These lesser-known witch hunts across history saw scores of people accused of and executed for being "witches."
Picture a place where paranoia beats like a pulse. Where neighbors and families accuse each other of wrongdoing, communities gather for sensational trials, and scores of people lose their lives after being found “guilty” of being a witch. This was what life was like during witch trials.
The witch trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, from 1692 to 1693 may be the most infamous, but they hardly stand alone. Hunting witches and putting them on trial has a long, bloody history. And Salem actually pales in comparison to some witch hunts that took place abroad.
In 17th-century Spain, for example, some 7,000 people were investigated for being witches (in Salem, that number was just 200). Around the same time in Germany, as many as 2,000 people in the towns of Würzburg and Bamberg were executed for being witches (in Salem, 19 were executed).
Indeed, the Salem witch trials may be the best known, but they’re hardly the bloodiest, most extensive, or most notorious. Read on to learn about seven other witch trials from history.
The “Explosive” Start Of European Witch Trials In Valais, Switzerland
The modern-day witch hunt arguably began almost 600 years ago in the Swiss canton of Valais, best known today for its location at the base of the Matterhorn. Between 1428 and 1436, fear, paranoia, and death gripped this picturesque region during the Valais witch trials.
The trials emerged amid a fog of political and religious tension. The area had recently seen the rise of Waldensians (predecessors to Swiss Protestants), which drew the ire of Catholic authorities. At the same time, many people in Valais were shaken by recent rebellions, which put pressure on local authorities to enforce the law.
Things kicked off in August 1428 when delegates from seven districts demanded investigations into accused witches and sorcerers. The delegation agreed that if any one person were accused of witchcraft three times, they would be arrested. And in Valais, an arrest was as good as a death sentence. Those who confessed to being witches were executed, and those who denied being witches were tortured until they confessed — and then they were executed, too.
The accused witches confessed to all sorts of wild things: basement meetings with the Devil, shapeshifting, the ability to fly on chairs, and, of course, curses and murders.
According to History Collection, most of the victims were male peasants. However, some were educated, and about a third of the accused were women. Despite their gender, occupation, or protestations of innocence, the estimated 367 victims of the Valais witch hunt (the true death toll may be higher) all met gruesome fates.
The lucky ones were decapitated. Others were burned alive. These poor souls were often tied to a ladder with a bag of gunpowder around their neck and then pushed into the flames, triggering an explosion.