The Gamperle Coven:
A Horror Beyond Imaging

The Gamperle family were a group of hereditary Witches who lived near Dettingen, Germany, around 1600. They are the only Witches I've ever heard of who were actually captured at their rites.

Their coven was a small one: six adults, most of them members of the Gamperle family. Paul Gamperle said that he'd been a Witch since childhood, when his elderly grandmother instructed him in the ways of Witchcraft. He and his wife Anna had two adult sons, Simon and Jacob, who were Witches too. Tailor George Smaltes and armorer Ullrich Sehelltibaum rounded out the coven.

To avoid persecution, the Gamperles celebrated their rites in a small cave outside of town. But on July 23rd, 1600, a fierce storm broke out while they were at ritual. Terrified of the lightning, a neighbor's dog fled into the cave and when his owners came looking for him, they discovered the Gamperles' coven as well. The Witches were captured there and then, and the very next day their neighbors dragged them before the governor of Munich.

Physical examinations turned up damning evidence. Paul Gamperle was carrying a "devilish book of conjuration" and a tin picture of a man holding a scroll which read "Magoll, Cumath, Hellbeza." Each of the Witches carried a small bag of swine's dung, a common ingredient in early modern spells. The "trial" itself was a brief farce. The six Witches were convicted of a mind-boggling list of crimes: almost 500 deaths and innumerable cases of arson, robbery, and theft were blamed upon them.

On July 29th, a mere six days after they were arrested, the Gamperle coven was brutally executed. Anna died first. She was tied between her two sons and then, as the crowd cheered, the executioner cut off both her breasts. He struck the swooning woman three times in the face with them, then turned to her horrified sons and beat the men repeatedly with their mother's breasts.

As Anna hung there, bleeding to death, the executioner beat her with a whip of twisted metal. She was then tied to a wheel and stretched until both of her arms broke. Horrible as this was, it was only the prelude. The Witch hunters had planned a dramatic execution for Anna: they made a settle (a spiked metal chair) and planned to roast her alive on it, slowly. But mercifully Anna died on the wheel. Her body was burned in the settle, but she slipped into the Summerlands before she felt its touch.

Her sons and husband were not so blessed. All of the men were beaten with the wire whip and had their arms broken on the wheel. Then four of them -- Simon, Jacob, Ullrich, and George -- were burned alive at the stake. However, like his wife Anna, Paul Gamperle was singled out for a horrific death. He was impaled on a wooden stake while still alive, and then slowly burned to death.


The tale of the Gamperle family comes from an early English pamphlet, printed in 1601, called "A Strange Report of Sixe most notorious Witches." The booklet is reprinted in Barbara Rosen's _Witchcraft in England: 1558-1618_ (University of Massachusetts Press, 1991, pp. 316-322).

We also have records of the execution of six unnamed Witches who appear to be the Gamperle coven. The date, place, and details of the execution corroborate the English pamphlet. The trial record is summarized in Sigmund Riezler's _Geschichte der Hexenprozesse in Bayern_ (Stuttgart, 1896, pp. 198-199)

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