Sunday 26 October 2008

Petition to pardon the witches

The other day a friend forwarded me a link to an online petition asking for an official pardon for eight people executed for witchcraft during the 16th and 17th centuries, which can be found at

More than 400 women were convicted and killed for being witches in England alone during the time of the witchcraze. People were often accused of being witches on very flimsy evidence, sometimes because they were simply not liked, and confessions were frequently gained by torture.

This year, the Swiss Parliament pardoned Anna Goeldi, the last person to be executed for witchcraft in western Europe, in 1782. Now, fancy dress shop Angels is conducting a petition to get pardons for eight similar cases in the UK.

On the face of it, it seems just the sort of petition I would want to sign. But I always like to look carefully at anything I am thinking of signing.

And after reading the website, I had a few reservations.

My main concern is the reason behind the petition. Angels costume shop is clearly mainly running this petition as a publicity stunt rather than because of concerns about human rights or because it has any interest in witchcraft. It just wants to sell more costumes.

Emma Angel, head of Angels Fancy Dress, states on the website: "We decided to launch this initiative because we felt that it was time that the sinister associations held by a minority of people regarding witches and Halloween were tackled head-on - children and adults should be permitted to dress-up as witches without being stigmatized."

To me, campaigning for people to feel happier about wearing fancy dress costumes feels like trivialising a serious historical human rights issue of people being tortured and killed.

The other thing I feel unhappy about is that the website implies that these people could not have been witches because magic isn't really possible.

Historian John Callow states on the website:
"Of course, today we are well aware that these individuals were neither capable of harmful magic nor in league with the devil. At the time, poverty was endemic - charity was breaking down and aggressive begging, accompanied by threats or curses, was common."

"Crops failed, butter failed to churn or cattle sickened and the blame was often settled on witches."

"Against such a background, judiciaries across the British Isles were compelled to act. The results were perjury and delusion on a grand scale, resulting in nothing less than legalised murder. After the passage of some 400 years, it seems time to recognise the witch trials as fabrications of the most dangerous - and tragic - kind."

While I agree that most of the witch trails during that period were on fabricated evidence and that large numbers of those convicted were probably totally innocent, I don't go along with the view that many people seem to hold these days that any allegation of witchcraft must be false because magic is simply not possible and that anyone believing in magic is delusional.

I certainly wouldn't want to sign a petition to that effect.

So, should I sign the petition because I feel that eight people who were wrongfully executed should be pardoned, or do I boycott the website because it is little more than blatant publicity for a costume shop and because I do believe in magic?

What do you think?

You can leave a comment below or email me at

To see the petition, go to


Mo said...

I say boycott! Any thoughts for a more witch-appropriate way of commemorating these people's suffering?

Badwitch said...

I would feel happier if the petition was by a human rights organisation, or a pagan organisation such as Children of Artemis or the Pagan Federation.

Anonymous said...

There's a challenge for the PF or the Children of Artemis. I agree that the petition would have been much more appropriate coming from them.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, last comment from chilledchimp.

Anonymous said...

Don't sign. Why eight? Why not all 400?

This is a cynical publicity stunt by a fancy dress company. One, btw, which gives appalling service and poor quality to anyone who isn't spending huge sums on film-costumes. Boycott! Boycott!