Witches and witchcraft have been around for thousands of years, and can be traced as far as when man discovered fire, and would spend the nights by its mystic flame preparing all sorts of concoctions. The word itself comes from “wicca,” meaning “the wise one”, and yet, witches have always been considered a demonic apparition. Take Cassandra for example, priestess of Apollo, who predicted the fall of Troy. The Witch of Endor is mentioned in the Old Testament, with warnings to stay away from her. Morgan Le Fey meddled in King Arthur’s business, but there is no evidence of her existence. On the other hand, there are witches that did actually exist, although we can’t be sure whether they were actually the servants of Satan, or simply misunderstood outcasts. Throughout history, many witches have been burned at the stake. Some did indeed commit acts of treason and murder, while others were innocent and simply could not defend themselves.
It wasn’t until the 11th century AD that witchcraft invoked the wrath of priests, Christianity, and the society. In the 13th century, Pope Gregory authorized the execution of witches, and the Inquisition was born as an institution that would track down and punish witches and heretics. In 1498, Pope Innocent VIII issued a declaration confirming the existence of witches, and so the witch hunt began. Dozens of thousands of people, mainly women, were executed after being accused of witchcraft.
10. Catherine Monvoisin
Also known as La Voisin (the neighbor), Catherine Monvoisin was the wife of a French jeweler, and became famous thanks to the premonitions she’s had ever since she was little. After her husband’s business went bankrupt, she extended her field of expertise from palm reading to selling love potions, poisons, and even abortion drugs. Among her clients were many noblemen, countesses, and princesses. She was arrested, together with her daughter, under the accusation of witchcraft, and was burned at the stake in 1680 at Place de Grieve, near Paris. After her death, her daughter’s declarations revealed a series of secrets at the high court, including a plot to poison the king.
9. Agnes Sampson
Agnes Sampson was a midwife and healer in a village in Scotland at the end of the 16th century. On Halloween night 1590, she attended a witches’ Sabbath hosted by Satan, and summoned a great storm over the North Sea, meant to sink the ship of Queen Anne, wife of King James VI of England, who was sailing in toward Scotland. Things didn’t exactly go as planned, but the queen was indeed forced to abandon the trip. Later, the king himself was sailing the North Sea when a violent storm broke out, summoned by the same Agnes Sampson. Or at least, that’s what they said. The midwife is believed to have started the first witch hunt craze in history. During the same year, she was burnt at the stake as the first victim of the North Berwick Witch Trials, which saw 70 executions.
8. Alice Kyteler
Alice Kyteler was a wealthy Irish moneylender whose husbands had the nasty habit of dying too soon and leaving all their fortune to her. When her fourth husband came down with a strange sickness, his children, Alice’s step children, began to suspect something fishy. Alice was accused of having poisoned her husbands, and of having sacrificed animals to Satan. Her rituals were curious to begin with, using hair from the buttocks and clothes from unbaptized children. Nevertheless, it seems strange items like mysterious powders and spells were found in her home. In 1324, she was tried for witchcraft. She was the first witch to ever be accused on Irish soil. She was sentenced to death, but she miraculously disappeared the night before the execution, never to be seen again.
7. Angele de la Barthe
Angele de la Barthe had sexual intercourse with the Devil, an affair which produced a son, a sort of half-man, wolf-snake beast who fed on babies. Angele de la Barthe was a wealthy noble woman who lived between 1230 and 1275 in Toulouse, France. She was also an adept of Catharism, a Christian dualist movement deemed heretical by the Church. She was accused of witchcraft after a series of babies mysteriously disappeared in the area. She confessed her sins, after being severely tortured by the Inquisition. Angela was the first presumed a witch, and was to be executed during the Medieval Witch Hunt.
6. Mother Shipton
Ursula Southeil was born of a teenage mother, who in turn was accused of witchcraft. She was a deformed child, with twisted legs, large head, and sunken cheeks, just like most stories portray witches. She was so ugly villagers believed she was the daughter of the Devil, and was suspected of witchcraft. Mother Shipton, as she is remembered, lived between 1488 and 1561 in Yorkshire. Strange things happened around her as a child, like flying objects and other sorcery. She lived as an outcast, but she also possessed a great talent. She was a clairvoyant. It seems her reputation matched that of Nostradamus, as she predicted numerous events, even in the distant future, many of which actually came true.
5. Maret Jonsdotter
In 17th century Sweden, Maret Jonsdotter once rode a man as a horse to the legendary meadow of Blockula, where she frequently attended witches’ Sabbaths. On other occasions, she and her sister rode cows to Blockula, slaughtered them, and then had sexual intercourse with the Devil. Or at least that’s what Maret’s little sister claims. She was the first person to be tried during The Great Noise, a witch hunt that swept Sweden between 1668 and 1676. Maret confessed to none of the accusations, so she could not be executed according to the laws of the time. However, as the witch craze grew bigger, Sweden changed the laws requiring confession. She was accused once again in 1672, and sentenced to death by decapitation before being burned at the stake.
4. Marie Laveau
Marie Catherine Laveau was born a free woman of color and a Creole in Louisiana in 1801, the state where the Voodoo dolls were made famous. Laveau was a Voodoo practitioner, and became the very icon of the practice, known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. According to folklore, she was a beautiful and wise woman who could easily intimidate anyone, even the police. She practiced medicine and world leaders came to her seeking advice. She was greatly talented in performing Voodoo rituals and held the rank of Supreme Witch. She performed necromancy, mind control, telekinesis, and pinning, and had thousands of adepts. During a ceremony she held in 1874, 12,000 participants attended the event. She died peacefully in her home in 1881. Her daughter, Marie Laveau, also practiced Voodoo, as well as Haitian Voudou.
3. Agnes Waterhouse
England’s most famous witch, Agnes Waterhouse dealt with the Devil, cursed people, and murdered her enemies using black magic. She owned a cat named Satan, which she sent to kill her enemies’ livestock, or even the enemies themselves. She did confess to the accusations. Also known as Mother Waterhouse, Agnes was the first witch to be accused and sentenced to death by a secular court. Her trial had nothing to do with the Church. She did not repent, saying that Satan had told her she would die by hanging or burning, and there wasn’t much she could do about it. However, her bravado didn’t last long. On her way to be hung, she confessed to once trying to kill a man and failing because his belief in God was too strong and protected him. She died praying for God’s forgiveness.
2. The Salem Witches
It all started at the beginning of 1692, when Reverend Samuel Parris’ daughter and niece began acting strangely, having fits, screaming, throwing things, and contorting themselves in bizarre positions, in Salem, colonial Massachusetts. The doctor came up with a “reasonable” explanation: it was the Devil’s work. The girls blamed three women for their behavior: a slave, a beggar, and an old lady. They all fitted the descriptions of an outcast. The slave confessed to having dealt with the Devil, and also claimed that there were other witches in town seeking to hurt the Puritans. Hysteria soon took over. Bridget Bishop was the first woman to be executed as a result of the Salem Witch Trials. Soon, 18 others followed on Salem’s Gallow’s Hill. More than 200 persons were accused of witchcraft, at least 19 of which were executed by hanging, while others died in prison. The infamous trial became a synonym for paranoia and injustice.
1. Merga Bien
Balthasar von Dernbach, the prince and abbot of the mystical town of Fulda in Germany, was a notorious witch hunter who embarked on a series of trials known as the Fulda Witch Trials, which lasted between 1603 and 1606. Marga Bien was a wealthy German heiress. She murdered her second husband and her children with him, and attended Sabbaths held by Satan. Or at least that’s what she was forced to confess while being tortured in prison. She was pregnant, but that didn’t save her from execution, as the court believed she was carrying a baby fathered by the Devil. The Fulda Witch Trials led to the execution of 250 suspects over three years. Merga Bien was the most famous of them all, and the first to be burned alive at the stake.