Myth of the Burning Times

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Myth of the Burning Times
By: Moderator / Adept
Post # 1
One of the lasting popular myths in Wicca is that of the so-
called "Burning Times" when allegedly 9 million women died for
refusing to give up their Pagan beliefs and convert to Catholicism. We are given the story of women in their hundreds walking into the sea to drown rather than be burned. We are sometimes even told about the Pagan women who were burned at Salem, MA. Sadly this myth seems to be a hard one to make go away even when all the evidence clearly shows that it is incorrect.

In the first place no 9 million women died. There probably weren't even that many women in Europe during the time period in question. Nor did 9 million men, women and children die. Research has shown that the number is probably in the range of 40,000-60,000 during the period from 1200 CE to the Salem trials in the early 1600. Nor is there any credible evidence that any large groups of women walked into the sea to escape death at the hands of the Inquisition.

Secondly, the people who died were mostly Christian heretics. In
fact if one reads through the records of the Inquisition in Spain
one can find accounts where people who claimed to have been
practicing Witchcraft were released as being deluded fools but not the heretics that the Church was looking for. By the time of
the "Burning Times" most of Europe was well and thoroughly
Christianized. And in Iceland which continued to have an active
Pagan population the charge of being Pagan was not thought of as a burning offense.

Nor was it a war against the women. The idea that it was the Church warring on the women of Europe is a modern one which first appeared during the feminist writings in the 1970's and is not supported by fact. In Germany deaths were about equal as to sex, and in Iceland more men than women were killed.

Remember that the Witches that people hated and feared during
the "Burning Times" are not Witches as we think of them today. Nor were they Pagans. People feared witchcraft because it was thought that those who practiced it could cause death and disease of people livestock and crops. For people who didn't have the scientific background we have today it was easy to blame witchcraft for the unexplained. Think of the Black Death that killed nearly 1/3 of the population of Europe. If you didn't understand the idea of germs and disease transmission a frightened person would easily ascribe it to witchcraft. And if no way to stop the disease were known other than killing the witch before s/he killed you and your village think how
easy it would be to do what you had to do in your fear to survive.

Some other facts to consider. No one was burned at Salem, MA. All
but one were hanged and the last was crushed under rocks. In England those convicted were hanged. Certainly there were burnings in Scotland, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. But again these were far fewer than the myth would have us believe and were not Pagans dying for their faith.

The problem with the continuing myth of the "Burning Times" is that it locks us into an Us vs Them mentality which does little except encourage hate and fear that has as little actual basis in fact as did the fear of witchcraft in those times. We are creating a climate of fear based on the same sort of witchhunt that started the whole process of killing people back then. Only this time it is WE who are the witch hunters and our non-Pagan neighbors who are the witches.

Here are some recommended websites and books on the topic of
the "Burning Times" that you will find, I believe, completely debunk the whole idea of the "Burning Times" as it is put forth in some Pagan books who seek to create a myth that binds us together as the persecuted outsiders. I encourage you to do some serious reading and thinking and ask yourself whether you want to retain a myth in our religion that does nothing except encourage the hate of others. Last time I checked that was not what Wicca is all about.


"Triumph of the Moon" by Ronald Hutton
"Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles" by Ronald Hutton
"Counting the Witch Hunt" by Ronald Hutton
" Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath" by Carlo Ginzburg
" Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Period of the Witch Trials"
(Witchcraft and Magic in Europe) by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark
"The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch
Trials" by Marion L. Starkey
"The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of New England Under
Siege" by Marilynne K. Roach


"Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt" -
by Jenny Gibbons -

"Women and Witchcraft" -

"Estimates of the Number That Died"

"The Impact of New Evidence"

Those should get you started on the latest in historical/archeological research into the subject of the Witch

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
By: / Novice
Post # 2
nice post, in school i studied the Salem trials [because we had to read The Crucible, good book/play] but the European trials, i have working knowledge but not all the ins and outs. sad part of history, but it was so long ago myth has merged with facts and most people don't look into these things to see what's real and what's not.

i really liked your paragraph about the 'Us vs. Them mentality' i couldn't agree more. one of the things that bothers me is when a pagan [normally newly converted but i've met those who have studied for years] hate Christians for the most arbitrary reasons. out of everyone i've met who hates or fears Christians, only one has a reason behind it. [but he's still judging everyone because of 2 people] you cannot judge a whole group by the actions of a few, it goes for every group really. if people could think back a ways with the Fox News thing, i was upset [like many people] but there were a lot of comments claiming the anchors were cursed or hexed or whatever. did not help our chase [in my opinion] people who see those comments, or if the broadcasters choose to show them, it would result in A. people insulting us worse, or B. people fearing us and demanding something done.

i guess the point to what i'm saying is don't approach things from an ethnocentric view point and research before you draw a conclusion.

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
Post # 3
Just a smattering of history,in regards to the Inqusition. It was started in 1198 by the pope. Who wasnt after pagans at all but a Hertical Christan sect in france. They were belived to be one of the last reamining gnostic christian gtoups. They did not follow the "the Pope" as gods "voice" on earth there for they were branded Heritics.
The mandate then spread to include Jewish people. Spreading to Spain and Portugal. Where Jews were ethier forced to convert or be subject to hanging or burning. In 1288 there was a mass burning of Jewish people in france.
In 1498 The King and Queen of Spain, mandated the "Ortodoxy of Catholicsm". They began rounding up people who where not following the tenents of the faith. I'm sure a few pagans,got cot in the crossfire. However the historical records speaks mostly again of jews and "non pious catholics." Or anyone who had converted who was seen to have close tyes to the Jewish community.
So the focus of the inqusition was not on pagans at all. It was really about converting or eliminating those who stood in the way of the dominance of Rome and the vatican. As always motivated by power and money. The people who where captured toutured and possible killed automaticly lost there land,and any other matieral holding they had. Thoses lands often times reverted title to the vatican.
Hope this was informitive for you. Blessed be

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
Post # 4
At first I felt really awkward about being a catholic witch, then it got worst because I switched to Wiccan, but I'm 14 so I still have to live with a bunch of Catholics. Undercover which right here! Four more years until I can stop looking over my shoulder. This is a really good post by the way.

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
By: Moderator / Adept
Post # 5
As usual, a great, accurate, and intelligent post by Lark. In Britain no witches were burnt. And no more than about a dozen were found "guilty" of witchcraft, and were hanged!

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
Post # 6
good post, lark;)

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
Post # 7
Wonderful information.

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
By: / Novice
Post # 8
So how many witches actually died according to historical records Lark?It is a face that some woman and men were burned at the stake.

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
By: Moderator / Adept
Post # 9

The estimate is that some 50,000 men and women were accused of witchcraft and subsequently executed; however, it is unlikely that many of them were actually witches and none were Wiccan. The fact is that most people accused of witchcraft were totally innocent of the crime and were accused because of the greed and fear of their neighbors.

Re: Myth of the Burning Times
By: / Novice
Post # 10
Well ofcourse none were Wiccan
This was years before Gardner came out
I would think most of the so called witches were woman in severe poverty or mentally ill etc
The world didn't understand mental illness yet,
50000 is still nothing to sneez at when we're are talking about innocent people accused of nonsense based on even more nonsense and misguided information.

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