Excerpt from "Queen Silver: The Godless Girl" -- Essay Section.


This essay by Queen Silver constitutes an extremely early investigation of what has become a popular theme within contemporary feminist scholarship: the political re-evaluation of witchcraft and its suppression. It was featured in Volume IV, Number 3 -- the Sept-Oct. 1929 issue (p.3-12)

Brief Excerpt of Pamphlet/Lecture

The ecclesiastical crusade against witchcraft, which lasted for several hundred years, and which is said to have caused the death of from three hundred thousand to several million of persons (according to various estimates), may be said to have had its beginning in the bull issued by Alexander IV December 13, 1258. This was followed in the 14th century by a bull issued by John XXII, and on December 7, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the bull entitled, "Summis desiderantes affectibus". By the authority of this bull, inquisitors were appointed, among them one named Sprenger, who five years later assisted in publishing the work, "Malleus Maleficarum," or "Hexenhammer". This book served as a text-book of procedure in trials for witchcraft, especially in Germany. It described the means by which a witch could be detected and much other information. The author held that witchcraft was more natural to woman than to man, because of her inherent wickedness.

Previous to the decrees mentioned above, there had been minor attempts to discourage witchcraft, but with little success. The earliest ecclesiastical decree is supposed to have been that of Ancyra, 315 A. D., which condemned soothsayers to five years' penance. In canon law, soothsayers were subject to excommunication as idolators and enemies of Christ. The decrees,however, did not lead to wholesale persecutions; neither did they discourage the practice of witchcraft.

After the bulls issued by Alexander IV and John XXII, and especially after that issued by Innocent VIII, there were many trials and executions for witchcraft. The penalty in practically all countries was death by being burned alive. In the trials in Salem and other parts of colonial America, for some reason or other, the condemned witches were hanged instead of burned, although the statute specified the penalty of burning. However, many were burned after being hanged.

It is practically impossible to arrive at an accurate estimate of the number executed. Various estimates have been given, ranging from three hundred thousand to several million. We are told that in Nancy, France, one judge put to death eight hundred persons; that in Toulouse four hundred were executed at one time; and that in the city of Treves upwards of 7000 were killed during the period of persecution.

Witnesses not admissible in ordinary cases were allowed to testify against the accused in a trial for witchcraft, because of the seriousness of the offense. Such witnesses were not permitted on the side of the accused, notwithstanding the fact that the "witch" was in danger of losing his or her life!

An accusation of witchcraft proved to be a very easy and effective means of doing away with persons whose continued existence was believed to be inconvenient. Therefore, people who possessed considerable property found themselves accused of witchcraft and were executed for the benefit of their accusers, and their property confiscated.

It is impossible to take up even briefly the history of witchcraft in the various countries in which these persecutions were carried on. Suffice it to say, that the trials were conducted all over Europe, in England and in America. Since the American trials are nearer home, and are fairly representative of the trials as a whole, it may be worth while to sketch briefly those carried on in Salem, Massachusetts, during the years 1691-2.