The Historical Werewolf Trials Lost in View of the Witch Craze

In Europe between 1400 and 1500 the belief in witches performing acts of sorcery was rampant.  It was in during this century of hysteria that investigations into supposed witches resulted in the Valais Witch Trials and 110 women and 57 men were tortured or burned to death.  These witch trials were sensational and word of them spread throughout France and Switzerland.  Rumors regarding the confessions of the witches claimed that in addition to performing acts of sorcery, the witches could change themselves into werewolves.  Sometimes it was said that the witch would transmute into the form of a wolf and would kill a victim by ripping them apart like a wolf and then would dine on the fresh kill.  

As the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft became more fantastic, it continued into the 1500s and 1600s.  It became common for witches to be accused of lycanthropy and it was believed that werewolves were the product of sorcery and satanic rituals.  The Baltic region of Europe, especially in Estonia, became obsessed with hunting down werewolves and arresting them by the mid 1600s.  During the trials of the accused werewolves, many confessed to having been spellbound by sorcerers or witchlike entities.  In this non-Christian area, belief in the existence of an animal such as a werewolf was more common than the belief in Satanic beings, so it is possible that the court was reluctant to pass down a sentence of burning to death an animal than they would a witch.  This could be why it was necessary to combine the trials and convert the defendant from an animal into a magical being of evil. 

One example of this conversion from a werewolf trial to a witch trial is the trial of “Hans the Werewolf.”  At the trial of Hans, the defendant claimed that a dark figure would magically transform him into a wolf and make Hans a minion.  It was during these periods of transformation that Hans would hunt and consume his victims.  This dark figure was thought to be satanic and a sorcerer by the court and it was then easy to convert the trial into a witch trial.  This became a common practice at the trial of a werewolf.  The punishment that was reserved for witches could then be executed upon the werewolf.  Werewolves were not always put to death for their crimes and in one reported instance an accused werewolf convinced the court that he was a werewolf trying to protect the people of the area.  

Perhaps the reason that the witch trials overshadowed the werewolf trials is because of the fact that nearly all of the werewolf trials merged into trials of witches.  It also could be because of the horrific torture and death of an accused sorcerer was so much more sensational than that of the swift and merciful death of an animal such as the werewolf.