• Graveyard Shift

The Most Absurd Reasons People Were Accused Of Witchcraft

List RulesVote up the most ridiculous reasons people shouted witchcraft.

The lore surrounding the witch trials of the 16th through 18th centuries is often shrouded in mystery and magic. In reality, witchcraft was, for the most part, not the reason people were accused, tried, and executed. However, those accusing others found many reasons - most of them ridiculous - to accuse someone of witchcraft. 

Many of these reasons were beyond the accused's control, such as being born with a third nipple. Many others were just absurd, such as leaving old milk to spoil or slamming a door. No one was safe, but women, who made up 70% of all tried witches, were especially vulnerable and could be accused of just about anything. 

Twenty people were executed in the 1692 Salem witch trials . Historians estimate that over 50,000 people, mostly women, were tried and executed in Europe for witchcraft between the 15th century and the 18th century. Here are some of the most ridiculous reasons people were accused of witchcraft.

  • Photo: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Talking To Yourself

    Sarah Good was accused of witchcraft for the simple reason that she was spotted around town quietly talking to herself under her breath. Sarah Good was pregnant at the time of her trial but was still found guilty. She was forced to wait out the rest of her pregnancy in jail. As soon as she gave birth, she was sentenced to death by hanging.

    Her last words were directed towards the town's judge, Reverand Nicholas Noyes. She said, "You're a liar! I'm no more a witch than you are a wizard! If you take my life away, God will give you blood to drink!"

    Legend says that when Nicholas Noyes died 25 years later of a brain hemorrhage, he coughed up his own blood and drowned, leading some to suspect Sarah Good actually had some witchcraft up her sleeve.

    Absurd accusation?
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    Accidentally Selling Spoiled Milk And Butter

    Wilmot Redd, also known as Old Mammy Redd, lived in Marblehead, MA, and was the only person to get tried and executed for witchcraft outside of Salem during the 1692 trials. 

    She was known by her neighbors as somewhat of a curmudgeonly old woman, and rumors spread about her evil looks that could spoil milk. Wilmot Redd's husband made a small wage, so she turned to selling butter and milk for some extra income. Perhaps from carelessness or forgetfulness from her old age, some of the milk and butter she sold was sour. 

    This left a (literal and figurative) bad taste in her neighbors' mouths, further cementing her bad reputation and making her an easy target. Wilmot Redd was within the last group of people to be executed for witchcraft during the Salem trials in September 1692.

    Absurd accusation?
  • Photo: Robert Calef / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Throwing A Child Into A Vat Of Molten Cheese

    In the small town of Brentonico, Northern Italy, a woman was convicted of witchcraft in 1716. Maria Bertoletti Toldini's charges included making the fields barren, killing children, and even throwing a 5-year-old into a vat of hot cheese. She was beheaded, and her corpse was publicly burned in the town square.

    Even stranger, the woman was retried 300 years later in 2015 when citizens of Brentonico argued she was falsely accused (no doubt leading some to wonder how one could be falsley accused of tossing a child into a vat of cheese).

    In a transcript of her sentencing, the witnesses to her crimes recounted their children's death by Toldini's hands. Every child in the town of Berntonico who met an untimely death from disease or accident was suddenly tied to Toldini, including Giacomo Antonio Venturi's son, who was found dead in a bronze cauldron full of boiling cheese. In the 18th century, children died more often than they do today for many reasons, but sometimes, it's easier to blame someone else for a tragic accident. 

    Maria Toldini was a 60-year-old childless widow when the events took place - a dangerous combination in 18th-century eyes. When further research was conducted on Toldini's execution records, it became obvious that a family dispute over inheritance led to her charges and death.

    Absurd accusation?
  • Photo: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Getting Mad At Someone Who Then Gets Hurt Or Sick

    By the time the hysteria of 1692 came to a head, Elizabeth Howe had already been accused of witchcraft once before. In 1682, Elizabeth Howe had a disagreement with her neighbors, the Perleys. Shortly after, their daughter began having seizures and feeling as if she was being pricked by pins. 

    Anger preceding mischief, or someone experiencing misfortune after a person gets in a fight with them, was commonly used as grounds to accuse someone of witchcraft. After Howe's initial accusation in 1682, she was found not guilty, but her reputation was tarnished. When the hysteria of 1692 came about, Elizabeth Howe was once again accused of bewitching the young girls of Salem. 

    The second time around, Elizabeth Howe was found guilty and sentenced to death by public hanging.

    Absurd accusation?