The infamous Malleus Maleficarum - ‘Hammer of the Witches’ - was a sinister and highly influential witch-hunter’s handbook published in 1487. It has been called ‘the wickedest, silliest, most insane and most disastrous book in world literature’.
It alleged (amongst other things) that witches collected large numbers of men’s penises and kept them in boxes, where they moved around as if alive and ate oats and corn. If witches didn’t actually remove men’s penises, the book claimed, they made them invisible, so men couldn’t see or touch them.
There were very few witch trials in the Middle Ages. For much of it, official church teaching was that witches didn’t exist. At times, it was actually illegal to believe in them and, in 1490 Malleus Maleficarum was proscribed by the church as pagan. But, partly as a result of the book, things changed in the 16th and 17th centuries when witch-hunting became a mania.
Some priests worked hard to debunk superstition. To discredit the claims of a woman who said could turn into a puff of smoke and escape from a locked room via the keyhole, one clergyman locked himself in with her and beat her with a stick, to show villagers she couldn’t do what she claimed – arguably the most disturbing edition of ‘Through the Keyhole’ ever.
An accusation of witchcraft in England by no means necessarily led to a death sentence. The Church took no part in prosecutions. Accusers had to prove a witch had harmed them and English juries were surprisingly reluctant to convict. Seventy-five percent of all witch trials ended in acquittal.
According to Malcolm Gaskill, in his detailed history of the 17th century witchhunting craze, Witchfinders, the popular perception that five million women were burned at the stake for witchcraft in Europe between 1450 and 1750 is a massive overestimate. He believes, like most historians of the period, that 40,000 is closer to the true figure, and that a quarter of those executed were men.
A witch who is bored might do ANYTHING.
One theory about the origins of the witches’ broomstick is that witches used a fungus called ergot to achieve hallucinations.
One of the most effective means of taking it was to apply it as a suppository, applied with a broom handle. The ‘flying’ was their consequent trip.
It's not known where the tradition of witches wearing pointed hats arose.
Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world.
In about 1840, three villagers on the isle of St. Kilda killed a Great Auk for being a witch. The Great Auk in question was being kept on the island, tied up with a rope.
A storm arose on the island and that, together with the loud noise it made, made the islanders think it was a witch. They killed it the third day after it was caught; the men who killed it declared that they were beating it for an hour with stones before it was dead.
A 17th century cure for ‘witchcraft’ was to ‘take a quart of your Wive's urine, the paring of her Nails, some of her Hair, and such like, and boyl them well in a Pipkin’.
In March 2016, a BT engineer was attacked in Buttsford, Suffolk while connecting it to the internet by a group of villagers shouting ‘Begone, witch. Your interweb powers will not work here’.
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, was a descendant of one of the Salem witches.
Saudi Arabia has an official anti-witchcraft unit.
The Faroe Islands are the only country in Northern Europe which has never burned a witch.
Wearing a green garter of ash was supposed to provide protection from witchcraft.
A 'gyre-carline' is an old Scottish word for a witch.
No witches were burned in Britain in the 16th century? They were hanged.
In medieval England, the best protection against witches was to bury a toad in a bottle near your door or hearth.
In modern Nepal, people suspected of witchcraft are force-fed human excrement.
In Moscow, male witches outnumbered women 7:3.