Witch trials…historical research

Much has been written about witches, witch hunters and witch trials. These will be recurring ideas in my novel. Here is some history of the witch trails in Bohemia that informs my novel.

BohemiaWitch trials took place in the 1700s in Europe and were part of the Catholic counter reformation. Many of the victims of these trials were Protestants who were unwilling to let go of their religion and convert to Catholicism. A Jesuit priest called Arnold Engel mentioned the practice of witchcraft when he noted Protestants had been mocking Catholics.


There was a history of violence and warfare that left the populace hungry, and there was much oppression of farmers by landlords, which led to rebellion. There was social instability and political and economic confusion.


flamesHere’s some dates from the Bohemian witch trials

1622: The first trials were in 1622 – 1648 women were executed.

1636: The first great hunt took place between 1636 and 1648, leaving an unknown number of people dead.

1651: 86 people were executed.

1667: 16 people were burned in Ratibor.

1678: The Countess Angelina Anna Sibyla of Galle formed a witch commission. Critical of torture initially, the Countess was convinced of its use when the accused confessed their sins after being simply shown tortuous devices. Boblig, motivated by economic reasons, was the judge and head commissioner.

Boblig takes his witch trials to Šumperk where members of wealthy families were found guilty of witchcraft.

1680: in Velké Losiny, five women are decapitated and burned. Tomáš König, a priest, was watching – he went on to protest against Boblig. Boblig gathered evidence and accused König of witchcraft.

1682: König dies, avoiding arrest.

1685: The vicar of Šumperk, Kyštof Alois Lautner was arrested and burnt at the stake after criticising Boblig.

1685: The Sattler and Voglickova families were burnt at the stake. Boblig had wanted the property of the Sattlers.

1696: Boblig dies.


As well as wealthy families and those of unfavourable religions, others being accused and persecuted as witches were: beggars, homosexuals, the old, the poor, the disempowered, women, the outspoken, single women, those with epilepsy, those practicing oral and/or anal sex, those with disabilities and/or deformities, those who masturbated, those who had sex during menstruation, those who were feisty, and the senile. Men wishing to rid themselves of their wives denounced them, and beatings of wives were passed off as bewitchings.


Victims might be accused of such things as: going out alone at night, lighting a fire on top of a hill, being alone in the woods, dancing alone or in groups.


Sometimes, a suspected witch could appease their accuser by touching food/drink of those they were meant to have practiced their craft on, they could remove harm by giving a remedy, taking or prescribing a pilgrimage, or they could pay for their absolution (if they could afford this).


The accused received terrible treatment and were ostracised; they had dogs set upon them, or were demonised, shunned, beaten, starved, raped, bound and sat cross-legged on a stool, inflicted with heated irons, subject to pricking and sleep deprivation. Often the accused would ‘confess’ whatever was asked of them in order to stop the ill-treatment.


mortar and berriesWitches are also called: knowers, soothsayers, wise women, herbalists, mystery-singers, midwives, sorcerers.


Women were the disempowered gender. Often their only power over their circumstance was that which they had over their own bodies. They used herbs, ritual and amulets to control their fertility (conception and abortion) and childbirth. ‘Witchcraft’ was women’s only recourse to power and they used it to attract love, to avoid unwanted sex, to enjoy sex, to conceive or not, as abortion, to protect against rape or battery.


Interestingly, some male witch hunters claimed magical powers. Not surprising, some went undercover, attending ‘sabbats’ and engaging in activities, then making arrests of others there.


In Bohemia in the late 18th century, Maria Theresa outlawed witch-burning and torture. This isn’t to say it all stopped then, but the mass, organised nature of witch trails ceased – in Bohemia anyway.


And it is in this environment, and with this as the backdrop, that my novel takes place.



Photo credit: Bohemia

Photo credit: flames

Photo credit: mortar and red berries

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