Burning Times

PaganGreen Pagan Witches

 A term used by Wiccans and Pagans to
refer to the period in Western history of intense witch
hunting and executions, generally the mid-15th to mid18th
Burning, one of the most extreme forms of execution,
was urged by St. Augustine (354–430), who said
that pagans, Jews and heretics would burn forever in
eternal fire with the Devil unless saved by the Catholic
Church. During the Inquisition, charges of witchcraft
were used against heretics, social outcasts and enemies
of the church. Such individuals were declared to have renounced
God and formed a compact with the Devil (see
Devil’s pact).
Fire is the element of purification, so nothing less
than fire could negate the evil of witchcraft. Jean Bodin, a
16th-century demonologist, stated in De la démonomanie
des sorciers:
Even if the witch has never killed or done evil to man,
or beast, or fruits, and even if he has always cured
bewitched people, or driven away tempests, it is because
he has renounced God and treated with Satan that he
deserves to be burned alive . . . Even if there is no more
than the obligation to the Devil, having denied God, this
deserves the most cruel death that can be imagined.
Not all witches were burned at the stake; hanging was
the preferred means of execution in some countries, including
England and the American colonies. In France,
Scotland and Germany, it was customary to strangle
(worry) condemned witches first, as an act of mercy, by
either hanging or garroting, and then burn them to ashes.
Nonetheless, many were burned alive, especially if they
recanted their confession at the last moment or were unrepentant
for their “crimes.” The expenses of the burning—along
with all the expenses of the trial and the stay
in jail—were billed to the deceased’s relatives or estate.
Witch lynchings and burnings continued sporadically
into the late 19th century in England, Europe and Latin
America. There are no reliable figures of the numbers of
persons burned or otherwise executed for witchcraft. Estimates
by historians range from 200,000 to 1 million.
Wiccan and Pagan authors have cited 9 million as the
number of victims, but this is an inflated figure without
evidence of support.
The burning of a witch was a great public occasion.
The execution took place shortly after the sentencing,
just long enough to hire an executioner, construct the
execution site and gather the fuel. In Scotland, a witch
burning was preceded by days of fasting and solemn
preaching. The witch was strangled first, and then her
corpse—or sometimes her unconscious or semiconscious
body—was tied to a stake or dumped into a tar
barrel and set afire. If the witch was not dead and managed
to get out of the flames, onlookers shoved her back
in. Records of trials in Scotland report that burning a
witch consumed 16 loads of peat plus wood and coal. In
1608 witches in Brechin, Scotland were executed in the
following manner, according to original records as cited
in Enemies of God: The Witch hunt in Scotland (1981) by
Christine Larner:
. . . they were brunt quick [alive] eftir sic ane crewell
maner, than sum of thame deit in despair, renunceand
and blasphemeand; and utheris, half brunt, brake out of
the fyre, and wes cast quick in it agane, quhill they wer
brunt to the deid.
The term burning times also refers to any threatened
prejudice against or persecution of Wiccans and Pagans
by other religious groups, law enforcement agencies, employers,
politicians and others