Werewolf witch trials

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The Werewolf witch trials were witch trials combined with werewolf trials. Belief in werewolves developed parallel to the belief in witches, in the course of the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. Like the witchcraft trials as a whole, the trial of supposed werewolves emerges in what is now Switzerland (especially the Valais and Vaud) in the early 15th century and spreads throughout Europe in the 16th, peaking in the 17th and subsiding by the 18th century. The persecution of werewolves and the associated folklore is an integral part of the "witch-hunt" phenomenon, albeit a marginal one, accusations of werewolfery being involved in only a small fraction of witchcraft trials.[1]

During the early period, accusations of lycanthropy (transformation into a wolf) were mixed with accusations of wolf-riding or wolf-charming. The case of Peter Stumpp (1589) led to a significant peak in both interest in and persecution of supposed werewolves, primarily in French-speaking and German-speaking Europe. Werewolf trials reached Estonia in the 17th century, and would become the most common form of witch-trial in that country. The phenomenon persisted longest in Bavaria and Austria, with persecution of wolf-charmers persisting until well after 1650, the final cases being recorded in the early 18th century in Carinthia and Styria.[2]


In Estonia, accusations of magic, which were often about enchanted potions, were rare, while the belief in magic was common.[citation needed] Accusations of werewolves, on the other hand, were common. At 18 trials, 18 women and 13 men were accused of causing damage to property and cattle while in the shape of werewolves. Under torture, they confessed to having hidden their wolf-skins under a rock.[citation needed] The werewolf trials petered out at the end of the 17th century. As late as 1696, however, a pack of werewolves was believed to run wild in Vastemoisa under their leader Libbe Matz.[3]


The werewolf was not always regarded as evil in the Baltic. A notable case in Jürgensburg in Livonia (in present-day Latvia) in 1692, follows a similar pattern, but did not end in a death sentence: the eighty-year-old Thiess confessed to being a werewolf who, with other werewolves, regularly went to hell three times a year to fight the witches and wizards of Satan to ensure a good harvest. This case was also noted by Carlo Ginzburg as similar to that of the Benandanti.[4] The court tried to make Thiess confess that he had made a pact with the devil and that the werewolf was in the service of Satan, but they did not succeed, and he was sentenced to whipping on 10 October 1692.

Hans the Werewolf[edit]

The trial of "Hans the Werewolf" is a typical example of the combined werewolf and witch trials, which dominated witch hunts in Estonia.

In 1651, Hans was brought before the court in Idavare accused of being a werewolf at the age of eighteen. He had confessed that he had hunted as a werewolf for two years. He claimed he had gotten the body of a wolf by a man in black. “When asked by the judges if his body took part in the hunt, or if only his soul was transmuted, Hans confirmed that he had found a dog’s teeth-marks on his own leg, which he had received while a werewolf. Further asked whether he felt himself to be a man or a beast while transmuted, he said that he felt himself to be beast”.[5]

Thereby, the court considered it proof that he had not dressed out, but really transformed into a werewolf, which meant he had undergone a magical transformation. Furthermore, as he was given this disguise by a "man in black," which the court thought was obviously Satan, he could be judged guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to death. In the Baltic countries, this was a common method of turning a werewolf trial into a witch trial.[3]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Lorey (2000) records 280 known cases; this contrasts with a total number of 12,000 recorded cases of executions for witchcraft, or an estimated grand total of about 60,000, corresponding to 2% or 0.5% respectively. The recorded cases span the period of 1407 to 1725, peaking during the period of 1575–1657.
  2. ^ Lorey (2000) records six trials in the period 1701&1725, all in either Styria or Carinthia; 1701 Paul Perwolf of Wolfsburg, Obdach, Styria (executed); 1705 "Vlastl" of Murau, Styria (verdict unknown); 1705/6 six beggars in Wolfsberg, Carinthia (executed); 1707/8 three shepherds in Leoben and Freyenstein, Styria (one lynching, two probable executions); 1718 Jakob Kranawitter, a mentally retarded beggar, in Rotenfel, Oberwolz, Styria (corporeal punishment); 1725: Paul Schäffer, beggar of St. Leonhard im Lavanttal, Carinthia (executed).
  3. ^ a b Jan Guillou, Häxornas försvarare ("The defender of the witches", self-published, 2002, ISBN 916420037X
  4. ^ Carlo Ginzburg, I benandanti, 1966.
  5. ^ Maia Madar "Estonia I: Werewolves and Poisioners", 257-72 in Bengt Ankarloo, Gustav Henningsen, Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, Oxford: OUP 2002, (ISBN 0198203888)
  • Elmar M. Lorey, Heinrich der Werwolf: Eine Geschichte aus der Zeit der Hexenprozesse mit Dokumenten und Analysen. Anabas-Verlag 1998.

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