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Guten Tag and Happy Hallowe’en! OK, so we’re a bit early, but to prepare for the most gruselig (creepy) time of year, I’ll be bringing you a few posts related to some of the spookier aspects of Germany & German history. Today I am bringing you the story of Walpurga Hausmännin – one of Germany’s most famous witches.
When you think of famous witch trials, the countries that often spring to mind are the United States and the United Kingdom. But Germany was actually home to one of the biggest witch trials in all of Europe – the Hexenprozesse in Würzburg (Würzburg witch trials), which took place between 1626 and 1631. In fact, during the period of 1450 – 1750, somewhere between 17,000 and 26,000 people were executed in Germany as part of these witch trials.
So with Germany having such a huge history of Hexerei (witchcraft), what makes Walpurga Hausmännin so special?
Walpurga Hausmännin was alive during the 1500s. She lived in Dillingen an der Donau in Bayern (Bavaria), where she worked as a Hebamme (midwife). She was accused of Hexerei (witchcraft), Vampirismus (vampirism) and Kindermord (child murder).
Her case was significant because she confessed a lot more than she was expected to while being gefoltert (tortured), which gave people at the time a great insight into witchcraft. Read on if you’d like to know what she confessed… and know that this next part is not for the faint of heart!
Walpurga was a widow. One day, she said, she went to meet a man for casual sex, but the person who greeted her was actually a Dämon (demon) in disguise. He promised to rid her from Armut (poverty) if she agreed to sell her soul to the Teufel (devil) and do whatever he asked of her. Walpurga was very poor, so she agreed. Walpurga was given a Salbe (ointment), which she was instructed to kill babies, animals and harvests with. Walpurga also confessed other things of a schrecklich (frightful) and gottlos (unholy) nature, such as how she was instructed to kill the babies she delivered, and then use their hair and bones for Zauberei (sorcery). Walpurga was tortured continuously while she was in prison, all the way up to her execution. Before she was executed, her right hand was cut off – this was the hand she had made her Eid (oath) with as a midwife. She was burned at the stake and her ashes were thrown into a stream.
It is unclear how much of Walpurga’s story is Wahrheit (truth) and how much of it is Legende (legend). But one thing’s for sure- it does make a good German Hallowe’en story!
Next time we’ll continue on the witch theme by looking at a specific region in Germany that is associated with witchcraft. Bis dann (until then)!
Vocabulary from the text, with genders (where applicable):
gruselig – creepy
die Hexenprozesse in Würzburg – Würzburg witch trials
die Hexerei – witchcraft
die Hebamme – midwife
der Vampirismus – vampirism
der Kindermord – child murder
foltern – to torture
der Dämon – demon
die Armut – poverty
der Teufel – devil
die Salbe – ointment
schrecklich – frightful
gottlos – unholy (‘godless’)
die Zauberei – sorcery/magic
der Eid – oath
die Wahrheit – truth
die Legende – legend
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