Witch Trials: Learning about the Global Phenomenon of Witch Hunts with Resources for Teachers

1692, A young woman accused of witchcraft by Puritan ministers appeals to Satan to save her. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

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)
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)
“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

Lesson Plans
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

Salem Witchcraft Trials History
History of Witch Hunts
Salem Witch Hunt Museum
The Witch CrazeSalem Witchcraft Trials History Channel

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:


  1. I have always found it interesting that people would consider another person a witch to the point of putting them to death. I choose this article because it is close to Halloween and it’s the time of year when people enjoy telling stories like this. I think it would be interesting to go to Salem and learn more about this topic in the city that it took place. In a classroom with older students, I feel that this article would be a good starting point for discussion on the Salem Witch Trials and an opener into a possible research project on the topic.

  2. I chose to respond to this article due to the fact that Halloween is coming up next week. I have already had some background knowledge on the witch trials, but this article definitely taught me some stuff I didn’t already know. These events still shock me and this article was a much needed refresher on the real history of witches and witch-hunts.

  3. I read this article to get more information on the witch hunting era throughout the colonial America. I soon realized that many places around the world had similar events going on. It is crazy to think that 40,000-50,000 individuals were brought up on “trial” for being a witch. I think that the resources provided offer a great variety for all ages and could easily be implemented in classrooms.

  4. I really enjoyed this article. I have always found the witch trials to be interesting. I liked reading this article as Halloween is coming closer. I enjoyed the resources attached as they are historically accurate, which can sometimes be a struggle for this topic. I have strong feelings about this topic, including how when a woman was strong and independent, she was perceived as evil and like there was something wrong with her. Sometimes this even continues to this day. This just shows and proves how prevalent this was and still is to our global history.

  5. Due to the fact that Halloween is coming closer, we are all going to be hanging up those decorations. These include witches. I have always heard about the Salem Witch Trials but, never really knew the backstory. This is how women were portrayed during this time. I find this so fascinating yet, shocked that this acutally happened. The lesson plans is a great tool to use in classrooms and show the difference of today vs the past.

  6. Since it is that time of year for Halloween and putting up all these different kinds of decoration whether it’s around the classroom, home, or the workplace, it has a deeper meaning to that, I don’t entirely know a whole lot about the Salem witch trials but I constantly heard about them which makes reading this article so much more interesting to learn about how in “the Counter-Reformation and the European wars of religion that resulted in an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 executions.” or “The Salem witch trials consisted of a series of hearings and prosecutions of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. ” but as well giving more learning in-depth opportunities for the classroom to use different materials to bring these types of subjects in the classroom.

  7. This is an amazing idea. Personally, I have always been fascinated with learning about the Salem witch trials as it has always seems absurd to me. I thoroughly enjoyed looked at the resources provided for lessons plans to teach about the witch hunts in a historically accurate way. I think learning from this period in history can teach us to do research and digging before hopping on the band wagon and killing innocent people.

  8. Not only is a topic such as the Salem Witch Trials a fun and a knowledgable way to incorporate halloween in your classroom around this time of year, but there is also depth and important messages within. The Salem Witch Trials is a great example to show how historically women, especially women of color, or women that didn’t follow the social norms have been and continue to be demonized. I think it is also a great way to show how in certain aspects America has progressed! I really love the lesson plan tied in that goes over some of the modern day, normalized things we do that could’ve had you considered as a witch.

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