The Rheinbach Witch Trials
Those who have been looking at this gallery for a while might have noticed some pictures of so-called "Witch Towers" that I have posted in the past. There is the one at Bornheim-Walberberg, which is in fact a medieval residence tower. Another one is at Jülich, where for whatever reasons a medieval city gate has been misnamed "Witch Tower". Needless to say, neither have ever been used to incarcerate witches or whizards. This one is different, as the Witch Tower at Rheinbach by all likeliness has had exactly this function during a dark period of this city's history.
There is a popular misconception when it comes to the age of the witch-hunt. It is frequently transported through "popular science" books, movies and made for television films, both fictional as well as "documentary". It roughly goes like this: in the Middle Ages, there were wise women who knew a lot about natural medicine and all that. However, a mysoginic bunch called Catholic church, whose priests and clergymen were all unmarried, decided to put an end to that. And so, a lot of women - only women - were burned to death. A quicker summary of this theory: bollocks!
The witch-hunt, in fact, was a phenomenon of the early Modern Age. A medieval idea of the existence of whizardry was connected to the thought that such a craft required a pact with the devil, and was thus a capital crime. This theory was by no means limited to the Catholic church - both Luther as well as Calvin were supportive of witch trials, and under Protestant rule, alleged witches and whizards were burned no less than under Catholic rule. Notice that I speak of witches and whizards. While the majority of the victims were female, this was by no means a general rule. In some areas, more men were killed than women. A possible explanation for the disproportionate number of female victims might be the German translation of Exodus 22,17, which uses the clearly female term "witches" instead of the more neutral "magicians".
Another frequently heard point is that the victims often were outcasts - while that might be the case overall, there are numerous examples to the opposite. Katharina Henot, the most well known victim of the witch-hunt at Cologne, was a successful business woman, who had however some influential competitors. No wonder that sooner or later, she would be blamed of and charged with whizardry.
This is a fitting bridge to what happened at Rheinbach between 1631 and 1636. A witch-hunter named Franz Buirmann, a man who had studied the law, teamed up with his superior, local bailiff Heinrich Degenhard Schall von Bell, to go after the most wealthy and influential people of Rheinbach. Among his victims was the city's former mayor Hilger Lirtzen, who was murdered in July 1631. Others included people who tried to stop Buirmann, such as layman Herbert Lapp, or the family of layman Gotthard Peller. In October 1631, Buirman was suspended. However, due to the support he got from both his superior as well as the bishop / elector, he was re-appointed and the terror continued.
The details of the trials are fairly well documented, as another former layman, Hermann Löher, managed to flee to Amsterdam in 1636, where much later he wrote down his accounts of the events. Today, streets are named both after Löher as well as after another prominent victim, reeve Dr. Andreas Schweigel.
What can be learned from these events? In my humble opinion, it's this: to start the witch-hunt, or any other hysteria like that, it requires a small, educated number of fanatics. Then, an uneducated, uninformed populace. Finally, some heinous members of the elite, who realize that there is no easier way to kick competitors off the field and gain total control of the markets, than a little bit of controlled mass hysteria.
P.S.: A professor from Austria - no natural scientist, but a musician - just recently suggested the death penalty to anyone sceptical of the current "man made global warming" craze. Look at the readers' comments in some greenish / leftist media (at least in Germany), and you'll see that we are not too far removed from the incidents described above. Meanwhile, the producers of highly subsidized solar panels and other sources of "renewables" are counting their money. Sounds familiar?