Witches have long been part of our history and mythology, and many women have been doomed by being unjustly accused of witchcraft and pacts made with the devil. During the witch hunt craze which began in the 15th century and lasted to 17th century, an estimated 40,000 people are thought to have been executed for witchcraft in Western Europe. In America, the hunts spread throughout colonial colonies in New England, Connecticut, New Haven and of course resulting in the notorious Salem witch trials in Massachusetts. The most common method of execution for convicted witches were hanging, drowning or by being burned at the stake.
While for the most part the final resting places of many witch hunt victims have been lost to history, the following five graves and burial sites make a stark reminder of the darkest parts of human nature.
1. The Witch of Yazoo
Where in the world: Yazoo County, Mississippi, United States
The Witch of Yazoo shares the same characteristics as the mythological sirens. According to legend in the late 1800s a witch who lived along the Yazoo River was caught torturing fishermen she had lured in off the river. After the discovery of two butchered bodies hanging from the rafters in her home the witch fled. While running from authorities she fell into quicksand. As she sank to her death, she proclaimed that she would see the city burn. In 1904, her prophecy came true as the city of Yazoo was set ablaze; ever since, the witch’s grave has been surrounded in chains. Legend has it that if the chains are broken the city will burn once again.
2. The Grave of Meg Shelton
Where in the world: Woodplumpton, Lancashire, England
In the late seventeenth century the people of Woodplumpton, a small village in Lancashire, England, believed a woman called Meg Shelton to be a witch. They claimed she would steal the milk from other people’s cattle and transformed herself into animal form at night as she carried out her mischievous deeds. According to legend, when Meg was crushed to death by a barrel that pinned her to a wall, when she was buried the town took extra precautions to prevent her and her powers from ever rising again. The townspeople buried her vertically, head first in the ground in a small, tight shaft so that if she tried to dig her way out she’d be going the wrong way. They then covered the hole with a large stone so that she may never escape. The stone remains to this day in the churchyard of St Anne’s Church accompanied by a small plaque warning visitors that the Witch of Woodplumpton lies buried beneath.
3. The Chesterville Witch
Where in the world: Chesterville, Illinois, United States
In the heart of Illinois Amish country, in a small graveyard lies the grave of the Chesterville Witch. The story goes that in the early 1900s a local woman was accused of witchcraft after challenging the Amish faith. The town elders banished the woman who they named the devil’s servant, but days later her body was mysteriously found in a nearby field. Terrified she would return to life and seek her revenge, the townsfolk buried her and an oak tree was planted to mark her location. The legend also goes on to say that the tree contains the soul of the young woman, and that if the tree is ever cut down or destroyed, the ghost of the witch will leave her grave and seek revenge on those who caused her death.
4. The Tomb of Lilias Adie
Where in the world: Torryburn, Scotland
Lilias Adie was accused of being a witch by her fellow townspeople in Scotland in 1704. Coerced into confessing to being the devil’s wife by the church, she died in prison before she could be tried, sentenced and burned for witchcraft. Her body was taken to the beach off West Fife coast and was buried deep in the mud just between the high tide and low tide, using a large tombstone to cover her burial place, sealing her into her muddy tomb lest she rise again and torment the living. However, legend goes her body vanished when high tide came, but you can still find the large piece of stone that they used to bury her.
5. The Witch Whose Mouth Was Nailed Shut
Where in the world: Piombino, Tuscany, Italy
Throughout history, there have been numerous superstitious ways in which people have tried to prevent witches from rising from the grave. It seems death was not punishment enough. During a recent archaeological dig of a ‘witches graveyard’ in Piombino, Tuscany, archaeologists discovered the remains to an 800-year-old woman who they believe died in the middle ages. It seems the people of the area were so worried that the woman would use her powers to bring herself back from the dead, that seven nails had been driven through her jawbone and more had been hammered into her clothes to pin her in place in the shallow grave in which she was buried in. The practice of nailing the mouth shut was an old custom believed to keep the dead firmly in their graves.
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