Thinking about the Outlander Witch Trial


download (8) You know what I love about the internet? Well, lots of things, but right now I’m loving how easy it is to research a topic. I’m a curious thinker. Today, I was thinking about the Devils’ Mark and witch trials and well…pizza…cuz I was hungry. So, I called Dominos and ordered a thin crust and then got on Google to take care of my intellectual needs. I love learning, especially new things about old things. I learned some really cool stuff about witches today!

Webster says a witch is usually a woman who, ” is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers”. Nothing real noteworthy there, it seemed like pretty common knowledge to me. So, I dug a little deeper and I found that the origin of the word was Hebrew “kashaph” which is derived from a root word that means to “whisper”.  Okay, I can see that, I can picture a witch “whispering” a spell. Good info, now what else can I learn?

I Googled the history of witches.  Mother-load! I learned a whole bunch of new stuff! Like the fact that the EARLY Christian Church didn’t believe in witches. St. Augustine (the more I know about that guy the more I like him) circa 420 proposed the idea that only God possessed supernatural powers and anyone who believed mere humans could alter the universe’s natural laws must be a pagan. Hmmmmm…pagans…the Highlands…..what was that Frank said on the honeymoon?

From what I could read, it seemed things started to change around about the 1200s. A Pope named Innocent the III (get ready for the irony) started attacking a group called the Cathars.  The Cathars believed that God and the Devil both possessed supernatural powers and were at war, good versus evil style. The church of course called them heretics and began a smear campaign.  They spread the rumor that the Cathars actually worshiped Satan. And…we still …I live to learn these bits of trivia…allude to these rumors in our everyday speech!  Ever tell someone to kiss your ass?  I always thought we told people that cuz…’s an ass, but NO! The saying is rooted in witchcraft history! The church told folks they caught Cathars kissing the anus of Satan as a way to show their loyalty to him.  You’re  welcome.

Around 1273, Thomas Aquinas added his views on the subject and linked women and sex to the mix. Aquinas was a very popular theologian who greatly influenced orthodox church beliefs. He believed that demons roamed the Earth looking to tempt men into joining the dark side. In Aquinas’s mind, sex and witchcraft were closely related.  He began what would become a long-period of believing that women were Satan’s temptation tools. It seems that over time, these beliefs picked up steam and by the mid-1400s Witch trials began to appear throughout Europe.

With the publication of Malleus Maleficarum “Hammer of Witches” any remnant of the belief that witches were powerless in the face of God seemed to have died and instead it became Christian duty to hunt down witches and kill them. Heinrich Kramer , author of the Hammer of Witches and a papal inquisitor,  became the foremost expert on how to deal with witches. He wrote a list of ways to recognize a witch.  One of those suggestions that becomes important to Claire and Gellis in Outlander is the stripping of suspected witches to look for telltale marks of demonic possession on the skin like moles, birthmarks, vaccine scars (wink wink), etc. In Europe, between 1500 to 1660 between 50,000 and 80,000 suspected witches were tried and executed; 80% were women.

In, 1591 King James authorized the hunt for witches in Scotland, due to some belief that his honeymoon to Princess Anne of Denmark had been marred by rough seas due to witchcraft (here’s a metaphor waiting to happen).  England saw its last recorded witch trial in 1682. The information I could find suggested that the last recorded witch trial held in Scotland was in 1727, twenty-four years before Claire and Gellis were taken out of Fiscal Duncan’s house.

It is not totally out of the realm of possibility that a trial could have happened during 1743 and for the sake of the story, I’m willing to believe that it did.  It would be poor story telling to believe that Claire’s unusual behavior, and Gellis’ for that matter, would continue to go on without remark or repercussion. We have certainly had the shadow of a witch trial playing about the grounds of Castle Leoch for a while now. Father’s Bain’s promise that God would have the last word lingers in my mind and I wanted to reach through the screen and slap Claire for giving “Leery” a potion complete with a Wizard of Oz incantation. I believe I said, “Girl, you just moved from healer to witch. The shite is really gonna hit the fan.”  Which is pretty ironic when I think about it .  She gave the girl a bottle of horse dung (snort). And, my foreshadowing sleuthing skills appear to be on point because on Saturday Outlander is having a witch trial! Squeeeee!  It’s not that I’m not empathetic, but aren’t you just a bit excited to see how they are going to get out of this one?! So, I’m done researching, this is certainly not a history of witches in Europe, just what I found out today and thought I’d share. My curiosity is sated for the moment, but I’m hungry again…left-over pizza!


6 thoughts on “Thinking about the Outlander Witch Trial

  1. Fascinating. I love it when someone else does all the research. 🙂 I wish you hadn’t mentioned the pizza though. Now I need to search out a midnight snack.

  2. heather

    In the podcast they talked about how they discovered that it had been outlawed years before and so added the bit where Ned comes in.

    They said it was in the realm of possibility that the church may have continued the practice 🙂

  3. Lizbeth

    In 2013 I was exploring/driving through New Mexico and read of a small town which was known for witches in the 1800s, well past the Salem period in US history. So… one never knows. I have forgotten a lot about the earth-mother cults, pre-Christianity times when priestesses held power. Knowledgeable women became a threat to patriarchal rule.

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