A short story of English Witchcraft Acts

From 1541 to 1951, England had laws strictly prohibiting the practice of witchcraft. During the early years it was a crime punishable by death and the forfeiture of goods and chattels. Put into effect on June 1, 1653, the laws mandated the outlawing of any kind of witchcraft-related activities. However, the 1653 Witchcraft Laws were not the first to appear in the English judicial system, as in 1542, King Henry VIII passed a piece of legislation that made witchcraft a felony, punishable by death. Henry VIII’s Act was the first…

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February 17: International Cat’s day

In Norse mythology, Freyja is a goddess associated with love, beauty, fertility, sex, war, gold, and seiðr, a type of magic practiced in Norse society during the Late Scandinavian Iron Age relating to telling and shaping of the future. She was also associated with war and death, and It was said that after a battle, she would lead a band of Valkyries to gather the fallen warriors—or half of them, at least. She would take her share of the dead to Folkvang, her hall in the home of the gods,…

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Catemaco: the witchcraft capital of Mexico

We are in Catemaco, in eastern Mexico. Built on the shores of the eponymous lake, the town has a long history of fishing, even though nowadays, the town’s main economic activity is tourism. In the 1970s, tourism to Catemaco spiked massively owing to the fame of Gonzalo Aguirre, a renowned sorcerer who lived and practiced in the region. During his lifetime, Aguirre performed rituals for politicians, actors, and business leaders. He also organized a witchcraft convention that brought together the country’s top shamans for a black mass. After his death,…

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The curious history of the Milan area that remained immune to the plague: an eccentric marquis, a witch or simply coal?

Before 1630 Milan had over one hundred thousand inhabitants. In 1632 there were forty-seven thousand. In the middle there was the most violent plague epidemic in the history of the city. In the peak period, the so-called “black death” killed nearly 1000 people a day. The Italian Plague of 1629–1631 was a series of outbreaks of bubonic plague which ravaged northern and central Italy. Often referred to as the Great Plague of Milan, it claimed possibly one million lives, or about 25% of the population. Historically, it seems that German…

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Scotland: the curse of the Paisley witches.

We are in Paisley, Scotland. Here, any tragic events and misfortunes in the town over the last 300 years, they say, were caused by a curse. In the middle of a busy intersection sits a largely unremarkable circle of cobblestones surrounding a steel horseshoe centered within an anonymous circular bronze plaque. A person almost certainly wouldn’t notice it if they didn’t know it was there, but this modest memorial marks the final resting place of seven people convicted and put to death on charges of witchcraft. As story goes, It…

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Steilneset Memorial: a suggestive monument to the victims of the 17th century Norwegian witch trials

On the stark, barren coast of the Barents Sea in Vardø, Norway, there are pair of modern but impact structures known collectively as the Steilneset Memorial which honors the memories of the dozens of people killed during the 17th-century Vardø witch trials. In the seventeenth century, a series of witch trials occurred in Norway, of which the Vardø witch trials were among the most brutal. Over a hundred people were tried for witchcraft, with 77 women and 14 men being burned at the stake. The northern district of Finnmark, within…

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Eleanor Cobham: the Duchess who wanted to become Queen guilty of Sorcery

It was November 13th, 1441: the curious people of London lined the streets to observe an act of public penance. The criminal was a woman, perhaps 40 years of age, bare-headed, plainly dressed, who was rowed in a barge to Temple Stairs off the Thames. She would then proceed to walk all the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, carrying before her a wax taper and showing the entire time a “meek and demure countenance.” The condemned woman was Eleanor Cobham, the wife to a royal prince: Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.…

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Triora: the Italian Village of the Terrifying trial to the Witches.

Triora is a medieval village once a crossroads of considerable importance for trade between Italy and France. In 1587, bad weather and pitiful crops led to a famine, and the desperate residents of Triora, exhausted by the circumstances, needed to find a scapegoat for the errors committed by the landowners, who were the real culprits of the lack of food. Soon they became convinced that only the work of witches could bring such misfortune, and the scapegoat was individuated by a really terrific witch hunt. The Inquisitor of Genoa and…

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Biddy Early: Healer, Herbalist, Clairvoyant…or Witch?

On the afternoon of 22nd April, 1874 a woman called Biddy Early died in her small, two-roomed, mud-walled cottage. Her life story was first published in 1903 and since that time her reputation has grown, embellished also with dark tales of witchcraft. Healer, Herbalist, Clairvoyant… or Witch? In countries where money was scarce and doctors were too inaccessible and too expensive, the sick had no choice but to turn to herbalists and healers. In fact herbal medicine offered a cure for the sick and a wellness regime for the healthy,…

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Strandagaldur: the macabre museum of sorcery in Iceland. Another world…

Iceland, in the seventeenth century, was certainly not the place more appropriate to lead a pleasant existence: natural disasters and difficult climate, constant pirate raids, a notable economic disparity between the different social classes are only some examples of the life at the time. Only the wealthiest citizens could afford to live in stone buildings, while the peasants lived a very hard life. As is often the case in such situations where hope was scarce and education even more so, many of the people turned to witchcraft as a last…

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