- Dass Willkür über Recht ginge: Hexenverfolgung in Mecklenburg im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert
In recent years, regional and cultural studies concerning early modern witch hunts in the Holy Roman Empire have multiplied due to the combined [End Page 234] archival research of German, British, and American “witch hunters.” Following in the footsteps of H. C. Erik Midelfort, William Monter, or Robert W. Scribner, however, most British and American researchers have focused on the southern parts of the empire: the names of Lyndal Roper (Augsburg), Jonathan Durrant (Eichstätt), Alison Rowlands (Rothenburg ob der Tauber), Edward Bever (Württemberg), and Robert Walinski-Kiehl (Würzburg) are well known in the community of international witchcraft researchers. In contrast, the eastern parts of early modern Germany were neglected until 1990 due to the political system of the German Democratic Republic. Twenty years after reunification, this scenario has begun to change and historians are beginning to scrutinize the northern and eastern territories of the Empire. Data on the witch hunts in Thuringia (Roland Füssel) and Saxony (Manfred Wilde) have been compiled on the basis of archival research, although a more comprehensive analysis of these data remains to be completed; scholarship on modern witchcraft is still lacking for Western Pomerania and Brandenburg.
In 2007, however, Katrin Moeller published her 2002 doctoral thesis about the witch hunts in Mecklenburg. The editor of the excellent German-language internet forum Hexenforschung (http://www.historicum.net/themen/hexenforschung/), a broad platform for the dissemination of scholarly information and discussion, which includes an encyclopedia of medieval, early modern, and contemporary witch hunts, Moeller is also the co-founder of the Arbeitskreis für historische Hexen- und Kriminalitätsforschung in Norddeutschland and co-editor of its publication series. Based on a carefully researched and extensive data sample, her thesis fills one of the last gaps on the map of European witch hunts. It is also much more than simply a regional study. On the contrary, Moeller presents a groundbreaking analysis based on both quantitative methods and interdisciplinary cultural studies.
In contrast to the majority of Lutheran imperial cities such as Rothenburg or Nuremberg, or to Lutheran territories like Saxony and Württemberg, Mecklenburg (which was divided into the two autonomous duchies of Schwerin and Güstrow in 1621) was among the heartlands of European witchcraft persecutions. During two main witchcraft panics (1570–1640 and 1661–1675, with peaks around 1599–1625 and 1661–1675) 4,000 trials occurred in the sparsely populated lands of Mecklenburg, which contained around 200,000 inhabitants. More than 50 percent of all those accused were executed as alleged witches or died during the trials. These findings underline the fact that massive witch hunts were not a unique characteristic of the Catholic western and southern regions of the Holy Roman Empire and adjoining territories (like Luxembourg, Lorraine, Alsace, or Franche-Comté). On the [End Page 235] contrary, Protestant territories also experienced high numbers of executions. In this context it seems remarkable that Mecklenburg strictly followed the Carolina Code and its “processus ordinarius” in cases of witchcraft. Its professional jurists very seldom defined witchcraft as an exceptional crime. In comparison with other so-called “hot-spots” of European witch-hunting, Mecklenburg can be categorized alongside the electorates of Cologne, Trier, and Mainz, and the Catholic duchies of Lorraine and Luxembourg, although none of these territories ever saw the exceptionally severe witch panics (with high execution rates in one short phase of persecution) that were experienced in the Franconian bishoprics or the imperial abbey of St. Maximin.
Moeller bases her research on a multitude of primary sources, resulting in an impressive list of archival material (pp. 487–91). She investigated the records of witchcraft trials from urban, noble, and territorial courts, as well as the corresponding consilia (juridical advice) and verdicts of the superior courts and law faculties. She also consulted all surviving trial records in cases of witchcraft slander as well as the letters of petition and pleas from the superior courts in Mecklenberg, and records...