The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History

Khalid Elhassan - March 15, 2022

The persecution of women for witchcraft sounds like the kind of backwards stuff that belongs in Colonial Salem or 1600s Europe, not something that could happen in modern America. Yet in the 1970s, rumors swirled that a high school teacher in a conservative suburb of Tucson, Arizona, was a witch. Although tenured, tenure did not keep her from getting fired for witchcraft. Below are thirty things about that and other fascinating witchcraft facts from history.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Contemporary coverage of Ann Stewart’s firing for witchcraft. Spirits Rising

30. A Presentation About Witchcraft With Far-Reaching Consequences

In the fall of 1969, a high school social studies teacher invited a University of Arizona expert on witchcraft and folklore to give a speech to upperclassmen. The speaker, Dr. Byrd Granger, addressed students of Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, AZ, and gave a presentation about the common traits of witches. According to Dr. Granger, witches like to wear devil’s green, have green or blue eyes, blond hair, a pointed left ear with a node, and a widow’s peak – a V-shaped point in the hairline in the center of a forehead. It did not take long before heads swiveled towards Ann Stewart, a Flowing Wells English teacher who had all of those attributes. Few could have predicted the brouhaha that would ensue from that speech.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Rumors about Ann Stewart and witchcraft got her in trouble. Business Mirror

29. Rumors of a Witch Teacher

After the witchcraft presentation, Flowing Wells High School students began to tease English teacher Ann Stewart about whether or not she was a witch. Mrs. Stewart saw an opportunity to enhance the kids’ interest in literature and folklore. As she described it later: “I like to get kids involved. I teach American literature, among other things. Although I’ve never had a unit in the occult, we do delve into early American folklore and witchcraft. It was good fun and it stimulated them“. So she played along with the banter. She never said she was a witch, but whenever students asked if she was one, she did not deny it, but replied with a variant of “Well, I have all the signs. What do you think?” What they – and the school administration – thought would get her fired.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Flowing Wells High School today. Flowing Wells HS Information

28. Witchcraft Humor Flew Over Many Heads in Flowing Wells, Arizona

In 1970, to heighten her students’ interest in literature, Ann Stewart suggested that they find out what astrology is all about. That further enhanced the rumors about her involvement with the occult. Later that year, a junior high school teacher invited her to speak before her eighth-graders about folklore and witchcraft. As part of the presentation, Mrs. Stewart dressed up and played the part of a witch. When those eighth-graders arrived in Flowing Wells High School that fall, many of them fueled the rumors that Mrs. Stewart really was a witch. The English teacher thought it was all good fun, but Flowing Wells was a particularly conservative community. Many students, their parents, and faculty members at the high school did not get the joke.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
At least Flowing Wells School District did not dunk Ann Stewart when she was accused of witchcraft – it simply fired her. Thing Link

27. A Teacher Fired in 1970s America for Witchcraft

On November 27th, 1970, Ann Stewart was suspended for: “teaching about witchcraft, having stated that you are a witch in a way that affects students psychologically“. She was also accused of insubordination, discussing subjects beyond the curriculum, being a bad influence on students, and aggravating other teachers. The suspension of an American teacher in 1970 for witchcraft became international news. In conservative Flowing Wells, Stewart became a pariah, shunned by neighbors and former friends. She appealed to the school board, but it confirmed the decision to fire her. So she sued in court and there won on grounds that the board had violated the legal procedures for dismissing a tenured teacher like Stewart. The court ordered her reinstatement, but as of February 1972, she had not returned to her job, and it is unclear if she ever taught at Flowing Wells again.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
The Lille schoolgirls were convinced that imps and little demons flew all around them. Wikimedia

26. Piety and Mental Instability Combined in This Headmistress

Antoinette Bourignon was a pious but mentally unstable seventeenth-century Frenchwoman, who founded an all-girls boarding school in Lille, France. One day in 1639 when she entered the classroom, Madam Bourignon imagined that she saw a swarm of little black imps flying around the heads of the schoolgirls. Alarmed at the apparitions, she told the children to beware the devil, whose little black demons were buzzing all around them. Bourignon became obsessed with the little black imps that hovered around her wards’ heads and warned the schoolgirls every day to watch out for the Devil. Soon, the impressionable children came to believe that there were, indeed, little black demons flying all around them. Before long, Satan, satanic possession, demons, witches, and witchcraft became almost the sole topic of conversation in the school.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Antoinette Bourignon triggered a panic that almost got her students burned at the stake for witchcraft. Edinburgh Live

25. A Me Too! Frenzy of Witchcraft Confessions Swept This School

A schoolgirl ran away, too scared to stay in an establishment infested with little black devils who might possess her at any moment, as the headmistress and her staff constantly warned the students. When brought back, she claimed not to have run away, but to have been carried away by the Devil. Also, that she was a witch who had practiced witchcraft since she was seven years old. When they heard that, about fifty other schoolgirls began to have fits. When they came to, they joined in a “me, too!” rush, and claimed to be witches as well. In their clamor to confess, the children competed to outdo each other with the details of their witchcraft. Some claimed to ride on broomsticks. They were topped by others who claimed an ability to pass through keyholes. Those were trumped in turn by those who claimed to have feasted on the flesh of babies or to have attended the Domdaniel, the gathering of the demons.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Antoinette Bourignon. Google Arts and Culture

24. A Horrific Tragedy Avoided at the Last Moment

The authorities launched a formal investigation. Although some Lille clergy and citizens were skeptical, most believed that the children’s confessions of witchcraft were valid. It thus followed that all fifty schoolgirls should be burned at the stake as witches to make an example of them. The little girls’ lives were only spared at the last minute, after some skeptical priests, aghast at what was about to happen, insisted that the investigators dig in deeper. That was when they finally discovered what the school’s headmistress had done to fill the girls’ heads with thoughts of demonic possession. The children were absolved, and the blame shifted to Madam Bourignon. She barely escaped punishment after the authorities, unsure of her sanity and tired of the whole affair, wound down and closed the investigation.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Margaretta Peter came to head a small rural congregation. Imgur

23. Nut Who Thought Witchcraft and Demons Were All Around Her

Margaretta Peter was born into a large Swiss family around 1794, and from an early age, displayed remarkable religious zeal. By age six, she was a prodigy as a preacher and captivated congregations with impassioned sermons. She revealed a better grasp of the Bible than many grown ministers. She had a strong personality, and spiritually dominated her family and neighbors and turned them into her disciples. At age twenty, Margaretta announced that she was a prophetess, and started a small congregation in her village. She also began to wander the region and preach, and gained a reputation and followers across Switzerland. In 1823, Margaretta began to harp on Satan, demons, witchcraft, and warn her flock that such fell darkness was all around them. Soon, she began to experience prophetic visions in which demons took over the world.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Margaretta Peter was convinced that the final showdown between God and Satan was nigh. Pinterest

22. A Deluded Prophetess Takes a Stand Against Darkness

Margaretta Peter eventually decided to act, lest the world succumbs to demons and witchcraft. One day, she told ten devoted followers to gather weapons and pray, because the final battle between Satan and Jesus was about to begin. On her instructions, they gathered axes and clubs and whatever weapons they could find and barricaded themselves in a farmhouse attic. She told them that invisible demons had surrounded the house, and then she shrieked that they had broken in. At that point, the disturbed prophetess’ disturbed followers began to wildly swing their weapons at imaginary devils and creatures of darkness only she could see. That went on for hours, in which time the group destroyed the attic in a religious frenzy. It got worse when Margaretta and her followers eventually left the wrecked attic and descended to the ground floor.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Margaretta Peter convinced her followers that they were being attacked by invisible demons. Wikimedia

21. Pain to Ward Off Demons, Satan, and Witchcraft

On the ground floor, Margaretta Peter and her followers began to hit each other, on the theory that pain would ward off the demons, satanic forces, and witchcraft all around them. They kept at it until the neighbors finally called the police. They arrived to find Margaretta’s followers senseless on the floor, while she continued to beat them. The next day, she told her congregation that more pain was needed to fend off Satan. She then grabbed an iron wedge and began to bludgeon her brother, while her followers went back to beating each other up. Margaretta then announced that her dead mother’s ghost ordered her to sacrifice herself. Her sister stepped up and insisted that she be sacrificed instead. Margaretta accepted and began to bash her sister with the iron wedge. The rest of the congregation joined in, and soon, the sister was dead. When a follower protested, Margaretta assured her that her sister would rise from the dead in three days.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Margaretta Peter told her followers that she would return three days after they killed her – she did not. Ancient Origins

20. An Ultimate Sacrifice to Save the World?

After she killed her sister, Margaretta Peter ordered her followers to crucify her. They were reluctant at first, but she insisted that it was necessary to combat Satan, demons, and witchcraft. She also assured them that she would return to life in three days. So they made a cross, and as the prophetess urged them on, they nailed her to it by her hands, elbows, feet, and breasts. She then ordered them to stab her through the heart. They tried, but couldn’t get it right. So after multiple failed attempts, they took a hammer and crowbar and smashed her head. Then the congregation gathered around the bodies and prayed while they waited for the corpses to come back to life in three days. Needless to say, three days came and went, but the deceased Margaretta and her equally lifeless sister stayed that way. Her disciples were tried for murder, and eleven were convicted and given prison sentences ranging from six months to sixteen years.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Examination of a witch. Wikimedia

19. History’s Most Infamous Witchcraft Craze

The Salem Witchcraft craze of 1692 – 1693 is probably history’s most famous – or infamous – case of mass hysteria. It took place against a cultural and religious background that was predisposed to believe in the supernatural. While witchcraft is laughable to most today, in seventeenth-century Colonial America, and especially in Salem and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it was taken quite seriously. The belief that Satan could grant witches extraordinary powers in return for their loyalty, and that witchcraft could be used to inflict harm on the good and godly, was taken for granted. The tragedy began in January 1692, when the nine-year-old old daughter and eleven-year-old niece of Salem’s reverend began to have screaming fits. As they shrieked, the girls contorted themselves into unnatural positions, threw things, and made weird noises.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Young accusers swoon in court during the Salem Witch Trials. How Stuff Works

18. The Start of an Avalanche of Crazy Accusations

A local doctor found no signs of physical ailment to explain the girls’ behavior, so he blamed it on the supernatural. Soon, another young girl, aged eleven, began to exhibit similar symptoms. Examined by magistrates, the girls alleged that three women had used witchcraft against them. The accused were the reverend’s black slave, Tituba, an elderly impoverished woman named Sarah Osborne, and a homeless beggar named Sarah Good. Osborne and Good protested their innocence, but for whatever reason – perhaps torture or perhaps a promise of leniency – Tituba confessed to having been visited by the Devil. She described him as a black man who asked her to sign a book. Tituba admitted that she had signed, then went on to point the finger at other “witches”.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Tituba, in a 1902 illustration. Houghton Mifflin

17. The Spread of Mass Hysteria About Witchcraft

Tituba’s confession triggered mass hysteria, and in subsequent months, a flood of accusations poured in. The more farfetched they were, the more they solidified the populace’s belief in the potency of witchcraft and enhanced the panic. When the godly and regular churchgoer Martha Corey was accused of witchcraft, it did not give the good people of Salem pause. Instead, it reinforced their fears: if solid citizen Martha Corey could be a witch, then anybody could be a witch. On May 27th, 1692, the colony’s governor ordered the establishment of a special court to try the accused. Its first victim was Bridget Bishop, an older woman known as a gossip and with a reputation for promiscuity. Her protestations of innocence did her no good. She was convicted, sentenced to death, and hanged on June 10th in what became known as Gallows Hill.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Those accused of witchcraft were screwed no matter what. Thinking is Humor

16. Dreams as Evidence

Five more innocents were convicted of witchcraft and hanged in July, 1692, another five in August, and eight more that September. The trials were marked by a lack of due process, and the use of “spectral evidence”. It was basically testimony by witnesses that they dreamt or had a vision that the spirit or “spectre” of the accused witch did them harm. An accuser’s dream or vision that “Jane Doe bit, hit, and punched me“, was admissible evidence in court that Jane Doe had actually bit, hit, and punched the accuser. It made no difference if the unfortunate Doe was nowhere near the accuser that day: her spectre was. Respected theologian and reverend Cotton Mather wrote the court to caution against the use of spectral evidence, but he was ignored.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Hanging of a woman accused of witchcraft in Salem. Pinterest

15. Baseless Accusations of Witchcraft Threatened to Engulf an Entire Colony

The accusations of witchcraft spread like ripples from Salem until they threatened to engulf all of colonial Massachusetts. The governor finally ended the trials and their ever-expanding circle of accusations when his own wife was accused of being a witch. By then, 200 people had been accused of witchcraft, and 20 had already been hanged. Eventually, the authorities admitted that the trials had been a mistake, and compensated the families of the wrongly convicted witch hunt victims. The Salem witchcraft mass hysteria and resultant trials became synonymous with paranoia and injustice. They stand today as a cautionary tale about the dangers of religious extremism, false accusations, and the lack of due process.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Life in a medieval convent was no bed of roses. History Network

14. Medieval Convents Were Pressure Cookers

Before the modern era, many outbreaks of mass hysteria occurred within religious institutions. Convents, in particular, were prime grounds, ripe for eruptions of contagious mass delusion. That was because convents, especially in the Middle Ages, contained large numbers of nuns who had been forced into them by their families. Once in, they were compelled to lead lives that many found disagreeable. Inside the convents, many of the unfortunate girls or women forced to don the habit and become nuns were confined in prison-like conditions. As seen below, they led a stressful lifestyle that was often not one they had freely chosen.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Cat nun. Mental Floss

13. Disobedient Medieval Nuns Could be Burned at the Stake for Witchcraft

Among other things, medieval nuns were expected to be celibate, and submit to poverty and hard work. They were expected to unquestioningly obey authority figures who had the right to compel compliance with coercive measures. Those ranged from the imposition of extra labor to confinement in cells, to the deprivation of food and water. Physical chastisement and punishment were also available. They ranged from whipping and caning in-house, to turning over the most defiant nuns to ecclesiastic courts. There, if things went particularly bad, a hardheaded nun could end up burned to death for witchcraft or demonic possession. Such conditions of communal longstanding stress and fear are textbook causes for the outbreak of mass hysteria. It is thus not surprising that nunneries frequently experienced eruptions of mass delusions.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Matthew Hopkins got scores of people killed for witchcraft and sorcery. Pinterest

12. Collective Meowing and Witchcraft

The pressure cooker of medieval convents led to a bizarre collective craze of mass meowing. One day, a nun started to meow like a cat. Back then cats were not viewed by Europeans as cute and cuddly pets, but as creatures associated with Satan, witches, and witchcraft. Soon, other nuns joined in and started to meow. Before long, the whole convent was meowing. It eventually became chorus-like, as all the nuns joined in collective caterwauling for several hours each day. Understandably, the cacophony alarmed and upset the neighbors, particularly in light of cats’ association with the Devil and demonic possession and witchcraft. Please to stop were not heeded, so soldiers were eventually called in ordered to whip the meowing sisters into silence. That finally brought the mass hysteria outbreak to an end.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
English Civil War combat. Pinterest

11. The Conman Who Profited From Witchcraft Fears

History is full of conmen, but few were more sinister and terrible than Matthew Hopkins (1620 – 1647). In 1644, amidst the chaos of the English Civil War, he claimed to be England’s official “Witch Finder General” – a title and office that did not exist. He then traveled around, mostly in East Anglia, to offer his services – for a fee – to local governments to root out witches. Fears of witchcraft and sorcery were rife at the time, so Hopkins found plenty of employers who paid him handsomely. It would be funny, if not for the fact that Hopkins got scores of innocents killed based on evidence that he had manufactured. He was active for only two years, but in that brief span, he got over 100 people executed.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Fears of witchcraft and sorcery were rife in the seventeenth century. Cultura Obscura

10. A Deadly Conman

In a stretch that lasted for fourteen months, Matthew Hopkins got more people convicted and executed than all English witch hunters of the previous 160 years. Indeed, Hopkins is responsible for about a fifth of all English witchcraft executions from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Witches and sorcerers supposedly neither felt pain nor bled when pricked. In of itself, that was not conclusive proof that an accused was a witch or sorcerer. However, pricking was circumstantial evidence that could be used along other evidence and testimony to tip the scales towards conviction. Because everything about witch hunts was terrible, it is perhaps no surprise that witch-finders used trickery. As seen below, Hopkins was a master of brazen flim-flam.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Excerpt from a sixteenth Century book describing a bodkin and knife used to torture people suspected of witchcraft. Published in ‘The discoverie of witchcraft’ (1584) by W Brome. British Library

9. Trick Devices Used to “Prove” Witchcraft

Witch finders routinely manipulated the process to demonstrate that they had, indeed, found a witch – and thus deserved to get paid. Devices with sharp needles were thrust into “normal” volunteers to draw blood. Then, through sleight of hand, a different trick needle was substituted to use on those accused of witchcraft. Some devices had hollow handles with retractable needles. They gave the optical illusion of being plunged into an accused’s flesh without drawing blood. Sometimes the witch-finders used needles with a sharp end for demonstration on random volunteers, and a blunt end to use on the accused. Special trick needles with bends created the illusion of “piercing” a witch’s tongue without drawing blood. Trick knives were also used, with hollows to make it look like they had “cut” through an accused’s flesh or tongue without drawing blood.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Examination of a woman accused of witchcraft. Open Edition

8. A Self-Declared “Witch Finder Generall”

Matthew Hopkins began his career as a witch finder in May 1644, when an associate, John Stearne, accused six women of having tried to kill him with witchcraft. Hopkins saw a business opportunity and falsely declared himself “Witch Finder Generall” with a commission from Parliament. At the time Parliament had never heard of Hopkins, let alone commissioned him to find witches. He then offered his services to towns and villages to root out witches in their midst, force their confession, and get them hanged by the authorities. His investigative methods amounted to torture. They included sleep deprivation, dunking victims in water, and tying them in uncomfortable positions for hours. He also used fake prickings and trick knives to demonstrate that the accused, like witches, did not bleed when pierced or cut.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Contemporary woodcut of a mass execution of English witches. Norfolk Chronicle

7. This Conman’s Malign Legacy Helped Fuel the Salem Witchcraft Craze

Matthew Hopkins’ terrible flim-flam bore its grisliest results on August 27th, 1645, in the small town of Bury St. Edmunds. That day, thanks to the machinations of the self-anointed “Witch Finder Generall”, eighteen men and women were hanged together for witchcraft. It was England’s biggest mass execution of witches. Hopkins retired in 1646, after he had earned a small fortune – and also because his activities had started to attract unwelcome attention from Parliament. In 1647 he published The Discovery of Witches, an instructional manual, and died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis. His malign legacy lived on, however. A year later, executions for witchcraft and sorcery began in New England, where authorities used The Discovery of Witches as a roadmap. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693 also used the methods outlined in Hopkins’ book.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
The McMartin Preschool. Investigation Discovery

6. A Modern Satanism Scare

One of the worst examples of modern Satanism scares began in 1983, when a mentally unstable mother alleged that Ray Buckey, an employee of the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, had molested her child. She went on to add that people in the school had “relations” with animals, that Ray Buckey’s mother and preschool owner Peggy McMartin had perforated a child under the arm with a power drill, and that “Ray flew in the air”. Police were skeptical, but nonetheless sent a letter to other parents at the school and asked them to question their children about abuses at the school. As parents talked to their children and other parents, other accusations of child abuse trickled in.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Ray Bucky and his mother Peggy McMartin at their trial. How Stuff Works

5. Bizarre Allegations of Witchcraft Were Taken Seriously

Soon, the accusations of molestation at the McMartin preschool turned into a flood. Wild, weird, and increasingly incredible claims were made of satanic abuse and witchcraft that stretched credulity amidst a mass hysteria of false accusations. Social workers were brought in to gather more information. Between a combination of incompetence and leading questions, the children’s accusations grew steadily wilder and more bizarre. In addition to being molested by Ray Buckey and his mother Peggy McMartin, the children alleged that they had been made to participate in satanic rites. In those dark rituals, they were forced to drink the blood of a baby whom they had witnessed being sacrificed in church.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Chuck Norris was accused by one of the children of taking part in satanic molestation at the McMartin Preschool. Flickr

4. Crazy Claims That Fell on Receptive Ears

The McMartin preschool children also said that they had witnessed witchcraft, saw witches fly, that they had been abused in a hot air balloon and in (nonexistent) tunnels beneath the preschool. One child claimed to have been molested by actor Chuck Norris. Other children added that, after they were abused in secret rooms, they were flushed down toilets, then cleaned up and presented to their parents. The accusations were incredible, but they found receptive ears. They came at a time when America was in the grip of widespread fears of ritual abuse of children, connected in some way to satanic worship, witchcraft, and dark magic rites.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Ira Reiner, the Los Angeles District Attorney who led – and lost – an absurd prosecution against the innocent McMartin Preschool staff. Los Angeles Police Reserve Foundation

3. Witchcraft Hysteria Meets an Unscrupulous District Attorney

With elections drawing near, ambitious Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Reiner unscrupulously sought to capitalize on the Satanism and witchcraft hysteria. So he slapped Ray Buckey and his mother Peggy McMartin with 208 counts of child molestation. They were arrested in 1984, and the investigation lasted for three years, until 1987. Mother and son were then put through a three-year trial that lasted from 1987 to 1990. It was the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history. At its conclusion, a jury acquitted Peggy McMartin of all charges, while Ray Buckey was acquitted of 52 of 65 charges, with the jury deadlocked on the remaining counts 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal. Those charges were then dropped, and the mass hysteria and subsequent trial concluded without a single conviction.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
British soldiers in Belfast. National Army Museum

2. When British Intelligence Created a Satanism and Witchcraft Scare

On what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday“, January 30th, 1972, British paratroopers shot 26 Catholic protesters in Northern Ireland. Fourteen died. An already tense situation known as The Troubles got orders of magnitude worse. Urban guerrilla warfare erupted, as Catholic and Irish nationalist hostility towards Britain skyrocketed. Many who until then had been content with protests and civil disobedience now flocked to join paramilitaries and fight the state. Before anybody knew it, the British military and police had their hands full trying to keep a lid on things. British military intelligence turned to psychological warfare in an attempt to lessen public support for the paramilitaries. As the violence mounted, Captain Collin Wallace, a British Army psychological warfare specialist, executed a plan to link the armed groups with Satanism, witchcraft, and black magic.

Check this out too: Photos Show How a Demonstration Turned to Bloody Sunday.

The 1970s Witchcraft Trial and Other Oddities in Witch History
Coverage of satanism, witchcraft, and black magic rituals in the Irish press. Pinterest

1. Northern Ireland’s Demonic Panic

British military intelligence wanted to create the idea that Irish paramilitaries and their violence had unleashed evil forces. Against the backdrop of newfound fears triggered by recent movies like The Devil Rides Out and The Exorcist, Wallace and his men scattered upside-down crucifixes and black candles across war-torn Belfast. Simultaneously, the authorities leaked stories about demonic rituals, witchcraft, black masses, and tied them to run-of-the-mill crimes. In the last four months of 1973 alone, over seventy articles about devil worship and the like were published. As a result, a panic about Satanism, black magic, and witchcraft swept through Northern Ireland. As Collin Wallace explained years later:Ireland was very superstitious and all we had to do was bring it up to date“. As an added bonus from the authorities’ perspective, the manufactured hysteria helped keep kids home at night, and away from buildings used for undercover surveillance.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ancient Origins – The Bizarre Crucifixion of Margaretta Peter: The Short Life of a Prodigy and Devoted Christian

Baker, Emerson W. – A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience

Bartholomew, Robert E. – Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics: A Study of Mass Psychogenic Illness and Social Delusion (2001)

Bartholomew, Robert E., and Rickard, Bob – Mass Hysteria in Schools: A Worldwide History Since 1566 (2014)

Brewminate – The Crucifixion of Margaretta Peter

British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 180, Issue 4, April 2002 – Protean Nature of Mass Sociogenic Illness: From Possessed Nuns to Chemical and Biological Terrorism Fears

Brown, David – A Guide to the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692 (1984)

Business Insider, March 10th, 2014 – How a Bogus Abuse Accusation Fueled a Nationwide Hysteria

Cracked – Arizona Held a Witch Trial in the 1970s

De Blecourt, Willem, and Davies, Owen – Witchcraft Continued: Popular Magic in Modern Europe (2004)

Demos, John Putnam – Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982)

Eberle, Paul – The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial (1993)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Salem Witch Trials

Guardian, The, October 9th, 2014 – Satanic Panic: How British Agents Stoked Supernatural Fears in Troubles

Heritage Daily – Matthew Hopkins, the Real Witch Hunter

History Collection – Strangest Hygiene Practices from the Middle Ages

Klaits, Joseph – Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (1985)

Levack, Brian P. – The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (2013)

Occult Museum – The Strange Story of Nuns That Meowed Like Cats and 7 Other Cases of Mass Hysteria

Only in Your State – Most People Don’t Know a Witch Trial Took Place Right Here in Arizona

Thurston, Robert W. – The Witch Hunts: A History of the Witch Persecutions in Europe and North America, 2nd Edition (2007)

Tuscaloosa News, March 31st, 1971 – ‘Teacher-Witch’ Loses Her Job

Tuscaloosa News, February 15th, 1972 – ‘Witch’ Tag Clings to Fired Teacher

University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law – Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692

Wikipedia – McMartin Pre School Trial

Wikipedia – Salem Witch Trials