When you’re walking from ‘t Zand to the main shopping street (Zuidzandstraat) there’s a narrow street on the right hand side: Lendestraat. No need to go down this street. Maybe better to stay in the crowds for this story… as it’s said witches roamed this tiny street!

Troublesome times in Bruges, with a constant threat of war. A couple of years ago, in 1631, Frederik Henry, Prince of Orange stood at the walls of Bruges with his army. One year later, the Plague broke out, taking so many lives. Crops died, harvests failed. The price of grain had never been this high, and kept on climbing. Death by hunger or disease came with the poor families. Why was the city dealing with this much disaster? It seemed as the Devil had a finger in all of this…

Back then, an old widow, Mayken Karrebrouck, lived in this narrow street, Lendestraetkin. She lived here with her son, Jan. They were poor people, trying to make a living by selling milk and butter. There was also a bit of money coming in by helping other people in the household here and there.
Mayken had the habit of hanging the root of mugwort on the wall of her house, to keep the Devil and other evil spirits out. Sometimes she made wreaths of mugwort for other people, so they could place this on the wall of their homes or barns in protection for evil spirits, fire or strike of lightning. Three years ago Mayken and her son got really sick. A tailor from Bruges, Simon Verstraete, gave them notes in parchment. With holy words on them, to keep them from water and fire. Keeping the notes in their pocket, making crosses – a lot – to empower the holy words. Mayken paid him with milk and butter, and their got better.
Mayken knew walnuts helped holding off witches, or when a mad dog bit you. Ruta graveolens was also good to have in the house, when the Plague broke out. Not only that, but it als provided protection against the Devil, witches, poison and black cats. Yes, you could say this little old lady knew her herbs and what they were good for. It was no trouble for her to make a potion if you needed something. She helped a blind lady once, and a young man, Peter. His feet all swollen, infected. She tried to help him, but alas.

One of her neighbors, Maye Luucx, was always arguing with Mayken. One time, one of the black chickens of Mayken broke out, ran straight in the house of Maye, scaring her husband. Maye grabbed the chicken and threw it over the half door in Maykens house. A couple of days later, the family Luucx moved away. Somewhat later Mayken heard that Maye and her husband were spreading the rumor their chickens didn’t give any more eggs. Even worse, their son, Adriaen, got very sick shortly after. They got help from the best healers, but he died.
After this, every time Mayken ran into Maye somewhere in the city, Maye loudly accused her of being a witch, responsible for the death of her son, Adriaen. Claiming Mayken bewitched him by giving her son five or six apples with a bit of black powder on them. Husband Luucx believed his wife, one evening he chased Mayken down the street and beat her up. Yes, not the most healthy situation between those two women. Maye Luucx turned up the rumors by telling Mayken conspired with the Devil. She saw with her own eyes how those two were dancing, on the Fridaymarket, six to eight times she witnessed this. Not only Mayken was there, having a good time with the Dark Lord. No! Grietken zonder Ziele (Griet without Soul) and Cathelyne Ide were there. Cathelyne was not only selling brooms during the day, but she was the personal supplier of those women on those gatherings!

No need to tell you, soon enough everyone believed these stories and Mayken was named witch. So it happened one day a girl in the school next to the house of Mayken had an epileptic attack. It couldn’t be coincidence that this only happened just at the moment the dog of Mayken started barking. A neighbor of Mayken claimed her husband was bewitched with a herring, because he got very sick after eating it. There was also the son of Betkin Moerynck, a widow living in a street named Meers. This man witnessed Mayken giving prunes, covered with a powder to a child. The child got very sick after eating the prunes.

Officers arrested Mayken, and they interrogated her with gruesome techniques. During the torture a bat flew in the room through the open window. Judges interpreted this as a visit of a young demon. A more obvious indication of her bond with the Devil and his demons couldn’t be possible. The judges weren’t that interested in the so-called harm she inflicted on her neighbors, but more in her connection with the Devil. They wanted to know if witches were arriving on broomsticks to the meetings, where it was they gathered to praise the Dark Lord, where the orgies took place or where the cauldron was they used to make ointment out of babies fat. Mayken told the judges she knew Cathelyne with her brooms. How she bewitched cows, horses, pigs and chickens. She was responsible for the Plague because she added a powder to the milk and butter she sold. She bewitched the daughter of Mary, who sold wine in the Langestraat, by tapping on the girl’s back three times. The Devil learned Mayken to make a preparation of herbs, so when given to children they would suffer first for several months before dying. She attended several witch gatherings. More than one hundred women were there. They all denied God, in the presence of the Devil. During the interrogations, Mayken begged the officer to remove the collar with nails. Instead, the collar tightened a bit more while they asked her who taught her the dark arts. Mayken ignored the question, but when the collar closed a bit more, she confessed, in excruciating pain, that Grietken zonder Ziel who was her mentor. Everyone suspected Grietken had to be a witch. She once spat on a cross and she refused to be baptized. Grietken had met the Devil about nineteen years ago. He appeared to her in a human form, asking her if she wanted to learn things. She agreed to this offer.

On 22 June 1634, Mayken and Grietken were strangled to death on Burg Square. Their bodies were then burned. On 10 July Cathelyne Ide suffered the same fate. After the executions the judges, interrogators and executioner had a meal. Justice had prevailed.

True or not ?
This story, with the exception of a couple of details, is sadly true! The women mentioned in this story lived here and were executed in Bruges. It is a dark page in the history of the city, but it shows how life was during the times of the hunt and prosecution of witches in the 17th century. Mayken Karrebrouck and Maye Luucx had a confrontation with each other. Records of these trails are still kept in the archives.
The witch prosecution took place between 1450 and 1750, costing the lives of over many ten thousands. Most estimations run from thirty to sixty thousand executions, of which 80% female. Most of these women were older (around 60), poor, single and powerless. Mayken Karrebrouck was 66 at the time of her execution.
It is a common mistake people make, thinking the hunt for witches took place in the Middle Ages, while this happened more during the Renaissance-era. If you were harming other by means of supernatural ways, this was considered witchcraft.
Around 1375 the thought of sealing a pact with the Devil was added to the accusations. Most witches confessed to all accusations due to extended torture. Many didn’t even survive the interrogations. If they reformed to Catholicism after their confessions, then after strangulation to death their bodies were burned, so they would be granted access to heaven.
Before the 16th century the punishment remained simple fines, possibly with exile from society. Only later the more bloody prosecutions came. Shortly after 1590 a bonus-feature was added!
Not only did those poor people make a deal with the Devil, but they also slept with the Devil. This happened during one of the withes gatherings. People were tortured to name all those present at the gatherings. Large-scale trials took place, accusing numerous innocent people. Upon reading the scripts of the interrogations, certain things are noticeable.
For instance, how they met the Devil is in many cases about the same; also telling the penis of the Devil felt ice-cold is something you can find on regular bases. If you read between the lines, it is obvious the confessions are the result of series of suggestive questioning, rather than a real account of the interrogated person. The named bewitchments are classic: sickness; death of a husband, wife or child; sickness or death of cattle after touch or even an evil eye of a suspected witch. If you had a bad name in the streets, that was enough to be accused of sorcery. With limited knowledge of medicine, considering an unexplainable illness to evil sorcery by a witch was easier. In addition, sometimes this was a way to get rid of unwanted competition.

The Southern Netherlands (of which Bruges was a part) most certainly had a part in this dark period of European history. At the end, roughly estimated, in this region at least 922 witches were burned to the stake between 1450 and 1685. Around 1660 there was a huge change in mentality considering these matters. People became more skeptical and rejected the concept of immaterial beings. Judges weren’t condemning people to the death during the prosecution of witches any longer, the ways to enforce confessions were no longer allowed by law. By 1720 there were practical no more witch trials happening anywhere in Europe.