5 Debunked Myths about Witches and Witch Trials
- Tuesday April 26th 2022
Listen up peasants! To celebrate the launch of our brand-new show, Curse of the Witch, we were forced to listen to “respectable” historian Malcolm Gaskill drone on about his favourite topic, Witches. Apparently, there are some unbelievably FALSE myths flying around and we want to dunk those myths in the water of cold, hard FACT.
Read on and be amazed at how wrong you are.
1. Millions of women were burned alive
Now this one is doubly false because, as our ol’ mate Malcolm tells it, historians actually only have evidence of 90-100,000 trials with roughly 1000 of these in England and 4000 in Scotland. That’s barely any, not sure what everyone was complaining about? Also, in England and America, the normal punishment was actually hanging. European witches did often get burned but that was commonly after strangulation. In other places, witches were beheaded, drowned, or buried alive - all the fun stuff.
2. As soon as a witch was accused, they were inevitably doomed
Conviction rates could be high during furious witch panics but typically the conviction rate was 50/50 resulting in 45-50,000 executions across the early modern world. In England, this rate was even lower. For south-eastern England, which is the only region for which we have good (boring) legal records, the conviction rate was about 22 per cent. That’s nothing! Our in-house executioner gets through that in a busy afternoon.
3. Witchcraft accusations were a good way to get rid of people you didn’t like
WRONG! In fact, this was a very costly and time-consuming way of being a bad neighbour. This is because, it was hard to prove in a court of law that someone was a witch so action could be taken against them. Those most likely to be convicted were middle-aged or old because there was a lifetime’s worth poor social relations and “evidence” which could be used to convict them.
4. Men couldn’t be witches
Women were believed to be more susceptible because, as the Bible taught, they were the ‘weaker vessel’ (ha! they’ve clearly never seen Mrs Lovett kneading dough). This meant they were more likely to surrender to the devil’s temptations when he promised them power and revenge. HOWEVER, men were still charged with witchcraft in the same way that women were, and for identical crimes. They were not called ‘wizards’, but simply ‘witches’ overall. Overall, about one-in-five accused witches was a man.
5. Witch dunking was a Catch-22
We’ve all heard this one. If they float, then they’re a witch and we execute them. If they sink, they’re not a witch but... they drown. Seems like a perfect method of deciding to us and it is the prevailing myth that this happened BUT apparently those rotten witchfinders had a tiny bit more sense than we give them credit for, and any sinking suspects were hauled out. How disappointing.
There you have it! Now you can smugly correct your friends and loved ones when they foolishly repeat these myths in your presence. If all this witchyness has got you hot under the collar for more black magic, then visit us to see our new show Curse of the Witch. Book tickets now!