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29-03-2015, 06:46


Hungary, one of Europe’s great cultural crossroads and melting pots, was remarkable in the chronological pattern of its witch-hunting, which reached its peak late in comparison to (tther countries, in the second and third decades of the eighteenth century. Hungary was a meeting place for the folklore and demonology of the Hungarians, the Roma (or Gypsys, then as now often credited with supernatural power), the Slavic peoples to the North and South, the Romanians to the East and German settlers and soldiers. Religiously, the picture was just as diverse, with Hungarian Catholics, Calvinists and Unitarians as well as German Lutherans and Catholics, and Muslim Turkish rulers in southern and central Hungary from the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth centuries. The first recorded witch trials emerged in the 1560s, in the mixed German and Hungarian city of Kt)loszvar. In the ensuing decades witchhunting steadily increased. Notable political witch-trials occurred in the early seventeenth century in the Principality of Transylvania in Eastern Hungary, the only independent petrtion of the country (the rest was divided between the Ottoman Turkish Empire and the Austrian Habsburgs). Powerful aristocratic women seen as threats to the ruling house, the best known being the infamous “blood countess,” Elizabeth Bathory, whr) was tried during 1609-1611, were accused of witchcraft or of hiring lower-class female witches to perform evil deeds, along with a number of other crimes such as murder or poisoning. Another important Transylvanian political trial, with more than 20 accused, occurred in 1679-1686 when Prince Michael Apafi (1632-1690) accused a political rival’s wife of bewitching his own wife, Anne Bornemisza (1630-1688). What really accelerated the pace of Huiagarian witch-hunting, however, was the imposition of Habsburg rule over the entire country in the late seventeenth century. Although witchcraft accusations stemming from Turkish territory were occasionally tried in courts in other parts of Hungary, the Turks had kept witch-hunting out of the Hungarian territory they ruled (as was true throughout the Ottoman possessions in southeastern Europe). With their expulsion in 1686, the former Ottoman territories moved to the front

Among active witch-hunting provinces. The imposition by the Hahsburg authorities in 1696 of the law code Practica Rerum Criminalium, ultimately based on the work of the early-seventcenth-century Saxon demonological jurist Benedict Carpzov (1595-1666), also encouraged accusations and trials.

The peak of Hungarian witch-hunting was in the period 1710-1730, following the suppression of the last significant noble revolt against Hahsburg rule in 1711. More than two hundred were accused and more than 60 sentenced to death in each of those decades. The most significant and famous of the Hungarian trials of the early eighteenth century occurred in the Szeged region in 1728 and 1729. Fourteen people, including a former chief judge of the city, were executed in the Szeged trials, a high total for Hungary, which saw no massive witch-hunts on the German mcxlel. This followed a series of natural disasters, including a severe drought in 1728 (witches were charged with having sold the rain to the Turks). It was also linked to factional struggles between a Hungarian-dominated group supporting local autonomy and German settlers. Witch-hunting continued thrt)ugh the midcentury, with German Hahsburg soldiers stationed in Hungary often serving as witch-finders. What eventually brought Hungarian witch-hunting to an end was the intervention of the Habs-burg government, under the rule of the Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780). The attack on witch-hunting and other popular magical beliefs began in 1756 when the empress reserved all pending witch-trials in local courts to courts of appeal, which abandoned them. A scries of legal changes culminating in 1768 theoretically abolished witch-hunting in Hungary, stating that nearly all witchcraft cases were the result of superstition and delusion and reserving those rare cases of demonic magic, if they existed at all, to the sovereign. The abandonment of witch-hunting in Hungary is often associated with the empress’s Dutch physician and adviser, Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772). Van Swieten was a supporter of the Enlightenment and an opponent of all sorts of supernatural belief, including belief in both witches and vampires (the celebrated 1755 case of the “vampire” Rosina P(tlakin, whose body was actually exhumed, attracted a great deal of notice and ridicule of Hungarian “superstition” thrcHighout Europe). Embarrassment over the case seems to have been a major mt)tivatit)n for the Hahsburg government’s clamp down on Hungarian witchhunting. The Hungarian aristocracy’s fierce localism and suspicion of Hahsburg authority delayed the abandonment of witch-hunting. The last witch execution occurred in 1777.

The chronology of the Hungarian witch-hunt is unusual (although it can be viewed as an extreme case of the process whereby witch-hunting moved from the center tt) the periphery of European civilization), but the witch-hunts themselves were not very different from those that occurred elsewhere. Abt)ut two thousand witch trials are known from the documentary record, resulting in 449 knetwn death sentences. This may be half the total number that actually occurred. About 90 percent of the accused were women, high but not unparalleled in the European context. Trials were carried out by civil rather than ecclesiastical authorities, and torture was employed both to elicit confessions

And to force ccrnvicteJ witches to name others. One unique feature of Hungarian witchcraft in the presence of a shamanistic figure from Hungarian folklore known as the taltos. Not unlike the benandanti of Friuli, the takos were supposed to be organized in military units that battled witches in dreams and visions but was increasingly defined by legal tribunals as a witch. Most Hungarian trials emerged from accusations of maleficia, and the sabbat played only a minor role, most prominent in areas of German settlement. Hungarian trials were nt)t greatly influenced by learned demonology, and the ctuintry produced few demoniilogical writers, none of particular note.

REFERENCES; Gabor Klaniczay. “Hungary: The Accusations and the Universe of Popular Magic.” In Early Modern European Witeheraft: Centres and Peripheries, ed. Bengt Ankark)o and Gustav Henningsen, 219-256. Oxford: Glarendon Press, 1990; Gabor Klaniczay. The Uses oj Supernatural Power: The Transformation of Popular Religion in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Trans. Susan Singerman, ed. Karen Marsolis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.


In 1718, Frances Flutchinson, a Church of England clergyman, published A Historical Essay cortcernittg Witchcraft. With Observations of Matters of Fact, tending to Clear the Texts of the Sacred Scriptures, and Confute the Vulgar Errors about that Point. This was one of the first attempts at a scholarly history of the watch craze but w'as primarily iruttivated not by scholarship but a desire ter attack witch-hunting and advance Hutchinsem’s own career. Hutchinson, vicar of a church in the major seventeenth-century witch-hunting center of Bury Saint Edmunds, had been collecting materials for the book since the dawn of the eighteenth centtiry but bad run into trouble with bigher authorities in the church who feared controversy and prevented publication. Hutchinson’s interest in ptiblishing peaked again in 1712, the year of the Jane Wenham trial, when wdtchcraft was a “hot” subject but still too ettntroversial for the cautious and careerist Hutchinson. What eventually precipitated Hutchinson’s publica-tit)n was the work of Richard Boulton, physician, defender of witch-hunting and author of A Compleat History ofMagick, Sorcery and Witchcraft (1715).

The Historical Essay recounts a ntimber of major witchcraft trials, pointing out the violence and illegality used by many witch-hunters. It cctntains significant original research carried out over many years, including disctissions with people who remembered the Matthew Hopkins witch-hunts in Suffolk (for which Htitchinson’s work remains an impeatant source) and a visit to Wen-ham. The Historical Essay also rehearses well-worn arguments against identifying the watches mentioned in the Bible with modern witches. Hutchinson’s most important ideoktgical mt)’e was to link disbelief in watches w'ith the progress of science and natural philost)phy. He was a friend of Hans Sloane (16t60-1753), a physician and future president of the Royal Society, and wrapped his denial of witchcraft in the methods of experimental science. (Interestingly, Boulton, who had ptiblished a four-volume abrii. lgement of the

Wtirks of the great seventeenth-century scientist Robert Boyle [1627-1691], also associated his diametrically opposed position on the witch-hunt with modern science.) True reasoning preserved the enc[uirer from vulgar error— Hutchinson associated witchcraft belief with the superstitions of the common people. Given the abuses inseparable from witch-hunting, it threatened the security and property of English people that it was the function of the social and legal system to uphold. Although Boulton responded tc> Hutchinson’s attacks on deiTK,)nology in The Possihility of Magick, Sorcery, and Witchcraft demonstrated. Or, a Vindication of a compleat History of Magick, Sorcery and Witchcraft. In An. swer to Dr. Hutchinson’s Historical Essay (1722) this work was largely ignored. Hutchinson’s Essay essentially marked the end of the debate on witchcraft among the English elite. Hutchinson ended his career as bishop of Down and Cemnor in Ireland.

REFERENCES: Ian Bostridge Witchcraft and Its Transformations, c. 1650-c. 1750. Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1997; James Sharpe. Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.