The Entire, Creepy History of Witchcraft

Emily Reily 31 Oct 2018

The thought of witches always seems to conjure feelings of evil, dread and fear. Over centuries, this led to a hysteria to chase down and persecute those who were different than others. Read on for these spooky facts about witches through history.

Witches were first portrayed as ugly hags

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The image of the witch reaches back centuries. The witch is almost always portrayed as female, with hideous features, who has ragged hair and who's maybe reaching for a baby or two to eat. An Italian print called Lo Stregozzo (The Witch's Procession) from 1520 illustrates the ugliness of what a witch was thought to be.

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People were accused of taking part in a Witches Sabbath

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A Witches Sabbath was typically a group of people who met to practice witchcraft or do other "bad" things, like dance, have sex or eat at lavish banquets. Witches Sabbaths have been documented as early as the Middle Ages. Those taking part in the events were accused of making spells, having orgies, or using babies' fat to make a "flying ointment."

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They supposedly made "flying ointments" out of poisonous materials

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A "flying ointment" was also known as a magic salve or green ointment -- a type of hallucinogenic ointment that witches used. But many of its plant ingredients are poisonous, like belladonna, wolfsbane and hemlock. A flying ointment would help a witch physically fly to one of these Sabbaths.

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Witch hysteria ratcheted up in the 1400s

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The hysteria over witches increased in the mid-1400s. People accused of witchcraft were often tortured to the point where they confessed, whether true or not, to being witches. Between 1500 and 1660, about 80,000 people suspected of being witches were put to death across Europe.

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The Salem Witch Trials

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The hysteria over witches expanded to the New World, to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692-1693. There, about 150 people were accused of practicing witchcraft. Eighteen were killed by hanging, burning at the stake or being pressed to death. Besides Salem, alleged witches were called out in Virginia (where none were executed) and Connecticut (where 11 were put to death.)

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The hysteria fades out

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A story by Benjamin Franklin in 1730 regarding a New Jersey witch trial signaled the decline of the hysteria. Eventually, new laws were created to help protect people from false accusations and convictions.

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Modern witches are good witches

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Witches of today practice Wicca, which is a real religion, and nothing about it is evil. For example, those who practice Wicca might make a potion to treat an illness rather than cause one. Wiccans also appreciate nature and be a healer.

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Despite that, persecution persists for witches

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People accused of being witches have been beaten or put to death in places like Papua, New Guinea, since 2010. One woman was even burned alive. More education is needed to show that those who practice Wicca are just recognizing their religion.

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