The traditional image of the victims of the European witch hunts is the stereotype familiar from a hundred Halloween costumes: the wizened old crone in a pointed hat and with a black cat ready to ride off to the Satanic Sabbath on her broomstick to worship the Devil, and do evil deeds to her neighbours, to children and to anyone else who crossed her.
Yet not many know that many of those who faced persecution were male. In Iceland, between 1625 and 1685, 92% of witches were men. Among the Lancashire witches who faced the famous Pendle trials in 1612, there were four men among the 19 tried, two of whom were found guilty and two acquitted.
Yet according to received wisdom at the time, and books such as the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) published in 1486, women were more prone to becoming witches. A firm link was made between feminine spiritual weakness and carnal susceptibility to the Devil.
Alexander Roberts, in his A Treatise of Witchcraft in 1616, listed those attributes of women which made them prone to witchcraft. They outnumbered males by one hundred to one, he declared, because they were more credulous, desired to know improper things, were more open to receive the impressions offered by the Devil, talked too much, were more prone to sin, and were generally thoroughly nasty pieces of work "possessed with unsatiable desire of revenge" when crossed.
Their theories were backed up by the Bible. Satan was able to approach Eve because she was "the weaker vessel", scripture said. That, like Eve, women were more prone to the temptations of Satan made them more likely to be witches.
As academic Christina Larner has argued, except during mass panics, women who were prosecuted for witchcraft were not randomly selected.
"The cursing and bewitching women," she writes, "were the female equivalent of violent males. They were the disturbers of social order; they were those who could not easily co-operate with others; they were aggressive."
It is thought that 10 of the accused in Lancashire were executed, plus hundreds more faced undocumented deaths, not helped by King James I who wrote a book, Daemonologie, encouraging the hunting down of these 'detestable slaves of the Devil'.
Lancashire Witches by Philip C Almond is published I.B.Tauris.
Images taken from the book are: Mother Chattox and Mistress Nutter on 'the Ride through the Murky Air', and a depiction of a hanging of witches, sometimes taken to be that of the Lancashire witches.