Listen to ““WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN CONDEMNED AS A WITCH IN SALEM?” #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
Waking in darkened gloom,
I work by the light of a blood red moon.
Mixing a potion delicious with fright,
Its green liquid gleaming in wolf’s moonlight.
Thick with goo my cauldron bubbles,
My wand casts a spell; in size it doubles.
Add a pinch of spiders, frog toe, eye of newt,
Now dog’s tongue, bat wool and dragon’s fruit.
The children sleep soundly til a howling they hear,
Then up from above, six small eyes appear.
Hee-hee-hee! I cackle. Add a slip of yew.
Three heads shall deliciously add to my brew!
Quite possibly the worst witch’s impression ever! (Ha ha!) Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
We’ve all heard of the Salem Witch Trials – but accusations of witchcraft took place everywhere, not just Massachusetts. But who were these individuals, and were they guilty of what they were convicted of and killed for?
Of course, not all those charged with witchcraft died in the 1600s during the witch trial mania – some died much much later, like the 21st century. Yes, it still happens even today.
The ways witches were tested during the mass hysteria of the witch trials resulted in some bizarre and cruel ways to determine if someone was a witch. And I’d bet most all of us would be deemed witches if forced to take the tests today.
But before we get into the people who were accused, the tactics used to test them or make them confess, and how many of them were killed, we’ll look at some of the misconceptions of the Salem Witch Trials that you might think are true.
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Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: SALEM WITCH TRIAL MISCONCEPTIONS=====
One of the most interesting misconceptions about the Salem witch trials is that they were the first and only witch hunts that took place. They may be the most commonly known due to the popularity of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and numerous film adaptations on the subject, but accusing innocent people of – and executing them for – being “witches” started long before 1692. Over the span of centuries, Europe experienced several witch trials, each as horrific as the one in Salem. While the trials in Salem lasted close to a year, some of the European trials lasted over ten years and claimed many lives.
What is significant about the Salem trials is they were some of the last to take place; they came just as the ones in Europe were dwindling – as something that European colonists brought with them to America. Although other trials took place in North America in the 1600s, notably the Connecticut Witch Trials, no witch had been tried and executed since 1663. It was thought to be behind everyone, so when the hysteria in Salem began, it shocked and continues to shock people. As you’ll see in these witch hunt facts, no one was safe – not even the family pet.
Myth: Witches were burned at the stake: While burning “witches” was a common practice during the European witch trials, no witches were burned during the Salem witch trials.
In Salem, the preferred method of execution was hanging. All of the witches who were convicted were hanged with the exception of Giles Corey, an 80-year-old man, who was pressed to death with boulders. This method was used to coerce defendants who refused to plead into talking.
Myth: Only women were accused: Most people believe that only women were targeted during the Salem trials, but actually, a quarter of those accused of witchcraft were men. What’s even more surprising is that of the 20 victims who were executed during the trials, six of them were men.
Why were these men accused in the first place? Some were charged solely because they were related to a woman who was accused of being a witch. Others were targeted because they had ties to Wabanaki Indians who, along with the French, had been attacking New England settlements.
Myth: It was only teenagers who were charged: Perhaps we have the popularity of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to blame for the belief that many of the accused women were young, but in truth, older women, particularly wealthier widowed women with no male heirs and a lot of land to their name, were often accused of witchcraft. Scholars speculate that these women were considered threatening as powerful, independent women who no longer occupied the traditional roles of mother and wife. So, instead of letting these women live out the rest of their lives in peace, sometimes, very shortly after losing their significant others, their fellow villagers pointed fingers and cried “Witch!”
However, most of the accusers were teenage girls and young women.
Myth: Only the poor were ever accused: During the trials, Salem was divided into two parts – Salem Town and Salem Village. Salem Town was a port town and the merchants who dwelled there enjoyed more prosperity and political power than their primarily farmer counterparts in Salem Village. Most of the accused resided near Salem Town, while most of the accusers were from Salem Village.
This unequal distribution of wealth could sow the seeds of discontent that eventually spurred the trials.
Myth: Humans were the only victims of the trials: If you thought people were the only victims of the witch hunts, you would be wrong. Man’s best friend was also a victim of the hysteria that ran rampant during the Salem witch trials.
After a young girl accused a dog of trying to bewitch her, the villagers shot the poor canine. Another dog was killed because it was thought to have been under the spell of an accused witch. Even the family pet wasn’t safe from the suspicions that gripped the Salem villagers.
Myth: Witch trials only happened in Salem: Even though Salem has nearly become synonymous with the witch hunts, people were being tried for being witches long before 1692. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, many countries in Europe carried out witch hunts resulting in the unjust executions of hundreds of thousands of people.
Throughout Europe, the Malleus Maleficarum, a book from the late 15th century that taught readers how to identify a witch, became widely popular and created an eager crop of witch hunters. In 1542, England passed a law called the “Witchcraft Act” that made the practice of witchcraft illegal and punishable by execution.
Myth: The accused faked hallucinations: While some people have thought that the magical experiences the villagers experienced were faked, research suggests that they could have been caused by hallucinations from ergot-infected grain. Ergot is a fungus that infects rye, wheat, and other grains and can produce hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD if ingested, which could account for some of the magical things the colonists experienced. It could also explain their convulsions and other symptoms of illness.
Linnda Caporael, the scholar who suggested this theory, believes that infected grain likely caused the initial hallucinations. However, historians tend to agree that even if this theory is true, it doesn’t explain away all the social and economic factors that led to finger-pointing during this time.
Myth: Victims were executed at Gallows Hill: The infamous Gallows Hill might not be where the executions took place. In January 2016, The Gallows Hills Project, a group of Salem scholars, determined the exact location of the hangings to be Proctor’s Ledge.
With no records of eyewitness accounts, it took the group years of combing through court records, maps, and other evidence to find the location of the execution site, which historian Sidney Perley had already unofficially identified a century earlier.
Myth: There is an easily identifiable cause for the witch trials: For centuries, people have been asking, “Why?” Why did the trials occur? The truth is, there isn’t one answer. A number of factors contributed to the mass hysteria that arose during the trials in Salem and across Europe. Greed, jealousy, religion, and misogyny are only a few of the explanations historians have proposed for the witch hunts.
Given the complex nature of humans, it’s unlikely that the beginning of the witch hunts can be narrowed down to one cause.
Coming up… as we’ve already learned, witch trials took place many places other than Salem, Massachusetts – it even still happens in areas of the world today. But who, specifically, were these individuals? We’ll look at a few of the more famous, or infamous cases. Plus, we’ll look at a few of the so called “tests” that were used to determine whether or not someone was a witch or not. These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: PEOPLE KILLED AS WITCHES=====
Most people have heard of the Salem Witch Trials and know that in many cultures people have been sentenced to death for heresy. But what you might not know is that this is a practice that has been committed throughout human history and across the globe – it is even still practiced in some cultures today. But who were these witches? Why were they killed? The answers to these questions may be a bit morbid, but it’s also hard to deny that they’re downright fascinating.
If you’ve looked into witch trials before, you might’ve learned that the majority of these cases were pure hogwash – mass hysteria, political motives, and plain old hatred have all been used as reasons for an individual to be executed as a witch. However, in some rare cases, people killed as witches really did confess proudly to their crimes, and a few even committed acts so terrible, people assumed that they had to be supernatural.
So, keep in mind that a few of these stories are a little graphic, and climb aboard your boomstick as we look at the various souls who were killed for their witchy tendencies.
***Hypatia: People accusing each other of witchcraft is hardly a new concept. Around the year 415 CE, there was a young woman by the name of Hypatia living in Alexandria, Egypt, who people thought was a bit unusual – unusual in the sense that she wasn’t readily embracing the Christian religion and instead spent her time studying the pants off of the other mathematicians of her day. In fact, she is still known as the first female mathematician in the world, which, unfortunately, upset a lot of people. Peter the Lector in particular wanted to make sure that she and her pagan, math-loving ways were stopped immediately. The best means of doing so? Tell everyone she’s a witch and kill her.
Unfortunately, Hypatia’s end wasn’t exactly quick. First, a mob dragged her from her carriage and stripped her clothes off at a nearby church. They then beat her with roofing tiles until she was dead or near enough. Then, for good measure, they tore her into pieces and burned what remained. In short, they really wanted to make sure this supposed witch was eliminated.
***Agnes Waterhouse: The first woman to be executed for witchcraft in England was Agnes Waterhouse, also called Mother Waterhouse. She was known for having a cat that answered to the name Satan, for possibly killing men, and for being labeled a witch when she was as young as 12. The cat supposedly spoke to her in a dark tongue, telling her to take the lives of children and certain people that she saw. It demanded to be fed blood and milk and had supposedly tormented her sister with these demands as well. Waterhouse also claimed to have had relations with demons who threatened to harm her if she did not do their bidding.
Once she was convicted, she was sentenced to death. At first, she stood strong and proud, acting unafraid; however, eventually, she began to plead for her life, saying that she believed and trusted in God. It was not enough, and she was executed in 1566.
***Gilles Garnier: Some people accused of witchcraft really were terribly nasty people. Case in point: Gilles Garnier. He was a hermit living in France up until 1573 and committed terrible acts for which he was accused of being not just a witch but a werewolf. When Garnier married, his new bride was not happy with the lack of food variety surrounding her husband’s isolated way of life. To make up for this, Garnier began killing, butchering, and eating children. He also fed the meat of these children to his new wife to satisfy her craving for variety. He did this with at least four children.
When he was caught and put on trial, he claimed that he had come across a specter in the woods that gave him the ability to change into a wolf and do magic in order to hunt more easily. Witnesses claimed to have seen him eating the raw flesh of children in the fields, and a few even claimed to have seen him in wolf form. He was found guilty of witchcraft and lycanthropy, for which he was burned at the stake in 1573. From then on, he was known as The Werewolf of Dole.
***Stedelen: When a village’s harvest fails, it can be easy to blame it on witchcraft. Unfortunately, this was what caused the demise of Stedelen, a man who lived in the late 1300s in Switzerland and happened to make a very powerful enemy one day. Peter von Greyerz, a judge during that time, firmly believed that the occult was alive and well in Switzerland. He claimed that miscarriages, crop failures, marital disputes, storms, and more could all be linked to dark magic. Specifically, Greyerz accused Stedelen of sacrificing a black rooster on the Sabbath and of placing a lizard under a doorway. You know, usual witchcraft-y stuff.
The thing is that Stedelen actually admitted it – after being tortured, of course. He admitted that he’d made a pact with demons and was promptly burned at the stake. After his demise, Greyerz went on searching for other members of satanic cults and continued persecuting people for years. Women were tortured, men were killed, and it all began with this one incident.
***Angele de la Barthe: The Inquisition definitely had its share of torture cases and gruesome killings, and that included executing people for witchcraft. In 1275, a French woman named Angéle de la Barthe was accused by the Supreme Chief of the Toulouse Inquisition of having relations with the Devil and giving birth to a monster that ate babies. A tall order, perhaps, but she didn’t really claim to be innocent. During the course of her trial, she admitted that she had been feeding the monster babies for two years and even boasted about having slept with the Devil. She was burned alive for her deeds.
This incident is widely credited as being the first killing in a string of medieval witch persecutions, and there were many more that followed. Some people now believe the account is fictional, but either way, the time period was full of people being executed for witchcraft.
***Thomas Doughty: You might have heard this name before, or at least the name of his associate. Thomas Doughty was a nobleman, explorer, and soldier who lived in the mid-1500s before he met his untimely end. He sailed with famed captain Sir Francis Drake, who was also a slaver and politician – and who also ended up being his accuser. The two men started off as friends, but in the summer of 1578, Drake became separated from the rest of his fleet during a storm and slowly convinced himself that it was because Doughty was practicing witchcraft. The two argued, but Drake eventually snapped and had Doughty tied to the mast, accusing him of being a witch.
There was a brief trial once they landed, and although Drake later seemed to regret his decision, it was far too late. Doughty was found guilty of witchcraft and was sentenced to be killed by beheading – a decision that would haunt Drake for the rest of his life.
***Leatherlips: Native Americans have their own version of witches, and they are often viewed with no less malice. Leatherlips, a Wyandot Indian in the 1800s in Ohio, is perhaps best known for having signed the Treaty of Greenville and for encouraging peace and cohabitation with European settlers. However, this didn’t sit well with many other chiefs and some began to conspire against him. In 1810, Roundhead ordered that he be put to death for witchcraft. Settlers who were living with him at the time pleaded for his life, but to no avail. He went back with the other tribal leaders without a fight.
Once there, he prayed, ate, and drank with his people. He then dressed up in his very best clothing, gave a ceremonial death chant, and was promptly taken out by a tomahawk blow. There is now a statue in his memory in Dublin, OH.
***Rebecca Lemp: Salem isn’t the only place to have had a witch hunt. In the late 1590s, Nördlingen, Germany, was hit with a swath of witch accusations and executions. In all, 32 women were convicted of witchcraft, one of them a woman by the name of Rebecca Lemp. Rebecca was the mother of six children, but that didn’t stop local lawyers and Burgomasters from arresting and torturing her. She was tortured on at least five different occasions and, eventually, she confessed to witchcraft. Unfortunately, things didn’t end there.
In order to make her appear more guilty, Rebecca was forced to write a letter to her husband, who was away on business, and children in which she admitted to being a witch. Although her husband didn’t believe it, there was nothing he could do. She was tortured a bit longer and then burned at the stake. Many other women followed her down this path of torture and death.
***Bridget Cleary: In 1895, a man in Ballyvadlea, Ireland, was tried and eventually convicted for killing his wife. This may sound dark, but not terribly unusual – except that Michael Cleary claimed to have done it because his wife was actually a witch or changeling. You see, Bridget Cleary had gone missing, and when investigators eventually questioned her husband, he claimed that his wife had been taken by fairies and replaced by some sort of magical, evil creature. When he realized this, Michael did the only logical thing there was to do – burn his wife to death.
It’s still not clear if he burned her body before or after her death, but it’s pretty clear that he was the one who killed her. The trial was a long and arduous one, and Michael was imprisoned for 15 years for his crime. To this day, there’s still an Irish nursery rhyme that goes: “Are you a witch, or are you a fairy, Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?”
***Bridget Bishop: When thinking about people who have been killed for being witches, the 1692 Salem witch trials inevitably come to mind. Around 72 people were accused of being witches with 20 actually being executed for it, the first of whom was Bridget Bishop. She was a rather flamboyant woman for her day, and other women took notice. Eventually, women accused Bishop of being a witch, claiming that her shape would haunt or threaten people, and during the trial they screamed and flailed, claiming she was hurting them even then. Men also stepped forward, saying that she had tormented them and even poisoned them after disputes. Her previous, now deceased husbands were even brought up.
This was enough to seal her fate, and despite the fact that she claimed to be innocent, Bishop was sentenced to death and was hanged.
***Giovanna Bonanno: One thing that comes to mind when thinking of witches is their mysterious potions, and Giovanna Bonanno held to that stereotype pretty well. She was a beggar in Palermo, Sicily, in the late 1700s when she was brought to trial for witchcraft. She confessed during the trial to being a professional poisoner and had been selling poisons to women who wanted to murder their husbands. She claimed that initially, the poison would cause pain, then put them in the hospital, and eventually kill them. The doctors of the time could not figure out the cause of death, and it is unknown how many people she poisoned during this time.
Many women testified against her, as did the local apothecaries who sold her potions. She was supposedly very good at creating various ointments and magical potions to help with minor and major ailments. However, her poisoning habit was where she found her end – she was executed by hanging on July 30, 1789. To this day, she is known as “Old Vinegar.”
***Christenze Kruckow: Even the nobility was not free from the accusation of witchcraft. In 1621, Christenze Kruckow was a noble lady living in Scandinavia and her life was pretty good. Unfortunately, her sister, Anne, was not so lucky. Anne had given birth to 17 children, all stillborn, and could not seem to conceive a healthy baby. After a while, people started to blame this misfortune on witchcraft. Women were accused of carrying out this deed, and one was even executed. At first, none of these people were nobles, but eventually, Christian IV, the King of Denmark, pushed people to accuse Christenze Kruckow of the act.
Upon being arrested, Kruckow admitted that she had cursed her sister’s marriage bed in jealousy. She was found guilty of sorcery and was decapitated with a sword. She was, however, given the burial of a noble rather than a witch.
***Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri: Some may think that killing people for witchcraft is a thing of the past, but that’s not entirely the case. Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri of the Najran province in Saudi Arabia was a bit of an adulterer and had committed this act with two women. When he was finally investigated, he was found to have books in his possession as well as various talismans. When accusations of witchcraft were added to his list of misdeeds, it was enough to have him sentenced to death. He was beheaded amid protests from human rights groups.
Shockingly, this happened in 2012! Yes, this means that in some parts of the world, people are still being accused and killed for supposedly witchy behavior.
STORY: HOW TO TEST A WITCH=====
The mass hysteria that gripped people during the numerous witch trials that took place in our history is still difficult to understand. Equally incomprehensible is some of the weird ways they tested witches. One of the main sources for practicing witch hunters was a book titled Malleus Maleficarum, which translates to “Hammer of the Witches.” The book outlines numerous ways to identify and prosecute witches. The ways witches were tested ranged from the bizarre to the cruel, and included having their victims scratch them until they bled, baking their victims’ urine into a cake, and being asked to perfectly recite a prayer. While these witch trial tests might sound absurd to us today, for many men and women, the outcomes of these tests would determine whether they lived or perished.
One way to identify a witch was to bake a cake with rye and the urine of a witch’s victim and then feed the cake to a dog. There are differing accounts on how witch cake was used to identify witches. If the dog began to exhibit symptoms similar to that of the victim, often that indicated that witchcraft was at work. The dog would then identify the witch.
Suspected witches were dunked into icy waters. A ducking stool was a medieval torture device that was primarily used to punish and humiliate women. The contraption resembled a seesaw with a chair affixed to one end. The device was placed along the edge of a river and the offender, who would be strapped into the chair, was repeatedly plunged into the cold river water. Witch hunters would use the device to coerce confessions from the accused. This method was later simplified – accusers forwent the device and just tossed suspected witches into the water to see if they would drown.
Probably the ultimate example of a no-win situation, some accused witches had their hands and feet bound, and then they were thrown into a body of water. It was believed that if a person was a witch, the water would reject them and spit them back out. However, if they were innocent, they would drown.
Some were pressed (that is “crushed”) with heavy stones. This method was used to manipulate accused witches into admitting their guilt. The witches in question had a board laid on top of them and their accusers placed heavy rocks on the board until they either confessed or they were literally crushed. Giles Corey, one of the few men who was accused, met his end in this unfortunate manner.
Some of the accused were tested by being scratched by their supposed victims. It was believed that those cursed by a witch would experience relief if they scratched the person responsible for their affliction. Victims would scratch the witch in question until they drew blood, and if their symptoms improved, they knew they had found their witch.
Some were asked to pray aloud – and the prayer had to be perfect. Accused witches were asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer – and to recite it perfectly. This meant perfect pronunciation – no stuttering, no twitching, no shaking. Real witches were known to be unable to recite the prayer perfectly – that is, without skipping a word or stuttering. Even passing this test was not always sufficient to reach an acquittal, however. George Burroughs was executed in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, even after passing the Lord’s Prayer test.
Some victims were afflicted with violent fits that caused them to shake and convulse. To prove their innocence, some witches were asked to touch their victims. If the victims were brought out of their fit, then the accused was declared a witch. The reasoning behind this test was that only the person who put the spell on the victim could remove it. This method is known to have been used exclusively in Andover, Massachusetts.
Suspected witches were searched for a third nipple. It was believed that this third nipple was used to feed one of the witch’s helpers or familiars. Witches were supposedly given this mark by Satan during their transformation. In addition to being searched for a third nipple, suspected witches were also examined for unusual markings. During witch hunts, moles, scars, and birthmarks were often believed to be the mark of the devil. It was believed that anyone who made a deal with the devil would bear his mark. If one of these supposed marks were found and they were identified as a possible practioner of witchcraft, they next step was to test these marks to make sure they were genuinely the devil’s marks, and not natural. Witch hunters would identify these marks and use a pin or needle to prick at them. If the suspected witch felt no pain, he or she was declared a witch. Some witch hunters would dull one end of their tools so that the accused would not experience any pain.
Many suspected witches were forced to summon the devil – or at least try to. Known as “charging” or “incantations,” some of those on trial for witchcraft were forced to verbally summon the devil, supplicating him to “stop” possessing an individual who might be in the middle of a fit or seizure of some sort. In this test, the witch really couldn’t win. If the fit stopped, then she was clearly in league with the devil and should be treated accordingly. If it kept going, then she wasn’t doing a good enough job summoning the devil.
They were weighed against a stack of Bibles. If the accused weighed more than the Bibles, she was innocent. However, if she was lighter than the stack, she was deemed a witch and punished accordingly.
They were spied on to see if they muttered to themselves. This one is cruel and bizarre to the extent that it turns what was likely a form of mental illness into a telltale sign of a witch. If you could observe a potential witch talking to herself – muttering under her breath in some fashion – odds are, she was probably a witch doing incantations or something else evil. So being ever vigilant for this manifestation of witchcraft was something any good citizen should’ve been ready and willing to do. Sarah Good, one of the women slain during the Salem witch trials, was particularly famous for having a habit of talking to herself.
If you were just old or ugly – that was close enough. For some unfortunate women, the only “test” they needed to pass for the public to declare them a witch was to be a bit older. According to John Gaule, an English Puritan cleric during the height of the witch trials, “Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furr’d brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue… a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspected but pronounced for a witch.”
And then there is the “Dream a Little Dream of Me” accusation. Spectral evidence refers to testimony provided by a witness that states that the accused person’s spectral shape appeared to the witness in a dream. This was an accepted form of accusation during the Salem witch trials. If a neighbor claimed a woman appeared to them in a dream with malicious intent, that was enough to condemn her for witchcraft.
Imagine if these tests were still in affect today – not a one of us would stand a chance at proving our innocence, and we would all be executed as witches.
Of course, not all those charged with witchcraft died in the 1600s during the witch trial mania – some died much much later, like the 21st century. Yes, it still happens even today. Some true and grisly examples when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: MODERN WITCH KILLINGS=====
Of course, not all those charged with witchcraft and killed are remembered by name – but that doesn’t make their story any less horrific. Often, these incidents aren’t even “trials” with a jury and judge so much as they are just straight-up murders.
It’s important to stress that there are no real “witches” in these cases. None of these people murdered had supernatural powers (obviously); often, accusations of witchcraft are used as an excuse, not an explanation, for the killing of an individual. What makes these even sadder is that these events didn’t happen centuries ago; all of the cases I’m about to share with you are recent – very recent – like within the past 10-20 years. Evil doesn’t reside in the “black magic” of witches; it’s in the frightened frenzy of murderous mobs. All over the world, women (and some men) accused of witchcraft are hunted or put on trial and even killed to this very day.
The execution of Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar happened in the far off, medieval time of… December, 2011. She was convicted after authorities found “books on sorcery… talismans and glass bottles filled with liquids supposedly used for the purposes of magic.” As far as reasons to find someone guilty of being a witch, that counts as “barely even trying to make up an excuse.” The execution most likely came from reports that she sold spells and bottles for around $400, or possibly because she was a woman in a puritanical monarchy. Under their law, death is the punishment for sorcery, blasphemy and witchcraft. “Sorcery” is a charge the Kingdom uses fairly willy-nilly, as TV host Ali Hussain Sibat was arrested for it in 2008.
“Forced to eat her own excreta” means exactly what you think it means. Kalli Kumari B.K. was “kicked, punched and hit with a stone” by another member of her Nepalese village who said: “a witch should be killed like this.” That “villager” was her sister, Bimala Lama. This only happened after she was tortured for two days, where they threatened “to chop (her) breasts using blades.” She eventually did “agree that some animals in the village died because she practiced witchcraft upon them,” because, well who wouldn’t agree to something after all that? The villagers even threatened her husband. He was told he’d face the same treatment if he even spoke in support of her.
When executing a suspected “witch,” people always go over the top. It’s never “we shot the witch in the head”; it’s always something like this story of a rural Papua New Guinea woman who was “bound and gagged, tied to a log, and set ablaze on a pile of tires.” The explanation given for many of the executions of these “witches” is that they’re “scapegoats for someone’s unexplained death,” because obviously, the only way to deal with your grief is to light someone on fire atop a bunch of tires. This is shockingly common in Papua New Guinea; over fifty people were killed in 2007 alone for “sorcery.” Many regions of the country still live according to traditional beliefs, which is how some citizens come to blame witches for the AIDS-related deaths of 6.7 million people.
Of the 25,000 to 50,000 homeless children on the streets of the large city of Kinshasa, roughly a majority were kicked out of their homes because they were accused of witchcraft. That would be enough people to fill a basketball or hockey stadium. These numbers are from 2006, not some distant century. This isn’t just limited to poor kids, either, as “children who do well in school can also be accused of witchcraft.” To make things even worse (which, frankly doesn’t seem like it should be possible) scam artists tied to evangelical churches charge small fees to “investigate the children and confirm they are possessed… keeping them without food for days, beating and torturing them.”
n 2008, eight women and three men were burned to death on suspicion of being witches in Nairobi. A mob went door-to-door with a list of witches and torched thirty homes. All of the people burned alive inside their houses. According to the local police, “traditional beliefs run deep.” West Kenya has a long history with faith healers and witch doctors, which can lead to incidents like this. While many witch hunts focus on younger people, almost all of the victims in Kenya were between 70 and 90 years old.
In Tema, Ghana, in 2010, Madam Ama Hemmah was “detained and tortured for four hours by six people in an attempt to extract confessions of being a witch from her.” They ultimately burned her alive. A photographer, a teacher, an evangelist—these people came from all walks of life to do this horrible deed. Madam Ama Hemmah’s offense? She was seen “begging for alms in the neighborhood the day of the incident.”
In 2008, a tribal family from Jaipur, Rajasthan, India accused a woman of witchcraft, claiming she was responsible for two deaths in their family. She was “severely beaten and forced to pick a silver coin from a vessel filled with boiling oil.” One villager explained that this practice is prevalent in the area; the coin and oil is a test to see if the accused is truly a witch. If the accused burns their hands trying to pick up the coin, they’re deemed a witch. If they remain unburned, the accused is deemed innocent. Since this “test” is impossible to pass, the woman sustained severe burns on her hands and arms. She fell unconscious, but the villagers didn’t stop their torture. They “thrashed her badly with hot iron rods” and caused severe head injuries. They dumped her body outside her house, but her family, including her husband, didn’t let her inside. She was eventually taken to a hospital and police arrested five of the 23 people responsible.
In 2008, Fawza Falih, an illiterate Saudi Arabian woman, was forced to sign a confession that she used witchcraft to make one man impotent. Her conviction was “on the basis of the written statements of witnesses who said that she had bewitched them.” Falih wasn’t even allowed to attend most of her hearing. She didn’t even get her confession read to her. After an appeals court stayed her execution, law courts “imposed the death sentence again, arguing it would be in the public interest.”
From 2005 to 2011, over 3,000 people were lynched in Tanzania for being witches. That’s more than 500 a year. Turns out that many older women were accused of being witches on account of having “red eyes,” which happens when you’re so poor you have to burn cow dung for heat instead of wood. Often, these women are murdered following the death of a relative as “payback.” The families “visit soothsayers to determine the cause of death and are often told that witchcraft is responsible.” Of course. According to a member of an organization that’s trying to protect the rights of the local elderly: “You cannot separate witchcraft beliefs from the issue of development. The more developed people are, the less they believe in such things.”
From 2004 to 2014, 148 cases of child abuse were reported to the Metropolitan Police of Greater London on account of the children being “witches.” Parents believed their children were possessed by the devil or other evil spirits, and didn’t know what else to do. Some of these cases have been horrific, such as a child who “had chili peppers rubbed in her eyes to beat the devil out of her.” What makes it especially scary is that, while the big cases get on TV, this abuse goes on in homes all the time and no one hears about it. Often, this abuse is “supported by someone who within the community has portrayed themselves as an authority on faith and belief.”
After a local pastor accused his son of being a witch in 2009, a Nigerian boy’s father “tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes.” Other children accused of witchcraft were set on fire. Unfortunately, this is all too common, as over 1,000 children were murdered for perceived “witchcraft” between 2000 and 2009 in Nigeria alone. During that same time period, over 15,000 children in two of Nigeria’s 36 states were accused of being witches. Some blame these witch hunts the rise of evangelical Christianity in the country.
From 2003 to 2008, more than 750 people were killed for “witchcraft” in Assam and West Bengal, India. Many of these stories are horrific, with tales of heads being “taken as trophies and paraded in the streets,” stoning, and being “buried alive for allegedly cursing a relative of the village chief.” You’d almost think these horrific murders are about more than someone “being a witch.” The beliefs that lead to these accusations are most widespread in rural and impoverished tribal communities. Some interesting ideas are being put in place to stop people from doing this, namely giving pensions to elderly women.
Fifty-four women were accused of witchcraft and killed in 2013, giving Jharkland the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of witchcraft-related murders in India. As a social welfare official told The Washington Post: “often a woman is branded a witch so you can throw her out of the village and grab her land… sometimes it is used to punish women who question social norms.” In one of those murders, a 50-year-old woman and her daughter were hacked to death for “allegedly practicing witchcraft.” The mother died quickly, but the daughter was stabbed several times until she died. As of 2013, “no national law exists that addresses witchcraft killings.”
In 2008, thirteen “sorcerers” were arrested on accusations of “using black magic to steal or shrink men’s penises” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Feel free to take a moment and read that again. Fourteen “victims” were detained by police, which means that two guys accused the same “witch” of stealing and/or shrinking their penises. Claims ranged from making their penises disappear outright to shrinking beyond repair. As ever, radio call-in shows were helpful, as “listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings.” This would be much funnier if lynchings hadn’t been attempted in the wake of the accusations. While the police did arrest the accused sorcerers, it was only to protect them from violence, not to actually prosecute them for an imaginary crime.
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All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise) and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“Salem Witch Trial Misconceptions” and “How To Test a Witch by Tamar Altebarmakian
“People Killed As Witches” by Laura Allan
“Modern Witch Killings” by Greg Beneven
Again, you can find link to all of these stories in the show notes.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a production and trademark of Marlar House Productions.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.” — Proverbs 10:32
And a final thought… “When fear knocks, let faith answer the door.” – Robin Roberts
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.