Black Magic: 6 Infamous Witch Trials in History


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Black Magic: 6 Infamous Witch Trials in History

Weather witches

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Denmark was the scene of some of the earliest witch hunts in Europe. These accusations were often linked to magical conspiracies about the weather.

In one of the earliest recorded witch trials, in 1543, a woman named Gyde Spandemager, the wife of a merchant, was accused of casting spells that caused the winds to fail as Danish warships pursued an enemy Dutch fleet.

After being tortured, Spandemager confessed to witchcraft and named several other people as accomplices, who were then also tortured and put on trial. None of the others confessed, but authorities executed Spandemager by burning her at the stake.

Several celebrated witch trials in Denmark resulted in the executions of hundreds of people. Historians estimate that around 250 alleged witches were executed in the Danish district of Jutland alone during the 1600s.

Bewitching the waves

Credit: R. Decker, Hexen, Frontispiz (2004) | Public Domain

The Danish witch panic spread to Scotland in 1589, when Princess Anne of Denmark left by ship to marry King James VI of Scotland, who would later become James I of England.

After storms almost wrecked the ship carrying the princess to Scotland, the royal couple met in Norway to be married. But storms also struck the ship carrying the newlyweds back to Scotland.

When the Danish minister of finance was accused of underequipping the ships for the storms, he then accused a group of women in Copenhagen of casting spells to raise the bad weather.

One of the suspects, a woman named Anna Koldings named five other women as witches, who all admitted under torture they had sent the devil to climb up the keel of the ship carrying the princess. Koldings and 12 other women were burned at the stake in 1590.

Scotland’s witch scare

Credit: Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

The Danish witch trial and the alleged magical attack on his bride spurred King James to start the first of five “great witch hunts” in Scotland.

In 1590, James set up his own tribunal to investigate accusations of witchcraft in the town of North Berwick, near Edinburgh. By 1592, the tribunal had tortured and put on trial approximately 70 suspected witches, including some Scottish nobles.

Many were burned at the stake, including Agnes Sampson, an elderly and respectable woman who denied, while under severe torture, that she was a witch. Finally, however, she broke down and confessed to plotting with the devil to kill the king.

The astronomer and the witch

Credit: Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

The German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) helped prove that the Earth orbits the sun, but his family suffered under the superstitions of the time.

In 1615, Kepler’s 68-year-old mother, Katharina, was accused of witchcraft by neighbors in her hometown of Leonberg. The accusers claimed Katharina used spells to make her enemies ill and that she could transform herself into a cat.

Although Katharina was never put on trial, her investigation lasted six years, including 14 months when she was chained to the floor of a prison cell in an effort to get her to confess. Johannes Kepler loyally defended his mother throughout her ordeal, and Katharina was set free in 1621 — but died just six months later.

Salem witch trials

Credit: T.H. Matteson, Examination of a Witch (1853)

The Puritan founders of English colonies in the Americas brought Europe’s ideas about witchcraft with them, and in 1692, witch hysteria reached its peak in America with the infamous Salem witch trials.

The trials began after a group of young girls in Salem Village began having fits of contortions and screaming, and accused several local women of bewitching them.

A special court was set up to hear the cases, and by September 1692, more than 150 men, women and children had been accused of witchcraft. The town executed 19 of the people by hanging.

But public opinion turned against the witch trials, and in 1711, a different Massachusetts court annulled the guilty verdicts against those in Salem still accused of witchcraft.

The witch who got away

Credit: Public Domain

One of the last witch trials in England was that of Jane Wenham in Hertfordshire, in 1712. Following a quarrel, a local farmer accused Wenham of witchcraft, claiming she had caused his cattle to sicken and die.

Wenham initially denied being a witch, but a potion was found in her rooms, and she stumbled while reciting the Lord’s Prayer, which people suggested was evidence of witchcraft.

But Wenham’s witch trial became a cause célèbre in English society, and even the judge took a lenient view. When the prosecutors suggested that witnesses had seen Wenham flying, the judge remarked that flying was not illegal.

The trial eventually found Wenham guilty, but the judge set aside her conviction and suspended the death penalty. She died a free woman, in 1730.

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Photos: Curly-Haired Man Carved into Ancient Sarcophagus


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Photos: Curly-Haired Man Carved into Ancient Sarcophagus

Construction workers unearthed a 2-ton limestone sarcophagus during a building project in Ashkelon, a city along Israel’s Mediterranean coast. The 1,800-year-old coffin is decorated with detailed carvings, including a reclining man with a Roman-style haircut; a wine vessel intertwined with grape clusters and leaves; wreaths; and the head of Medusa — believed by Romans to protect the dead. [Read the full story on the limestone sarcophagus] (Images credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)

Mystery man

A male figure sculpted on the sarcophagus cover, possibly the image of the deceased.


Stunning sarcophagus cover 

The male figure, possibly the deceased, sculpted on the sarcophagus cover is shown here in a close-up displaying the detailed carving.


A gentle touch

A team member gently cleans the sarcophagus cover, which could be the image of the deceased.


Detail oriented

The sarcophagus cover was carved with amazing details, as shown in this close-up of the embellishments.


Providing for the dead

On the other side of the sarcophagus lid a jar used to transport liquids such as wine has been carved, from which there are intertwining tendrils bearing grape clusters and grape leaves.


Beauty in details

A wreath coming out of the upper edge of the sarcophagus, which is decorated with bulls’ heads, consists of acanthus leaves together with pine cones and fruit. A grape cluster is in the center of the wreath, and a roselike decoration is also displayed in it.


Protection in death

The image of Medusa depicted on the sides of the sarcophagus was believed to protect the image of the deceased.


Brushing away centuries of dirt

A team member brushes the ancient dirt and rock residue from the sarcophagus and its lid during the initial cleaning.

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Who Were the Philistines?


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Who Were the Philistines?

David vs. Goliath, by Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939). It’s a well-known story, but whether David or Goliath ever existed — or if the Israelites and the Philistines ever fought — are matters debated by scholars.

Credit: Public domain

The Philistines were a group of people who arrived in the Levant (an area that includes modern-day Israel, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria) during the 12th century B.C. They came during a time when cities and civilizations in the Middle East and Greece were collapsing.

Much of what we know about the Philistines comes from Egyptian and Assyrian texts as well as the stories told in the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Joshua claims that the cities of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron were controlled by the Philistines about 3,000 years ago.

The Philistines themselves left no texts and, as such, much of what we know about them comes from the people they encountered. These texts often describe them negatively and today the name “Philistine” is sometimes used to describe someone who is warlike or who doesn’t appreciate art or culture.

In addition to the ancient texts, modern-day archaeologists have tried to identify Philistine burials and the artifacts that the Philistines used by excavating the cities that the texts say the Philistines controlled. However what constitutes a “Philistine” artifact or a “Philistine” burial is disputed by scholars.

One of the earliest mentions of the Philistines is recorded by the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III (reign ca. 1184–1153 B.C.) who engaged them in battle. In a papyrus Ramses III boasts that “the Philistines were made ashes” by the Egyptian forces, a claim that modern-day scholars doubt.

Stories in the Hebrew Bible say that the Philistines clashed with the ancient Israelites many times. One of the battles supposedly took place between a Philistine force led by the giant man named Goliath and an Israelite force that included a man named David who would go on to become king of Israel. In the story David kills Goliath with a slingshot and the Israelites go on to rout the Philistine force. Whether David or Goliath ever existed — or if a series of wars between the Philistines and Israelites occurred — are matters debated by scholars.

The Philistines pop up again in Assyrian texts dating to the 8th century and 7th centuries B.C. when the Assyrian Empire ruled much of the Middle East.

One text records a treaty between the Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon (ca. 681 – 669 B.C.) and the ruler of a city named Tyre. In the treaty, Esarhaddon’s control “of the land of Philistines” is acknowledged and the ruler of Tyre agrees that the cargo of any ships wrecked off this area belong to Esarhaddon. The Assyrian texts don’t specify exactly what the “land of the of the Philistines” encompassed during the 7th century B.C.; however, an earlier text, dating to the reign of Tiglath Pileser III (reign 745–727 B.C.) says that the Assyrian king had trouble finding a reliable vassal ruler who could control Ashkelon (a place which the Hebrew Bible says was a Philistine city).

One text, written in the name of Tiglath Pileser III, says that a “King of Ashkelon” named Sidqia “did not bow to my yoke” and as a consequence, Sidqia and his family were deported to Assyria.

The Philistines disappear from written history during the 6th century B.C. when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (reign ca. 605 BC – c. 562 BC) conquered the region and destroyed several cities, including Ashkelon.

The textual records of the Philistines leave modern-day scholars with a number of problems. The texts are few in number and were written by non-Philistines, who often had a negative view of them, said Raz Kletter, a professor at the University of Helsinki who excavates at the ancient city of “Yavne” – a place that texts indicate was ruled by the Philistines.

Kletter says that we can’t be sure if the Philistines themselves even considered themselves to be “Philistine” or whether they based their identity more on the city they lived in or the religion they practiced.

The reliability of the texts that refer to them is another issue that scholars encounter. Many of the surviving ancient texts come from the Hebrew Bible. The stories told in the Hebrew Bible claim that the Philistines were often in conflict with King David, a ruler who supposedly controlled a powerful Israelite kingdom around 3,000 years ago. However, research by a number of archaeologists, including Israel Finkelstein, a professor at Tel Aviv University, has found that there is little archaeological evidence that a powerful Israelite kingdom led by a king named David existed.

Jerusalem, which was supposed to be King David’s capital, appears to have been sparsely populated around 3,000 years ago, Finkelstein says.

“Over a century of archaeological explorations in Jerusalem — the capital of the glamorous biblical United Monarchy — failed to reveal evidence for any meaningful 10th-century building activity,” wrote Finkelstein in apaper published in 2010 in the book “One God? One Cult? One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives” (De Gruyter, 2010).

Finkelstein says that if a united Israelite kingdom did exist 3,000 years ago it likely would have been a small entity, located in the highlands — away from the Mediterranean coast.

Over the past century, archaeologists have excavated the cities that ancient texts say the Philistines controlled.

During the 12th century B.C., at a time when a number of cities in Greece and the Middle East were collapsing, large amounts of pottery and artifacts with styles similar to what people were using in the Aegean Sea region started appearing in areas that texts say were controlled by the Philistines, said Amihai Mazar, an archaeologist and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As a result, many archaeologists think that the Philistines came to the Levant during the 12th century B.C., possibly as refugees searching for a new home. The 12th century B.C. is also the time when Ramses III engaged the Philistines in battle, supposedly defeating them.

However Mazar said that as time goes on the Aegean styles disappear, the people who used them gradually adopted local pottery designs and customs.

Today the question of what exactly constitutes a “Philistine” artifact or a “Philistine” burial is something widely debated by scholars. Recently, a team excavating the city of Ashkelon discovered a cemetery dating back about 3,000 years ago, which they claim is the “first” Philistine cemeteryever discovered. However this claim is disputed. Kletter’s team found a cemetery at Yavne that he thinks contains Philistine burials. Additionally, a team led by the late archaeologist Moshe Dothan found a cemetery at the site of Azor in the 1950s, which they also claimed is Philistine. Mazar also notes that a century ago Sir Flinders Petrie found burials in southern Israel that he claimed were Philistine.

[Photos: Skeletal Remains of Possible Philistines Unearthed]

7 Bizarre Ancient Cultures That History Forgot


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7 Bizarre Ancient Cultures That History Forgot

Earth’s Tides Can Trigger Earthquakes Along the San Andreas Fault


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Earth’s Tides Can Trigger Earthquakes Along the San Andreas Fault

Earth's Tides Can Trigger Earthquakes Along the San Andreas Fault

The space shuttle Endeavor captured this image of the San Andreas Fault on Feb. 11, 2000.

Credit: NASA/JPL/NIMA

The same tides that affect ocean waves can trigger earthquakes along California’s San Andreas Fault, and scientists unexpectedly find that these quakes are more likely to happen as tides are strengthening, not when they are at their strongest.

The rise and fall of the seas, tides are caused primarily by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun on Earth. These gravitational tugs not only influence the seas but also stone, alternately stretching and compressing Earth’s crust.

Previous research found that the tidal effects on Earth’s crust could trigger both tremors and earthquakes. When this shaking occurs, it can reveal details about the deep roots of faults, which, in turn, could enrich models that might illuminate when earthquakes will happen. [50 Interesting Facts About Earth]

The studyꞌs scientists were interested in how the planet’s tides might affect small, deep seismic events known as low-frequency earthquakes. They focused on 81,000 catalogued low-frequency earthquakes that struck along California’s San Andreas Fault between 2008 and 2015. These quakes are no larger than about magnitude 1 on the Richter scale, said study lead author Nicholas van der Elst, a seismologist and geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Science Center in Pasadena, California.

“We looked at a part of the fault that’s weak, and so responds to tiny forces exerted by tides,” van der Elst said.

Tidal strength varies over a two-week, or “fortnightly,” cycle. The strongest “spring” tides occur when the moon and sun are aligned, while the weakest “neap” tides happen when the sun and moon are perpendicular to one another with respect to Earth.

Surprisingly, the number of low-frequency earthquakes did not spike at the strongest point of the fortnightly cycle. Instead, they peaked as the fortnightly tide was waxing, or strengthening.

Specifically, these quakes were most likely to happen on the days where tides “were larger than the previous day’s tides by the greatest amount,” van der Elst told Live Science. “That tells you something about how fast the fault is loaded — how long it takes for the fault to recharge before you can trigger these earthquakes on it, how quickly this patch of fault is accumulating stress.”

The deep sections of the San Andreas Fault that the scientists investigated are separate from the shallow portions of the fault most likely to produce major earthquakes, van der Elst said. Still, “every little thing we learn about the way faults work may ultimately contribute to a better understanding of the earthquake cycle and when and where big earthquakes are likely to happen,” he said. “The hope is that looking at low-frequency earthquakes that happen deep in the fault will ultimately shed light on how shallow parts of the fault accumulate stress.”

The scientists detailed their findings online July 18 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Original article on Live Science.