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Werewolf witches

Within the witch panic of Medieval Europe was a strange subset of trials that accused people of being both witches and werewolves.

Peter Stumpp

Lucas Mayer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Estonia, 17th century. Christianity had not fully penetrated the peasantry of Estonia at this time – it was, apparently, full of pagans.

(Side note: native religions are still quite popular in Estonia. Taaraism and Maausk are pantheistic religions that have seen a revival in the last hundred years or so. I don’t know how much this Estonian neopaganism is tied up with nationalism, although they do emphasise the “non-Christian and non-European roots and tradition of Estonian culture” so the connection seems likely.)

At this time, witch trials were popular and widespread, inspired by the Valais witch trials in Switzerland a couple of hundred years before. They did kind of assume a Christian populace, because witches were supposedly Satanic. Estonian pagan peasants weren’t too fussed about Satanic witchcraft – but they were very concerned about werewolves.

This is how it worked: An Estonian peasant accused someone of being a werewolf. The church decided that this meant witchcraft, and “encouraged” the peasant to adapt their accusation to fit. And then the combined witch / werewolf trial could commence!

The usual witch trial process ensued, with accusation, torture, and confession. If there were any hints of Satanic activity, execution. In the case of Hans the Werewolf (in Estonia in 1651) he claimed to have been given his wolf skin by a man in black. A man in black? cried the authorities. That is obviously Satan, because no-one else wears black.

Werewolf / witch trials happened throughout Europe: Germany, France, and the Netherlands were notorious hotspots. If you want a good Hallowe’en fright, read about the trial of Peter Stumpp, the Werewolf of Bedburg. Just a warning: lots of cannibalism in that one.

Categories: Early modern history Europe History Medieval history Places Politics & law Religion & belief

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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