Most witch hunts hap­pened in 17th-cen­tury New Eng­land.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

Dur­ing the 1692-93 witch pan­ics in and around Salem, Mass., 14 women and five men were ex­e­cuted by colo­nial au­thor­i­ties. Be­cause these events of­ten show up in Amer­i­can plays, films and works of art such as Arthur Miller’s “The Cru­cible,” it should come as no sur­prise that these “witch hunts” are the most well-known to the Amer­i­can pub­lic. This might be the rea­son that Na­tional Geo­graphic, when ex­plain­ing the his­tor­i­cal foun­da­tion of the term, ex­clu­sively refers to the Salem in­ci­dents and why an Oxford Univer­sity Press ad­ver­tise­ment points to these tri­als as “the great­est witch­hunt of all time.”

From a Euro­pean per­spec­tive, how­ever, the events in Salem were a rel­a­tively pe­riph­eral episode in the his­tory of witch per­se­cu­tions. In fact, scholars es­ti­mate that from the 15th through the 18th cen­turies, about 60,000 Euro­peans were ex­e­cuted for al­legedly be­ing witches.

One of thou­sands of ex­am­ples oc­curred in the par­ish of Mora, Swe­den, about 23 years be­fore the Salem events, when 16 in­di­vid­u­als were be­headed and burned at the stake. The sen­tenc­ing, by a royal com­mis­sion of in­quiry, was pri­mar­ily based on tes­ti­mony from hun­dreds of local chil­dren. The New Eng­land the­olo­gian Cot­ton Mather men­tions the “hor­ri­ble out­rage” com­mit­ted “at Mohra in Sweed­land” by “the Devils by the help of Witches” in sev­eral of his works, a fact that most likely played an im­por­tant role in shap­ing the events in Salem.

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