What are the darkest truths about Europe

The fascination of witches - myths and truths

Status: 04/29/2021 4:38 p.m.

Hunchbacked women with brooms in hand and wart on their noses - the night of witches is imminent, on April 30th it's that time again: Thousands of people celebrate Walpurgis Night and dance into May.

Why do we celebrate Walpurgis Night?

Disguises as far as the eye can see: the Walpurgis Night on the Brocken in the Harz Mountains.

The Northern and Central European festival combines Celtic and Germanic traditions as well as Catholic customs.

Those dressed as witches meet for a big celebration on the Brocken in the Harz Mountains (also called "Blocksberg") or on other elevated points in Germany and Europe. This custom goes back to the belief that witches and ghosts are up to mischief in mountainous surroundings on the night of April 30th to May 1st. The namesake of the haunted night is the holy Walpurga. She was a nun from Great Britain and lived in the eighth century AD. On May 1st, 761, she was appointed abbess. Walpurga is considered the patron saint against disease, famine and epidemic.

Where does the belief in witches come from?

Thousands of people, mostly women, lost their lives as a result of the witch hunt.

The Walpurgis Night recalls one of the darkest chapters in our history: the witch hunt. Bad weather, crop failures or famines - in the Middle Ages people looked for explanations for such catastrophes. Since no causes could be found with the knowledge at the time, it was agreed that there must be men and women who can perform magic and use their magical powers to harm others.

The Catholic Church felt compelled to act, the clergyman Heinrich Kramer (1430-1505) wrote the book "Hexenhammer" and thus created instructions for the subsequent witch hunt. In the first 30 years after the "Witch's Hammer" was published, it is estimated that several thousand people across Europe died at the stake.

At the end of the 17th century, people's living conditions improved. The age of the Enlightenment dawned, scientific knowledge was given more and more importance. On April 4, 1775, the maid Anna Schwegelin was tried as the last witch in Germany.

Witch persecution - still an issue

The witch hunt has not existed in Europe and the USA for hundreds of years. But in other regions of the world it is far from a thing of the past. The centers of persecution today are in Africa, Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America. Historians assume that more witches died in these countries than in Europe. As in the Middle Ages, people are made scapegoats for all kinds of grievances.

Witch hunt in Northern Germany

In the period between 1450 and 1750 tens of thousands of people, mostly women, were executed as supposed witches in Western and Central Europe - also in Northern Germany. more

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My afternoon | 04/28/2017 | 4:20 pm