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Word of Mouth - The real Swiss witches

Word of Mouth // Education // Jan. 10, 2017

Today Garry Littman is talking about witches. Not Halloween witches, pumpkins or flying brooms, but thousands of innocent women and some men who were found guilty of sorcery and burned at the stake.

Switzerland was notorious for burning witches from the 1400s right up to the late 1700s. Witchcraft hysteria was particularly strong in the French part of Switzerland. In the first three months of year 1515, authorities in Geneva burned 500 so-called witches - that’s five witches per day!

Switzerland has a terrible legacy – it’s where witch hunts began and where the last unfortunate woman was beheaded for sorcery in Europe.

Witchcraft hysteria originated in the cantons of Valais and Vaud. It began in the early 1400s and is referred to by historians as The Werewolf Witch trials. There are very few surviving documents but we do know about 370, mostly poor women, were killed… extraordinary when you think that only 20 people perished in the infamous Salem witch trials.

The Werewolf Witch trials accused the so-called witches of fantastic and horrible offences such as

• Cannibalism: abducting and eating children. • Changing into werewolves and killing cattle • Making themselves invisible with herbs • Flying: and plundering wine cellars. • Learning magic from Satan. • Conspiring to overturn Christianity.

Some transcripts written by the trial clerk survived. He described the judicial process: And no matter how severely they were questioned, during more and more torture, many would not confess but let themselves be tortured. So they died from it, and were all the same judged and burned, some alive and some dead. "

Europe’s last witch – beheaded for sorcery - was a maid in the small alpine region of Glarus, Switzerland. Anna Goeldi was executed in 1782 after she confessed under torture - to conversing with the devil and poisoning the daughter of the house.

Of course she wasn’t a witch just like the tens of thousands of innocent people killed before here. Anna Goeldi worked for the family of a rich married politician, who after having an affair, or sexually assaulted her, then denounced her to protect his reputation. He claimed she fed his daughter pins.

In 2007, the Swiss parliament acknowledged Anna Göldi's case as a miscarriage of justice. She was exonerated - 226 years after her death on the grounds that she had been subjected to an "illegal trial".

Historians call this period The Burning Times … it claimed the lives of between 60,000 and 80,000 - the great majority women – and the great majority, as innocent as Anna Goeldi.

Hear more from Garry Littman every Tuesday morning at 10:40am and listen to podcasts at www.worldradio.ch/radio/shows/word-of-mouth/

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