Witchcraft (page 3)
In England, where torture was prohibited, only about 20 percent of accused witches were executed (by hanging); in Scotland, where torture was used, nearly half of all those put on trial were burned at the stake, and almost three times as many witches (1,350) were killed as in England. Some places had fewer trials than others. In the Dutch republic, no witches were executed after 1600, and none were tried after 1610. In Spain and Italy accusations of witchcraft were handled by the Inquisition, and although torture was legal, only a dozen witches were burned out of 5,000 put on trial. Ireland seems to have escaped witch trials altogether.
Many witch trials were provoked, not by hysterical authorities or fanatical clergy, but by village quarrels among neighbors. About 80% of all accused witches were women.
Traditional theology assumed that women were weaker than men and more likely to succumb to the Devil. It may in fact be true that, having few legal rights, they were more inclined to settle quarrels by resorting to magic rather than law.
All these aspects of witchcraft crossed over to the Americas with European colonists. In the Spanish and French territories cases of witchcraft were under the jurisdiction of church courts, and no one suffered death on this charge.
In the English colonies about 40 people were executed for witchcraft between 1650 and 1710, half of them in the famous Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Witch trials declined in most parts of Europe after 1680; in England the death penalty for witchcraft was abolished in 1736.
In the late 17th and 18th centuries one last wave of witch persecution afflicted Poland and other areas of eastern Europe, but that ended by about 1740. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782.
Beginning in the 1920s, witchcraft was revived in Europe and the United States by groups that considered it a survival of pre-Christian religious practices. Some forms of modern witchcraft follow the traditions of medieval herbalists and lay healers; the supreme law of the 'Craft' is called the Wiccan Rede; 'An' [If] harm none, do what ye will'. Witches do not worship the Devil and blood sacrifice is forbidden.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Pickering, David, Cassell Dictionary of Witchcraft, Cassell Academic; (3) The Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition Handy Volume Edition, Oxford University Press.
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