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Remembering The Burning Times

As Samhain approaches people across the world who identify as Witches and Pagans begin thinking of their ancestors and Those Who Have Gone Before Us. We enter the dark half of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) as the vegetation dies and the leaves fall - we pause to think about Death. I find it an appropriate time to reflect upon The Burning Times when our ancestors were persecuted for honoring the seasons in ways deemed "heretical" by those who held power. A recent homework assignment from my History of Wicca course at school asked me to research The Burning Times and create a timeline of key events through that time period. I decided to share the results of that assignment here on my blog.

Besides my assignment being timely and appropriate for the season, a recent news story caught my eye. The Newsweek article was titled; "Women For Trump Founder Says GOP In Danger Because Witches Put A Hex on Brett Kavanaugh". With the history of The Burning Times and Anti-Witchcraft Laws fresh in my mind, I thought about how easy it becomes for a society to become gripped by fear and find a minority group to persecute as a scapegoat. We see this happening with our current political climate already as blame and misinformation abound. While it is true that some witches have publicly claimed to place hexes on public figures, not all witches believe in hexing. Do you think that will matter when the real "Witch Hunts" begin again? Do you wonder what might happen if witchcraft becomes associated with terrorism? They might not end in public executions, but keep in mind there are still parts of this country where people fear losing their jobs and facing public harrassment if their community found out that they were a witch or Wiccan. We're not that far in years from a time when people believed that Witches were devil worshippers intent on bringing harm and mayhem to the world. I now share this history, not to spread fear or divisiveness, but so we can remember that there is still work to do in mending these bridges and overcoming centuries of misinformation and fear. I now share this timeline, so we SHALL NOT FORGET.

A current sign on display at the "Witch House" in Salem, MA

A Timeline of The Inquisition Era and Burning Times

“The Burning Times” are an era of Human history during which people were accused, persecuted, and even executed for suspicion of practicing Witchcraft. The Burning Times were historically recorded as taking place between 1450 and 1750 AD, though I have included some important events before that which show the attitudes leading up to The Burning Times. Most of these trials seem to have taken place in Germany, France and England, but spread to other countries throughout Europe and eventually to the European colonies in North America. It is important to note that the definition of "witchcraft" through these times was a loose definition often left up to the translation of the local government and church leaders. As superstition and fear took hold, many people were accused for a variety of reasons. Many of the accused were probably not "witches" at all, but perhaps practicing some folkloric herbal medicine or even a cultural tradition that predated Christianity. The Burning Times were a powerful tool of patriarchal colonization as they had a large influence on the destruction of or suppression of native and folkloric traditions.

  • 787 AD - The Second Council of Necea formed under Byzantine Empress Irene. The Council declared the worship of of icons and 3-dimensional statuary forbidden and acts of heresy. The Council works to unify Christianity by removing controversial books from the Bible, and Christianity continues to spread through the world. [1]

  • 900 AD - Canon Episcopi - a Medieval text of canon law that condemned witchcraft and urged all ministers of Christian faith to “by all means make great effort so that they may thoroughly eradicate the pernicious art of divination and magic, invented by the devil, from their parishes, and if they find any man or woman adhering to such a crime, they should eject them, turpidly dishonoured, from their parishes." [2] (This text gained popularity after it was translated in 1140 AD)

  • 1080 AD - While Witchcraft was forbidden by the church, it was not yet punishable by death or torture, as outlined in a letter from Pope Gregory VII to Harald III of Denmark forbidding witches from being put to death due to accusations of creating bad weather or disease. Generally, acts of witchcraft, sorcery, or divination were “corrected” with Confession, community service, and excommunication in extreme cases.

  • 1227 AD - Pope Gregory IX creates the papal Inquisition - an order of friars and bishops of the Catholic church who could act as investigators and judges in cases of heretical behavior. [3]

  • 1450 - 1750 - The Witch Trials or “Burning Times” throughout various regions of Europe and North America result in an estimated 80,000 trials and up to 50,000 executions. Some suspect the number of deaths is up to 1,000,000. [8] More details of these Witch Trials are listed below.

  • 1484 - Pope Innocent VIII writes the “Summis desiderantes affectibus” which outlined the church’s current views on Witchcraft and Sorcery as forbidden, and supported churches sending “Inquisitors” as official church representatives to investigate allegations of Witchcraft. The letter gave the approval for the Inquisitors to correct, imprison, punish and chastise practitioners of Witchcraft in whatever way they saw fit. The letter also encouraged local government authorities to cooperate with the Inquisitors at risk of excommunication if they did not cooperate. [4]

  • 1478 - The Spanish Inquisition begins. The Catholic church seeks to unify Spain under one religion and the Monarchy uses the papal Inquisitors to seek out and uncover any non-Catholic sects and convert them to Catholicism. This era of Inquisition was not limited to witchcraft but included persecution of Jews and Muslims and was known for its brutality. It continued through 1834 AD. [5]

  • 1487 - Heinrich Kramer publishes the “Malleus Maleficarum”. Kramer ( a Catholic church clergy member in Germany) was unsatisfied with the “Summis Desiderantes Affectibus” as he felt witchcraft was a serious threat to civilization. The Malleus Maleficarum elevates sorcery and witchcraft to criminal status and heresy - punishable by death, and urges secular courts to adopt inquisitorial procedures and bring Witches and Sorcerers to trial. The writing outlined witchcraft as a “Pact With The Devil” and insisted that witches flew at night to secret meeting places to have sexual encounters with the Devil. Heinrich Kramer was later discredited by the Catholic church and excommunicated, but the publication remained popular and was a “best seller” for another 200 years. The popularity of this book is accredited for widespread fear of witchcraft and strengthening of the Inquisitional practices across Europe. [6] Witchcraft was very loosely defined and thus began the Witch Trials which came and went in waves across many European countries through the 1700’s. Burning at the stake was a common method of death penalty for offenders, though drowning and hanging were also used.

  • 1542 - The Witchcraft Act of 1542 was created in England by King Henry VIII and decreed that witchcraft was a federal crime punishable by death and forfeit of property owned by the accused. [7]

  • 1563 - “The Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments, and Witchcraft” was created by Queen Elizabeth I as an updated version of The Witchcraft Act in England. This update had less severe punishments, as it only called for the death penalty if the act of Witchcraft had caused harm or death to another. [7] However, there was an increase in witchcraft related homicide trials during this time as unexplained deaths or death by illness were often attributed to acts of Witchcraft.

  • 1604 - The Witchcraft Act of 1604, created by King James, broadened the definition of witchcraft to include communing with familiar spirits or conjuring evil spirits. [7] Burning at the stake was largely eliminated at this time in England (though the practice continued in other countries) and punishment for witchcraft was generally one year in prison for the first offense, and death by hanging for the second offense. It should be noted though, that torture was still used to extract confessions of witchcraft, and many did not survive their trial or imprisonment.

  • 1644 - 1647 - a peak in Witch Trials in England attributed to a book published by Matthew Hopkins, self appointed expert on witchcraft who called himself “The Witchfinder General”. His book, “The Discovery of Witches” included the methods he used for extracting confessions and proving acts of witchcraft such as looking for the “Devil’s Mark”, pricking the skin, and “the swimming test”. Hopkins himself oversaw as many as 300 trials and executions in just a few years, and his book influenced many more trials and executions throughout Europe. This book was even used in early American colony witch trials including the execution of Margaret Jones, one of the first recorded witch trials in the colony of Connecticut. [8]

  • 1692 - 1693 - The Salem Witch Trials in the American colonies of Massachusetts. In a single year over 200 people were accused of Witchcraft and Conjuring in the Salem area and 19 were tried and executed. [9]

  • 1735 - King George II repeals the Witchcraft Acts of England. Industrialization and Scientific advances over the years had led to the belief that Witchcraft or Supernatural powers were not real.[8] There also now existed separation of Church and State and the church no longer influenced laws of the government. It was now considered heretical to even believe that witchcraft existed, finally putting an end to the Inquisition and mass accusations of witchcraft throughout Europe. This final Witchcraft Act made it a crime to claim that any human had magical powers or supernatural abilities. However, the final Act of 1735 redefined acts led to persecution for Fraud as it was now a considered fraudulent act of Con Artistry to practice Divination, Spiritualism, Mediumship, and assorted other religious practices outside of Christianity. [10]

  • 1899 - Charles Godfrey Leland publishes his book, “Aradia, or Gospel of The Witches”, that Leland claimed was an interpretation of religious texts of a group of witches in Italy. This book influenced other scholars and anthropologists to study the existence of pagan cults that had survived The Burning Times. [11]

  • 1921 - Anthropologist Margaret Murray publishes her book, “The Witch Cult in Western Europe”, claiming that Pagan cults still exist in Europe and theorized that the Witch Trials were a conspiracy by the Catholic church to eradicate a pre-Christian religion existing throughout European countries. [12]

  • 1939 - Margaret Murray’s theory of Pagan Cults existing in Europe is widely accepted when Occultist and Anthropologist Gerald Gardner claims to have encountered and been initiated to a secret group called The New Forest Coven. Gardner later forms the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca and becomes known as “The Father of Modern Witchcraft” [13]

  • 1951 - The Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951 repealed the Witchcraft Act of 1735 in England and replaced it with a law that made it illegal to charge money for profit from being a psychic, medium, or spiritualist. Individuals could charge money for “entertainment only” as it was still seen as an act of fraud to claim that psychic abilities were real. [14] This marked the beginning of a new era as now Spiritualists, Pagans, and Occultists could openly practice their religion without fear of legal repercussions, as long as they only charged any money for services as acts of “entertainment value only”. Thus began the Neo-Pagan movements to revitalize and reimagine Pagan beliefs and practices after nearly 2,000 years of hiding and secrecy.

  • 1954 - Gerald Gardner published “Witchcraft Today” and coins the term “Wicca”.


[1] - 8th Century Christianity & The Second Council of Necea - 9/29/18

[3] Creation of the Inquisition - 9/29/18

[4] - Summis desiderantes affectibus, - 9/29/18

[5] The Spanish Inquisition - 9/29/18

[7] Witchcraft Acts - 10/1/18

[9] Salem Witch Trials - 10/1/18

[10] Final Witchcraft Act of 1735 - 10/1/18

[11] “Aradia, or Gospel of The Witches” by Charles Godfrey Leland -,_or_the_Gospel_of_the_Witches 10/1/18

[12] Margaret Murray - 10/1/18

[13] New Forest Coven & Gerald Gardner - 10/1/18

[14] Fraudulent Mediums Act - 10/1/18


Inkubus Sukkubs - "Burning Times" Lyrics: (video at top of this post) "Forget not the days of old And recall the stories told Of the burnings and the screams Do they ever haunt your dreams?

There was a time when freedom died It was an age of genocide The Inquisition at the door The Church of Rome in a holy war They broke children on the wheel In the madness of their zeal In the shadow of their wake The innocent burning at the stake

[chorus] Children resist a return to the burning times People be wise to the power of their lies Be not fooled as those who were fooled before Children, oh children, be free, be wild

They came to bring the good news To burn witches, pagans, Jews Said they were the Shepherds sheep Whipped old women through the streets Then the turning of the tide From the truth they could not hide Now the darkest age has passed The Goddess has returned at last! "

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