NOTE: Please pay attention to the comments at the end of this post. Historians of the era tend to deeply disagree with what I say here. I still contend that the list of witch killings tends to skip the 13th century, and that major events in that century almost certainly led to genocide level loss of life, and those killings were justified with the same rhetoric and “logic” as later witch killings. Also I think the typical estimates accepted by historians are very conservative since they can’t possibly adequately sample the behavior. So, my estimate is probably very high, but the standard accepted estimates are probably very low.
I recently came across a reference to the total number of people killed for being Witches in Europe since the historically documented practice began in the early Middle Ages. (The idea of Witches is much broader than the European practice.) The number was in the tens of thousands. Looking at the reference for this in Wikipedia, this seems to be about the number accepted by Teh Wiki and whoever it is that is in charge of this particular knowledge at this time. The Wikipedia article also gives a very late date for worship of “Satan” as part of defining a “Witch.” None of this seemed right to me because of a document I recently read, which gave me the impression that Satan was a big deal quite a bit earlier on, and that the number 40 or 50 thousand was way to small.
In looking around at various sources, I’ve noticed what might be hyper skepticism over this topic. Darin Hayton is nearly vitriolic, even hyperbolic, in chastising someone else for using the phrase “hundreds of thousands.” In his post addressing the question “How Many Witches were Executed?!?”, he mentions the 40-50 thousand number, but also provides a table that adds up a bunch of numbers, by country, adding up to low vs. high estimates for executions between 57,401 and 61,651. These data are from the 14th through 17th century.
There are a few problems with these data. One is that Witch killing did not begin in 1300. There are important pre-1300 documented cases. Also, it did not end in 1700, though the post 1700 numbers are probably small. Another problem is that these numbers, as far as I can tell, are known cases or estimates of the outcome of known “Witch Hunts.” However, there seems to have been times and places where the trial and execution of Witches had become a poorly documented local matter that may have gone on as a routine slowly piling up bodies but entirely under the radar of those who must see it on paper for it to exist. As an archaeologist who has frequently compared the documented and the undocumented realities of Euro-American culture I would not finch at a 10-1 ratio of cases estimated from historical documents to actual cases. If the numbers add up to 60,000, than 600,000 would not shock me.
Nor am I proposing such a large number. I am merely noting that the method of estimation that seems to be preferred is probably way too conservative, and the time period included is at least a century too short.
I also would like to challenge the idea suggested by Teh Wiki (well, by the page maintainers) that Satan was a late comer to the equation. There seems to be evidence that a link between Witchcraft and Satan as an entity goes back farther. And, I’m going to make this challenge on the basis of a single source. Feel free to have at it.