01 October 2011

Witch-hunting facts through the ages

There are only eight occurrences of the word “witch” in the King James Bible. However, its words are very explicit: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:17-19).

After the Bible, one of the most popular books in 16th- and 17th-century Europe was the Malleus Maleficarum (also known in English as The Hammer of Witches), written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, priests of the Dominican Order who were authorized as Inquisitors of the Catholic Church to persecute witches. The book was written as a manual to help identify, prosecute, and convict witches.

Maleficium is a Latin term to describe malicious acts of magic or evildoing, such as harming another person's health, family, animals, or property.

In Europe, 12,000 people are known to have been tried and executed as witches, though estimates of deaths are as high as 100,000 during the period from 1480 to 1700.

New England Witches

In 1642, the General Court of Massachusetts passed a statute making witchcraft a felony, punishable by death. More than 40 people were accused of witchcraft before 1692 in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire—and at least 10 are executed.

During the 1692 Salem witch trials, more than 150 people were arrested and imprisoned for witchcraft; 29 were convicted by the courts and of those, 14 women and 5 men were hanged; and one man who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death.

In total, more than 200 people were accused and jailed for witchcraft in 17th-century New England; at least 30 were executed.


Before the 1692 witch hunt in Essex county, Massachusetts, other people were hanged as witches. These people include:

Margaret Jones (d. 1648)
Alice Lake (d. 1650)
Joan Carrington (d. 1651)
John Carrington (d. 1651)
Lydia Gilbert (d. 1652)
Anne Hibbens (d. 1655)
Mary Barnes (d. 1662)
Nathaniel Greensmith (d. 1662)
Rebecca Greensmith (d. 1662)
Goody Glover (d. 1688)

For victims of the 1692 witch hunt, see Genealogies of the victims of the 1692 witch hunt.

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