Midwife Witch Trials - Women’s Mysteries

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Midwife Witch Trials
Women’s Mysteries

Identification of midwives with witches was more powerful in some areas than others. Between 1627 and 1630, at least one third of all those executed as witches in Cologne were midwives. (Statistics indicate at least one in three; because many did not have occupations listed it may have been more but not less.)

Of the nearly 200 people accused of witchcraft at Salem Village in 1692, 22 were identified as midwives and/or healers. (The occupation of many remains unknown; it’s impossible to achieve an accurate statistic.)

On the other hand, midwives also turned in witches and testified against them at trials.

By necessity, information regarding witch trials is fragmentary. All that survives are pieces of stories. For further information on Witch Trial Records, see WITCHCRAZE!

On September 20, 1587, Walpurga Hausmannin, a licensed midwife practicing in Dillingen in Augsburg in southern Germany, was burned at the stake as a witch. She had confessed to a long list of crimes, most having to do with her professional career.

In 1632, Alie Nisbet, a Scottish midwife, was arrested as a witch and accused of using charms and incantations to remove a woman’s labor pains. Alie denied the charges but admitted that she might have bathed the woman’s legs with warm water that she had charmed so that it would have beneficial healing properties by sticking her fingers in it while running three times around the bed widdershins. The woman’s labor pains were immediately relieved but entered another woman who died 24 hours later. Nisbet was charged with committing murder by sorcery and burned to death.

In pre-conquest Andes, midwives were perceived as sacred. Spanish chroniclers acknowledged that the indigenous Andeans viewed midwives as “special.” However for the Spanish Inquisition, midwives, traditional curers, doctors, and healers were all considered sorcerers and witches.

In 1660, two husbands in colonial Guatemala denounced a midwife, Marta de la Figueroa, an Indian woman married to a former government official, for using malicious sorcery during their wives’ pregnancies. She was charged with witchcraft. (Her trial transcripts suggest that Marta may have been caught in a political conflict—at least her husband thought so.)

In order to extract a confession, Marta was hung up in public and exposed to the smoke of burning chili peppers. Her face and body were covered with the pepper until she confessed.

Both men who accused Marta had wives who died during pregnancy. Marta was accused of causing the death of one via magical means because the two women had argued. Marta had allegedly asked to be the midwife for the second woman but she had already hired one and, based on the trial record, may not have been too polite in turning Marta away. From that moment the woman became incurably ill and began having recurrent dreams that Marta wished to smother her. Other men came forward, charging Marta with magically causing death and disease.

Marta was convicted of sorcery and superstition. She was punished with 100 lashes administered in the public streets.

Margaret Jones of Charleston, Massachusetts, midwife, cunning woman, and alleged fortune-teller was accused of witchcraft, convicted and executed on June 15, 1648.

In 1680, the neighbors of Elizabeth Morse of Colonial New England complained that she was a witch. Elizabeth stood trial in Boston. She was found guilty in May 1680 and sentenced to die although she was later reprieved. One neighbor described Elizabeth as a “healing and destroying witch.”