How many witches really died? We hear statistics as low as 10,000 and as high as over 6 million. That last figure is remarkably similar to the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust (and was probably chosen by pagan zealots for that reason). While I am as angry as anyone that so many people were killed just because they supposedly worshipped some aspect of the Goddess (or an aspect of the Horned God) as anyone, I have to doubt that the genocide during the Burning Times was as great as that of World War 2.
To date, the evidence for numbers of executed witches being in the millions is simply not there. However, the more realistic (and supportable) estimates for the number of men, women, and children executed for participating in witchcraft during the Burning Times is closer to 40,000 to 50,000.
For those unfamiliar with the Basics of this dark historic period, the era known as the "Burning Times" refers to the time between approximately 1450 to 1700 A.C.E (After the Common Era). Despite the fact that the United States is well known all over the world for the Salem Witch Trials, the carnage in Europe was far worse resulting in not three dozen or so dead but thousands. History buffs know this period also as the Early Modern period.
There is little debate that at least 12,000 witch trials (ending in execution) were held in Europe. From this point the debate begins:
We have several varying opinions to consider:
- AUTHOR: Brian Levack
PUBLICATION: The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe
PROPOSED NUMBER DEAD: 60,000 deaths
CALCULATION METHOD: Author multiplied number of known deaths by average rate of conviction and execution for non-witchcraft offenses.
- AUTHOR: Anne Lewellyn Barstow
PROPOSED NUMBER DEAD: 100,000 deaths
CALCULATION METHOD: Author added additional executions to the 60,000 proposed by Levack because she believed that records were lost or that executions had gone unreported. Note: There is some conflict among historians regarding this issue as many people insist that Levack already accounted for the possibility of lost records.
- AUTHOR: Ronald Hutton
PUBLICATIONS: Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan and an unpublished essay "Counting the Witch Hunt"
PROPOSED NUMBER DEAD: 40,000 deaths
CALCULATION METHOD: Author considered the sociological attitudes of witch hunting at the time for each region in Europe. His estimates for regions without competent data are derived from neighboring areas.
Approximate population of Europe during Burning Times: 150 million
Average Life Expectancy: 40 years
Average Executions: 1 in 25,000 deaths
Execution Rate before the 18th century (as compated to today in the U.S.): 3.5 times more likely to be executed for witchcraft in the Early Modern period that for a 1st degree capital murder committed today. That is, if you were convicted TODAY you would have far less of a chance of being exectuted for that crime that you would have for being accused (most accusations led to convictions) for what amounts to NOTHING back then. Committing the crime of thinking differently than the majority was more serious during the Burning Times than planning, killing and covering up a murder is today.