A psychotherapist has claimed the trauma suffered by ancestors in the European witch hunts has harmed today’s generation of women.

Cali White, from West Sussex, insists women have inherited ‘self-destructive’ behaviours like a ‘deep-rooted mistrust’ of other females and a ‘fear of being heard or seen’ after their forebears had to adopt the traits to survive the witch hunts.

Tens of thousands of women across Europe were executed in the Early Modern Era, 1450-1750.  

Cali is a lead curator of an exhibition I am Witch – Tales from the Roundhouse, which is to be held at The Storey in Lancaster throughout January, and will explore claims that the witch trials left a ‘wound in our collective psyche which still affects us today’. 

She believes that the survival strategies of people’s ancestors over 25 generations ago are now entrenched beliefs and behaviours that ‘wreak havoc with our own health and well-being and can be extremely self-destructive’.  

Recent studies have revealed that traumatic events can alter a person’s genetic make-up, meaning the effects can be carried through generations.

Cali White, from West Sussex, insists women have inherited 'self-destructive' behaviours like a 'deep-rooted mistrust' of other females and a 'fear of being heard or seen' after their forebears had to adopt the traits to survive the witch hunts (pictured)

Cali White from West Sussex insists that women have inherited self-destructive behaviours such as a deep-rooted distrust of other females, and fear of being seen or heard. This is because their forefathers were forced to take these traits in order to survive the witch huntings.

Cali from the Silver Spoons Collective is working with Cali on this exhibition. 


In the mid-20th Century, epigenetics emerged as a new discipline. This is the study of genes that change on and off. 

The Dutch famine of 1945, at which point there were two generations of small-than-average children, was an important turning point in this field of research. Later, it was called the first example of “inherited trauma”.

In the two last decades, this field has seen significant growth.

In 2013, a groundbreaking research showed that mice could inherit the fears of their grandparents and parents. Mice can also be affected by the smell, even though they have never experienced the pain. 

Emory University demonstrated, crucially, that it was not a result of genetic mutation but rather a “chemical modification” to DNA which blocked gene expression without altering.

According to a 2017 study, daughters of Finnish mother’s who had been separated from their parents after the Second World War saw higher rates in psychiatric hospitalisation.

Another study from Canada showed that Indigenous women were at 20 percent greater risk of developing postpartum depression in 2018 than their counterparts among white women. It was explained by generations of traumatizing and suffering. 

The scars we have left behind can manifest in many forms: fear of being noticed or heard, experience of betrayal and mistrust towards other women, feeling of disconnection with nature, rational fears, struggles to find our place in the world. 

25 generations later, we feel powerless, unsupported, trapped, separated, unsafe, and isolated. It is affecting our health and well-being in so many ways and we’re tired of it.

“The Silver Spoons Collective has a mission: to shed light on the dark sides of history so that we can heal, grow, and develop new ways of being. We must be rooted in healthy connections to each other, the Earth, and ourselves.

Cali stated that the “inherited wounds” are now deeply embedded in our own minds and prevent us from moving forward, keeping us isolated and small. 

“What was survival strategy for our ancestors twenty-five generations ago, are now deeply embedded beliefs and behavior that wreak havoc on our own well-being, can be very self-destructive,” she stated.

Cali said that during the Burning Times women were made to commit suicide under torture, breaking the bonds of sisterhood. 

“Sans this crucial sense of community support we feel alone and isolated. The witch hunts evolved into a method to get rid of any “problem” in a community. 

People who question authority could become targets. The women learned that it was better to keep quiet than shout or speak up. 

Cali explains to FEMAIL 5 ways that women can continue the legacy of witch hunts today: 

1. To protect yourself, you feel deeply rooted distrust of women. 

Cali asserts: “During witch hunts women were forced betray one another which over time broke the bonds between sisterhood and connection. 

Because of the belief in the past that witches never functioned alone, women accused were made to confess to their accomplices under torture. 

“Some courageous women fought the good fight, but it was too painful for many others. At the time, most people lived in tiny rural towns and their closest friends were often their dearest. 

“Trial records indicate that women can even accuse their family members,” as it was during the Pendle Witch Trials in 1612. A daughter gave evidence against her mother, grandmother and sister. 

‘Betrayal lead to mistrust. One must protect oneself to remain safe. 

‘Women mistrusting women has unconsciously been passed down through the generations and plays out today with our “I’m fine” masks, and our fears of sharing our true thoughts and feelings. This is not the way we were created.

2. Your fear of being noticed or heard keeps you from living up to your full potential 

The psychotherapist stated that the Witchcraft Act of 1563 was a law that imposes a death penalty on any person found guilty of witchcraft. This includes anyone who causes death to any of their victims. 

“Witches were widely believed and deeply feared in a world with little scientific knowledge at the time. 

Although the initial witch hunts might have been an attempt to eliminate what was considered a dangerous practice, they became a means to resolve neighbourly disputes and to help deal with adversaries. 

‘Trial records indicate that accused women were noted for having a strong opinion or owning land – a clear message to women that it was safer to stay quiet and not stand out – which has been passed down from mothers to daughters to today. 

‘Embedded into our unconscious belief system is the notion that it’s not safe to speak up, and for many this sense of feeling restricted and repressed results in living un-lived lives. 

‘Even though modern feminism is making progress to further women’s equality, creating opportunities for us to excel, many women are still hindered by their fears of being seen or heard, which holds them back from following their dreams.’

Between 1450 to 1750, tens of thousands of women were executed as 'witches' across the continent in witch hunts (pictured)

In witch hunts, thousands of women across the continent were executed in 1450-1750.

3. If you think that other women are more successful than yours, it is natural to feel jealousy and compete against them. 

Cali said: “The need for validation and the desire to live a fulfilling life are part of what it means to be human. 

‘The lived experiences of our “witch” ancestors, however – where standing out meant risking a brutal death – led to many denying themselves such opportunities. 

‘The handed-down messages of ‘stay small, stay safe,’ has kept us from living our full potential. Feelings that are oppressed fester in us, and can eventually breed anger and resentment. 

‘Faced with other women’s success, and wanting it for ourselves, we have a tendency to project our negative feelings onto them. 

The European witch hunts: Tens of thousands of women executed as ‘witches’ across the continent between 1450 to 1750

Tens of thousands were executed in the Americas as “witches” between 1450-1750. 

Britannica says that witch hunts were most frequent in West Germany, France, Northern Italy, and Switzerland. This was because of the climate of religious superstition, which led to the persecutions of witch-practicers.

Executions were very rare in Spain and Portugal.

In the Witch Trials, religion played a lesser role than law. Local courts were more likely to treat suspected witches with harshness and violence than those of regional or higher courts.

As with their origins the decline of witch-hunts was slow. However, they continued to die in the 17th and 18th centuries partly because of increased literacy and mobility as well as communication means.

It varied depending on where and when, but overall about three quarters of the convicted “witches” were women.

Some believe the executions may have been linked to poor weather. Europe was becoming colder and more wetter, which meant that there were plagues of caterpillars, pestilence, crop failures, and an increase in disease and famine.

When these difficult situations emerged, ‘witches’ were often blamed, with suspicions prompted about the suspect by sometimes simply one person blaming their misfortune on another.

Some others, however, suggest that during heated competition between Catholics & Protestants witch-hunting became an appeasing tactic to placate the masses through their devil fighting prowess.

‘“Who does she think she is?” is a common response we might feel towards other women who are receiving acclaim and achieving more than us.’

4. It is difficult to feel a connection with nature, and you don’t understand the healing and medicinal properties of herbs or plants. 

Did you know that nettles have more iron than spinach and more calcium that milk? Unwanted weeds are what we consider to be the most important ingredients in our ancestral medicine cabinets. 

The witch hunts were a time when the conventional medical system was still in its infancy. Every woman knew the herbs and plants that she had at home to help her heal. 

“Without any scientific evidence. Decisions on which plants are to be used came from the wisdom of elders and a gut feeling or intuition. 

‘At a time before GP surgeries and the NHS, people were responsible for their own health decisions and might have consulted a local ‘Cunning Woman’ who used herbs and intention, or ‘magic’ to create healing potions.  

These were the “witches” who targeted women, like Geillis Dunstan, a Scottish maidservant, accused by her magistrate boss of witchcraft in 1590. 

‘Known to have had a reputation as a healer, Geillis’s brutal torture sparked the North Berwick witch hunts in which 70 people were tried for witchcraft. It was a risky occupation to heal and learn about plants.

5. To comply, you fear authority. You prioritise others’ needs over your own. 

According to the psychotherapist, the power of the witch hunts was held by the Church and wealthy landowners that provided work. 

“People surrender their autonomy and authority in fear of being pushed aside and suffering the consequences.” 

‘Those who didn’t attend church risked being accused of witchcraft; if a woman didn’t serve God then it was presumed she must be serving the Devil, and “witches” were the Devil’s handmaidens. 

‘In Geillis Duncan’s case, it was her employer, a wealthy magistrate who accused her of witchcraft, and subsequently tortured her in the most brutal of ways. 

“If the people our ancestors relied upon for their survival had the ability to send them to their death, then it is reasonable to expect that they will choose to follow rules and order for fear of being reprimanded. 

The systemic scaffolding of fear is still in place today. From an early age, fear of authority has been ingrained in us. 

We see children’s fear of teachers in the early years. Then, we fear our bosses and take that, sometimes unconsciously, into adult life. 

“We work overtime just to be in favor, to say yes when we really mean no in order to please those who have the ability to adversely impact our lives.”

The I AM WITNESS: Tales from the Roundhouse experiential and educational exhibition will be at The Storey, Lancaster, from 4th to 28th January 2022. It will focus on the European Witch Hunts. 

A quarter of the profits will be donated by the gallery to charities that fight modern-day witch trials in India and Africa.