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Why were witches hanged in the gallows instead of being burnt at the stake in times of...

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marina-escalante | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 15, 2008 at 2:09 AM via web

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Why were witches hanged in the gallows instead of being burnt at the stake in times of Salem (17th century)?

In The Crucible by Arthur Miller the women accused of witchcraft were hanged and the title of the play has a lot to do with fire

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 15, 2008 at 7:30 AM (Answer #1)

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The difference lies in the perception of the crime.  In Europe it was a crime against religion, in England and America, it was a civil crime against the community or a person or persons. 

In Europe, witches were burnt at the stake, because their crimes were considered heresy.  A sin against God, therefore punishable by being burned alive.  This type of execution was common for heretics.

In America and England, witches, and those accused, were hanged, because their crimes were considered against the common law of the jurisdiction.  Therefore, after the courts found them guilty, they would be sentenced to death by hanging.

What is interesting in The Crucible as in the history of the Salem witchtrials, the accused who confessed were not hanged.  They were reformed. 

So the whole idea of witchcraft being a crime against religion was not part of the trials in Salem. 

"The Salem cases are unusual in that the defendants who confessed were generally not executed, while those who were hanged adamantly maintained their innocence."

The Puritans believed that the devil walked among them, most notably in Salem.  Women who fell prey to witchcraft in this period, were to be saved for the glory of God. 


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revolution | College Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted August 14, 2010 at 1:23 AM (Answer #2)

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In most of Europe, most witches which were convicted of witchery  were burnt at the stake by the hands of the Catholic churches and other anti-feminists, and also to punish people who committed heresy. Witchcraft was considered a felony, a capital crime and so the punishment was actually death by burning, but after that many governments felt the punishment was too barbaric and so now most countries like America and other states now used methods like execution or beheading.

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