How many people were killed as Witches in Europe from 1200 to the present?

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The original post generated a lot of comments, including from expert historians who strongly disagreed with my post. I put those comments at the bottom of the post so you can see them. I am sticking to my story that the consideration of people murdered as witches should include the 13th century, and does not for reasons having more to do with quirks of the practice of history than to the behavior of the Europeans at the time. I also maintain that typical estimates accepted by historians are by nature conservative.

Now, on to the original post:

I recently came across a reference to the total number of people killed for being Witches in Europe since the historically documented practice began in the early Middle Ages. (The idea of Witches is much broader than the European practice.) The number was in the tens of thousands. Looking at the reference for this in Wikipedia, this seems to be about the number accepted by Teh Wiki and whoever it is that is in charge of this particular knowledge at this time. The Wikipedia article also gives a very late date for worship of “Satan” as part of defining a “Witch.” None of this seemed right to me because of a document I recently read, which gave me the impression that Satan was a big deal quite a bit earlier on, and that the number 40 or 50 thousand was way to small.

In looking around at various sources, I’ve noticed what might be hyper skepticism over this topic. Darin Hayton is nearly vitriolic, even hyperbolic, in chastising someone else for using the phrase “hundreds of thousands.” In his post addressing the question “How Many Witches were Executed?!?”, he mentions the 40-50 thousand number, but also provides a table that adds up a bunch of numbers, by country, adding up to low vs. high estimates for executions between 57,401 and 61,651. These data are from the 14th through 17th century.

“In Search of Sungudogo” by Greg Laden blends the supernatural world and the world of skeptics in unexpected ways.

There are a few problems with these data. One is that Witch killing did not begin in 1300. There are important pre-1300 documented cases. Also, it did not end in 1700, though the post 1700 numbers are probably small. Another problem is that these numbers, as far as I can tell, are known cases or estimates of the outcome of known “Witch Hunts.” However, there seems to have been times and places where the trial and execution of Witches had become a poorly documented local matter that may have gone on as a routine slowly piling up bodies but entirely under the radar of those who must see it on paper for it to exist. As an archaeologist who has frequently compared the documented and the undocumented realities of Euro-American culture I would not finch at a 10-1 ratio of cases estimated from historical documents to actual cases. If the numbers add up to 60,000, than 600,000 would not shock me.

Nor am I proposing such a large number. I am merely noting that the method of estimation that seems to be preferred is probably way too conservative, and the time period included is at least a century too short.

I also would like to challenge the idea suggested by Teh Wiki (well, by the page maintainers) that Satan was a late comer to the equation. There seems to be evidence that a link between Witchcraft and Satan as an entity goes back farther. And, I’m going to make this challenge on the basis of a single source. Feel free to have at it.

This is said to be a 13th century depiction of witches. I don’t know a thing about it. If you do, please comment below.

The following account is related in Charles MacKay’s Witch Mania: The History of Witchcraft.

This passage describes the genocide of the people living in a particular part of northern Europe. They were the people of Stedinger. “The Stedinger were settlers, mostly from Holland, who opened up marshy land next to Friesland, on the Weser. For refusing to pay tithes to the Archbishop of Bremen, a crusade was preached against them and they were wiped out in 1234.” (source) It is a little hard to say how many people were killed in this event. Eight thousand were killed on the field of battle, then the entire population was wiped out, supposedly. What percentage of a typical 13th century European population goes to the field of battle (when all possible arms are raised)? Half? A fourth? Let’s take those two numbers, and assume that somewhere between 25% of the population and 80% of the non-combatant population was actually killed. If 8,000 is half the population and 25% of the balance after battle were killed, than about 10,000 people died in this once incident in the early 13th century because they were considered to be witches, the entire population having been so declared by the Pope and others. If those in battle represented only 25% of the population and 80% of the balance after the battle were killed, then the number is more like 33,000 people killed as Witches in that one event.

In other words, I don’t think the number 50,000 holds up given that this one instance may have accounted for a number nearly that large.

I know people will object to this by saying that the people of Stedinger, who really were “wiped out” if this account is accurate, were killed because they were Witches. But, that is true of all the people who were killed as Witches. They were all not Witches, or nearly so, and the practice of “playing the Witch card” applied to all of them, including the people of Stedinger as well as the old lady down the street that someone found annoying. Go ahead and read this account and see if you can make an argument that this was not a systematic genocide using the assertion that everyone in Stedinger was a Witch as the impetus for doing so.

After this time, prosecutions for witchcraft are continually mentioned, especially by the French historians. It was a crime imputed with so much ease, and repelled with so much difficulty, that the powerful, whenever they wanted to ruin the weak, and could fix no other imputation upon them, had only to accuse them of witchcraft to ensure their destruction. Instances, in which this crime was made the pretext for the most violent persecution, both of individuals and of communities, whose real offences were purely political or religious, must be familiar to every reader. The extermination of the Stedinger, in 1234; of the Templars, from 1307 to 1313; the execution of Joan of Arc, in 1429; and the unhappy scenes of Arras, in 1459; are the most prominent. The first of these is perhaps the least known, but is not among the least remarkable. The following account, from Dr. Kortum’s interesting history [“Entstehungsgeschichte der freistadlischen Bunde im Mittelalter, von Dr. F. Kortum.” 1827.] of the republican confederacies of the Middle Ages, will show the horrible convenience of imputations of witchcraft, when royal or priestly wolves wanted a pretext for a quarrel with the sheep.

The Frieslanders, inhabiting the district from the Weser to the Zuydersee, had long been celebrated for their attachment to freedom, and their successful struggles in its defence. As early as the eleventh century, they had formed a general confederacy against the encroachments of the Normans and the Saxons, which was divided into seven seelands, holding annually a diet under a large oaktree at Aurich, near the Upstalboom. Here they managed their own affairs, without the control of the clergy and ambitious nobles who surrounded them, to the great scandal of the latter. They already had true notions of a representative government. The deputies of the people levied the necessary taxes, deliberated on the affairs of the community, and performed, in their simple and patriarchal manner; nearly all the functions of the representative assemblies of the present day. Finally, the Archbishop of Bremen, together with the Count of Oldenburg and other neighbouring potentates, formed a league against that section of the Frieslanders, known by the name of the Stedinger, and succeeded, after harassing them, and sowing dissensions among them for many years, in bringing them under the yoke. But the Stedinger, devotedly attached to their ancient laws, by which they had attained a degree of civil and religious liberty very uncommon in that age, did not submit without a violent struggle. They arose in insurrection, in the year 1204, in defence of the ancient customs of their country–refused to pay taxes to the feudal chiefs, or tithes to the clergy, who had forced themselves into their peaceful retreats, and drove out many of their oppressors. For a period of eight-and-twenty years the brave Stedinger continued the struggle single-handed against the forces of the Archbishops of Bremen and the Counts of Oldenburg, and destroyed, in the year 1232, the strong castle of Slutterberg, near Delmenhorst, built by the latter nobleman as a position from which he could send out his marauders to plunder and destroy the possessions of the peasantry.

The invincible courage of these poor people proving too strong for their oppressors to cope with by the ordinary means of warfare, the Archbishop of Bremen applied to Pope Gregory IX. for his spiritual aid against them. That prelate entered cordially into the cause, and launching forth his anathema against the Stedinger as heretics and witches, encouraged all true believers to assist in their extermination. A large body of thieves and fanatics broke into their country in the year 1233, killing and burning wherever they went, and not sparing either women or children, the sick or the aged, in their rage. The Stedinger, however, rallied in great force, routed their invaders, and killed in battle their leader, Count Burckhardt of Oldenburg, with many inferior chieftains.

Again the pope was applied to, and a crusade against the Stedinger was preached in all that part of Germany. The pope wrote to all the bishops and leaders of the faithful an exhortation to arm, to root out from the land those abominable witches and wizards. “The Stedinger,” said his Holiness, “seduced by the devil, have abjured all the laws of God and man; slandered the Church–insulted the holy sacraments–consulted witches to raise evil spirits–shed blood like water–taken the lives of priests, and concocted an infernal scheme to propagate the worship of the devil, whom they adore under the name of Asmodi. The devil appears to them in different shapes; sometimes as a goose or a duck, and at others in the figure of a pale, black-eyed youth, with a melancholy aspect, whose embrace fills their hearts with eternal hatred against the holy church of Christ. This devil presides at their Sabbaths, when they all kiss him and dance around him. He then envelopes them in total darkness, and they all, male and female, give themselves up to the grossest and most disgusting debauchery.”

In consequence of these letters of the pope, the Emperor of Germany, Frederic II, also pronounced his ban against them. The Bishops of Ratzebourg, Lubeck, Osnabruek, Munster, and Minden took up arms to exterminate them, aided by the Duke of Brabant, the Counts of Holland, of Cloves, of the Mark, of Oldenburg, of Egmond, of Diest, and many other powerful nobles. An army of forty thousand men was soon collected, which marched, under the command of the Duke of Brabant, into the country of the Stedinger. The latter mustered vigorously in defence of their lives and liberties, but could raise no greater force, including every man capable of bearing arms, than eleven thousand men to cope against the overwhelming numbers of their foe. They fought with the energy of despair, but all in vain. Eight thousand of them were slain on the field of battle; the whole race was exterminated; and the enraged conquerors scoured the country in all directions–slew the women and children and old men–drove away the cattle–fired the woods and cottages, and made a total waste of the land.

Admittedly, this was a different situation than the day to day “burning” (or otherwise) of Witches, but the enormity of this does not obviate the nature of the genocide as a particular kind of act. Not counting this event when tallying up the number of killings of people in Europe during this period with the accusation of Witchcraft being the key indictment would be a little like ignoring the Holocaust in enumerating the murder of Jewish People in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. It would preposterous, don’t you think?

But still, it is a bit different than the average Witch Hunt, so I thought I’d quote another passage from MacKay’s book to give you an idea of the overall level of intensity of Witch Mania, as he calls it, during the height of it:

For fear the zeal of the enemies of Satan should cool, successive Popes appointed new commissions. One was appointed by Alexander VI, in 1494; another by Leo X, in 1521, and a third by Adrian VI, in 1522. They were all armed with the same powers to hunt out and destroy, and executed their fearful functions but too rigidly. In Geneva alone five hundred persons were burned in the years 1515 and 1516, under the title of Protestant witches. It would appear that their chief crime was heresy, and their witchcraft merely an aggravation. Bartolomeo de Spina has a list still more fearful. He informs us that, in the year 1524, no less than a thousand persons suffered death for witchcraft in the district of Como, and that for several years afterwards the average number of victims exceeded a hundred annually. One inquisitor, Remigius, took great credit to himself for having, during fifteen years, convicted and burned nine hundred.

In France, about the year 1520, fires for the execution of witches blazed in almost every town. Danaeus, in his “Dialogues of Witches,” says they were so numerous that it would be next to impossible to tell the number of them. So deep was the thraldom of the human mind, that the friends and relatives of the accused parties looked on and approved.

They were doing this for a couple of hundred years. For there to have been 40,000 deaths over that time, 200 people need to have been killed as Witches per year across Europe. Seems low to me.

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Original Comments


December 2, 2012 Edit
In the Pagan community, there’s a meme going around that the number of “witches” killed through the Inquisition was around 9 million. I’m not sure where the number originated, but I assume it counts every tangential death, and many that couldn’t be counted as witches by any standard. I think it’s been getting discredited as more people with educations are involved in Paganism. I used to be one of them, but the anti-intellectual & historical revisionism tendencies really chafed.

Greg Laden

December 2, 2012 Edit
I’ve heard that. I think 9 million is high but 1 or 2 million would not surprise me too much. People need to remember, though, that the populations levels were low. I’d like to know how many Europeans above the age of 10 yers. old ever existed from 1200 to 1700. I think it would NOT be in the high tens of millions.

Nice Ogress

December 2, 2012 Edit
I dunno, Europe was pretty densely packed. I mean, that’s why the plagues hit so hard, Right? Because there were cities and towns and things and people lived very closely together with terrible hygiene.

Stu Savory

December 2, 2012 Edit
How many were killed as witches?
About 666 % of them ?

Thony C.

December 2, 2012 Edit
Your passage on the Stedinger Crusades is complete rubbish. They were attacked as heretics not witches and sensible sources give the total death toll as 5000 and even that is probably too high as an estimate of the entire population of a largely marsh area in the 13th century. 19th century history books are unfortunately often closer to being fantasy novels than real academic history.

Thony C.

December 2, 2012 Edit
Artor: Do you pagan sources have any idea of the real population figures in the High Middle Ages in Europe when the majority of the witch executions took place? The figure 9 million is to put it mildly a joke.

Thony C.

December 2, 2012 Edit
That should read “your sources” and not “you sources”.


December 2, 2012 Edit
“witches and heretics” was the chrge used to justify torturing and killing people in the name of jesus – or the pope, to be honest.

do these figures include the ethnic cleansing of the Moors from Spain? they should.

and the crusades against the anabaptists, the free spirits, and christian communities that did not recognize the authority of the pope. i think the 1 – 2 million guestimate is a bit low. and maybe the 9 million is too high, but somewhere in the 4-6 million range sounds likely.

excellent article, especially now, when “christians” in the u.s. are so ready to start a religious, racial war.


Berlin, Germany
December 2, 2012 Edit
I think Tony C. is right that the source cited in the article should be taken with a grain, or a handful, of salt. It´s some sort of leyenda nera. Even the Enlightenment wasn´t perfect ?


still here
December 2, 2012 Edit
But then, population in western Europe, i.e. not counting Poland-Lithuania and Russia, was probabely like ~20 million during most of the Period 1300-1700, so overall number of adults (50%, or some such) and life expectancy of 30yrs gives +100 million adults during that time.


December 2, 2012 Edit
The charge of heresy became relevant in Europe in the 10th century as a way to destroy ones political foes. I wish the author of this piece well in his research of heresy and witchcraft.


December 2, 2012 Edit
After reading around a little, I´m convinced that my population numbers are far too low ? Wrong guesstimate.


December 2, 2012 Edit
And then, its leyendanegra. Mixing Italian and Spanish is not recommended.


December 2, 2012 Edit
Even one person murdered for religious reasons was too many!


December 2, 2012 Edit
You do know that Mackay’s book is so old that it is horrendously wrong in many ways? It’s years since I had a look through it, and even then some errors were clear. I suppose I’ll have to go back and look at the alchemy section again, since I’m something of an expert at that now.

Certainly we need a cite from Mackay regarding the alleged accusations of witchcraft; you should also read some more modern sources on the topic, because as with everything else, there’s been a lot more found out in the last 30 years. (Including the destruction of the ‘persecuted witches were inheritors of ancient pagan religion’ idea)

On the demons being associated with witchcraft point you are likely on sounder ground. E.g. on page 604 of volume 2 of Throndike’s “History of magic and experimental science”, he writes about Thomas Aquinas writing that magic is really done by the use of demons. And for Aquinas to think that, it is likely that the idea goes back much earlier in the 13th century. I think it probably goes back to the 11/12th century and the absorption of Islamic learning in places like Sicily, which is one of the ways in which a belief in ‘magic’ of various types was modernised, i.e. they started to ask why and how instead of just accepting it.


December 2, 2012 Edit
Hah, found the section on alchemy, spelt “alchymy”. It is the greatest collection of half truths, fables, myths and legends I have seen since I last read something by a creationist.

One example – regarding Pope John 22nd, who in 1322 issued some piece of paper against alchemy and alchemists who defraud people, Mackay wrote:
“This Prelate is said to have been the friend and pupil of Arnold de Villeneuve, by whom he was instructed in all the secrets of alchymy.”
Which is of course totally wrong in every way, or at least, no modern researcher has ever published anything in support of such an assertion.

Of course Mackay didn’t know any better, and there are some facts in there, but I wouldn’t use the Memoirs etc. as anything more than a starting point.


December 2, 2012 Edit
Regarding the population of Europe, the internet is full of stuff, you just have to look it up.
= = = =
I’d like to know how many Europeans above the age of 10 yers. old ever existed from 1200 to 1700. I think it would NOT be in the high tens of millions. = = =

So if we take the above statement at something approaching face value, you’d be completely wrong in every way. With Britain, France, Germany, etc, you’re looking at something like 22 to 35 million, depending on before and after the plague. That suggests that in a rather smaller area than is usually used as Europe, in your 500 years, assuming 50 year lifespan, which is sort of what you expect if you survive past early childhood, you’d be looking at 200 million or more people. But that’s a guestimate, you can do a lot better than that. It’ll certainly be over 150 million, I guarantee it.

Greg Laden

December 2, 2012 Edit
Ok, I get that 19th century sources of earlier histories are problematic in a number of ways. What are the better, more reliable sources on this particular event? (If they exist?)

I’m seeing a lot of reasonable questions or cautions but I’m not seeing a lot of specifics. Why aren’t you people doing my homework for me???!!

There must be a couple of papers or chapters you can assign me. I do appreciate the comments.

December 3, 2012 Edit
Wikipedia has a page for Vox in Rama, the papal bull condemning the Stedingers. There are references to relatively recent books on the subject. I have no idea on the accuracy, although one note references a German translation of Papal bulls as a source.


December 3, 2012 Edit
I’m sure that better sources exist. The bibliography in the back of the British Library book on “Magic in medieval manuscripts” by Sophie Page includes
“Magic in the middle ages”, by R. Kieckhefer, Cambridge university press 1989, so it’s probably a solid book.

There might be something useful in “The occult in Mediaeval Europe” by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart,(Palgrave, 2005) although since his book on alchemy from which I am transcribing this reference isn’t that great, I have my doubts about his book on magic; although he has spent many years lecturing at the University of St Andrews on the topic of magic and the occult, and is up to date with the literature.
As a general rule, much more so than with science, it is best to start with books and sources from the last 30 years because so much rubbish was written in the past (and still is) and it took a disturbingly long time for people to really start mining the historical evidence that is now available.


December 3, 2012 Edit
Attribution of nine million likely considers the crusades against the Cathars as addressing witchcraft rather than heresy. Jeffrey Russell’s book Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, suggests a transistion in the Inquisition away from the Albigiansian heresy towards witchcraft in the late twelfth century.


Thony C.

December 4, 2012 Edit
Greg, on twitter you asked for a more detailed comment on your post and I have now found the time to fulfil your wish

Firstly I find that your comments on Darin Hayton and his article verge on an ad hominem. Darin is an excellent professional historian, with a very good reputation, who specialises in the history of the occult in the High and Late Middle Ages. His real speciality is the history of astrology but of necessity he knows his way round the history of magic. Your attempt to dismiss his figures shows signs of hubris. The figure of 50 to 60 000 executions for witchcraft between 1450 and 1750 is also that given by Jeffrey B. Russell, a leading historian of the subject, in his A New History of Witchcraft, (Thames & Hudson, 2007). To reject these figures out of hand, as you do, is totally insulting to all historians. These figures are based on serious academic research and are not the product of somebodies imagination as are those produced by several people in your comments. Given the difficulty of the sources the figures are not as certain as scientific data but even if they were off by 100%, highly unlikely, the death toll would only be a maximum of 120 000.

The figures are calculated for the given period because this is the period in European history of the so-called witch craze during which the hunting down, persecution and murder of people for witchcraft reached hysterical proportions. In fact the majority of these activities actually took place within the century between 1550 and 1650. The wider spectrum is to catch the beginnings and tailing off of this very strange historical phenomenon.

Naturally people were executed for witchcraft outside of the period but the occurrences of execution for witchcraft are in comparison to the witch craze period relatively seldom. Executions for witchcraft go back into the mist of time and are still going on today in West Africa.

We now turn to the story of the Stedinger, which is a story of a political and fiscal power struggle. These were Dutch settlers on the banks of the river Weser west of Bremen in Northern Germany. When the first settlers came in the eleventh century this was an unsettled area of marshland. They negotiated with the local feudal lord for permission to settle there. They received this permission, which included tax privileges, all of which was fixed in a written contract. Two centuries later the settlers had turned the area into a thriving agricultural settlement. This was a period in which the Catholic Church was trying to establish political dominance over Europe. One of the local Bishops tried to enforce new taxes and above all tithes on the Stedinger who quoting their contract told him to go take a jump. A local knight launched a punitive expedition against the Stedinger and got his arse kicked. At this point the Bishop realised that he needed support if his was going to subdue the Stedinger and wrote to the Pope denouncing them as heretics and requesting the official announcement of a crusade against them. The first crusade took place and also got its arse kicked at which point the Bishop turned up the heat denouncing the Stedinger as Satanists. Now within Christian persecution all witches are Satanists but not all Satanists are witches and the Stedinger were falsely accused of Satanism but not of being witches.

This blanket accusation of Satanism against supposed heretics is very common in the High Middle Ages. It’s part of a standard smear campaign that includes such socio-political gems as well poisoning and eating babies. One finds the same accusations being levelled at Jews and Muslims throughout European history.

Having whipped up the hatred against the Stedinger the Church launched the second crusade against them. This time a vastly superior force defeated the Stedinger militias at the battle of Altenesch and then carried out the massacre you reference. The contemporary accounts differ in the total number of people slaughtered giving figures of 6000, 4000 and 2000 somewhat different to the figures you juggle with in your post.

Greg Laden

December 4, 2012 Edit
Thanks very much for the comments and for the info on the Stedinger. Is there a reference for any of that? It sounds like the accepted version is much the same as the version given in MacKay but for two points: The number involved and the satanist/witchcraft nomenclature.

For my purposes, looking at the traditions of using witchcraft in the manners discussed in the post, I would want to combine the two into one thing. I’m not sure that a distinction is helpful other than to add detail to the traditions. (My own fieldwork has been with folks making reference to both satanism, a concept introduced by missionaries, and witchcraft, in Central Africa.)

Regarding your initial remarks, they are very funny if you mean to be ironic about ad hominem! Of course I want to know what established historians say and I’ll figure they are probably right more often than wrong because of who they are. But that is still subject to documentation and verification.

Doug Alder

December 5, 2012 Edit
Greg, I would not find the 40-50K too far off the mark if it were confined to a tight definition of witch where the accusers (and any behind them) truly believed the person accused was a witch casting spells. This eliminates all the village herbalists/healers that were condemned by the church for not letting God heal the sick with prayer etc. All the old crones who pissed someone off etc etc etc.

That’s the problem with this type of research – the term witch was used for so many different situations – it became a term of convenience for political control (secular and theocratic.) Another problem of course is how many “real” witches were there at the time – ones who used charms, potions and ritual to attempt to change the course of fate – a.k.a. hedge witches?

The concept of the coven was a figment of the church’s imagination, albeit a very convenient figment. Unfortunately people like Gerald Gardner imported that concept and bunch of stuff from 19th C.Masonry, Rosicrucian, Golden Dawn and other mystical sects to create the modern concept of Wicca and much nonsense has prevailed ever since.

The Bells (1926) A Silent Movie Review | Movies, Silently
May 25, 2013 Edit
[…] at Jethro and the mesmerist is particularly troubling. The film is set in the 1860?s and witch burnings had only ended a few decades before. The film does not shy away from the repugnance of […]

Don ,MD

Far northern Canada
August 8, 2013 Edit
The 9 million figure originates in 1970 era feminist critiques of traditional, and therefore male-dominated, Christianity. I wondered why that figure was picked, why not 90 million or 190 million ? people who comment on this subject need to be able to distinguish clearly in their minds the difference between medieval/catholic persecutions of. ‘heresy’ ( ie inquisitions) and early modern trials of witches ( virtually all conducted by civil courts in Protestant countries ) . Totally separate historical phenomena. The catholic church had officially suppressed witch hunting, a social problem that was inherited from pagan Rome, since the mid 5th century. Catholics could not hunt witches without formally breaking church law ; tho I do not know how exactly these laws were enforced, very few witches died in Mediterranean areas. Contemporary witch killing in Africa and Asia now exceeds any former European levels in intensity. The only third world areas which are spared seem to be in Latin America.

A Happy Witch Lives Here | Dr. Elizabeth Green
September 24, 2013 Edit
[…] of 19 people. The trials in America’s colonies were not the only witch trials. In Europe, the church and state hung thousands of individuals after labeling them witches or heretics. This practice went on for hundreds of […]

Tom Mukasa

United States
November 2, 2013 Edit
How have mass killing and murders been resolved over time? That was the question I was researching and a random question brought me to your link and comments of your followers. Please accept me as a follower too. Thanks for showing the way.

paris reilley

February 8, 2014 Edit
the 9 million came from the song , burning times


February 10, 2014 Edit
I want to apologize in advance for hijacking this conversation. Sort of. And for an unreasonably long comment.

I will be making reference to the Nazi program of eliminating ‘undesirables’, to draw a parallel to this discussion, not to make facile comparisons of perpetrators of genocide or witch hunts, but rather to focus on our sense of the wider society in which such events occur.

Getting a handle on the true numbers, whatever they may be, is important in its own right. This is crucial work that historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic investigators do for the rest of us. The point of obtaining better estimates, and greater clarity and consensus of terminology (i.e., what examples are to be included in the count, and which excluded), is to allow us to better comprehend not only what it might have been like to live in Europe of the middle ages (Pinochet’s reign in Chile comes to mind), but also, perhaps, to re-evaluate the institutions and traditions that have been carried forward to today, including conventional wisdom about the origins of contemporary social and economic hierarchies worldwide.

So, here’s the example of outstanding historical and archaeological inquiry reported last year:

“Researchers at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum spent 13 years analyzing evidence and cataloged some 42,500 ghettos and forced labor camps run by Hitler’s regime…

One of the lead editors in the project, called the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, Geoffrey Megargee said when the study began in 2000, he had assumed they would find about 7,000 camps and ghettos.

But as their work continued and they discovered more and more camps, the numbers skyrocketed to 11,500, “then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.”

(a link to the center and it’s research can be found here:

The issues raised, whether talking about witch hunts, or the Holocaust, or genocides of the modern era, include: the extent to which such brutality was a common part of everyone’s experience; the extent to which anyone might claim to be an ignorant or innocent bystander; the degree to which individuals and institutions might be viewed as culpable.

These are, of course, questions of moral judgement.

If the number of witch killings is closer to 2 million, or even 9 million, than to 50, 000 over a four hundred year period, it makes a big difference how we might understand the daily life of any individual living in this era: facing the very real prospect that they, or a loved one, might be fingered as a witch or a satanist, and summarily tried and executed. Talk about a terrorized populous!

I would suggest it is also important not to view the killing of accused witches, satanists, or heretics in isolation, but instead to see these actions within a broader framework of what today would be characterized as ‘crimes against humanity’, which include forced relocation, dispossession of property, forced labor and torture:

David A. Plaisted 2006
CHAPTER 2. The plausibility of massive persecution

“The following statement concerning England in about the year 1400 gives more insight into the extent of the persecutions.

By this it was enacted that any one whom an ecclesiastical court should have declared to be guilty, or strongly suspected, of heresy, should, on being made over to the sheriff with a certificate to that effect, be publicly burnt.

[footnote, page 298] It is remarked that England was the only country where such a statute was needed, as elsewhere the secular powers at once carried out the sentence.

— James C. Robertson, History of the Christian Church, The Young Churchman Co., 1904, p. 297.

These persecutions were not necessarily directed by the hierarchy of the church, but for the most part probably originated at a much lower level, from the “ecclesiastical feudalism” of the Middle Ages, as described by Williams:

Abbes and bishops in consequence became suzerains, temporal lords, having numerous vassals ready to take up arms for their cause, counts of justice – in fact all the prerogatives exercised by the great landlords. … This ecclesiastical feudalism was so extensive, so powerful, that in France and England it possessed during the Middle Ages more than a fifth of all the land; in Germany nearly a third.

— Williams, Henry Smith, The Historian’s History of the World, vol. 8, p. 487.

Probably the greatest number of those who perished by the Papacy in Europe did so at the hands of these local authorities, on the grounds of suspected heresy or opposition to the church, and not necessarily at the direction of the Pope, preceded by a trial, nor mentioned in records. Who would there have been to interfere with the actions of the local abbes and bishops? The constant elimination of a few heretics here and there, in many locations, continued for many years, could easily have added up to a total of millions without making much of an impression on recorded history. Throughout the Middle Ages as the possessions of the church increased, so would the number and power of these officials have increased, together with the number of their victims. During the Crusades, their attention may have been externally directed, but with these ending in about 1272, the number of martyrs within Europe could have greatly increased.
The persecutions were not at all limited to the Inquisition, but took many forms. Many of the victims were killed secretly and never brought to trial or sentenced. These deaths would never have appeared in the official records of the Inquisition. Such persecutions even continued until very recent times, as illustrated by the following (quoting Brownlee)…
But woe to the patriot who shall whisper an insinuation, or print an effusion of a noble spirit, bursting with holy indignation against the hypocrisy, the priestly espionage, and despotism of popery! This is the only unpardonable sin at Rome. It can never be forgiven him, either in this world, or in purgatory! The dungeon cells, placed by papal care, at the bishop’s service, in each cathedral; and the cells of the inquisition, and the agonies, and moanings, and shrieks of the oppressed, breathed only on the ear of heaven -these-these are the overwhelming proofs of popery’s deadly hostility to the freedom of speech, and the press!
This description of persecution derives from the testimony of many travelers to Catholic countries at that time. If such persecution took place in the early nineteenth century, how much more must it have occurred in the Middle Ages when the Papacy was at the height of its power! For example, M’Crie relates (The Reformation in Spain, pp. 181-188) how a Spaniard in the year 1546 converted to Protestantism and was in consequence killed by his brother, who never was punished for his deed. There must have been many such assassinations in the Middle Ages by loyal Catholics who were jealous for the reputation of the Virgin Mary. In fact, threats and persecution even took place in the United States, according to Brownlee, pp. 210-211”

(According to Prof. Plaisted’s UNC biography, he received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University. He served on the faculty of the computer science department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until 1984, and since then has been a full professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

You get the point.

In my view, of trying to achieve a more accurate accounting of atrocities by the collaborative efforts of religious institutions, governing authorities, and local officials, allows us to better grapple with these same atrocities being carried out to this day around the world; carried out, I might add, by an uncannily similar group of institutions and individuals, for much the same religious, political, and economic reasons as they were six hundred years ago.

We also might begin to look more critically at the deference and moral authority historically granted these institutions, and those fortunate enough to occupy positions of status and privilege within them.


March 7, 2014 Edit
Yes, but how many of the murdered were WOMEN? That’s really what the witch hunts were all about – the RCC in it’s fanatical misogyny feared those women who were medically knowledgablek who clung to the old ways and didn’t accept their sacred MALE god and this after centuries of wiping out all Goddess worshiping peoples. . Why this evil entity still continues to exist, still holds sway over so many weak minds, I’ll never understand.


March 25, 2014 Edit
check out the book “Women Church and State” by Gage (who actually lived in the small NE town I live in)–it is another 19th century book. it is a feminists take on the oppression of women by the church. she says the number of women killed as witches were 6 million. i don’t remember if she justified that number in any way.

51 Historical Facts That Are Totally Messed Up
March 25, 2014 Edit
[…] 2. In Medieval Times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

51 Historical Facts That Will Make You Glad You Live In The Present Day | Bringing the best news to the People
March 25, 2014 Edit
[…] 2. In Medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

51 Historical Facts That Sound Like Huge Lies But Are Actually True | Cakado / Buzz
March 29, 2014 Edit
[…] 2. In medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

The Kracken And The Ten-Headed Hydra That Threatens Poor Andromeda | Alabastrine Excellence
June 5, 2014 Edit
[…]… […]

Women finding their power on the inside… | Relationship Counselling
June 30, 2014 Edit
[…] than a perfection to be ascended to. And through the burning at the stake of tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of women, so called witches during the dark ages, removing their wisdom from our […]

Feministische theologie krijgt nieuwe steun – Eva was onschuldig | De Zesde Clan
July 4, 2014 Edit
[…] Een ideale zondebok was geboren. Eva symboliseerde de inferioriteit van de vrouw en verexcuseerde daarmee de vrouwenhaat van geestelijken en andere mannelijke autoriteiten. Zij beschuldigden vrouwen van ontembare seksuele lusten, slangachtig gekonkel en heulen met de duivel. Alleen leven als Maria, in de vorm van kuisheid en onderdanigheid aan mannen, konden vrouwen redden. En dan nog bleven ze onder verdenking staan. Met als uitwas de heksenvervolgingen, die al met al in Europa tienduizenden vrouwen de dood injoegen. […]

Women are Wrong
July 9, 2014 Edit
[…] external perfection to be ascended to. And through the burning at the stake of tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of women, so called witches during the dark ages, removing their font of wisdom from our […]


August 5, 2014 Edit
This whole post is, I believe, based on the misnomer that burning at the stake was the punishment for ‘witchcraft’ when in reality it was the punishment for heresy.
Heresy was actually much broader than witchcraft, and could involve such offenses as denying the authority of the Pope, or sexual immorality as part of a religious ritual. Many people were killed for heresy, but I think the number who were accused of ‘witchcraft’ was actually far lower. I think the problem is that people today have conflated the two, and think that everyone who was ever burned was burned as a ‘witch’. This was not the case.
The Lollards, Hussies and Albigenses were not ‘witches’, nor were they accused of being such. Nor were the likes of William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer. Indeed, the vast majority of people killed for heresy in the Middle Ages would probably have considered themselves to be Christians, not witches or neo-pagans……

Greg Laden

August 5, 2014 Edit
Heresy certainly is a broader category. Historians rarely look to before 1300 for Witchcraft/Witches in Europe. What I’m proposing here, essentially, is that there are pre 1300 precursors or even,simply, early examples.

According to the contemporary pope, “The Stedinger, seduced by the devil, have abjured all the laws of God and man, slandered the Church, insulted the holy sacraments, consulted witches to raise evil spirits, shed blood like water, taken the lives of priests, and concocted an infernal scheme to propagate the worship of the devil, whom they adore under the name of Asmodi.”


August 5, 2014 Edit
Allow me to elaborate further on my previous comment. I am inclined to suspect that the extremely high figures, in the millions quoted here, do not take account of the difference between witchcraft and heresy.

Witchcraft and devil worship were considered a form of heresy, but a very specific form, and many people who were accused, convicted or executed for heresy were, I think not accused of practicing anything remotely related to witchcraft or occultism.

Some of the Lollards of England, for instance, seem to have been considered especially dangerous because of some of their teachings on property ownership and temporal authority. This was a prime example of a ‘heretical’ sect which had little or nothing to do with ‘witchcraft’, but one of whom some members were executed for heresy.

Herein is the point- as related before- heresy was in fact, much broader than witchcraft, but both could carry the same penalty. Yet they were not the same.
Hence, I believe that that those who claim ‘millions’ were executed as ‘witches’ are in fact, lumping together all those accused or executed for heresy. Most ‘heretics’ were not ‘witches’ are were not probably, accused of being such.

It would be rather like taking all the figures for vehicle and driving related offenses in the US, and compiling them together to claim that the figures Grand Theft Auto are in fact, far higher than is generally believed.

Greg Laden

August 5, 2014 Edit
That makes sense.


August 5, 2014 Edit
…I also wonder at the correlation between convictions for heresy/witchcraft and actual executions. To my knowledge, one did not necessarily follow the other, and its was often only ‘obdurate’ heretics who suffered the death penalty.
This was those tho refused to recant, or who had recanted (perhaps repeatedly) but subsequently ‘lapsed’ back into ‘heresy’ again.
Many, however, do seem to have recanted and been spared- even Joan of Arc was not initially condemned to death but to life imprisonment.

Thus, I think if account is taken of how many witches and heretics who went through the courts actually escaped with a non-capital punishment such as penance, imprisonment or fines the figures of execution would again be lower.

…as for those like Ginger who claim the ‘witch-hunts’ were some misogynistic crusade on the part of the Catholic Church- they may wish to note that a number of historians today recognize not actual ‘witch-hunts’ in the Middle Ages. These began in the 16th and 17th century, after the Renaissance, Reformation and even at the beginning of the Enlightenment.

Nor were the ‘witches’of the past ‘witches’ in the sense that we would know them today. As much as modern pagans and Wiccans might like to wallow in a collective persecution complex over their supposed forbears, the vast majority of Medieval Heretics were not almost certainly not goddess worshipers or practitioners of the ‘old religion’.

Not least because modern paganism is just that- a modern religion- many of the rites and rituals of ancient paganism would not be legal in the Western world today, and many of the underpinning beliefs (ensuring the fertility of the land, hastening the return of the spring etc) are obsolete today.

Also, because such practices as astrology and herbalism were technically quite legitimate and even sometimes recognized as such by the church- herbalists were not closet pagans brewing spells in cauldrons- they were probably more like Brother Cadfael…..and like as not invoked the name of the Christian God and the Saints in their charms or rites.


August 7, 2014 Edit
Little off topic, but if you are still interested in that painting, i found out some things. It depicts a tree from which dozens of exceptionally realistic penises hang like enormous pieces of fruit. At the foot of the tree is a group of women waiting for them to fall; two of them squabble over one. A group of crows threatens to attack the “fruit”; a large eagle is a symbol of Pisa and the emblem of the Holy Roman Empire. Ehm… Anyway pardon my English. I am not native speaker.

Greg Laden

August 7, 2014 Edit
Draak, is there a high resolution version of this picture somewhere?

Greg Laden

August 7, 2014 Edit
OK, I found one. Inserted above. Apparently penis trees were a thing.

Lilly Tilly

September 1, 2014 Edit
Simple arithmetic will tell us that the figures in the area of 10,000 are an insulting patriarchal/catholic perpetuated joke. Just to take the number of 400 (years) multiplied by say 300 (towns across Europe), equals 12,000.

That means if ONE “Witch/Woman/Pagan’ were killed in each of 300 towns, in the span of 400 years, the total killed/tortured/burned would be 12,000 thru out the whole European Burning Times.

BUT one “Witch” killed in each town across Europe for the whole of 400 years is obviously a joke… “The Malleus Maleficarum lay on the bench of every judge, on the desk of every magistrate, and was second only to the bible in popularity. The Witch killing craze spread with the frenzy of wildfire.

This was not just males being violent/misogynist … it was the church/govts/good old boys club, destroying a culture where people were still independent to a degree. The male dominated institutions wanted to CONTROL people, and so the pagan way of life, where WOMEN were Healers, midwives, where men knew how to grow enough food for their families etc, where people WERE independent, had to be destroyed.

It is NO coincidence that destruction of an Earth Centered way of life, made way for the Industrial Revolution. Now ONLY males were Doctors. Women went from being Mystics and Healers to being a man’s property. . Now people lost their wisdoms of living on the land. People were now moving away from the country, to live in cities, dependent on “jobs” and buying food and fuel… which were controlled by the “system”.

Also not coincidentally, the VERY same slaughter of a natural, Earth-based way of life was happening in North America.

To have some understanding of the horrific implications of the Burning Times, we need to know where and how it fits into HIS-story. This was NO small event by any means. This was enormous… enough so that it (intentionally) changed the course of HIS-story more than any other single event.


September 17, 2014 Edit
witches were mostly burnt alive

rudy renzi

November 11, 2014 Edit
“The tree of fertility” is painted on a wall of public sources in the city of Massa Marittima (in Italy, Tuscany, province of Grosseto). Online you will find many articles on this subject

Da Simbolo di Fertilità a Propaganda Politica – Il Murale di Massa Marittima e la sua Decodificazione


950 LEE RD.453 WAVERLY,AL.36879
November 14, 2014 Edit

There’s science behind your inexplicably close relationship with your cat – Quartz
December 4, 2014 Edit
[…] cat population was very nearly wiped out, and many tens of thousands of “witches” were burned at the stake over the next 400 […]

Christian Europeans killed and burned tens of thousands of “witches” | Facts about Religion
December 23, 2014 Edit
[…] death toll for the 9/11 bombings, which caused a whole nation to awaken for war, was under 3,000). (1, […]

United Kingdom In the middle age,still men were killed more than women by the Inquisition?
January 5, 2015 Edit
[…] between 60,000 and 600,000 – but does not embrace numbers near the higher end of his allowance. How many people were killed as Witches in Europe from 1200 to the present? ? Greg Laden’s Blog The numbers killed by the Papacy (including those who died in incarceration) during efforts to […]

Ojibwa and Cree women healers | Dolphin
January 18, 2015 Edit
[…] Finally, the male/female aspect must be addressed. Women were healers throughout history, and were killed for it. Gah, even now, men healers are being killed for it. Makes one wonder why anyone would want to […]

51 Historical Facts That Sound Like Huge Lies But Are Actually True |
January 23, 2015 Edit
[…] 2. In medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

Abraham Yeshuratnam

February 9, 2015 Edit
Witches and ghosts belong to a particular period. That can’t be compared with savage acts of beheading and immolation. Obama’s father was a Muslim and he was brought up in Muslim Indonesia. That’s why he is comparing events that happened 800 years ago with the barbarism committed by terrorists in 21st century. He has purposely omitted shocking barbarous acts such as Armenian genocide, Christian genocide in Mosul today and beheading spree of jihadists. Crusade, inquisition Jim Crow, KKK and slavery were stray, topical, thematic and regional incidents. Christian culture has changed incidents of a particular period into an all embracing culture of tolerance and love. That’s how a slave descendant like Obama could occupy the highest office in a Christian country. Conversely, from the day Islam was born in 7th century.,we see violence, bloodshed and terror on its trail.. Even after enjoying all the pleasures of Christian lifestyle in western countries such as education, health care,and jobs, their ingratitude is shown in terrorist acts like 9/11 inside the country that has reared them.

ilea vazan

March 12, 2015 Edit
6 million, 6 million is always a good number …and it works even if its a deceit…so forget all other estimates …if you really want to know here it is: 6 Million women were executed for witchcraft in the past 10 centuries.


April 11, 2015 Edit
I have an group of people at Sutherland Global Services at 1180 Jefferson rd in Henrietta, Ny gang stalk, harassing and using satanic practices against me and my 6 year old son!! They’ve changed us from head to toe the both of us lost EVERYTHING. Physically!! Some of their names are Thomas Levans, Jean Massey, Dilip Vellodi, Bret, Brennan, Abdul, Ryan Porteus, Nancy Ott, Kamisha and there are more!! They’ve been doing this since, May 27, 2014!! I use to work with them and they planned this!! They uad tried getting my son kidnapped, had tried getting me hit by an car 3 times in 1 night and had my house burned down!! My nee number is (585)520-2132!! Me nor, my son look the same at all in any kind of way, shape or, form!! They’ve been adding me on Facebook and stalking me around the city as well as, slandering my name!! I’m from Michigan ad I don’t speak to anyone in Rochester, Ny so, NO ONE should know anything about me!! Your help is highly appreciated and I’m NOT the only one their doing this to!! These people all work together and they’ve been doing this to me and my son a year now!! THEY NEED TO BE DEALT WITH FOR THIS!! ALL OF THEM!! They do this to people and get away with it because, people are scared of them but, I’M NOT I JUST NEED MORE HELP TO GET RID OF THEM!! I have the horrible pictures of what they’ve done to me and my son!!

51 Historical Facts That Sound Like Huge Lies But Are Actually True | SmackWave
July 30, 2015 Edit
[…] 2. In medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

51 Historical Facts That Sound Like Huge Lies But Are Actually True | Gabbys Gazette
September 1, 2015 Edit
[…] 2. In medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

Kevin “King” Dorival
November 25, 2015 Edit
European males feared the intelligence of women because of their male chauvinist, maladjusted mindsets. Any woman that should that they were smarter than a male were considered witches, and burned to the stake. Its a sad truth, but I do give some encouraging words in my book, “7 Types of Queens, Kings Desire.”


December 14, 2015 Edit
I believe the catholic church has made many stupid decisions in the past witches being a very shameful one’ and The Pope complaining about One Of The Harry Potter movies is another stupid case,’ BUT Other Religions have killed in the name of their God and are still killing today,’ at least the Catholic Church stopped killing decades ago and is changing slowing with the times.
(I do wish they would speed it up a little though!!!!!!!)

Historical curiosities – wherewecomefrom
January 17, 2016 Edit
[…] 2. In medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]


April 21, 2016 Edit
Not very scientific here. For a reasonable and documented aspect of this part of depraved human history, recommend:
Note: Stalin 20 million, Mao 50 million dead….for really good killers you have to look at current history….not 4 or 5 centuries ago.


September 24, 2016 Edit
presumably NO persons were killed for witch craft, because witchcraft doesnt exist. it was a made up accusation to get the neighbour up the road with the wonky eye or aunt mary who would be a good scapegoat for that baby john ate last week. so the only thing you can measure is who was officially recorded as accused, and who was killed therafter. if the records arent there, then anything you do is conjecture. imagination. and if you are going to base your imagination as close to reality as possible, then you would have to study individual sources of other indicators, and put those together. and do that for each year. you need to take at least those places where records were carefully kept, and extrapolate fromt here to palces or times when little or no records are available, including any other information that might affect the data, plagues local disasters, effecting the population. you would also have to i assume remove all men from the equation, or were men accused too? im assuming its a woman thing. so if you take half the population and extrapolate from places nad times that were recorded and include other contra indications that would lower those extrapolated numbers, like for example times when no local law enforcement agency was in operation due to the hangman having died and the new guy not arrived yet. or the likelihood of such events based on other data that you do have. what i mean is you have to based your ideas on what you do know. and if that is slim, then you have to take in more data about other things to make your conjecture more accurate, but it has to be based on what you do know. like a soduko puzzle with few numbers filled in, you have to fill in other numbers first, does that make sense. but you cant leave those feilds blank and say well its likely this is a six, because theres an infinite number of things we do know, about now about here about this about that, so altho we may not know how many were killed we should in theroy be able to calculate it by filling in as many blanks as possible that we DO know. that would be my thinking anyway. and without seeing the things we do know, or the things any other historian based his conjectures on then theres no way for any of us to improve on that by adding in other known variables. and the more known variables that would be added would better serve the purpose i think. the acedemic world better just give up its goodies and stop hoarding all those little trinkets away and only showing us their findings.

Black Cat Superstition: Good or Bad Kitty? | Historic Mysteries
October 2, 2016 Edit
[…] estimated that hundreds of thousand of people accused of being witches were killed across Europe ( Additionally, black cats were being eradicated, and this, coupled with other environmental […]

About Real Witch-Craft and Justice for Women and their Souls Special THRILLER-HALLOWEEN Article © Michael Jackson TwinFlame Soul Official | Archangel Michael 777
October 16, 2016 Edit
[…] How many people were killed as Witches in Europe from 1200 to the present? […]

Sandy Schairer

October 16, 2016 Edit
Per legend, rural people were still practicing the old ways of the pagan religions. Like indigenous people everywhere, those who did not convert to the new religion, i.e. Christianity, had to be eliminated. Medieval Christianity declared the pagan gods to be evil/devil. For example Satan got his horns from Cerunnos the Horned God. In addition, women were the healers and their natural methods and medicines were declared to be evil spells and dangerous potions. “Modern scientific” medicine was a patriarchal realm where only men were doctors. It’s possible cats were considered familiars (links to Satan) of so-called witches and were probably eliminated with the “witches”. Cats killed rats. Without cats the rat population increased. As rats became abundant so did fleas. Fleas, as we know, spread the plague to humans.


United Kingdom
December 7, 2016 Edit
We were taught in School (1994/5) that this number was in the millions.
We were taught that the genocide was due to the patriarchal organisers of the ‘Medical revolution’ who actively killed women who were suspected and accused of witchcraft.
We were told that to pave the way for the new sciences, the plan was to eradicate the ‘old ways’ and to remove the status of female healers undermining their practices/suspected practices by vilifying them and murdering them, their female family members and associates. We were told that Men suffered and the hands of the Lynch mobs and organisers of the mass genocide, but ultimately, this was more about Old practices being wiped out entirely to make way for the apparent ‘new, improved’ medicine/science/healthcare. This made being female incredibly tricky in Europe throughout the middle ages.
I know not how much of this is ‘fact’ as we all know history is constantly re-written, but it is a subject I am very interested in that seems to have little available information..


January 26, 2017 Edit
To expand upon Lilly Tilly’s previous comment, let’s do some math:

300 towns x 400 years x 1 “witch”/year/town
= 120,000 “witches”

That’s assuming they only killed one witch per year in each of these towns, which is ridiculously low.

300 towns x 400 years x 100 “witches”/year/town
= 12 million “witches”

And even this number is conservative:
-more than 300 European towns had witch trials (Eastern Europe had huge numbers too)
-the European witch trial craze lasted for more than 400 years
-we’re not even counting any miscellaneous genocides and heresy accusations that came under the umbrella of witchcraft
-why stop at Europe, when people are still being killed in various places around the world for witchcraft today?
-why stop at Christianity? Islam has persecuted “witches” with very similar motivations, and let’s not forget the slew of non-monotheistic cults that did so since times immemorial

but yes… as far as the number of people, especially women, that Christianity killed for “witchcraft”, it would seem the answer is in the MILLIONS.


January 26, 2017 Edit
#70, doubt that massively. Especially the wording you used, which is more a tumblr feminist post than anything real by a teacher.

My youngest sister and brother never found anything like that and they were about that time.

51 Historical Facts That Sound Like Huge Lies But Are Actually True | Facts For You
January 30, 2017 Edit
[…] 2. In medieval times people were put to death for being witches. One anthropologist conjectures as many as 600,000 “witches” lost their lives. […]

Will Walsh

July 14, 2017 Edit
I don’t think the Stedinger can be classed as witches. I’m pretty skeptical of the language attributed to Gregory IX in the 19th century text you quote too, but accepting it as genuine for purposes of this question I think that any attempt to account for the numbers of people killed for alleged witchcraft should be focused on cases where the real cause of enmity was the belief that the victim was practicing witchcraft. The Stedinger were very unlikely to have been 8,000 in number altogether in 1234. The population of Europe at that time was about 60,000,000 and they inhabited the Weser marshes about 40 years before meeting their demise. There were five of them, or five families at that time, who executed a charter with the Archbishop of Bremen agreeing to certain tithes. When they didn’t pay decades later, things got ugly, but I don’t think it can be proven that it did so because they were believed to be practicing witchcraft.

A reason I don’t think defining witchcraft as some antipathy to the Catholic Church is helpful in considering the question, is that my understanding is that documented cases of persecution of witchcraft were more common in Protestant societies after the Reformation at least. The Inquisition, or at least the Holy Office in Spain which is most notorious, was ironically generally skeptical of charges of witchcraft at least according to Richard Kagen recently and other historians before him. Kagen’s work is perhaps revisionist, but not on this point, which is pretty well documented, something unfortunately rare in so many of these cases. Specifically, the Inquisition’s investigations of charges of witchcraft seem to have resulted in acquittals on those charges most of the time, and their minions were instructed to be skeptical of such charges from 1500 or so on at least.

The case of Joan of Arc is certainly interesting, as she was surely charged with consorting with the devil. Several decades later, after one of the most thorough investigations of which we still possess the records, the Vatican made her a saint though. I think even in the 15th century everyone would have agreed she was burned for being a French patriot by the English. While it is surely true that unscrupulous people like King Phillip of France made use of such charges to justify their persecution of all sorts of people like the Templar warrior-monks, what is interesting from the perspective of recent times is the extent to which a genuine fear of witchcraft and magic motivated popular hysteria or legal actions that led to such killings. No one believes that Phillip went after the Templars because he thought they were consorting with Satan.

The bottom line on this question is that the sources we have are inadequate to answer it with any real certainty. Mortality came quicker in the medieval world, as did violent death, but the motives of the killers will forever be obscure in most cases. It can be said that many people found such charges credible, and attributed things they could not understand to the practice of witchcraft in those times. It is hard to conclude, however, that the victims were actually a group of people who would understand why those people in our times who call themselves pagans or wiccans claim them as martyrs. Their doing so seems mostly related to the modern understanding that being a member of victim class can often be turned to account in argument or making claims. I don’t think the people who were burned would have had much desire to be classed as anti-Christian, and probably died saying Christian prayers in the overwhelming majority of such cases.

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8 thoughts on “How many people were killed as Witches in Europe from 1200 to the present?

  1. Someone commented that the idea of witches began much earlier than the 13th century. I agree. I’m reading Apuleius’ The Golden Ass which was written about 2000 years ago (2nd century CE). In that Roman novel witches are depicted in their scariest forms. Anyone believing such crap would be primed for persecuting women they didn’t like. And Apuleius isn’t the first by far among the ancient authors to depict women as witches – remember Medea, and Circe in the Odyssey that goes back to the 8th century BCE, just for starters. The ancient Greeks were vehement misogynists.

  2. If Salem (which was not actually part of Salem at the time) witch hunters murdered 39 people (fact) out of a few hundred, it should not be surprising 9 million were murdered across Europe over several centuries. You would be foolish to believe otherwise.

  3. If Salem (which was not actually part of Salem at the time) witch hunters murdered 39 people (fact) out of a few hundred, it should not be surprising 9 million were murdered across Europe over several centuries. You would be foolish to believe otherwise.

  4. William Cobbett, writing in the early 19th Cent, felt that the population figures for the middle ages were greatly understated by his contemporaries for political reasons, the pretended ‘surplus population’ being needed in the colonies. He based his statements on the size, quantity and quality of the churches from the middle ages. I think all history (‘written by the winner’) is fundamentally suspect; when one thinks of the many lies current today how much more might that be true of periods of which no one (Thony C for example) has personal experience?

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