Friday, 21 March 2014

It's Official: I'm not a Witch!

Had a nice trip cycling from Woerden via Oudewater and Montfoort to Vleuten. Not only was it a beautiful sunny day, but this is classic polder country.

In Oudewater we visited De Waag, where goods were traditionally weighed before sale, but it is better known for its weighing of witches. The first recorded witch trials in the northern Netherlands stem from the 1540s, and de Waag probably acquired the privilege to weigh witches sometime after that. However, since you have to pay for weighing, this was only of use to the wealthy.

Unsurprisingly, my 190 pounds proved I am not a witch

Although the coming of Protestantism helped in driving out the belief in witchcraft the last trial in the northern Netherlands was in 1614. But in the year before several dozens of people had been killed during a trial in Roermond. The last official weighing was in 1729 but it is still done for visitors. The museum has a small but engaging exhibition on witchcraft and trials.

From there on to Montfoort where with some luck we ran into the gate of the former castle of Montfoort. The castle was destroyed by the French during one of their attempts to break into the Water Line (oude Hollandse Waterlinie) in 1672.

A sign showing the castle in the mid 17th century


  1. Some historians see the rise in witchcraft trials as being associated with the Reformation. There were a few witch trials in Medieval times but the real rise seems to come with the tensions and doubts of the Protestant questioning of orthodox Catholic theology and reading and interpreting the bible, coupled with the rise of social tensions when the religious and social order and status was questioned. Another strand to this is summed up in the great book "Religion and the Decline in Magic". This book sees the change from Catholic based ceremonial "magic" - the mass in Latin and the priest with his back to congregation - to the questioning and relative openess of the Protestant faith. The decline in magic also rises from the rise of rationalism and science at about the same time. All heady stuff and very complex.

    1. I got the impression that the trials continued for longer and made more victims in the South and centre of Europe, suggesting it was linked to the Catholic church. Maybe linked to counterreformation?


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