Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
With the arrival of the month of October in the US, the hearts and minds of youth as well as adults begin to turn to Halloween. As the date gets closer to the end of September one starts to see displays and decorations celebrating the holiday. Topics such as haunted houses, trick or treating, horror films, pumpkins, ghosts, goblins and witches abound. A certain caricature of witches (Being portrayed as elderly women) has become popularized. Even though it is portrayed as fun for children the idea of witches and witch hunts has a much deeper meaning. In this edition we decided to republish a revised version of an article from 2021.
1692, A young woman accused of witchcraft by Puritan ministers appeals to
Satan to save her. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Originally published November 1, 2021 as “Art Thou a Witch? Studying the Witchcraft Trials in History”
In light of the celebration of Halloween in the month of October we decided to do an article surrounding witch-hunts that have taken place throughout history. A witch-hunt (also called a witch purge) is a historical and global phenomenon, whereby authorities have searched for people who have been accused of being witches. They also might search for evidence (Usually bogus or arbitrary evidence) to prove that the accused was practicing witchcraft. In the United States many people are somewhat familiar with the Salem witchcraft trials but are not aware that witch hunts were a global phenomenon throughout history.
History of Witch-Hunts
The era known as the classical period of witch-hunts took place during Early modern Europe and in Colonial America about 1450 to 1750. The prosecutions reached a highpoint from 1580 to 1630 during the Counter-Reformation and the European wars of religion that resulted in an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 executions. Most people were burned at the stake, roughly 80% of those executed were women, often over the age of 40. The last witch hunt executions in Europe took place during the 1700’s, but other regions of the world such as parts of Africa and Asia have continued the practice.
“The Examination of a Witch” Thompkins H. Matteson (1853).
Salem Witch Trials
In the United States, people are most familiar with the events that took place in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The Salem witch trials consisted of a series of hearings and prosecutions of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. Thirty of those accused were found guilty, and nineteen of the thirty were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). Books like the classic novel The Crucible have brought more attention to the historical events.
The American imagination has been long fascinated by this time period, as most people are intrigued by the supernatural and the fear of the unknown. In light of this, witch hunts are a wonderful topic to bring to the classroom. Here are some lesson plans and resources teachers can use to help students explore the topic on a deeper level.
Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources
Witch-hunts Teacher Resources
Aha! You’re a Witch- Early Modern European Witch-hunts
Salem Witch Trials Lesson Plan
Understanding the Salem Witch Trials
Which of You Is a Witch? The Salem Witchcraft Trials and The Crucible
Salem Witch Trials: Web Supported Lesson Plan
Salem Witch Trials- American Bar Association
Please share what resources you find useful for your teaching.
We are open to feedback and discussion. If you see any typos or grammatical errors please feel free to email the author and editor at the address below: