If someone were to accuse you of being a witch today, you’d likely laugh it off or consider it a compliment to be likened to Hermione Granger, Winnifred Sanderson, or Prue Halliwell. If the same accusation was made 100 years ago, you’d probably be crying from your jail cell as many women did during that time. But what made them witches? Were they blatantly practicing witchcraft for any and everyone to see? No, not all of them. Some women were convicted of witchcraft for the most outlandish reasons, some of which are listed below.
- Being Too Sick to Go to Church
In most countries, it is mandatory for a person to stay home when they are sick, but for Salem resident, Sarah Osburn, it was the last straw in an already damning case against her being a witch. Ms. Osburn caused quite the scandal when she married her significantly younger indentured servant after her husband’s death. She then claimed her husband’s property for herself rather than giving it to her sons, which was customary. This event was followed by two young women accusing her of witchcraft. It was then noted that Ms. Osburn had not appeared in church for three years. Osburn was bedridden by the time her trial began, and her excuse was that she was visited by a “lying spirit”, which did not help her case. She was sent to jail to await further trial but died in the unkempt prison before it began.
- Naming Your Cat Satan
Naming your cat Satan is an interesting choice, but if the wicked stepsisters in Hans Christian Andersen’s Cinderella could call their cat Lucifer, then who are we to judge? Well in the small English town of Chelmsford, Elizabeth Francis, an older woman of little wealth was tried for witchcraft 3 times before her execution, because of her evil cat Satan. The first time, she confessed that her cat, given to her by her grandmother, spoke to her asking to be fed blood. Elizabeth, through the use of her cat, was accused of many things including harming people and livestock and invoking the devil, an act that her daughter claimed to witness. Elizabeth became the first woman in England to be executed for witchcraft.
- Healing a Sick Child
Switzerland native, Anna Göldi grew up in poverty and had two children by men who she was not married to. When she lost one in infancy, she was accused of doing the dastardly deed and was placed in a pillory. Things improved for Göldi when she got a job as a servant for Johann Tschudi, a high society physician. Rumor has it that the doctor’s children started to find pins in their food, and after being accused, she was fired. Within a week of her departure, Tschudi’s youngest became extremely ill and Göldi was brought back to the home to defend the accusations. Local legend where they lived claimed that a person who makes a child sick is the only one who can heal them and when the child’s health improved, it only solidified her guilt. She was arrested and tortured before she confessed to making a deal with the devil. She was sentenced to death. Unfortunately, some rumors suggest that she was, in fact, Tschudi’s lover and the charges brought against her in an attempt to keep her quiet.
- Losing a Loved One in a Natural Disaster
The small Norwegian village of Vardo was already under suspicion when the unthinkable happened. Home to the non-Christian indigenous Sami, many of the village’s men worked on small fishing fleets just off the coast, leaving the women and the children alone for long periods. On Christmas Eve in 1617, a storm ravaged the sea, taking all the fishermen with it. Despite the loss of their men and the harsh climate, the community survived and that made them guilty in many people’s eyes. The interrogation and torture of many of the residents began and one woman, Mari Jogensdatter, confessed that she and other women had conjured up the storm. More women confessed, stating that the wealthiest woman in town, Kirsti Sorensdatter, was the coven leader. The two women and 90 others were sent to meet their maker.
- Having Veins in Your Eyes
Margaret Aitkenson, also known as the Great Witch of Balwearie, was accused of being a witch in 1597. Shortly after her arrest, the accused convinced her accusers that her powers allowed her to identify other witches… by examining the vein pattern in their eyes. During that time, many people believed that the devil left a mark on a witch’s body, so it wasn’t surprising that they believed her. With the support of King James VI, Margaret began a countrywide tour, going from town to town where people would line up their suspected witches. Anyone she pointed out was tortured until they confessed. In the short time it took to identify her as a fraud, she’d sent hundreds to their deaths, a fate she also suffered.