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Witch Hunts in Europe: Timeline

A History of Pursuit of Accused Witches

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The history of witchcraft in Europe begins with both folk beliefs and with religious and classical texts. The texts have roots in Hebrew, Greek and Roman history. The development of beliefs about what witchcraft meant -- and especially the history of its gradual identification as a kind of heresy -- takes effect over hundreds of years. I have also included a few American and global events for perspective on the history of witchcraft trials and executions.

See European Witch Hunts: Overview for more general information about the witch hunts of Europe, and Bibliography on European Witchcraft Persecutions for more in-depth study of the history of European witchcraft accusations and executions.

Timeline

Year(s) Event
B.C.E. The Hebrew Scriptures addressed witchcraft, including Exodus 22:17 and various verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
about 200 - 500 C.E. The Talmud described forms of punishments and execution for witchcraft
about 910 The Canon Episcopi was recorded by Regino of Prümm describing folk beliefs in Francia, just before the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire. This text influenced later canon law. It condemned maleficium (bad-doing) and sorilegium (fortune-telling), but argued that most stories of these were fantasy, and also argued that those who believed they magically flew were suffering from delusions.
about 1140 Mater Gratian's compilation of canon law, including the Canon Episcopi (see "about 910" above), also included writings from Hrabanus Maurus and excerpts from Augustine.
1154 John of Salisbury wrote of his skepticism about the reality of witches riding in the night.
1230s An Inquisition against heresy was established by the Roman Catholic Church.
1258 Pope Alexander IV accepted that sorcery and communication with demons was a kind of heresy. This opened the possibility of the Inquisition, concerned with heresy, being involved with witchcraft investigations.
late 13th century In his Summa Theologiae, and in other writings, Thomas Aquinas briefly addressed sorcery and magic. He assumed that consulting demons included making a pact with them, which was by definition, apostasy. He accepted that demons could assume the shapes of actual people; the demons' acts are thus mistaken for those actual people's.
1306 - 15 The Church moved to eliminate the Knights Templar. Among the charges were heresy, witchcraft and devil-worship.
1316 - 1334 Pope John XII issued several bulls identifying sorcery with heresy and pacts with the devil.
1317 In France, a bishop was executed for using witchcraft in an attempt to kill Pope John XXII. This was one of several assassination plots around that time against the pope or a king.
1340s Black Death swept through Europe, adding to the willingness of people to see conspiracies against Christendom.
about 1450 Errores Gazaziorum, a papal bull, identified witchcraft and heresy with the Cathars.
1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, authorizing two German monks to investigate accusations of witchcraft as heresy, threatening those who interfered with their work.
1486 The Malleus Maleficarum was published.
1500-1560 Many historians point to this period as one in which witchcraft trials -- and Protestantism -- were rising
1532 Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, by Emperor Charles V, and affecting the whole Holy Roman Empire, declared that harmful witchcraft should be punished by death by fire; witchcraft that resulted in no harm was to be "punished otherwise."
1542 English law made witchcraft a secular crime with the Witchcraft Act.
1552 Ivan IV of Russia issued the Decree of 1552, declaring witch trials were to be civil matters rather than church matters.
1560s and 1570s A wave of witch hunts were launched in southern Germany.
1563 Publication of De Praestiglis Daemonum by Johann Weyer, a physician to the Duke of Cleves. It argued that much of what was thought to be witchcraft was not supernatural at all, but just natural trickery.

The second English Witchcraft Act was passed.
1580 - 1650 Many historians consider this the period with the largest number of witchcraft cases, with the period of 1610 - 1630 being a peak within this period.
1580s One of the periods of frequent witchcraft trials in England.
1584 Discoverie of Witchcraft was published by Reginald Scot of Kent, expressing skepticism of witchcraft claims.
1604 Act of James I expanded punishable offenses related to witchcraft.
1612 The Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, England, accused twelve witches. The charges included the murder of ten by witchcraft. Ten were found guilty and executed, one died in prison and one was found not guilty.
1618 A handbook for English judges on pursuing witches was published.
1634 Loudun witch trials in France. Ursuline nuns reported being possessed, victims of Father Urbain Grandier, who was convicted of sorcery. He was convicted despite refusing to confess even under torture. After Father Grandier was executed, the possessions continued until 1637.
1640s One of the periods of frequent witchcraft trials in England.
1660 Another wave of witch trials in northern Germany.
1682 King Louis XIV of France prohibited further witchcraft trials in that country.
1692 Salem witch trials
1717 The last English trial for witchcraft was held; the defendant was acquitted.
1736 The English Witchcraft Act was repealed, formally ending witch hunts and trials.
1755 Austria ended witchcraft trials.
1768 Hungary ended witchcraft trials.
1829 Histoire de l'Inquisition en Franceby Etienne Leon de Lamothe-Langon was published, a forgery claiming massive witchcraft executions in the 14th century. The evidence was, essentially, fiction.
1833 A Tennessee man was prosecuted for witchcraft.
1839 Matilda Joslyn Gage published Women, Church and State which included the figure of nine million executed as witches.
1862 French writer Jules Michelet advocated a return to goddess worship, and saw women's "natural" inclination to witchcraft as positive. He depicted witch hunts as Catholic persecutions.
1921 Margaret Murray's The Witch Cult in Western Europe was published, her account of the witch trials. She argued that witches represented a pre-Christian "old religion." Among her arguments: the Plantagenet kings were protectors of the witches, and Joan of Arc was a pagan priestess.
1954 Gerald Gardner published Witchcraft Today, about witchcraft as a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion.
20th century Anthropologists look at the beliefs in different cultures on witchcraft, witches and sorcery.
1970s Modern women's movement looks at the witchcraft persecutions using a feminist lens.
December 2011 Amina Bint Abdul Halim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft.

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