Climate History Professor: Bad Weather In History Was Also Blamed “On A Conspiracy Of Witches”

On 22 June 2013 the Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung published an interview with climate historian Christian Pfister . Director of Business, Social, and Environmental History at the University of Bern, Switzerland. There’s been a lot of grumbling in Europe this spring due to the cold and wet weather, and so the Swiss daily decided to check what#s behind it all.

witch hanging Wikipedia

Suspected witches being hanged in England, published in 1655, public domain image.

According to Pfister, the weather has always been fickle throughout history, and is nothing unusual today.

Not surprisingly hysterical minds in the past also blamed bad weather on humans. The Basler Zeitung writes, “Christian Pfister advises us to calm down with regards to the cold, heat, winds, hail and storms. There’s been far worse than what we’ve seen this year” and reminds us that “We are powerless against the weather“.

Here are some excerpts of the interview:

Is the weather freaking out, or are we freaking out because we think the weather is freaking out?

Let me tell you what happens when the weather really freaks out. Imagine that it has hardly rained over the last 11 months. The leaves fall drom the trees in the middle of the summer, cattle die of thirst, forest fires rage. You can walk far into Lake Constanz like during a very dry winter, the Rhine dwindles to a creek. The water boils.

When did that happen?

In 1540. An almost one-year long drought, from Toscana to the north German border, from France to Poland. A blanket of smoke from the burning forests covered the continent, just like we saw in Russia in 2010. Then came the anti-summer in 1588: It rained and storms raged during 88 of 92 days. The grape harvest could fit in a hat. We had never seen such a summer, wrote the admirals of the Spanish Armada, it was like the British fleet that struck back then in the English Channel.

How can people be blamed for bad weather?

When the weather was continuously cold and wet, as was the case this spring, those who were hit needed to find someone to blame. In most cases it was women who were accused of witchcraft. The accusers often assumed a conspiracy of witches who had sexual misconduct with the devil was at work. For this reason, suspects were tortured until they named their co-conspirators, who then were next. Entire groups of women were burned at the stake. Today we estimate that from 1430 to 1650 in Europe 60,000 women were executed as witches, not only because of, but most often because of weather-sorcery. It cannot be excluded that during that time, witches would have been burned after having a spring like that of 2013.”

Today hysterical climate alarmists blame industrial witches for today’s weather misfortunes, and accuse them of having a pact with the devil. These alarmists claim that they have science on their side and that they know the truth.

Today in modern times the psychological affliction of weather hysteria still persists with many lawmakers, scientists, and activists demanding that people start performing rituals in order to get Nature to bestow nicer weather. Back to the Dark Ages!



14 responses to “Climate History Professor: Bad Weather In History Was Also Blamed “On A Conspiracy Of Witches””

  1. Drymar

    The well of human silliness never dries up, I guess. When there is a weather related anything that happens, let´s say once in 30 years, some people start asking; “what is wrong with weather?” Nothing else is wrong but their bad memory.

    After some very mild winters in 2000`s we had couple of more normal winters here in Finland. Media and some people too got nuts about these “severe winters”.
    And still these winters were 2C warmer than the two coldest winters in the 1980`s. These cold winters belongs to top5 in the list of coldest winters in F, but they are not even the coldest.

    Human is far too easily carried away by irrational feelings of “something´s wrong with the weather”. Instead of looking at the data, a human ignores it as if he wants to be excited/horrified.

  2. Walter H. Schneider

    It is a misleading myth that, “In most cases it was women who were accused of witchcraft.” Accused, maybe, but executed, perhaps not.

    It is on record that in many countries as many and more than half of the victims of witch hunts executed were men.




    Links at

    At that page, find “Pseudo-History About Witchcraft”

    More at

    1. DirkH

      And another thing that might explain some of the witch executions:

      British secret services used witches as spies
      (so was the inquisition an attempt to destroy the British intelligence network?)

  3. Walter H. Schneider

    From the quotes in the lead-in posting: “…You can walk far into Lake Constanz like during a very dry winter, the Rhine dwindles to a creek. The water boils.

    When did that happen?

    In 1540…”

    “The water boils.”? Wow! That seems hardly possible. One would think that if the water boiled, then surely everything else alive must have been cooked; and no one would have been left alive to report what happened.

  4. David Joss of Downunder

    High up in the alps wouldn’t water boil at a lower temperature?

    1. DirkH

      Bodensee (Lake Constance) and Rhine at Schaffhausen are not that high up, a few hundred meters above sea level maybe. Only time I noticed shortness of breath due to thin air myself in Europe was on the top of the Aigulle du midi opposite the Mont Blanc at 3,500 m. You can go up there in a cable car.

      1. Bernd Felsche

        Lake Constance is at 400 metres, near enough.

        Immediately surrounding hills rise steeply up to about 300 metres above that; towns and cities which are not directly on the shoreline are predominately at an altitude of around 550 metres or less; i.e. just 150 metres or so above the lake.

        Average water temperature of the lake is about 20Ĉ in summer and 15⁰C in winter. The shallows can ice up during prolonged, cold periods.

        Water flow into the Bodensee is via many tributaries. Those fed primarily by alpine snows are subject to being “dried” through being very cold and windy. Some days, you can see the snows being blown off the mountain slopes and disappearing “into thin air” (via sublimation). The air only has to be moving and unsaturated for that to occur.

        Actual dry “summers” aren’t unusual in the region. The level in the lake can fall by over 2 metres subsequent to such dry periods; when precipitation occurs elsewhere.

  5. cementafriend

    I have measured 50C on the surface (top 1 cm) of my pool from sunlight on a hot day. In a bushfire the surface of still ponds can get to boiling point (at least in Australia).
    Water will boil at lower temperature when the pressure is lower, and evaporation will be greater at lower humidity which is common in mountainous regions. It would not surprise that the Rhine in the upper reaches would be reduced to a trickle and that there would be still ponds after a prolonged drought

    1. Bernd Felsche

      It won’t be boiling off.

      The top of a still pond exposed to great heat will heat only near the surface unless agitated. Water is a good insulator. But it can move around lots of heat with little convection due to its specific heat.

      You can’t heat your bathwater by blowing hot air at the water’s surface. Even a radiant heater will only penetrate to a few millimetres below the surface. The water will remove the surface heat by evaporation “before” conducting it further down. Some conduction will occur but most of the heat is removed by evaporation.

  6. John F. Hultquist

    In modern science the term “boil” has a well-defined meaning. Technical issues aside, one normally watches a pot of water and bubbles appear throughout, rise to the surface, and cause the surface to move about. The water is said “to boil.” To assume someone writing in 1540 used this definition is a stretch. When it is warm, say 27 Celsius (~80 F), and you spill a few spoonfuls of water on a table top and then wipe your hand across it – the thin film of liquid will quickly evaporate. As temperature climbs above 40 C (~100 F) folks will often splash water on something hot (say those big 1540 SUVs) or crack an egg into a sun baked iron skillet. Behold the egg cooks and the water boils away. No doubt one could “hard boil” an egg in the shallow still water of a remnant puddle of a drying river bed.

    Being literal minded is not always the best thinking a person can do.

  7. Bernd Felsche

    Sallie Baliunas spoke on that subject (video) some years ago. Including some regional details on the thousands of executions in response to the severe frosts of 1626.

    Few have paid attention.

  8. Juergen Uhlemann

    Very interesting part of our history. I came across “Malleus Maleficarum”.
    The Malleus Maleficarum is a treatise on the prosecution of witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman.
    Interesting text: “Concerning Witches who copulate with Devils. Why is it that Women are chiefly addicted to Evil superstitions?” or “All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman.”

  9. Vicente Fleming

    Summer typically means longer, warmer days with shorter, milder nights. Depending on where you live, summer temperatures can vary widely from other parts of the country. Summers in the South are typically hotter than those in the North. Summer severe weather includes tornadoes and hurricanes.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this. More information at our Data Privacy Policy