Werewolf Witch Trials

The Werewolf witch trials were witch trials combined with werewolf trials. These largely took place in the Baltic countries, especially in Estonia, where the witch trials, affected by the belief in werewolves in the area, looked different than in other countries.

The Werewolf witch trials of Estonia

In Estonia, around one hundred witch trials were held in 1610-1650, and 29 women and 26 men are recorded executed for sorcery. A book about witchcraft was published in Riga in 1626. Christianity had been established by the end of the 13th century in Estonia, but ceremonies which had a pagan origin were common in the following centuries. As in much of Europe in the 17th century, an interest in the occult and the supernatural was popular, and the belief in werewolves common, and the Baltic witch trials were therefore more or less werewolf trials: the public regarded the accused as werewolves, while the authorities judged them as witches.

Accusations of magic, which were often about enchanted potions, were rare in Estonia; the belief in magic was common, but it was not associated with the Devil, rather it was considered a skill which could be inherited or cultivated. Accusations of werewolves, on the other hand, were common. At 18 trials, 18 women and 13 men were accused for damage on property and cattle they had caused in the shape of werewolves. Under torture, they confessed having hidden their wolves skin under a rock. The only thing needed to make this a witch trial was a pact with the Devil. This confession was extracted from the accused by use of torture. The authorities aim was to make people associated magic and Pagan customs with the Devil and coordinate them with the belief of the Protestant church, as the Catholic Church in Balticum had not succeeded with this.

The werewolf was not always regarded as evil. A notable case in Jürgensburg in Livonia in 1692, follows a similar pattern, but did not end in a death sentence: the eighty year old Theiss confessed to be 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 is also notable because this description is similar to the Benandanti. The court tried to make Theiss 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. The werewolf trials peered 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. The last trial of sorcery was performed in Harju County in 1816, when the farmer Jacob and his spouse Anna, along with four others, were accused of trying to track thieves by use of magic: it ended in the whipping of Jacob and Anna and the rest being reprimanded for “fraud which appeals to superstitions and ignorance”.

Hans the Werewolf

The so called “Hans the Werewolf” was allegedly an Estonian werewolf and witch. His trial 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. “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”

He claimed he had gotten the body of a wolf by a man in black. The court asked if it was his soul or his body participating when he turned into a werewolf and if he felt as an animal or a human when he did. He answered that he felt like a wild beast. Thereby, the court considered it proved 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.


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