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History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts


Val Camonica Witch-Trials

Two large-scale witch-hunts also occurred in Val Camonica, a small, remote and mountainous area then under the republic of Venice.  While part of the Venice, Val Camonica was entirely different than and isolated from Venetian society. An educated local observer in 1518 wrote an account on the witch-trials that occurred in this area and described […]

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Giovanni Pico and Humanists’ Skeptical Approach to Witchcraft

Mirandola was the birthplace of Giovanni Pico. He was an Italian Renaissance thinker who spent most of his life traveling to Florence and Rome. He published many works, including “Oration on the Dignity of Man” (1486) in which he justified the importance of the human quest for knowledge within a Neoplatonic framework. He espoused the […]

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The Inquisition of Como

The case of Inquisition of Como (Lombardy) is one of the first and large-scale witch-hunt that occurred in Italy. While the trial documents were likely destroyed, but these trials are admirably mentioned in the Malleus Maleficarum multiple times. Heinrich Kramer describes how, “The Inquisitor of Como in the space of one year, which was the […]

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Florentine Trials of Love magic

As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence embodied the virtues of the cultural movement. Throughout the Renaissance, the city remained at the center and became one of the largest and most economically successful cities in Europe. While few witch-trials occurred in Florence, there were multiple cases of love-magic during the late 14th century. Trial records […]

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Plague-Spreaders in Geneva

The city of Geneva, Switzerland generally had remarkably mild witch trials and a very low execution rate at only 21%. The panics in Geneva involving plague-spreaders, or engraisseurs, however, saw both many people accused and many executed. In 1530, an engraisseur panic began when the master of the plague hospital in Geneva, his wife, the hospital […]

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Werewolves in French Switzerland

To peasants whose livelihoods depended upon livestock, wolves were one of the most feared and loathed animals, making the idea of transformations into werewolves an ominous one; however, folk belief about werewolves and demonological beliefs about them differed significantly. While the educated demonologists viewed the belief that humans could transform into werewolves as superstitious, they […]

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Johannes Nider’s Formicarius, 1435

Johannes Nider’s Formicarius was a demonological treatise written during the Council of Basel in Switzerland. Nider’s treatise detailed the features that were commonly thought to be a part of the witches’ sabbat, including cannibalistic infanticide as an initiation ritual: “When Peter had questioned one of the captured witches how they ate babies, she said: ‘This […]

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Witchcraft Panic in the Bishopric of Basel, 1670

During the spring of 1670 in the Franches-Montagnes district of the Bishopric of Basel, three old women assaulted a man who disturbed them. The women claimed to have mistaken him for the Devil, and he thought he had interrupted a witch’s sabbat. The old women were already suspected of causing possessing in some children and drying […]

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1634 Witchcraft Panic in Fribourg

 In 1634 in Fribourg, a woman named Mya Varmey was arrested and tortured using a strappado- in which one’s hands are tied behind one’s back and then suspended from the ceiling by them. She confessed to witchcraft and accused several other people, four of which were then arrested. Two of those four, Catherine des Arbines […]

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Case of Maksimko Ivanov

Valeria Kivelson describes one of the most sensational cases of spirit invocation involving a suspect of non-Russian ethnicity, which was one of the largest groups of people accused of witch craft in Russia. “Maksimko Ivanov, for instance, a self-proclaimed healer, was charged with calling demons to tell him ‘what is going on 100 versts away, […]

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