Stella Australis
Book of Shadows*Witchcraft History*Oz Pagans in the Media*Australian Pagan Events*Australian Religious Rights*Graphics*NovaPagan*Links

Witchcraft Craze History

How Many Were Killed?

For a variety of reasons, we will probably never know how many people died as a direct result of the Witchcraft hunts. Many judicial records have been destroyed, not all trials had records, not all those killed were given a trial but were lynched by members of their communities.

Figures of those Killed

The figures given for the numbers killed range from only a few thousand, to as high as nine million. It seems likely that both these figures are incorrect. For various reasons, such as then current population figures etc it is unlikely that the number of dead would be in the millions. It is more likely that the number is between 100,000 and 300,000.

The first distinction that must be made is between the number of prosecutions and the number of executions. Not all those tried or convicted were actually executed. For example in the German lands, in some hunts, virtually all suspects were convicted and executed while in other areas, the difference between the number of convictions and the number of excutions is quite significant. Levack (1997, p. 19) holds that in most regions the execution rate was about 70%. However, in areas such as Essex county and Geneva the rate was only about 25% while only in Pays de Vaud did the rate reach as high as 90%.

Secondly, the claims of the numbers killed may have been exagerated by the authorities themselves. Those in charge of executions may have wished to exagerate the numbers killed in order to demonstrate their piety or religious devotion or to reinforce their positions of power through fear. Later writers on these events may have wished to emphasise the gravity of their topic by increasing the tally of those killed.

Location of those Killed

According to Levack (1997, p.19) most of those killed died in German lands within the Holy Roman Empire. Records that exist, data relating to over 30,000 prosecutions, most relating to German lands, have been found. In some of the entries, more than one name is recorded it is possible that the total number of prosecutions in German lands could have exceeded 50,000 people.

The next highest concentration of prosecutions was in the lands surrounding German lands. Poland in the east had about 15,000 trials although there is still much work to be done on this area. To the south, Switzerland had about 9,000 hunts. In the various states to the west, including France, the number of trials probably reached about 10,000. French courts prosecuted witches in large numbers throughout the period. The Parlement of Paris, which had juristiction over about half the country, heard 1,123 cases on appeal between 1565 and 1640. Since appeals were not automatic until 1624, is seems that the number of original trails would probably been much higher. Also, the most intense area of prosecution in France were in the southwest and southeast, outside the area controlled by the Parlement of Paris.

In the British Isles, there were also heavy periods of prosecutions. As a whole there were probably about 5,000 trials in the Isles (about half of them in Scotland) and about 5,000 in the various Scandinavian kingdoms.

There were also about 4,000 trials in Hungry, Translyvania, Moldavia, Wallacia and Russia. The numbers are low from these areas, but they may change as these areas are increasingly be studied by modern scholars.

Finally, around the Mediterranen, the Spanish kingdoms and the Italian states, there were about 10,000 prosecutions. Many of these were for relatively minor forms of magic, very few of these prosecutions resulted in executions.

Significance of the Numbers

Although these numbers give us a total of about 110,000 prosecutions and about 60,000 executions, the numbers do not convey the full intensity of the witchhunts. The number brought to trial doesn't tell us how many lived in fear for their lives for being suspected of witchcraft. It doesn't give us the number of people who were accused of witchcraft and the ramifications of having been accused. Also, many who were formally accused may never have been brought to trial, who still lived in fear of being prosecuted.

Also you must break down the executions to a village level to get their true impact. For example, 133 witches were executed in one day in the lands of the Convent of Quedlinburg. How many of those people may have all been from the same village or even the same family? There are tales of every woman in a village being accused and prosecuted. The effect on certain regions must have been devestating. u

Sources:

Levack, Brian "The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe" (London: Longman, 1987)
Hart, Roger "Witchcraft" (London: Wayland Publishers, 1971)
Maple, Eric "Witchcraft" (London: Octopus Books, 1973)
Britannica Online "Occultism: Witchcraft: Witchcraft in Historical Cultures: Western Christendom" - http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=macro/5004/71/47.html


My aim in this section of my site is to provide some of the current academic thinking in relation to this period and the events that occured. If you would like to contribute or make a comment, feel free to contact me: laren@geocities.com.

Yours, Laren

Page Updated 7th April, 2000
Hosting by WebRing.