The English accused Joan of Arc of being a witch, executed her on May 30, 1431, and burned her body three times.

Witch panics killed thousands throughout history

Joan of Arc and Anne Boleyn are two of history's most famous accused witches, but like the majority of those put on trial for witchcraft, mass hysteria and superstition doomed them to their grisly fates.

Joan of Arc

The English accused Joan of Arc of being a witch, executed her on May 30, 1431, and burned her body three times.
Image courtesy of GL Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Among history's most notorious events, witch trials resulted in the torture and death of thousands of people, most of them women. Some of the most famous witch trials took place in 15th-century France, 16th-century Scotland, and 17th-century Massachusetts. In all of them, victims were wrongfully condemned as witches, often tortured, and then put to death, a history that is fascinating—and horrific.

The notion of witchcraft—manipulation of everyday events using magic—dates back to ancient times. The 18th-century B.C. Code of Hammurabi contains penalties for witchcraft. Generally witches could be either good or bad, practicing so-called white magic to help people or black magic to hurt them. 

Often practitioners were women, whom neighbors would call on them to cure sickness, aid mothers in childbirth, and recover lost objects. But women like these could also be blamed for bad events—sickness and death, storms and earthquakes, or droughts and floods.

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