Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Germanic Witch Trials

Moving along we travel to Western Europe and to Germany where perhaps some of the most well known of the European Witch Trials happened. Germany was actually a little late when it came to the witch-hunts. The whole concept first appeared around the 14th Century in southern France and Switzerland. Germany however didn’t have any trials until the first major persecution in Europe, when witches were caught, tried, convicted, and burned under the lordship of Wiesensteig in southwestern Germany. This was recorded in 1563 in a pamphlet called "True and Horrifying Deeds of 63 Witches" (Wolfgang 2004).

Wiesensteig wasn’t the only one who was known for widespread persecution of witches as well as many other practices and religions in the area. Johann von Schönenberg, appointed archbishop of the independent diocese of Trier, was also one of the brutal leaders of persecution during this time. Schönenberg was known for his support of the Jesuits on which he built a college to showcase his support. He started weeding out the Protestants, Jews and then witchcraft. It was these three that he labeled as the stereotypes for “nonconformity” in Germany He was the one who spearheaded the massacres of Trier which is said to be “of an importance quite unique in the history of witchcraft” (sacred-texts.com).

During the period between 1587 and 1593 no one was outside the reach of Schönenberg. Those persecuted were of men and women, all ages and all social standings, including those who even held high positions within the administration of the villages. All together 368 people were burned alive for practicing witchcraft and sorcery in twenty-two different villages. In 1588, there were even two villages were left with only one female inhabitant in each (sacred-texts.com).

It wasn’t only the ones who were accused of actually practicing that were persecuted. Many people were persecuted for showing sympathy for the accused and especially for helping them in any way. Perhaps the most famous account of this is Dietrich Flade. Flade was a rector of the university and chief judge of the electoral court. He was among the few that hated the use of torture and treated the accused with much milder than the other proponents of this movement. It was because of this that he was tortured, strangled and then burnt at the stake. This was all to send a message to all the other people like him who wanted to turn the witch trials into mild wrist slapping (sacred-texts.com).

All of the persecution and executions was severely shrinking the population of the area. On the flip side the executioners themselves flourished economically and were treated like royalty. They were described in one account as “a nobleman of the court, dressed in silver and gold, while his wife vied with noblewomen in dress and luxury” (scared-text.com).

Things started to die down though after awhile and the main reason was due to the economy. The peoples (even some nobility) the people grew impoverished and rules were made and enforced restricting the fees and costs of examinations and examiners. So suddenly the funds were cut off for these executioners and parishioners and all the zeal and determination withered away (Wolfgang 2004).

That didn’t mean that the witch-hunts were over with. In fact in 1703 another famous with trial took place in the town of Fuersteneck, near Grafenau in Bavaria. The Fuersteneck Trial surrounded the accusations against Afra Dickh who was a serving girl at the Frueth farm in Wittersitt (which is a part of the modern-day parish of Ringelai). Afra was accused of poisoning both humans and animals as well as the “bedevilment” of them. She was also accused of associating with other witches as well as the devil himself. Two of the other witches that Afra was accused of associated with were Maria a 13 year old shepherdess, who was also in service at the same farm and the widowed farmer Maria Kölbl, a mother of 15 from nearby Neidberg.

The following is an account of the execution of Afra Dickh:

On account of magic and arsony (in puncto veneficii et incendii), Afra Dickh was, on the 1st of June 1703, hanged by executioner Sebastian Fleischmann of Passau at the place of execution in Fürsteneck near Perlesreut and afterward burnt to ashes at the stake, with 30 blocks of wood and 40 pounds of pitch (Praxl 1982).

These are just some of the accounts of went on in Germany during this time. Many more were accused and executed in accordance with laws at the time. Once again we see proponents that are scared of the unknown and the apparent corruption of others persecuted those they felt were threatening their regimes.


Paul Praxl: Die Geschichte des Wolfsteiner Landes, in: Der Landkreis Freyung Grafenau, S. 178, Freyung 1982


Behringer, Wolfgang. Witches and Witch Hunts: A Global History. Malden Massachusetts: Polity Press, 2004.

Image of the Trier Trials from the Pamphlett of 1563


Post a Comment