Throughout history, in virtually every culture, witches have played a role in the spirituality and history of civilization. Whether they were revered as healers and practitioners of arts beyond our understanding or hunted as strange and dangerous creatures, seeking to do harm to society. More often than not, witches were met with fear, anger and ultimately, death.
Here are seven of the strangest ways accused witches have been laid to an unnatural rest throughout history.
1. The Nailed Witches of Tuscany
The first strange case on the list comes from Tuscany Italy where there lies an 800-year-old gravesite that is believed by archeologists to have been an entire graveyard for witches. After discovering bodies with playing die – an illegal practice of the time – in shallow graves, they also uncovered the remains of two women who had been buried with thirteen nails driven into their jaw. It’s unknown exactly why they did this, but experts suspect it was a way to prevent the corpse from uttering curses should she ever come back from the dead.
2. Rita of Rollright
In Warwickshire, England there stands an odd assortment of stones referred to as the Rollright Stones. According to local lore, they are believed to be the petrified remains of a long-ago king of England and his faithful men, turned to stone by a fearsome witch. In 2015, during an archeological dig near the stones, a skeleton, soon to be nicknamed Rita of Rollright, was discovered. An estimated 1,400 years old, the woman was found with a bronze vessel, a piece of amethyst, a bead of amber and a spindle whorl indicating she was a Saxon spiritual woman of high status. While the dates of the stones and Rita don’t match, it hasn’t stopped some speculating that she might even be the legendary witch who possessed the power to turn men to stone.
3. Vampire of Venice
A very odd grave has been lying in wait in Venice since the 16th century. It was discovered in 2006 and contained the body of a woman buried alongside plague victims. Her burial was strange, however, as they found a brick forced into her mouth, a common practice of the time used on the bodies of suspected vampires as a way of halting the spread of supernatural disease. Stranger still, it is now thought that she was also a witch. Her age is part of what leads scientists to believe she may have been an accused of witchcraft since women of the time who lived past 40 (the average life expectancy of the period) were thought to have dabbled in the dark arts to extend their length of life and cheat death.
4. The Natufian She-Shaman
Recently discovered in a tomb in Northern Israel, was the body of a 12,000-year-old woman believed to be a witch or she-shaman dating from the prehistoric Natufian civilization. Within the tomb, archeologists found 50 complete tortoise shells, the pelvis of a leopard, the wing tip of a golden eagle, the tail of a cow, two marten skulls, the forearm of a wild boar and a human foot. Curiously, the woman had been covered by ten heavy stones designed to protect the body from wild animals; however, there are some historians who have suggested the stones were also used to trap the witch’s spirit within the grave.
5. Lilias Adie
In 18th century Scotland, Lilias Adie who found herself accused of witchcraft by the townsfolk of her home. 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. While most witches were dumped into shallow graves, Adie’s burial was a little unorthodox. She was buried in muddy sand on the shore during low tide with a stone placed over her body. Her remains have since disappeared into the sea, though the stone slab remains. One theory is that she killed herself, as the common practice was to bury suicide victims in the muddy shore as to not disturb consecrated ground.
6. Meg Shelton
In Lancashire, England is the unusual grave of yet another witch. Meg Shelton who died in 1705 is better known to history as the Witch of Woodplumpton. Accused of witchcraft by her fellow villagers, after her death they went to extreme lengths to prevent her from ever rising again. Her burial may seem normal at first glance, but, according to legend, it’s a very odd one. 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.
7. The grave of Rebecca Nurse
Rebecca Nurse is probably one of the most famous victims of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Nurse’s trial and conviction was like any other, unjust and full of heresy. She was calm and collected at the gallows, and buried in the traditional shallow grave of a witch without incident. It was what happened later that was most interesting. Witches were denied Christian burials but her family snuck to the gravesite after dark and unearthed her remains. They then moved her body to a burial site on the Nurse homestead. As for the others, many of their burial locations have been lost to history as no records were ever kept or even made. Today, a monument sit’s upon Nurse’s grave, a tangible reminder of the consequences of history’s violent response to superstition and fear of the unknown.