Famous Witches & Warlocks Through The Ages
by Timothy Bateson
In keeping with the Halloween theme, I thought that it would be worth looking at one of the most popular figures of the holiday – the witch.
Throughout history there are a number of very famous figures who have been been accused, tried, convicted and even executed for the practice of witchcraft.
Many of those accused were guilty of nothing more than being intelligent, free-thinking women who were seen as a challenge to the powers of their time. As such, they became the victims of the many witch hunts, and trials – often giving confessions obtained through interrogation and torture.
So here are just a few of those alleged practitioners of the ‘Dark Arts’, with links to further reading.
- This post originally appeared at: “Ramblings of an Author” in 2017, my previous blog.
(late 1200s – after 1325)
Born in Ireland in 1263, Alice Kyteler was married four times, which made her an already unusual woman. However, when her fourth husband died, amid claims he was being poisoned, accusations of animal sacrifice, Satan worship and murdering her husbands surfaced.
The trial went on for months, and it wasn’t until they tortured and obtained confessions from members of her household that Richard de Ledrede was able to make the charges stick. Kyteler became one of the first recorded people condemned for witchcraft. Though she managed to escape the country before sentence was carried out many of her household were not so lucky.
Ursula Southeil – Aka Mother Shipton
(1488 – 1561)
Ursula Southeil is reputed to have been born ugly, and deformed to a teenage mother. Some would say that her appearance was due to being fathered by the Devil himself. In fact there are reports that later in life she looked very much like the image we now hold in our minds when people mention witches at Halloween.
Regardless of the truth of those particular stories, she is probably best remembered for the legacy of prophecies she left behind. Though why it took eighty years for these prophecies to come to light is sometimes hard to fathom. Whatever the reason, there are many of those prophecies that have apparently come to pass, including the Spanish Armada, the Great Fire of London, and possibly even the internet.
(1501 – 1536)
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII, and Queen of England from 1533 to 1536. Her marriage came amid a lot of turmoil between Henry VIII and the Catholic church, in large part due to Henry’s attempts to annul the marriage between himself and Catherine of Aragon.
However, Bolyen’s intelligence and desire to learn made her one of the most powerful women of her time. Her advice often held more sway over the king, than that of is own advisors. However, when she gave birth to the future Elizabeth I, Henry was disappointed not to have a son, and the division between the two started.
When she miscarried three children, including a boy, the rising anger and resentment of Henry’s advisors became enough for her to be accused of treason.
Among the crimes she was accused of were adultery, conspiring to dethrone the king, and witchcraft (bewitching the king into divorcing his first wife). However, witchcraft was not mentioned in the indictment, and would not become a crime until the reign of Elizabeth I, her own daughter.
(1503 – 1566)
Agnes Waterhouse was one of the first three women tried by secular court, and executed, for witchcraft in England. Alongside Elizabeth Francis and Joan Waterhouse, Agnes was the first accused witch to be tried by a court not formed by the church.
The particulars of the case against her revolved around her cat, Satan, the illness and death of William Fynne and her own husband. She was also accused of sending Satan to kill local livestock. It was Agnes’ daughter Joan’s testimony sealed the fates of her mother, and Elizabeth Francis, even though she herself was acquitted.
It wasn’t until she was about to be hung that Agnes Waterhouse broke and confessed to killing a man, and she died praying for God’s forgiveness.
Dr. John Dee
(1527 – 1608/1609)
Technically not classified as a witch, Dr. John Dee was a noted occultist, mathematician, astronomer, geographer and astrologer. He was born in London to family who had ties to the court of Henry VIII, and Dee would even claim ties to Rhodri the Great, Prince of Wales.
He studied in Cambridge, and became a founding fellow of Trinity College when it was founded by Henry VIII. After years of study, he was versed in several subjects, and turned down several positions in favor of the hopes for a position at court.
He was arrested in 1555 on charges of having cast horoscopes for Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. And this was not the only charges and slanders brought against Dee, all of which he would be cleared of, and he eventually became advisor to Elizabeth when she took the throne.
However, his influence at court was lost when he fell out of favor, and he spent many years wandering Europe while continuing to publish his works on the occult and alchemy.
(1560s – 1603)
When the prince abbott of the German town Fulda returned from exile he ordered a massive witch hunt. Like Alice Kyteler, Bien had been married several times and had inherited from at least two of those husbands.
Unfortunately, Merga was one of over two hundred executed for witccraft, despite her pregnancy. At the time of her arrest, Merga had been married for many years to her current husband, who professed her innocence of the charges.
However, it was that very pregnancy, and confessions that were likely obtained through torture that led to Bien being burned at the sake.
The Pendle Witches
(? – 1612)
The Lancashire Witch Trials are among the best documented witch trials of the seventeenth century. Among the trials that took place at the Lancaster Assizes were those of the Samlesbury and Pendle witches.
In the case of the Pendle witches, twelve women living in the vicinity of Pendle Hill were accused of witchcraft. Many of whom had refused to attend church and take Communion, which was considered crime at the time.
Other charges leveled against the women included the murder of ten people by witchcraft, and ten of them were convicted. The unfortunate part of the trials is that many of them women became convinced of their own guilt, or gave testimony against each other.
Gowdie’s confessed to witchcraft in 1662. Before her arrest, she was a cottar’s wife from Auldearn, in the Scottish Highlands. Although not much else is known about her life, her confession is one of the most comprehensive to have been obtained without torture.
During her confessions, Gowdie would outline the activities of her coven, claim to have hosted the Queen of Fairies, and more. In all those confessions form one of the most complete accounts of folklore on European witchcraft of the time.
(1632 – 1692)
Bridget Bishop was accused and tried for witchcraft at the start of the Salem Witch Trials. She was the first to be tried by jury, and was hung on Gallow Hill near Salem.
What makes this case stand out among all the others is that Bishop was accused of having bewitched other women, and that much of the evidence given against her was from ‘spectral evidence’. This form of evidence came from those who claimed to see apparitions of the one they accused of afflicting them.
There were also those of her accusers at the trial that would be struck down when she looked at them, and only her touch revived them. But despite all these things, many suspect that it was the lies she told in court that really condemned her.
(1875 – 1947)
Possibly one of the most famous of modern occultists, Crowley was also known as a poet, novelist and painter. But it’s his more colorful names that earn his place on this list. Crowley called himself ‘The Beast’ while the tabloids came to call him ‘The Wickedest Man In The World’.
Having been raised in a Catholic family, Crowley broke with the church during his college years, and devoted himself to the study of mysticism and occultism. During his lifetime he would travel extensively, study alchemy, mysticism, and expand his practices of magic into sexual magics.
He would also partake of recreational drugs, obtain positions in several occult groups, and claim to have been contacted by a supernatural entity called Aiwass. This claim and the texts that he wrote based on those supposed conversations would form the foundation of Thelema, which he continued to build on throughout his lifetime.
Did I Miss Any Witches/Warlocks?
That’s been my round-up of witches through history. I’ll admit that I looked through a very large list, before picking my list. That means I had to leave several names out.
Who do you think should have made the cut?
Drop your names, and some details about that them into the comments, below.
Who Else Is Dropping In?
“31 Days of Halloween” is a collaborative effort, and I really couldn’t put out 31 posts in 31 days without help.
While I’ve personally filled many of the slots for the event, I also have some amazing guest posts, from some wonderful folks.
Want to see what else is happening?