and either hung or burned at a stake between the dates of 1100-1700. Men, women, children, the elderly, the crippled and even pets, all ended up as victims during the Witch Craze (aka The Burning Times and Witch Hunts/Craze). More middle-aged women than any other were tortured and killed though.

During the times when man was just discovering and concurring "new frontiers", fears began to develop of the unknown that lie ahead in these "new worlds".

These fears lead to the largest global killing spree on any scale. Many refute that the Burning times all started with the two girls who claimed they were "bewitched".

But in fact, the start of the hatred towards Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches started far, far earlier during the renaissance period. When the Christians first arrived on the British shores, they encountered the Pagans and their rituals.

At first they worshiped side by side, but in time the Christians realized that the Pagans had a much larger following than them so they decided that something needed to be done to get more followers of Christ in their churches. Pagan Sabbats were starting to be broken up by groups of people against their ways.

Pagan temples were being destroyed. And eventually all of the beautiful ways, practices and the worshiping of the Old Gods was outlawed. The Pagan God was perverted into the depiction of the Christian Devil to scare away others from "the temptation of those heathen practices".

Celebrations that turned into Christian Holidays were conveniently dated close and even on the same date to Pagan Sabbats to further deter others from going to the gatherings. Pagan followers had to practice in secret and seclusion.

They were no longer sure of who they could trust with their true feelings. Eventually, the old clans split up in fear of being caught and they moved far away from the newcomers.

The Christians had the law on their side and they kept a very watchful eye on their congregation. Anyone with thoughts, notions, or opinions different than that of the teachings of Christ were shamed, teased, persecuted and forced to leave or be jailed.

Fear and hatred started to breed, one thing lead to another and the Witch Craze was starting to happen.

The most infamous Witchcraft Trials was the Salem Witchcraft Trials in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Although only 30 were killed there, it was ironic how a "fresh start in a New World" ended up as a killing spree on innocent victims.

Reasoning in the trials in the New World included political tensions, land related grievances, disease and religious repression. Because of the strict religious society of the time, with it's adamant upbringing of children to follow the Bible, it created a very strong belief in the Devil.

(By this time the Christians and Catholics has already done a "great job" of spreading the word that the Pagan God was actually the Devil in the Bible.)

So it only took the hysterics of two young girls (Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams), one of them was the daughter of Rev. Samuel Parris, to start off the madness of the Witch Hunts there.

The two girls became interested in the magickal culture of a West Indian slave named Tituba, who was incidentally was "owned" by Rev. Parris. They started doing divinations about future husbands, and various other things.

When some of the towns people caught them in the act of doing some of the divination techniques on their own, they quickly claimed they were bewitched to do it to save their butts.

Tibtuta, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were the first named by the two girls and arrested as the perpetrators of their "bewitchment" on February 29, 1692. From that point on, neighbors and friends instantly became back-stabbers and foes.

In the year 1233, Pope Gregory IX instituted the Roman Catholic Inquisition in an attempt to gain popularity for Catholicism and his church. In 1320, Pope John XXII requested that the church officially declare Witchcraft, and the Old Religion of the Pagans, as a "heretical movement" and a "hostile threat" to Christianity.

The single most influential piece of propaganda that fueled their campaign was commissioned by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484 . He instructed the Dominican monks, Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob Sprenger, to publish a manual for Witch-hunters. Two years later the Malleus malificarum, or "The Witches' Hammer" was produced. The manual was used for the next 250 years in the church's attempt to destroy the Old Religion.

Excerpt from the Malleus Malificarum
"He must not be too quick to subject a witch to examination, but must pay attention to certain signs which will follow. And he must not be too quick for this reason: unless God, through a holy Angel, compels the devil to withhold his help from the witch, she will be so insensible to the pains of torture that she will sooner be torn limb from limb than confess any of the truth. But the torture is not to be neglected for this reason, for they are not equally endowed with this power, and also the devil sometimes of his own will permits them to confess their crimes without being compelled by a holy Angel."

In 1541, Witchcraft was made an illegal offense in England, and in 1604 a law decreeing capital punishment for Witches and Pagans was adopted. Forty years later, the New England colonies also made death the penalty for the suspicion of Witchcraft. By this time, the true followers who remained loyal to the Old Religion were in hiding and Witchcraft had turned into a secret underground religion after an estimated one million people had been put to death in Europe and more than thirty condemned at Salem, Massachusetts, in the name of Christianity.

A clip from the book of Exodus states,
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".

This quote, alone, sealed the fate for many of the accused as well as the true followers of the Olde Ways.

However, this is a false translation. What has been translated as "witch" comes from the Hebrew chaspah, a "poisoner" or murderer. The verse can be reinterpreted to mean not to tolerate people who poison — or murderers. This is very different from condoning the brutal murder of witches. Regardless, the witch hunters were able to claim the backing of God in their tasks, and the support of towns folk that would not question their methods.

The reasoning behind why the Witch Hunters were so interested in their "work" was largely due to their financial gain. The estate of a convicted witch was confiscated, and so more witches would mean more wealth.

Torturers, executioners, and others involved in the persecutions benefited as well. The costs of torturing, imprisoning, and executing the accused came from the accused's own purse. Additional money was made from the selling of charms and amulets to ward of the curses of witches; and even a person who did not buy such a trinket would fall under suspicion.

Finally in 1711, the General Court reversed twenty-two of the thirty one convictions. It was not until 1957 that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reversed the remaining guilty verdicts finally acknowledging the errors of Salem Witchcraft Trials. Unfortunately, when the persecutions finally ended in the 18th century, the stereotype of Witches, Wiccans and Pagans as devil worshipers, murderers, etc sadly remained for those who practiced within the true teachings of Witchcraft.

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