Anna Goeldi, Last Witch

Anna Göldi was one of the last victims of the superstitious belief in witches in Europe. The trial took place in Glarus, today in Switzerland. The conservative Republic of Glarus had been very reticent on holding witch trials throughout the entire crazy period. Historians had been puzzled for a long time why a witch trial should have been held as late as 1782 in a place with almost no witch trials taking place previously. In 2007, they discovered proof that there had been two connected trials going on at the same time.




Anna Göldi was born in 1734 in the village of Sennwald. At that time, it belonged to the Republic of Zurich as a subject village. Subject means that the village or region was governed and taxed by the Republic of Zurich (like it would be taxed by a duke or a baron), but its inhabitants had no legal rights under the laws of the republic. Most people there were serfs of a city instead of a nobleman. Though not a serf herself, Anna Göldi was born into a poor family. She took up the only career option open to her and became a maid in the household of a wealthy family.


Being a good worker, she moved from rich family to rich family. She finally started to serve several of the ruling patrician families of the Republic of Glarus. As in all good republics (American readers know how that works), democracy was only a nominal affair. All government post, parliament, law courts positions, and church sees were held by the same few families. The same person would often serve in several capacities like member of parliament and minister of government (a ridiculous situation well known to British readers). Anna Göldi’s last employment was with the influential Tschudi family. The head of her household was a judge and a member of parliament.


While she was serving there, a child of the Tschudi’s fell sick, and Anna Göldi 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 of the press at the time, and therefore neither the outcome of the trial (today called an injunction in Britain) nor the proceeding itself nor the injunction on the proceeding (today called superinjunction in Britain) should have become public.


All the same, the German press got wind of it and attacked the Glarus authorities with vigor over what they called already then a witch process. The process was rightly ridiculed as the sickness of the child was diagnosed by a veterinary surgeon, and its description 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 (murder by trial) still in use today.


It took until 2007 to uncover that there had been a second trial going on at the same time. This trial wasn't held 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 justice was free to operate once again to protect the poor and underprivileged as it does today, too.


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


Parallels with today's 'legal' systems (I love euphemisms; don't you?) and 'democracies' are purely coincidental.