Does the true history of witch hunts matter to us? Does it
have an impact on Witchfire?
No, and no. I mean, the font used in Witchfire logo was partially inspired by the real posters of witch trials..
…but generally these connections are shallow and superficial. Witchfire is all about “what if witches were real”, and thus it’s obviously a fantasy game, not a historical one.
Still, over a year ago while looking for inspirations that could help me find the title for our new project, I read – and by that I mean I quickly skimmed through – many books on witch hunts. None of that helped, in the end we found the “witchfire” word in an occult book and also independently a fellow game developer suggested it. However, I was astounded by some info I found in those books, and I thought you might find it interesting too.
The image I had in my head before the books was more or less this:
Everyone knows, of course, that in the Middle Ages, “millions of women” were “burned” for witchcraft. They would be dunked in the water (in a ducking stool), and if they floated they were pulled out and killed. If not, they drowned.
The truth is, all of that is nonsense. Here is a couple of my favorite discoveries.
Thousands not Millions.
The most known wave of witch hunts did not happen in the Middle Ages, but right after, in the so-called Early Modern Europe, during 1400s-1700s. While millions might have been affected, historians estimate the number of actually executed during these 300+ years to around 50’000.
To put things into perspective, adjusted for demographics, this is also more or less the number of people who die in traffic accidents in Europe every 10 years (or less, depending on the source of the Early Modern Europe’s population data).
It wasn’t (just?) about the gender or social status.
Rich or poor, a woman, man or child, old or young – nobody was safe. I mean, to be accurate, most victims were indeed women! And you only need to read the title of one of the chapters of “Maleus Maleficarum”, a highly influential book, to understand the misogyny behind some of the witch hunts…
But women were, and I quote, “frequently accused of witchcraft by other women”, so it was not exactly about the patriarchy (e.g. Christina Larner claims that witch hunts were sex-related but not sex-specific). Russia was, without a doubt, a patriarchal empire, and yet most of the victims were male. This was also the case in Finland, Iceland and Estonia. And I always considered Salem to be all about women, but even there out of the twenty people executed (out of the two hundred accused), six were men.
All of the above was an interesting discovery to me. In my native language, a witch – “wiedźma” – is clearly a woman. So I always considered witch hunts to be a form of gendercide, and was surprised to find out that was not really the case.
If she floats, she’s the devil, if she drowns, she’s
The truth about swimming test disappointed my cruel, black heart. First, it was illegal in most places. Second, even where it was legal, it was usually dismissed because the judges understood how stupid it was. Third, it was rare, and when used, the victim, if drowning, was quickly pulled back.
Fourth, if anyone drowned, it was a sad case of idiots fighting things (I mean the mob, not the victim) rather than the literal execution of the test.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition…
…to consider witchcraft as bullshit. But that’s what they did. They focused on heresy, Jews and Muslims, but considered witchcraft to be a superstition. Spain had much less “intensity” of witch hunts than the rest of Europe and “well after the foundation of the inquisition, jurisdiction over sorcery and witchcraft remained in secular hands.”
Seriously, “Meanwhile, in Catholic strongholds—where Inquisitors were busily persecuting “heretics”—witches were mostly ignored. The infamously savage Spanish Inquisition executed no more than two dozen alleged witches; Portugal put to death around seven.”
Anyway, as you see, my research made me realize that the
truth about witch hunts is much less thrilling and shocking than the myths. No surprise
here, I guess. But that’s the reason why the history means nothing in
I once read that inquisitors were a) empowered to grant absolution for sins, b) forbidden from spilling blood during the interrogation. Which is why they traveled in pairs, just so one could torture and other would then absolve the first.
Stuff like that is too good to pass on, even if it’s yet another myth. So considering that “truth is stranger than fiction” totally does not work in the case of witch hunts, we’re sticking to fiction.