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Myth of the Burning Times

Hi Shadowhag,

Here's that essay on the Burning Times that you asked me for. -Lark-

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 Catholocism. 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 witchraft 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 perescuted 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 - http://www.tangledmoon.org/witchhunt.htm

"Women and Witchcraft" - http://wicca.timerift.net/women_essay.shtml

"Estimates of the Number That Died" http://www.summerlands.com/crossroads/remembrance/current.htm

"The Impact of New Evidence" http://www.summerlands.com/crossroads/remembrance/impactof.htm#The%...

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

-Lark, 10 October 2008-

Posted on Fri Oct 10, 2008 11:36 am by ShadowHag
"Myth of the Burning Times" | Login/Create an Account | 2 comments | Search Discussion
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Re: Myth of the Burning Times (Score: 1)
by joy_moonwillow (joy_moonwillow@holysocks.com) on Tue Feb 03, 2009 5:16 am
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An excellent article! I remember back when I actually believed this myth. It created a great deal of havoc in my personal life. It took me a long time to recognize that my own fear/anger response was responsible for provoking much of the hostility I experienced from Christian family members. At one point I even accused my sister of having tortured me in a past life! Our modern Christian cousins may not always be loving and understanding of our weird mumbo jumbo, but they've come a long way! And meeting a person with love and understanding is the best way to get love and understanding in return.

Thanks Lark

  • re by BurnettMinerva21 on Fri Jul 22, 2011 3:05 pm
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