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Ban de la Roche witch trials

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Ban de la Roche witchcraft trials

"... witchcraft trials in Ban de la Roche or Steinthal, a small domain in bilingual Alsace. Till 1620 only one such trial took place there and after 1630 the local lord prevented suspicions of pernicious magic to evolve into full trials. But in the years 1620-1622 and 1629-1630 this territory was rocked by two waves of criminal proceedings in which at least 174 people stood trial on the suspicion of witchcraft and at least 50 women and 30 men were burned for that crime. As the population of this domain numbered about 1.200, this meant that in these years, according to my calculation, at least 14% of the residents were accused and about 6 or 7% executed for witchcraft. This is without doubt a high quantity, but not a unique phenomenon as there were other places with similar victim-rates, for instance in nearby Westphalia ..."

Some witches and wizards

  • Didier Hans (Didier, son of Jean), farmer at Belmont : "he confessed that he had many times the desire to convert to God, but the Devil, realizing it, turned him aside, and He beat him extremely, which he did about six times, not least because he did not kill Claude Georges, who had resisted the devil. " ; nothing more ; it is also known as *Didier Moictrier (Didier the sharecropper): in 1620, are sold to Saulxures four oxen and a cow from the property of "feu didier Le Moictrier de bémon (= Belmont), executed by the fire for crime of spell with place of Rhodes (= Rothau ) ".
  • Madeleine, the widow of justice Humbert Thon , Waldersbach : sex trade with a devil named Gruson
  • Claudette, wife of Jean Schmitt , of Trouchy (hamlet of Fouday ): "She confessed that going to the Sabbath, she adored the Devil by bowing her head backwards, and named the name of the Devil in reverence".
  • Anonymous: "He confessed that being at the church, the Devil told him that when the pastor would say the Gospel, he had to say to each word the word bou, as if he meant you lied."
  • Catherine, wife of Philip, the Marshal of Rothau : sex trade with a devil named Gérardin ; denial of baptism and the Church; devilish baptism; participation in the Sabbath at Chesnoy; poisonings, including that of his mother in prison "she, the mother, knowing it well" ; profanation of the host
  • Jeanne, wife of Dimanche Georges de Neuviller : "She confessed that, after nine years, she and the witches of Ban de la Roche caused a plague contagion in the village of Belmont, with black powder that Piercin gave them. the same contagion, she poisoned her first husband, and confessed that on the Sabbath they adore Piercin by kneeling in front of him, naming him by name and recognizing him as their master. "
  • Valentine Jandon : marriage with a devil named Joli ; participation in the Sabbath; profanation of the host
  • Georgette, the wife of Jehan, the Neuburger , now at Rothau; confess the full range of possible crimes: poisonings, child murders, sex trade with the devil; apparently denounces many people, but they are dead; accuses himself of killing the gray horse of Count Veldenz
  • Claudette, wife of Vincent Janduru , Wildersbach : sex trade with the Devil; participation in the Sabbath; poisoning of animals and people; desecration of burials of children; heard the Neuburger and the widow of Didier Mathiat boast of the murder of the count's gray horse
  • "The son of Nicolas Milan" ; listed as pending enforcement in 1621; probably executed, because Nicolas Milan (see related article The gray horse of the Count of Veldenz ) has no offspring in the male line; no other information

"The testimony is favorable to the master of Sunday (who will however lose his trial), but everything is implied, nothing is said.

Cunning, cunning, able to navigate between two authorities, Dimanche supports his lord while protecting himself from possible sanctions for false testimony: he has the assets to succeed, both materially and morally. At least, that's the impression we would have if we stick to his testimony at trial.

But, contrary to the impression of hyper-social integration that this testimony produces at first reading, Dimanche lives in reality surrounded by flames and always on the verge of following his relatives at the stake. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for his extreme caution: his testimony at the Veldenz trial against Rathsamhausen dates back to 1623, when witch trials are in full swing. Catherine, his first wife, was chained . Jeanne, his current wife, has just been accused or will be. In her confession she accuses herself of having sown the plague in Belmont, which is not nothing.

It's a safe bet that Sunday has also shown for himself. Indeed, it is one of the specificities of the haxellerie trialsthe Ban de la Roche, that men represent a significant proportion of the victims, and that we often go to the stake as a couple or family. The Georges are solidly and permanently settled in the sights, since after Jeanne and Catherine, the hablereye does not let go of the family. This will provide the last wizard, Georges Nicolas Georges, whose confession is fifty years after the great outbreak of the 1620s."


In Europe, between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, more than thirty thousand women were executed for witchcraft, often after delirious trials.

She was called the Girl, but her name was Maria ... On 16 July 1630, this 10-year-old child was sentenced to death for witchcraft and perished in the flames of the stake. Like her mother and sister, Maria is one of forty-three victims of the witch hunt of the city of Bergheim (Haut Rhin) from 1582 to 1683. Today, a small local museum traces the story of these unfortunates. We meet old Margareth Mewel, the first to be sentenced in 1582, Véronica Ziegler, a mother of seven executed August 9, 1586, Catherine Schmidt, died on May 8 (the year is missing) ... Here, far away, here are Halloween costumes or witches from American television series, from Ma sorcière beloved to Charmed. This chilling museum reminds us that we really killed tens of thousands of witches, between the fifteenth and seventeenth century, in much of Europe. In previous centuries, no one could have predicted this wave of terror that would sweep the continent ... Of course, throughout the Middle Ages is already present the figure of the witch, a woman with occult powers, legacy of mythological stories or pagans. But it worries neither the population nor the Church. Thus, in 906, the Episcopi canon, a set of directives sent to bishops, condemns men and women who meddle in witchcraft, but it simply advocates treating them with scorn and putting them out of the community. At that time besides, to entertain, the lords do not hesitate to receive magicians at their court while, in the countryside, the healers treat the animals using mysterious formulas and herbal teas. They are consulted and sometimes feared, but it will not occur to anyone to burn them.

The starting point: a pope, John XXII, was the victim of an attempt to bewitched
The Church has many other concerns. She wants to eliminate heresies (Cathars, Waldensians, for example) that threaten her institution in a poorly Christianized Europe. In 1269-1271, however, the theologian Thomas Aquinas for the first time linked the practice of witchcraft to the devil. In 1318, Pope John XXII hardened the tone, and wrote a bull that creates a crime of witchcraft. Why such a turn? It is the personal journey of this pope, the first to sit in Avignon. Barely elected, in 1316, he thinks he was the victim of a mysterious attempt to poison and spell fomented by the bishop of Cahors - that the pope suspected of embezzlement. In 1317, the bishop was sentenced and burned. On his way, John XXII decided to continue his personal crusade against wizards and witches.

It is from there that the first repressions against witchcraft appear . But it is only a hundred years later that the phenomenon is gaining momentum. In the north of France, in 1459, a lawsuit against an alleged wizard is held in the city of Langres, then a few years later, Arras is shaken by a wave of resounding sentences:twelve accused (including eight women) are executed. These examples are a stain. The harshness of time - epidemics, famines - incites the search for scapegoats. In 1484, the new Pope, Innocent VIII, charged two inquisitors with repressing witchcraft in the Germanic regions. He denounces sorcerers and witches who destroy "the offspring of women, the young of animals, the harvests of the earth, the grapes of the vines and the fruits of trees." Innocent VIII thus makes the link, officially, between witchcraft and the evils that strike its contemporaries. From now on, everything is clear: infant mortality, diseases that decimate herds or crops, all come from the devil and his followers!

There is still a way of using the judges to know how to unmask the henchmen of Satan and make them confess their crimes. The Malleus Maleficarum (or the Hammer of the Witches), a work published in 1486, provides it. This handbook written by an Alsatian Dominican, Heinrich Kramer, lists the pseudo-certainties about magic and witches - or rather witches. Heinrich Kramer considers that the nature of women pushes them especially in the arms of the devil. As he explains it, they are credulous, impressionable, excessive, even in the bad, talkative, morally and physically deficient ... All these reasons make them more easily succumbed to the devil. So, according to Kramer, witchcraft is mostly feminine.

What crimes are these witches guilty of? Kramer answers that they have superhuman powers, that they fly in the air. Devil, where was he able to fish such an idea? Simply in Greek mythology. The goddess and magician Circe, whose very name means "bird of prey", already possessed the gift of flying. Kramer also reports that witches go to orgies and sabbaths at night. Here again, mythology gives us the key: Sabbaths were originally orgiastic feasts given in honor of the god Dionysus. At these black masses, accuses Kramer, witches give hosts to toads. This accusation does not come out of nowhere: it simply takes the one that was launched in the Middle Ages, with regard to the Jews. Witches devour children, adds Kramer. Now, again, Jews have been suspected of the same horrors, and previously, "the first Christians were themselves accused of cannibalism by the Romans," says Ludovic Viallet, a specialist in medieval history and author of Witches! The big hunt (Ed Armand Colin).

Montaigne visits an accused in her cell and sees only a poor madwoman who needs care In short, the Hammer compiles a whole series of fantasies from earlier eras - and that is how it forges the myth of witches. By adding an obsession: the main grievance against these fiancées of Satan, the one that arises on every page, or almost, of the book is their lubricity, their frenzied taste for sex. The servants of the devil sleep with him, kiss her ass continuously as a sign of submission and fornicate as well with demons incubus (males) that succubes (females). This book is also more practical and practical: it provides the reader with tips for unmasking witches. In particular, he explains, it is possible to recognize them by the marks left by the devil.on their bodies, and which are the trace of the pact they concluded with him. It may be a frog-shaped spot in the white of the eye, warts, moles, or insensitivity to the skin - a sign that Satan has touched them.

So, everything is in place to confuse the witches. Only the accusations are missing. And it is the people who provide them. For three hundred years, from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, the witch hunt is fed by waves of denunciations in the cities and the countryside. Villagers suspect that one midwife willfully kill newborns or another to poison the milk of young mothers. All diseases, all dramas are soon attributed to witches. Some denunciations may even be motivated by sordid motives. A woman accuses another out of jealousy, a man denounces a villager who has refused to him, or a rich city-dweller is a victim of the envy of the neighborhood. As the property of a person found guilty of witchcraft is sold at auction after his death,

Once the accusation is launched and the suspect apprehended, the search for evidence begins. The judges shave the unfortunate girl to look on her body for the marks of the devil. The auxiliaries of justice thrust him needles in the skin. If the blood does not spring, woe to her: it is that Satan has passed by. Other experiments can confuse the witch (see page 37). It is no longer enough then to obtain his confession ... The tortures that the judges make to the defendants are of indescribable cruelty. Broken limbs, torn nails, open entrails, lacerated skin ... The executioners strive with all the more ardor that witches are reputed to have hard leather: if they deny their guilt, it is because the devil forbids them to 'confess. The trap is without a way out ...

At the end of suffering, the suspects deliver confessions all more hallucinating than the other, which inevitably reinforce the suspicions of their torturers. In Dillingen, Germany, midwife Walpurga Hausmann, widowed for thirty-one years, admits that "she had often gone to various places with her devil lover at night, using a vehicle fork". She also admits to having dug up every year "the corpse of at least one or two innocent children. She ate them with her lover the devil and other companions. She used the small bones to bring out the hail.

Rare critical minds, however, dare to doubt the reality of these accusations. Some even wrote it with humor, like the humanist Fuglinus Basel, in 1565: "We have come to fear poor poor women, hardworking, decrepit and miserable, we are even afraid of their brooms, their pan and their old skin. This author is unfortunately not heard by his contemporaries. Nor Montaigne who, after visiting an accused in cell, sees a poor madwoman to look after. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the witch-hunt was ended with the same simplicity as it had been opened with a stroke of the pen. In 1679, at Bouvignies, a Flemish village north-east of Douai, the four remaining pyres of the kingdom of France were erected. In 1682,Louis XIVsigns a royal edict which declares witchcraft "unreal and invented". It's like awakening from a long nightmare, a collective hallucination. The construction of the modern state is complete and medicine is progressing. No need to summon the demon to explain diseases. Above all, the Sun King, absolute monarch, does not tolerate the existence of a repressive system that sows disorder in his kingdom. The rest of the European countries then slowly follow the French example. Some late outbreaks are still lit in the eighteenth century in Poland or Bavaria. The last witch condemned on the continent is a poor servant, Anna Göldi (or Göldin), beheaded in 1782 in Glarus (Switzerland) for poisoning and fireworks. The judges did not dare to invoke witchcraft. His execution is worthy of the criticism of all the intellectual elites in court and his executioners, horrified that such a thing should come at a time when rationalism and the spirit of the Enlightenment are spreading. Anna is finally rehabilitated in the 20th century. The minutes of her trial show that she was the victim of sexual violence by her employer, against which she lodged a complaint. Unfortunately, this notorious widower, doctor and also a judge in the court hastened to have her sentenced.

The witch hunt, fierce in Germany, spares Italy and Spain In total, in Europe, 75,000 witchcraft trials were held in three centuries of repression, followed by 30,000 to 50,000 executions. The New World was not left out: in the United States, in 1692, the terrible trial of the witches of Salem, involves the execution of twenty-two people (including sixteen women), while five others died in detention. The Germanic countries have been particularly bitter. Conversely, Italy and Spain have remained focused on hunting heretics, Jews and Mohammedans. The Inquisition, which nevertheless raged harshly, despised these stories of good women ...