Anna Goeldi, Last Witch

Anna Göldi was one of the last victims of the superstitious belief in witches in Europe. The legal proceedings took place in Glarus, Switzerland, a Republic that had been very reticent on holding such trials through the entire witch craze. Historians had been puzzled why a witch trial should have been held as late as 1782 there, until they discovered proof that there had been two trials going on at the same time.

Anna Göldi was born in 1734 in Sennwald, a small village that at that time was subject to the Republic of Zurich. Subject meant that the village or region was governed and taxed by Zurich. Its inhabitants on the other hand had no legal rights under the laws of the republic they were subject to. They were nothing but serfs by another name. Though not a serf herself, she was born into a poor family. She took up the only career option open to her and became a servant in the household of a wealthy family.

Being obviously a good worker, she moved from family to family to serve several of the ruling families of the Republic of Glarus. As in all good republics, democracy was only a nominal affair (American readers know how that works), and all the posts in the government, the parliament, the law courts, and the church were doled out between a few families, the same person often serving in several capacities. Anna’s last employment was with the Tschudi family whose head was a judge and sat in parliament.

While she was serving there, the child of the Tschudi family fell sick, and Anna was accused of poisoning her. To be exact, she was accused of having committed acts to make the child grow needles in its stomach and vomiting them. She was subsequently charged with and condemned as a poisoner and executed by the sword, after she had admitted under torture to have been incited by the devil. Glarus held a rigid censorship over the press at the time, and therefore neither the outcome of the proceedings (today called an injunction) nor the proceeding itself nor the injunction on the proceeding (today called superinjunction) should have become public. (British readers know how censorship works today.)

All the same, the German press got wind of it and attacked the Glarus authorities with vigour over what they called a witch process. The sham process was rightly ridiculed. The sickness of the child had been diagnosed by a veterinary surgeon, and his description of symptoms and sickness met with incredulity, not only with the press, but even with the called and paid for ‘witnesses’ of the prosecution. It was this process that led to the coining of the German word Justizmord (judicial murder).

It took until 2007 to uncover that there had been a second process going on at the same time. The process was held not in the law courts of the Republic of Glarus, but in the ecclesiastical law courts of the Reformed Church of Glarus. It was the law suit of Anna Göldi against her employer for sexual harassment and rape. The process ended in a complete clearing for the employer by his brother, oops, the ecclesiastical judge, and church justice was free to operate once again to protect the poor, the weak, and the underprivileged.

Anna Göldi has meanwhile been rehabilitated by an act of parliament. As her belongings had been confiscated at the time of the process, the worth in modern terms of these belongings was established in a guesstimate and the money has been placed into a charity in her name by the Glarus government. The newly formed charity promotes human rights with special regards to women rights.

What I find most interesting in the whole thing is the fact that we quite easily and summarily call the press restrictions placed by the Glarus government of the time censorship, while the exact same mechanism today is loftily called a legal injunction or superinjunction. Is it really all just in the name, or are we systematically deprived of our rights by these so called law courts that approve these injunctions? And I haven't even started on all the secret trials that work very much like the church trial above. And then we get an idiot PM David Cameron who attacks the Guardian over defending us against leeches like him.

Further reading
The Knights Templar in Switzerland
The Queen Astrid Chapel
Zurich is More Than Banks