January 13th marks the day in history when the last of Austrian witchcraft laws were repealed. What went from a minor dismissal of witchcraft or “delusional things” based on the 1532 Carolina code, to having the freedom to practice witchcraft without fear of punishment.
Let’s take the time to remember the English Witchcraft Laws. There was that time when the magick and spell casting that you do could mean a lot of trouble and worse, death, if you were in the wrong place. In 15th century Europe, the supernatural was believed to coexist with the natural. This was spread to the colonial 17th century North America, where the peasants would use charms to encourage the growth of agricultural crops. Over time, during the spread of Christianity and the concept of the “devil” was created, witchcraft became a method through which the devil could tempt anyone to do anything. And this fear of the devil acting through witchcraft became the basis of the Salem Witch trials.
The Salem Witch trials were held in Massachusetts, which was then an English colony, where those who were accused of practicing witchcraft were hanged. It helps to be familiar with the climate of Massachusets at that time. This was year 1692 when Massachusets was still under British rule and the people who came to Massachusets, called the Purists were anxious and fearful people looking for a better life. The Purists lived by a very strict code of Christianity, and witchcraft equated to heresy.
The Salem Witch trials were essentially unfair trials given to those who were accused of being witches and practicing witchcraft on the grounds of being “weird” or “different” from the rest. It was the word of the accused against the word of six highly manipulative girls, who became sort of rock stars for pointing out witches using hysterics and “spectral sight.” The authorities let the six girls go on this way from February 1692 and May 1693, until the girls lost their credibility when they started pointed out upstanding members of the community. A total of 19 people were hanged, 1 flattened to death, 50 confessed and went to prison, and 17 died in prison. These trials hold their own horrific period in history and are always quoted as an example of the dangers of religious extremism, false accusations, and lack of due process.
In 1702, a poignant apology for the trials was published in an Inquiry into Witchcraft by Reverend John Hale. In 1980s, witchcraft became recognized as an official religion, beginning in the District Court of Virginia, in the landmark case of Dettmer versus Landon, which was then approved and upheld by the Federal courts. Those who practice witchcraft were acknowledged to be allowed the same Constitutional protections as those who have other religious beliefs.
Witchcraft has come a long way since 1692 but there’s still more that can be done. Do your part in knowing your rights as someone who practices witchcraft. Know your legal rights as a citizen of the United States, as a parent or a member of the military.