Today we’re zooming forward in time. No longer are we looking back hundreds of thousands of years into the past. Specifically, we will be touching on the beginnings of wizarding villages, with an emphasis on witch-hunting and its influence on the formation of European communities. We will not be discussing any villages in particular, however, because that will be covered over the next two lessons.
Overview of Witch-Hunting
For hundreds of years, Muggles have been wary of witchcraft and magic. Witchcraft was officially banned and labelled as evil in many religions, including, most notably, Christianity and Judaism. Many followers of these religions held the view that witchcraft was sinful and wrong. Of course, I would not go as far as to say that only one or two religions were against witchcraft, but instead, that persecution by those religions was more prevalent, with well-documented instances.
Even though Muggles had developed their own viewpoints on the use of magic quite early on, persecution for the use of witchcraft only began to be recorded much later. Some religious figures, such as St. Augustine of Hippo, believed that magic was nothing but a delusion. This disbelief was a relief for many magical practitioners living alongside Muggles under Roman rule, because this meant that magic was tolerated by even the most religious. This peace was rather long-lived, lasting in some form for hundreds of years. However, as is the way of the world, things changed gradually. Religious leaders became less able to set the minds of average Muggles at ease and witchcraft was increasingly deemed wrong, evil, and life-threatening by the general populace and superstitions. In fact, witchcraft was blamed for countless misfortunes in daily life, such as farming failures or sudden, unexplained deaths. By the 13th century, witchcraft trials in Europe gained popularity and witch-hunts and burnings became a common sight by the early 14th century and lasted for centuries.
Most, if not all, Muggles of this time period believed that witches and wizards existed. Few of them were pleased to see us or had favorable opinions of magic users. Indeed, a witch was defined as “a person who had sold their soul to the devil.” Which is not a terribly favorable (or accurate) description. Because of our assumed associations with evil, Muggles saw no issue with using torturous methods to interrogate suspected witches. These methods were very efficient at exacting admissions of guilt even from the guiltless, causing people to confess to anything that would release them from the agony. Afterwards, they would be put to death in various ways, including by being burnt at the stake or hung.
Despite being determined to catch witches, Muggles were not very good at identifying magic. Once in a while, they would successfully catch a real witch or wizard and attempt to burn them, but this was rare. It was a simple matter for the average witch or wizard to Apparate away, or simply cast a spell (whether defensive or something a little nastier) to cover their escape. The few magical persons that were caught and killed were those that were somehow separated from their wands, or were children who either were not in control of their magical abilities or were not powerful enough to defend themselves. Of course, some witches and wizards did their best to perpetuate the lie that these witch hunts were successful, not wanting their pursuers to change tactics and happen upon a way to actually successfully incapacitate them. Therefore, they allowed themselves to be captured and fake their deaths, sometimes in rather elaborate ways.
Now is as a good time as any to tell you about Wendelin the Weird, a witch from the Middle Ages. Instead of fearing being caught and burnt, she would deliberately practice magic out in the open so that she would be noticed by witch-hunters. While being burnt, she would perform a basic Flame Freezing Charm that would bring about nothing but a gentle tickling sensation. However, for her performance, she pretended to shriek in pain. It has been recorded that she was caught and burnt no less than 47 times. However, to avoid arousing the suspicion of her Muggle captors, out of these 47 times she was only burnt about 14 times as herself and in various disguises via Polyjuice and Glamour Charms for the other 33 times. It’s unknown what her motives are, but it is commonly believed she allowed herself to be caught for strange personal preferences.
On a less whimsical note, due to the growing hysteria amongst Muggles, many lost their lives, including both magical and non-magical people. In Britain alone, thousands were killed, and that number jumps to the tens of thousands if we expand our range to include all of Europe. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, also known as the Renaissance, there was a strong religious presence and thus a spike in witch burning took place. This phenomena only faded around the 18th century, for a few reasons.
One such reason was the Witchcraft Act of 1735. This is certainly a year to be thankful for, as the Parliament of Great Britain passed a law stating it was illegal to claim that another person had magical abilities or was guilty of practicing witchcraft. Essentially, it turned common practice on its head: it was now a crime to accuse another of witchcraft, not a crime to practice it. The sentence was a year of jail time, and this was quite sufficient to persuade most people not to participate. At this point (after the expense and time put into many wild goose chases), even Muggles were a bit tired of the whole farce as it was becoming increasingly obvious that many accused witches were in fact victims of malice from their neighbors or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Witches in A Pinch
It is evident that the fear of the unknown, magical or non-magical, has caused many people to do evil things. Many lives were lost due to these fears. In fact, in Europe between the 15th to 18th century, an estimated number of 35,000 people were executed for suspected witchcraft.
With that overview painting a good general picture, it’s time to zero in on a few specific cases and dates to flesh out the details a bit. While most of these took place in the United Kingdom, we will also be throwing in a brief mention of the Salem witch trials, not only for the sake of comparison and thoroughness, but also because at this time the United States was actually a part of the greater “British Commonwealth” which included all the various territories it held as colonies.
A Royal Affair
In 1591, King James VI of Scotland traveled to Denmark to meet his betrothed. Unfortunately, during his journey he encountered extremely poor weather, creating chaos aboard the ship and delaying his arrival by nearly two weeks. As you can imagine, the king was quite upset. And, with the help of a few superstitious subjects, a story was born that connected these events to his biggest fear: witchcraft. When he returned to Britain, a series of militant witch hunts began and a number of innocent people lost their lives in the process. While, as usual, most were Muggles, there were a number of those who were healers or dabbled in potions. Justine Thian was a healer during this time and left a journal recounting some of her experiences with those who were suspicious of her magic. I have included a small excerpt below.
“I woke this morning to a clamour and shouts at my neighbor's house. I knew exactly what it must mean. Everyone did. I got up quickly, knowing they would soon be at my door to tell me what had happened. I went out into my living room and started tidying the house, the Muggle way of course. It wouldn't do to use magic with the soldiers so near! I took a look around my house to make sure nothing out of the ordinary was left out and almost didn’t notice I left my wand on the counter from the night before. I ran to the bedroom and stuffed it into a pile of shifts and underclothes. Just a few moments later I heard a knock at my door and went to open it, attempting to seem unaffected.”
Her account continues to describe the interaction she had with the witch hunters and her discomfort with the situation (not being able to admit that she knew her neighbor’s innocence without incriminating herself instead). This was certainly an emotionally and psychologically challenging time for many and involved people making hard choices daily.
The Witchfinder General
One of the most successful witch hunters in England, Mr. Hopkins managed to charge more true witches in his career (the height of which spanned from 1644 to 1646) than had been charged within the past hundred. No one is quite sure how he accomplished this, but some magical historians claim he may have received help from a rogue wizard who obviously could recognize tell-tale signs of magic and was willing to point them out to Hopkins. Despite his alleged ability to decipher true magic from fake, he also took part in his share of a number of false witch burnings. While it is difficult to be certain due to discrepancies in records, it’s believed that he was involved in, or responsible for roughly 300 executions of accused witches, at least a hundred of whom were truly magical.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
The unfortunate victim in this story is Temperance Lloyd, a Muggle woman accused of performing witchcraft alongside some of her other associates. To give you an idea of the absurdity and obscurity of the charges many witches were convicted of, the charges against Lloyd were suspicion of using sorcery or witchcraft upon Grace Thomas, who was a close friend of hers. The proof of her involvement? Well, those who testified stated that Lloyd was overjoyed when her friend regained her health after a terrible illness, stating that her happiness was, in fact, relief, because Lloyd was the one who had made her sick to begin with. Not exactly the kind of logic or reasoning that would get a person convicted in this day and age, but, of course, this trial took place in 1682 and both methods and standards were quite different.
The second part of her accusation covers the “obscure” or “vague” part of many witchcraft charges. In addition to making her friend ill, she was also accused of associating with the devil in the likeness or shape of a black man. Oddly, apart from during the original accusation, no one would even step forward to actually say that they had seen Lloyd with any man that fit this description, yet the claim stuck. While she would not admit to it, she would not deny it either. Some magical historians believe she was protecting a magical friend, but we don’t know for sure what exactly her motivations were, or if indeed she was meeting with an actual witch or wizard.
Insanity at Salem
These trials are extremely well known in the United States, but perhaps less so here. As a brief recap, over 150 people in one small area were charged with witchcraft, 19 of whom were actually witches and two that were only children. The rest were innocent bystanders with the wrong profession who interacted with the wrong people. The most common death for a witch in the American colonies at this time was hanging, but many were killed by other methods, including drowning or being burned at the stake. They began in 1692, and the last accused witch involved in these trials was executed in this same year, but the trials, and the suspicion that came with them, continued until 1693.
The Creation of Wizarding Villages
As may seem logical, these witch hunts had a number of ramifications on the magical population. One of these was causing many practitioners of magic to seclude themselves in small groups away from larger non-magical cities and towns. One main motivating factor for this was because they had to protect the young witches and wizards who were unable to gain full control over their power, and to reduce the chances of being seen when accidental magic happened. They also started to limit their social interaction with the Muggle communities in large groups.
Eventually, in 1689, the International Statute of Secrecy was signed, though it took a period of time for its many changes to go into effect. This statute aimed “to protect witches and wizards globally from the fear and persecution that they faced at the hands of their Muggle counterparts.” Thus, to protect each themselves, they were to separate themselves and live on their own, removed from the witch-hunt hysteria, for fear their lives might be in danger. Signed by the International Confederation of Wizards, the International Statute of Secrecy was widely believed to be the best possible way to protect both Muggles and magical folk from future persecution.
While there is much more to this document, in the context of this lesson (and the ones that follow), it is important because it served as a motivating force behind the creation and recognition of “official” wizarding villages, some of which had already existed for over a hundred years. If the enacting of the International Statute of Secrecy interests you -- as it should as one of the most important pieces of magical legislature in history -- you will be happy to know that we will cover it in more detail in Year Three.
But for now, we must say goodbye! You have a simple assignment this week. As always, please use your own words to express yourself, as it shows me that you have actually retained and understood what you’ve learned in this lesson, rather than just repeating back information you don’t comprehend. Best of luck!