Witchcraft is the use of supernatural or magical powers and spells to harm human life or property with some vested interest. Almost all the religions recognize the existence of the phenomenon and also forbid its use explicitly. A witch is considered to have acquired certain unusual powers in exchange for selling the soul to a demon like Dr. Faustus, who gave his soul to Lucifer. Torture through cruel devices, like the dunking stool, was common to investigate or extract confessions or to punish by repeatedly drowning in water. Burning at the stake was the common mode of punishment if someone was found guilty of being a witch. History is full of infamous witch trials, cruel witch hunting, and witch burning events like: Salem Witch Trials, Fulda Witch Trials, The Val Camonica Witch Burnings, Scotland Witch Burnings, The Wurzberg Witch Trial, and the Witch Hunts of Africa.
1. Abigail Hobbs
Abigail Hobbs was arrested on April 8, 1692 for being a witch. Along with her, Giles Corey, Mary Warren, Bridget Bishop and her parents, Deliverance Hobbs and William Hobbs were also arrested for witchcraft. Prior to living in Salem, which is currently Danvers, Massachusetts, the family lived in Casco, Maine, Massachusetts. She was put on trial between April and June, 1692. When interrogated before the court, she confessed to doing harm to Mercy Lewis with witchcraft, and also confessed to communicating with the devil. She also pronounced the names of some other witches too. Chief Magistrate William Stoughton had signed the warrants for her exe
2. Agnes Sampson
Agnes Sampson, also known as the Wise Wife of Keith, was a midwife who lived in Barony of Keith, East Lothian, Scotland. She was known as a healer and a witch. At the end of the 16th century, she was put on trial for witchcraft during the North Berwick Witch Trials. King James, after facing some sea storms during a voyage, investigated the root cause and found Agnes Simpson guilty of creating the storms in the seas to harm the king. He therefore ordered, in person, her execution on this account. In 1590, following a great witch hunt, 23 men and women were burned at the stake by the tribunal. According to the official statement ‘This aforesaid Agnes Sampson, which was the elder Witch, was taken and brought to Haliruid house before the King’s Majesty and sundry other of the nobility of Scotland’¦’
3. Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc, also known as The Maid of the Orleans, was born to Jacques D’Arc and Isabelle Romee in 1412 at Domremy, Duchy of Bar, France. And following a trial was convicted of the capital crime of heresy and witchcraft. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 at the age of just 19. There were political motives behind her trial because, through her brilliant battles, she had cleared the way for the coronation of Charles VII of France while the Duke of Bedford claimed the throne of France on behalf of his nephew Henry VI. Replying to the question if she knew she was in God’s grace she said, ‘If I am not, may God put me there, and if I am, may God so keep me.’ An eye witness described ”¦they burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine from the only bridge called Mathilda.’After a posthumous retrial, she was declared a martyr.
4. Temperance Lloyd
Temperance Lloyd is best known for being the last person ever hanged on charges of witchcraft in England. She was arrested on complaint of a Bideford shopkeeper that Lloyd practiced witchcraft. She was locked in a church till she was produced before the judges: Thomas Gist, Mayor of Bideford, and Alderman John Davie. Charges leveled against her were: suspicious use of magic on the body of Grace Thomas, and her acquaintance with the devil in the form of a black man or a black bird. Answering to the country sheriff’s question if she believed in Christ, she spoke while mounted on the scaffold minutes before being hanged, ‘Yes, and I pray Jesus Christ to pardon all my sins.’
5. Catherine Monvoisin
Catherine Monvoisin, also known as La Voisin, was the French wife of a jeweler. She used to tell fortunes since her childhood, and after the failure of her husband’s business she started concocting love potions and poisons in addition to the full-time job of fortune telling. She also practiced midwifery specifically in connection with abortions. She was arrested along with her daughter on charges of witchcraft. During the witch trials, three pieces of evidence were produced against her, and she was convicted of being a witch and burned at the stake in Place de Grieve near Paris.
6. Maggie Wall
During the mid-16th and 17th centuries, more than 4,000 women were executed on charges of witchcraft. Maggie Wall was one of them, but remained on the historic records due to the unusual 20-foot monument with a cross on top of it. It was not customary to place a cross on the burial sites of witches. Although not very clear yet, it is mostly assumed that the cross was fixed by the female members of the congregation in retaliation for the undue tight control and unjust verdicts and capital punishment against baseless charges of witchcraft. Maggie Wall was burned at the stake in 1679.
7. Angela de la Berthe
Angela de la Berthe was a wealthy French woman who belonged to a small town. She was one of the first victims of the infamous European witch trials. She was accused of having sex with the devil and for giving birth to his son who was a cannibal. Simple villagers were horrified at knowing the charges against her. She was put on trial in 1275 and was found guilty of being a witch. She was publicly burned at the stake. The event is a reminder of the intolerant and unjust European society which could tolerate only senseless, cold-blooded murders.
8. Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was born in 1501 at Blickling Hall, Hever Castle, England to Lady Elizabeth Howard and Thomas Boleyn, first Earl of Wiltshire. She died on May 19, 1536 at the age of 35 in the Tower of London. She was tried for more than 19 offences, and most of them were just baseless. Henry Percy, the 6th Earl of Northumberland, sat on the jury and found her guilty of adultery and treason. She was executed on the morning of Friday, May 19th, 1536. Just before the execution, she addressed a few people present at that time and said, ‘Good Christian people, I am come here to die, for according to law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.’ Her last words were, ‘To Jesus Christ I commend my soul, Lord Jesus receive my soul.’ The executioner Rombaud executed her with one stroke of the sword.
9. Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau, also known as the Voodoo Queen, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on September 10, 1794 and died in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 16, 1881 at the age of 86. Both she and her daughter Marie Laveau, II practiced Voodoo, a religion which is a mixture of African magic and Roman Catholicism, and is practiced by common folk in Haiti. On June 23, 1874 more than 12,000 black and white people gathered at Pontchartrain Lake to have just a glimpse of her during the performance of rituals on St. John’s Eve. She had a pet snake called ‘Zombie.’ People were afraid of her magical powers. Only very little is known about her death as the New Orleans newspapers announced that she died at her home peacefully.
10. Margaret Matson
Margaret Matson lived with her husband Neals Matson in Eddystone, Pennsylvania. On June 13, 1870, 100 acres of land was allotted to Matson. Both were of Swedish descent. After New Sweden was occupied by the British, her neighbors accused her of keeping bewitched cattle. On December 27, 1683, the accused couple was produced before the grand jury which found her guilty for being a famous witch but not guilty of bewitching the cattle. She was not convicted of witchcraft and was released on six months’ parole.
Never in the history of human beings have the religious bodies played so cruel a role as in the case of witch hunting, witch trials, and witch burnings. Innumerable innocent lives were lost and countless presumed witches were burned at the wink of the religious heads and political leaders actually for fear of the loss of their positions at the hands of the witches. The reason behind the witch trials, as stated, was that they were in the interest of safety for life and the property of common folk. But, in fact, they were conducted for the safety of the personal positions of the political and religious leaders.