History of Neopaganism, Wicca and Witchcraft , 1590 , 1616

During the 1500’s and the 1600’s, the number of witch trials seen in Europe was greatly increasing. King James played an important role in advancing the torture that witch hunting victims encountered. In this article, you will learn the turning point that influenced his thoughts regarding witchcraft and witches.

1590: Witch trials are seen in North Berwick, Scotland. By 1591, King James gives his authorization to torture anyone who is suspected of being a witch in Scotland. The origins of the witch hunting conducted during this time is connected to the marriage that took place between King James and Princess Anne of Denmark. When Anne traveled to Scotland for the wedding, a terrible storm struck, forcing her to seek safety in Norway. James took leave and ventured to Scandinavia, where they married Kronborg Castle in Denmark. The honeymoon in Denmark was rather lengthy and after they departed for Scotland, choppy waters marred their voyage back home. Immediately, the ship’s captain believed it was the work of witches.

All of a sudden six Danish women confessed to playing a role in having caused the storms. This is when King James started to take a second look at the practice of witchcraft. When he returned to Scotland, he became overly suspicious of the thought of witches and allowed the torture of suspected individuals. This led to handfuls of condemned ‘witches’ living in the North Berwick region to die by burning on a stake , creating what was known as the biggest witch hunt in the history of Britain. In 1597, James relented and started to deal with some of the worst abuses of the prosecution process. At that point, witch hunting started to decline.

1609: The Basque region is crippled by a panic concerning witches, which prompts La Suprema (also known as the ruling body of the Spanish Inquisition) to pass a rule that no one should utter a word pertaining to witches. This is called the “Edict of Silence,” which thrived on the belief that if things were not spoken of or written about, then they did not exist or have the potential to cause any scares.

1616: Shakespeare’s Macbeth shows witches in an important role within the play, as the three witches greet characters Banquo and Macbeth. Shakespeare wrote the play as a result of the executions that had taken place during the era of King James. Below is an excerpt of the play in which a famous passage is mentioned:

“A dark Cave. In the middle, a Cauldron boiling. Thunder. Enter the three witches.

       1 WITCH.  Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.

       2 WITCH.  Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin’d.

       3 WITCH.  Harpier cries:”’tis time! ’tis time!

       1 WITCH.  Round about the cauldron go;

    In the poison’d entrails throw.”

    Toad, that under cold stone,

    Days and nights has thirty-one;

    Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

    Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!

       ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;

    Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”