Redux: Sometimes it IS all about you!

Interestingly enough, I - and articles I've written - have been the subject of a few other bloggers' articles and rants in the past few weeks. Let me take a quick moment to have a surreal giggle moment. (*giggle*) Okay, I have composed myself.

This week a new article on WitchVox by Zan Fraser takes aim at my article called The Burning of Margaret Murray. My article took on the various theories that Murray came up with about the Burning Times, the figure of 9 million women killed, the idea of the Women's Holocaust, the supposed witch cults, covens of 13, the ancient Wiccans, and more. The findings in my article said that, while Murray and her contemporaries had some basis for what she said, the data was wholly misinterpreted and blown out of proportion.

The fascinating thing about this article is that while Fraser doesn't seem to disagree with my information, Zan seems to disagree with me calling the modern notion of the Burning Times - and all the cockamamy ideas accompanying it - is false.

I said that Murray was not the first person to talk about the witch hunts of Europe and the Americas, but I did say that she took the information that was there, skimmed it, and then made up her own thing. Fraser argues against this by saying that Murray wasn't the first to talk about the Burning Times, which I didn't disagree with. But, merely talking about the veracity of witch trials doesn't mean the modern interpretation and idea of the Burning Times is accurate.

Another major point that Fraser takes on is the number and gender of people persecuted and killed for being a witch.  While he concedes that 9 million is overblown by a factor of 90, Zan states that the amount should really be 100,000 dead and 200,000 jailed for being a witch. My highest estimation comes from Levack, who said that despite the recorded numbers, possibly 60,000 were killed. Fraser gets this number, and all of his facts about the amount of witches and such from one book by Anne Llewellyn Barstow. Barstow's book is an extremely sympathetic retelling of the Burning Times, never doubting for a second those that were killed were, indeed, witches and that those women were outspoken heroines.

Not to take a thing away from those that were killed, but they weren't all witches. Records tell us that very few of them probably were. In reality, desire for land, wealth, political power, etc. were the reasons behind many of the killings. Calling someone a witch was a nice neat way of relegating someone to the gallows without the messy task of proving their guilt of a physical crime.

Barstow also discounts the trials of Finland, Estonia, and Iceland as not being true witch hunts. Thus discounting the vast amounts of men who were put on trial and killed for witchcraft. Without these number, witch hunts look a lot more like a Women's Holocaust, but the problem is that you can't just wipe away numbers of dead folks. Around 25% of those killed in these trials were men. 1/4th of all killed being a different gender does not a gendered holocaust make.

Fraser's article is a good one, and makes the point that I made at the end of my article: you can still believe in the Burning Times. However, my article went one step further and said that to do so, you need to recognize you're doing it out of faith. Facts don't support the Burning Times hypothesis. And, the problem with accepting part of the Burning Times hypothesis, is that you sort of have to accept the other parts, right? You can't really believe that so large a number of women were killed without a good reason, and the best reason is the church's persecution of lesser pagan religions. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Fraser ends his article with 3 points:

  1. The Burning Times 'phenomenon' goes beyond Murray. I agree recordings came before; I disagree that the overblown nature of Murrayite theories are accurate.
  2. Barstow's numbers are correct. Umm... Nobody has an accurate number. Nobody. Barstow's 100,000 dead might even be true. It's the highest estimate I've ever heard, but who knows?
  3. It was indeed a female holocaust. I've covered this point already. The answer is no.

I challenge you. What is YOUR opinion about the Burning Times? Leave a comment, send an email to, or tweet me @IncitingARiot! I'd love to hear from YOU!

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

PS. Could you spare a quick vote over at Podcast Alley? I'd be oh so grateful!


  1. I think gender does have quite a bit to do with it. 75% is a pretty high number. The changeover from medieval to renaissance eras was not good for women. Many of their traditional domains, like midwifery, were taken over by men and formalized as "science." As a result, they lost a lot of their power and standing in their communities. Accusing them of witchcraft was one more way to shake women's credibility.

  2. Just tweeted but will pop a bit more info here.
    The Burning Times were tragic but I feel we need to look past that, get some pride and become better from the experience.

    Hell, not many people are witches in the sense of, say, the Salem witches. The definition of magic, witchcraft etc has evolved into more in this day and age.
    If we can't leave that part of the world's past (because it is the world's past, not necessarily ours) then what hope do we have of removing the stereotypical views of yester-year that many people might be stuck on?

    Until we move on how can we expect people to do the same and accept us?

    "Witch Hunts" still happen today so what have we learnt? Down and out members of society are always targeted in some sort of way. In the medieval age it was lepers, in a little town in New England it was the local cunning folk and today it could be anyone else; Gay people like Constance McMillen, Mexican people like those affected by Arizona's new laws or, oh yea, anyone else even slightly out of the ordinary.

    If we play victim we become victims. So let's stop with the self-fulfilling prophecy and be the best that we can be instead?
    xxx Aria

  3. Splendificus / RobMay 18, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    I'm surprised every time I see this come up, though if my guess is correct, I shouldn't be. The burning times, persecution and "old ways" witch cults, seem to be a key component of some people's faith in Wicca and other Witchy religions. If they give up that belief, the foundation for their faith will be rocked, so they cling to it for dear life. At least, that is my theory:P

  4. Does having the exact number of victims really matter?
    And how could it not be an issue of gender? The Burning Times stemmed from the growing political strength of the Catholic Church that preceded the crisis. Women were believed to be the ones responsible for "original sin", causing the fall of man and subsequent expulsion from Eden. Women were viewed as weak and unclean, easily seduced by the power of the Devil and more than willing to do so. This ideology was strictly pounded into the heads of the peasant class whom, being uneducated otherwise, interpreted it literally in their lives. Innocent women were expected to be ignorant, virtuous, and chaste. Women who were strong, opinionated, and independent were seen as having made a pact with the Devil for possessing such qualities. All of this set the stage for a nightmarish scenario when the Church began persecuting heretics. It started as a movement to rid the Catholic countries of those who preached against the teachings of the Church. The fact that men were persecuted does not lessen the probability that this was a genocide against women. Anyone could be accused by their neighbor of being a heretic or a witch, with enough people willing to back up the charge. Even if the majority of the accounts where false. Women were the easy targets in that they had no rights under the feudal systems of Europe. They were nothing more than property to their fathers and husbands. What little power they had only extended to the women brought up to be midwives. It's unfair to state that believing that any of this happened is a "leap of faith" considering the amount of documentation that exists prior to the works of modern authors. The political and religious environment of that time was ripe for a crisis that would further the power of the Church.

    There are actual witch hunts going on in the world even today. In just the last thirty years, South Africa has seen the deaths of hundreds of supposed 'witches' through mob violence. In the Middle East, it is possible to be sentenced to death for being accused of witchcraft. In fact, if it wasn't for the pressure applied by Amnesty International, a man would have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia for sorcery just this past April. He was a fortune teller visiting on a religious pilgrimage when he was arrested by Saudi religious police.

    The world's past is OUR past. We shouldn't dismiss the experience of others just because we were not present to experience it ourselves. We should see it as a chance to learn and to appreciate the place and time that we do live in. It's not about making ourselves out to be the victims. It's about realizing that we have the tools to fight against the ignorance that cause such violence.

    We can speculate from dawn to dusk about how many died in "The Burning Times". The total number of victims is irrelevant. It's the fact that there are victims to count in the first place that make it a heinous crime.

  5. Actually Anonymous, burning witches is originally a pagan practice, and existed Europe long before Christianization. Catholics don't own it. It was even banned by Charlemagne for being an "evil pagan practice" :p The actual Church Inquisition was mostly focused on "deviant" forms of Christianity, like the Cathars. They didn't really give a damn about pagans, and the worst someone believed to be a witch would get through most of the medieval period is a day in the stocks from the local constabulary, not the church.

    I really don't get the fury on the subject or how it is very relevant to witches today. Do you just like being a member of a group that tries to claim victim status? When compared to historical killings, the burning times numbers are fairly insignificant. Some campaigns killed more people in a month than in 200 years of "witches" killed.

    On your 2nd point, I think everyone knows Sharia law sucks.

  6. An informative book on this matter is called Demon Lovers by Walter Stephens:

    "Rosemary's Baby fans be forewarned: there is little entertainment but much ponderous discussion about theological history in this book on the Christian obsession with sex and demons during the 15th and 16th centuries. To explain this phenomenon, Stephens (Italian, Johns Hopkins; Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History and Nationalism) turns his attention to the witchcraft treatises written during that time rather than to accounts of the trials themselves. A conscientious historian and writer, he places his work in the context of what has already been done and is careful to point out the dangers of foisting the concerns of one's own era on the goings-on of another. Instead, Stephens attempts to show at great length and with considerable scholarship that this preoccupation had to do with nothing less than theologians' uncertainty about the realness of demons, without whose existence the very precepts of Christianity could be called into question. Recommended for academic libraries. Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ " from Amazon

    The local governments did most of the witchcraft persecutions at the behest of the local residents, not the church. Trial by the secular authorities led to the harshest treatment and sentences. The people who wrote the witch hunting manuals did so to convince church authorities that witches were real. Protestants were the most enthusiastic witch hunters.


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