Medieval Musings

A Happy and Healthy New Year to you all! May you achieve your dreams.

I just read an article in the New York Times that asks, “When did everyone become a witch?” and Publishers’ Weekly calls this ”The season of the witch.”

What happened?

Not too long ago, witches were hunted down. I should say ‘so-called witches’.

As a nod to my first novel, ‘Tangle of Time’, this blog is all about witches: their history, their persecution, the myths and the propaganda.

Some Curious Facts about Witches

The word witch is of uncertain origin. There are numerous etymologies that it could be derived from. One popular belief is that it is “related to the English words wit, wise, wisdom [Germanic root *weit-, *wait-, *wit-; Indo-European root *weid-, *woid-, *wid-],” so “craft of the wise.] Another is from the Old English wiccecræft, a compound of “wicce” (“witch”) and “cræft” (“craft”).

… leading to today’s Wicca.

Wicca, a predominantly Western movement whose followers practice witchcraft and nature worship and who see it as a religion based on pre-Christian traditions of northern and western Europe.

In the Beginning…

The earliest notation we have of witchcraft is found in The Bible, Samuel 1 when King Saul calls upon the Witch of Endoe to help him win a battle.

Today’s Blog…

Although witchcraft is found around the world, this blog will focus on Europe and North America – can’t leave out the Salem Witch Trials, can we?

When the Black Death began to appear with regularity after 1300, the idea of it being caused by witches became a popular notion. Cats were killed, which ate the rats, which brought the fleas, which carried the bacterium Yersinia pestis which caused Bubonic Plague, which killed over 20 million in Europe!

Witchcraft was not made a capital offence in Britain until 1563 although it was deemed heresy and was denounced as such by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484. From 1484 until around 1750 some 200,000 witches were tortured, burnt or hanged in Western Europe. WOW!

Not just women were killed as witches, men too sometimes were labeled so by neighbours with grudges, but mainly women, older, without male protection and often with cats for pets.

Torture was common. I love this one: if you were thrown into water with hands and feet tied and you floated, you were found guilty. If you drowned, you were innocent!

A famous witch catcher, at the height of witch-catching mania in England was called Mathew Hopkins. He earned big money for finding witches. One grateful town paid him 23 pounds; this when the average pay was 2.5 pennies.

King James Vl of Scotland

wrote ‘Daemonologie’  which explored witch-craft and demonic magic, then passed a law in 1604 making witchcraft punishable by death

but before that the most important and influential book

promoting the new view was the Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer. English translation, ‘Hammer of the Witches’. This book, written by two monks and describing how to recognize and punish a witch, became second in popularity after the Bible.


“What else is a woman but a foe to friendship?” wrote the monks. “They are evil, lecherous, vein, and lustful. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is, in women, insatiable.”

For the first time, these monks named a specific gender as a witch – women, the most vulnerable being single.

As a result Witch hunting

reached its peak in the late 1600s especially in France and Germany. In one German town, most of the women were killed as the town magistrate declared the Devil had taken over.

A perfect example of mass hysteria

happened in Salem, Massachusetts beginning in 1692 when three children in the home of a puritan minister swore they saw a coffin an a crystal ball. In the end over 200 women were jailed, 27 convicted and 19 killed.

Examination of a Witch, T. H. Matteson, 1853. The work was inspired by the Salem Witch Trials.

To this day, in fiction,

witches are mainly portrayed as old hags with moles or warts (a sure sign of a witch) who have the power to bring both life and death.

So, In my historical series featuring Annie Thornton, modern midwife and apprentice witch, and her cat, Rosamund;

I wanted to portray a normal young woman with a hereditary gift of harnessing unusual power, all for good.

In the first book, ‘Tangle of Time’, Annie slips through time to the 1500 century. In book two, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, released in 2020, she tangles with Vikings.

From now on, my blogs will give the Vikings a voice, so if you like Vikings, take note!


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We are halfway through January – hurray!