Mental Floss
THIS JUST IN

Catalonia Is Posthumously Pardoning More Than 700 Victims of Its Witch Trials

Ellen Gutoskey
Tompkins Harrison Matteson's 1853 painting Examination of a Witch, which depicts the 17th-century investigation of Mary Fisher in New England.
Tompkins Harrison Matteson's 1853 painting Examination of a Witch, which depicts the 17th-century investigation of Mary Fisher in New England. / Peabody Essex Museum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
facebooktwitterreddit

If you were a woman living in Salem, Massachusetts, during the early 1690s, virtually anything could land you on trial for witchcraft. You have a birthmark? You’re a witch. Your milk went sour? You’re a witch. Your neighbors are having trouble getting pregnant? It’s your fault … because you’re a witch.

This hysteria played out over several centuries across Northern Europe, too, where tens of thousands of purported “witches” were executed for everything from causing failed harvests to simply not adhering to societal conventions. The overwhelming majority of the victims were women, and the witch hunts are widely considered to exemplify misogyny in the extreme.

Now, as Vice reports, the government of Catalonia, Spain, is making symbolic amends by issuing a posthumous pardon to roughly 700 women killed for witchcraft between the 15th and 18th centuries.

“We are the heiresses of the witches, the poisoners and the healers,” Catalonian parliament member Jenn Díaz said, per Vice. “We want reparation and an understanding that the past is not as distant as we think.” The resolution also calls for local leaders to evaluate opportunities to rename streets in honor of the victims.

According to The Guardian, some of Catalonia’s witch trials began as grassroots campaigns, where a village would enlist its own witch hunter. One of these was Joan Cazabrujas—a moniker that basically means “John Witch-Hunter”—whose investigations resulted in the deaths of more than 30 convicted witches in Sallent, a town bordering the Llobregat river. Those women were hanged, the execution method of choice in Catalonia at the time. But as poetic justice would have it, Cazabrujas himself was later burned at the stake after the Spanish Inquisition determined that many of his victims hadn’t actually been guilty of witchcraft.

Catalonia isn’t the first region to reckon with its history of witch trials. In 2008, Switzerland pardoned a “witch” executed for supposedly causing the death of an 8-year-old girl in 1782. Three years later, the Steilneset Memorial was erected in Vardø, Norway, as a tribute to the 91 victims—77 women and 14 men—of the area’s 17th-century witch trials.

[h/t Vice]

facebooktwitterreddit