When a community with a superstitious mindset suspects someone of magical or otherwise unusual powers, especially if unexplained stuff such as kids disappearing has been happening, their response will be to root out a witch to take the blame and to take some burning at the stake.
It's usually a her in these situations. Sprenger and Kramer, the authors of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, stated that "...this heresy is not of villains, but of villainesses, and thus it is noted so."
This trope is often the climax of a classical Witch Hunt in media, with plenty of Torches and Pitchforks to go around. These are not historically accurate, for the most part, being depicted in places and times when there were no witch-hunts, or misrepresenting ones that did occur. In particular, one of the most famous episodes of witch-hunting, the Salem witch trials, featured no burnings at all. The convicted were hanged — and indeed, those who "confessed" were held to answer more questions and freed when the hunt was stopped. In reality, in England and in English colonies like Massachusetts, burning at the stake was reserved for women who killed their husbands, even in self-defense, and for heretics. There was some overlap as heretics were often accused of witchcraft.
The "swimming" of witches, one of the most famous methods of interrogating a suspected witch, had the virtue of being both pointless and redundant. Popular belief makes it out as a Morton's Fork, saying that if the 'witch' floated, they'd pull her out and kill her. If the "witch" drowned, on the other hand... well, they were still dead, they just weren't a witch. Actually she would be tied to a rope: if she did float, they would pull her out, and the fact would be regarded as incriminating; if she sank, they would pull her out all the same, but cleared of charges. The ducking stool is an unrelated, non-lethal device of punishment where a woman was ducked in cold water for being a public nuisance of some sort.
Nowadays the number of victims is estimated to be around fifty thousand victims of burning in all of medieval and early modern Europe. This is bad enough, though far lower than the number of several millions which were made up by some enlightenment writers, and The Nazis, who claimed that a Jewish/Freemason-controlled church wanted to eradicate wise Germanic women.
Also see The Witch Hunter, although a Witch Hunter is someone who hunts witches professionally, while this trope tends to refer to an angry mob.
As a Death Trope, several if not all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Going by the flashbacks, the eponymous Witch Hunter Robin (with firestarter powers) was a normal, devout girl who got burned at the stake for being a witch. Or maybe that mysterious old lady was just messing with Robin's mind. In modern times (in Japan) they just get captured and shipped off... and, as the heroes learn to their disgust, drugged, put into People Jars and used to makethe anti-witchcraft drug. Either way, it all apparently stems from a long-standing prejudice against them, even though most people have forgotten where it came from to begin with.
Code Geass has this when a mystical trap causes Lelouch to see images of C.C.'s past, including multiple gruesome "deaths" — one of which was, of course, burning at the stake. Justified in that C.C. is both immortal and ageless, meaning she did indeed live through the time when people were doing this sort of thing. It doesn't help matters that official sources both inside and outside the anime call her a witch.
This almost happens to Casca in the Berserk manga during the Conviction arc after her corrupted child summons several ghosts to protect her from Bishop Mozgus's Cold-Blooded Torture at the Tower of Conviction, which drained him in the process. She's rescued by Isidro, who later becomes one of Guts's new set of True Companions.
Evangeline in Mahou Sensei Negima! says that despite being a vampire, she often had to escape such burnings during the middle ages, occasionally getting caught. She laughs about it as something highly amusing these days (the listeners were understandably horrified).
There is also Asuna threatening to expose Negi early in the manga.
Vincent narrowly escapes getting hung for witchcraft in Bizenghast. Later, we get Maphohetka, who definitely had some kind of supernatural ability, as evidenced by her surviving being stabbed in the chest, and is an antagonist to Dinah. In her defense, Maphohetka may be innocent of whatever she was accused of (since the exact nature of Bizenghast's misfortune is never revealed) and the townspeople do actually verge on the "evil and bigoted" side (keeping up their witch lynching traditions well into the late 19th-early 20th century).
In The Tarot Cafe, Pamela's mother (a midwife) was accused of witchcraft after the baby she was delivering and the child's mother both died. She confessed to witchcraft just so that she could plead for her daughter's safety and was burned at the stake. Pamela was later accused of witchcraft because she could see the future and because she rejected a creepy old priest's advances on her. Because she'd been exposed to the blood of a dragon, she was immortal and survived. A later story has her kidnapped by a group of religious fanatics who use her tarot cards as proof that she's a witch and try to kill her. Seeing as she's immortal, they don't succeed.
In Soul Eater, there are only two kinds of witches — the stereotypical doomsday witches which are hunted down due to their destructive nature, and the cute friendly witches, which are also hunted down due to their destructive counterparts.
In High School D×D, Asia Argento was praised by the Church for having Healing Hands. Unfortunately, when it was discovered that her power works on everybody, including demons, the Church accused her of gaining the power by a Deal with the Devil and ordered her execution. Luckily, she meets the heroes.
In Magical Chappy, when Chappy and her brother come to Earth, they decide to not tell anyone about their powers to avert being burned at the stake.
In A Certain Magical Index, back in the Middle Ages, the immortal woman Fraulein Kreutune was tried as a witch and sentenced to various forms of torture and execution, including being burned. Since she was immortal, none of them worked.
Agatha Harkness, babysitter for the Fantastic Four and the most powerful member of a Witch Species, has this happen. It's only a minor inconvenience, though, and she goes around as a ghost for a while before eventually resurrecting herself.
Almost happens in an old Mickey Mouse comic where Mickey and Gyro Gearloose are transported back to Puritan times and Gyro uses uses his lighter to start a fire, getting him and Mickey accused of using witchcraft.
Nightcrawler of the X-Men has this (actually, he's about to be staked, but it's the same principle) happening to him in his very first appearance - though the crowd thinks he is a demon, not a witch, due to his blue fur, pointed ears, fangs, and barbed tail. Also, a number of their children had recently been murdered.
A bleak story from the Tales of the Slayers collection features a reluctant Slayer who nonetheless saves her town from an army of marauding vamps... and for her pains is burned for witchcraft by the townsfolk. The townsfolk pay for their stupidity when the Slayer's Watcher, out of revenge, opens the town's gate, letting the remaining vampires in for the slaughter.
In Fables, Hansel (of "Hansel and Gretel") develops an obsession for burning witches after shoving the one from the story into her own oven. When he escapes to the Mundane world he is disgusted to find the witch survived, and the amnesty laws prevent him from doing anything to her. So, he travels to Europe and spearheads dozens of 'witch-burnings' because he can't do anything about the real ones in the world.
The Scarlet Witch was mistaken for an actual witch when her mutant hex power first manifested and would have been burned at the stake by Balkan villagers along with her brother Quicksilver if not for timely intervention of Magneto. (Who much later was revealed to be their father).
An issue of Avengers West Coast shows an alternate reality where Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were captured by the villagers and burned at the stake.
Parodied in an issue of the Futurama comic book when Bender gets sent back through time into a Salem-esque area where townsfolks are rounding up robots. They try the 'floating in the river' test — when the woman lives, they try to burn her but fail due to the river putting out all the fires.
In one story arc in Madame Xanadu, flashbacks reveal how Madame Xanadu's lesbian lover was burned as a witch by the Spanish Inquisition. The executioner takes pity on her and snaps her neck before lighting the pyre.
In issue 72 of Superman/Batman, a group of crazed religious fanatics kidnap Lois Lane and attempt to burn her at the stake. They think Superman is God, and seek to punish Lois for "rejecting" Superman for the "mere mortal" Clark Kent and thus failing in her "duty" to give birth to the messiah. Fortunately, she is rescued by The World's Finest.
In Le Scorpion, Armando's mother was burnt as a witch by the Inquisition for misdirecting a priest from the church and his Christian duties.
In a Sabrina the Teenage Witch comic, Sabrina thinks that her aunts had a great life in the "good old days" and as a result is given a magic mirror that can let her go back in time to colonial Salem. This trope is pretty much averted while there. Sabrina first comes across a witch stuck in the stocks and releases her. Sabrina is then put in the stocks herself for not stopping the witch's escape and is released by a perverted dude who demands a kiss for saving her. She's caught turning him into a toad and has to escape an angry mob that calls for her to be hanged.
In Seven Soldiers of Victory, Klarion the Witchboy nearly gets burned by the women of Limbo Town after trying to warn them of the impending invasion by Melmoth, because the Croatoans have long been taught that there is no world beyond theirs.
The National Lampoon did a brutal comic-book parody of Bewitched where Samantha and Endora are practicing really dark magic, ending with their irate neighbors burning them at the stake - along with Darrin, whose dying words are "I never should have married you!"
Shade and his companions are nearly burnt at the stake when they travel back to Puritan New England, where the natives mistake the Madness for the Devil's own sorcery. It doesn't help when they find out Lenny's last name is Shapiro, calling her "filthy Jewess."
After the Monster leaves Antarctica in The Frankenstein Monster, the first thing he is greeted with when he comes in conatct with civilization is a woman tied to a mast of a burning boat. He thinks she is victim of superstition, but it turns out she is actually a werewolf.
In Mutant, Kittery Abigail is called a witch, and the mob is glad when she was killed by stray bullets when a member Shot The Lock.
In one Homestuck fanfiction (taking place in a medieval AU), Jade Harley is almost burned at the stake, despite her insistence that she's a "good witch". Fortunately, Dave Strider (a knight) manages to convince the townspeople to let her go.
In Frozen, this is the Duke of Weslton's attitude after Elsa's powers are revealed. He calls her a monster, even before she accidentally turns the summer to winter, and he sends his men to kill Elsa.
Dark Shadows: Invoked by Barnabas, as an (empty) threat against Angelique. She is really a witch. But she is also a Villain with Good Publicity, and now living in an age where witches are no longer persecuted... unlike murderers, such as the vampire Barnabas.
The (pseudo)historical/horror movie Witchfinder General, which definitely played fast and loose with history. Justified, in that burning was something new that Matthew Hopkins was trying out. The most common form of execution is hanging.
Parodied in an old Disney movie, An Astronaut in King Arthur's Court, wherein the eponymous astronaut is to be burned at the stake. His space suit protects him, but the heater is accidentally turned on and he must sweat it out until his bonds burn through.
Done in the Silent Hill movie twice on screen, and another one is mentioned. The ones on-screen were an adult and am 8-year old girl, and the burning of the 8-year old (and her surviving) is what sets off the plot of the movie. What's even worse is that they don't bother to put her burned, half-alive body off-screen◊.
Highlander: When Connor MacLeod first discovers he is an immortal back in ancient Scotland, he's proclaimed a witch, and burning is mentioned as an option. (In the end, he's just run out of town by a howling mob instead.)
Averted, of all places, in the movie Hocus Pocus, where the the three witches are hanged by the townsfolk just as they would have been in 17th Century Salem. (And the fact that they were actually guilty of witchcraft in this case.) They get better, but it's a little jarring to see historical accuracy in a movie about cartoonishly wacky witches. The revived witches are also locked in a large kiln and set on fire; the oven is a reference to "Hansel and Gretel". They get better from that as well. The thing that finally kills them is sunlight, because the candle that brought them back only worked for the night of Halloween, and they were unable to obtain the potion that would have enabled them to survive.
Averted in Practical Magic, which begins with the (failed) hanging of the main characters' female ancestor. She was exiled instead.
Played straight in the MSTed movie Touch of Satan, where the heroine's sister is nearly burned at the stake after being accused of witchcraft - in what looks like 1970s California.
Full Moon Entertainment's movie version of The Pit And The Pendulum, taking place during the Spanish Inquisition, naturally invokes this trope a couple of times. Of particular note is a scene where an old woman, soon to be burned at the stake, manages to ingest some conveniently placed gunpowder before hand. This results in a very messy explosion once she catches aflame. In Real Life, sacks of gunpowder were sometimes tied around the necks of those condemned to the stake as an act of mercy.
Played ridiculously straight in Metropolis. During the revolt, the workers burn Robot!Maria at the stake, since they decide she's to blame for the revolution ending badly. They were right... sort of. On a pyre made of burning automobiles, no less!
Used straight — and to hideously appropriate effect — in Mark Of The Devil. Within that film, several "witches" (all clearly innocent) are slowly burnt alive. This film presents various period tortures in historically accurate ways, which makes it rather disturbing...
Subverted in Agora, where the philosopher Hypatia, after being caught by the Christians who considered her a witch, was only burned after she was dead. Note that there is still some debate on whether the Real Life Hypatia was burned alive or stoned to death, though the general view is the one shown in the movie, that first she was stoned and then burned.
In The Name of the Rose, Brother Salvatore and Brother Remigio are burned at the stake as scapegoats by Father Bernardo Gui, leader of the Inquisition. Gui also tries to burn a local peasant girl, but she is rescued by rebellious peasants who manage to kill Gui in the resulting chaos. In the book, Gui prevents this from happening by simply having the three of them transported away and executed elsewhere, where no rescue attempts can occur.
This is basically what started the terror for the series A Nightmare on Elm Street. The families of Elm Street, justifiably, hunted down a child-killer and general bad guy who got Off on a Technicality only to have him come back later rather upset about all of it.
In Ghostbusters II a judge laments that he is not able to sentence them to be burned at the stake, which he sees as an "illustrious, sterner justice".
Averted in Season of the Witch which shows three accused women being hung off a bridge, then lowered into the water to drown just in case they survived the Neck Snap. Unfortunately for the priest carrying out the ritual, one of them is Not Quite Dead.
Subverted in Solomon Kane. The villagers attempt to burn the witch, but the witch uses magic to not only survive, but burn the village and its inhabitants.
In Red Riding Hood, everyone thinks Valerie is a witch because she can understand the Wolf and everyone thinks the Wolf only wants her, so she is offered up as a Human Sacrifice.
In Elizabeth, several Catholic priests are executed like this.
The film City Of The Dead begins with a witch burning in 17th century New England.
The rather cynical and materialistic philosopher Hobbes, for one, asserted in one of his treatises that "Witches are justly punished." He didn't actually believe they had any supernatural powers to carry out any of the crimes they'd allegedly committed, but he was certain they believed they did, and therefore were guilty of attempting to use those powers on others for nefarious purposes. In other words, they were guilty of attempted murder in much the same way as someone who tries to shoot somebody dead with a gun that turns out to be unloaded.
In Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, one of the ghosts Bod befriends was killed as a witch for tormenting the town. They were partly right: she was a witch, but she hadn't hurt anybody... until they killed her, that is.
Diana Wynne Jones uses this trope in her book Witch Week. The main characters are all afraid of being outed as witches, and one even goes to the lengths of burning himself with a candle to remind himself to be careful not to use magic.
Referenced in the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. On the rare occasions where Muggles managed to catch a real witch, they used a flame-freezing charm to protect themselves — then pretended to be dying in agony. It was noted that the charm made the flames 'ticklish', such that some wizards would purposely allow themselves to get caught repeatedly.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard mentions that a wizard or witch could be killed if they lost their wand. Specifically, it was stated that the ones most at risk were young magical children who hadn't yet learned to control their abilities. In his annotation to "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot", Dumbledore notes that during the European witch hunts, witches and wizards considered using magic to help Muggle neighbors like "volunteering to fetch the firewood for one's own funeral pyre".
Oats: Well... your colleagues keep telling me the Omnians used to burn witches...
Granny: They never did.
Oats: I'm afraid I have to admit that the records show —
Granny: They never burned witches. Probably they burned some old ladies who spoke up or couldn't run away. I wouldn't look for witches bein' burned. I might look for witches doin' the burning, though. We ain't all nice.
I Shall Wear Midnight, sadly, proves that Granny's surmise is incorrect: The Cunning Man, at least, did successfully capture and condemn at least one genuine witch in his lifelong career. She pulled him into the fire to die with her. Too bad that wasn't the end of the matter...
According to other Tiffany Aching books, this also used to happen in some parts of the Chalk. The suspected witch in the barony was just kicked out of her cottage and left to starve. It may bear mentioning that this incident inspired Tiffany to become a witch herself to make sure nobody dared try that again.
In some other areas they follow the advice in the Maganevatio Obtusis (Witch-hunting for Dumb People) and drown them... after supplying them with soup, a good night's sleep, and a cup of tea and a biscuit. The book was written by traveling witch (and strong swimmer) Miss Tick.
Played with in A Tourist's Guide to Lancre, which notes that "It's not a proper Witch Trial without a big bonfire afterwards"... meaning of course, that once witches have demonstrated their skill in an organised competition, it's nice to have a bit of a carnival atmosphere and baked potatoes.
During his apprentice years, the wizard Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance Chronicles was almost burned at the stake by a bunch of enraged and superstitious villagers after he had tried to expose a fake cleric as a charlatan. He was rescued just in time by his twin brother, the fighter Caramon, and the rest of the main characters. That incident didn't really help improve Raistlin's cynical nature.
In Hermann Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund, which takes place during The Black Death, a young woman who nearly had this fate is found by Goldmund.
K.A. Applegate's short-lived Everworld series gives a reason for why witches are burned or hanged in the eponymous alternate world: their blood is poison to crops, which means no one can really afford a beheading.
In the Deptford Mice book The Crystal Prison Audrey Brown is nearly burned for witchcraft. The village leader begs the mice not to do such a barbaric thing... so they agree to hang her instead. She's saved at the last minute by Twit.
In H.P. Lovecraft's "The Festival", the unburned corpse of a wizard (or, presumably, a witch) can give rise to a walking humanoid mass of worms, which collectively become host to the dead spellcaster's mind when they consume its rotting flesh. Why it's necessary to burn such people alive is not explained, however.
But meantime the village had got hold of Messua and her husband, who were undoubtedly the father and mother of this Devil-child, and had barricaded them in their own hut, and presently would torture them to make them confess they were witch and wizard, and then they would be burned to death.
In Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, as the villagers get involved in the story of the seventeenth-century "witch" Margaret Redfern, the spectre of this is discussed, including the popular belief that the "swimming" of witches, was a Morton's Fork. The vicar's wife Lilian Bunting also describes other methods of interrogation/torture, condemns the very idea of torturing other people for such specious reasons, and is visibly distressed at the prospect that the villagers will learn that such was Margaret Redfern's fate.
Sorcha from Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest nearly falls victim to this trope; her husband only manages to get her off the stake at the last possible second.
The perpetrator of Never Burn A Witch only burned one Witch at the stake, but he also hanged one, drowned another, and tried to kill the narrator, a practicing Witch himself, by hanging.
At first averted in His Dark Materials, as in Lyra's world the prejudice against witches doesn't seem to go beyond considering them evil (in fact, some witches did join the church), though in the second book it's implied that, in other worlds, witches are in fact burned.
The Dresden Files: In White Night, Harry and Murphy encounter someone who is using the passage in the Book of Exodus which says "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" to justify killing magic-users. Harry tells Murphy (accurately) that the original phrase in Hebrew meant "someone who casts harmful spells," or, in other words, only kill people who use dark magic, but that King James changed it to just witches in general when he translated the Bible because he didn't like them. The White Council of Wizards' own approach to people who use black magic is completely in line with the older meaning: Their punishment for a first offense is usually decapitation, and ignorance of the laws of magic or having good motives is no excuse. It's possible to be spared, but only if another wizard speaks up for them, agrees to train them and ensure it never happens again, potentially at the cost of their own life if they do relapse.
Averted in Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan. The protagonist is actually writing a paper about the Salem Witch Trials at her new high school. She learns through research and visions that in a former life she was Betty Parris, the delightful little child that set the trials in motion. And all her new classmates? The reincarnated souls of all the innocent women she accused, which were hanged.
In Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, Lasher, the spirit that haunts the Mayfair family for centuries, is orignally conjured by a woman in a small Scottish town. When the locals attempt to burn her for a witch, she unleashes Lasher on them, who wrecks the town and kills the inhabitants.
In Devonsville Terror by Ulli Lommel the only actual witch of the three women killed suffers that fate.
Inverted in John Varley's Gaea Trilogy, where the Coven, a space colony founded by lesbian separatists, adheres to an extreme offshoot of witchcraft: one grown so intolerant, in its isolation, that suspected Christians are burned at the stake.
In Mika Waltari's The Wanderer, the protagonist's wife is accused of witchcraft. She is the first woman he's ever met who loved him (back), but being a rather naive 16th century man, he doesn't dismiss the possibility of her being a witch until he witnesses the trial, which is a turning point for his life and he becomes more cynical. The trial itself plays this trope straight, although instead of the swim test, they use more conventional torture methods. And of course, she gets burned in the end, but only after "confessing" that her accomplice was the witch catcher who caught her. (Which causes a chain reaction as the witch catcher "confesses" that pretty much everyone he's had troubles with is an accomplice and a servant of Satan.)
I was cast forth from my order because of my delving in Black Magic. But for Amalric there I might have been burned as a magician.
In The Red Tent, a midwife named Inna loses a (very young) woman and her child during delivery, despite her best efforts. The father goes berserk and accused Inna of being a witch, killing his wife and child For the Evulz, and strangles her, threatening to take her to the village elders. Inna flees, knowing that despite being the most respected midwife in the area, it won't go well with the elders because their leader has a beef with her for refusing to marry his son. To prevent being executed as per this trope, she joins up with her apprentice Rachel and leaves the village.
In Laurell K. Hamilton's early Anita Blake books, where the supernatural is known to exist, there is occasional mention of the last time a witch was burned in the U.S. — in the 1950s. It was captured on photograph, and the photographer got a Pulitzer Prize out of it. Anita wonders if a Pulitzer makes the nightmares easier to live with. Possibly justified, as popular assumption might have been that witches were burned in that universe, much as it is in ours.
A subversion occurs in A Swiftly Tilting Planet when a Native American woman who has married a Welsh settler in Puritan America is denounced as a witch and sentenced to be hanged. The evidence against her: that she didn't scream during childbirth.
Daenerys Targaryen burns the witch Mirri Maz Dur alive. Unusually, Mirri Maz Dur was actually guilty of the crimenote Using magic to kill Dany's unborn child in the womb she was accused of (although she may have been justified). Also, the choice of burning as a punishment was not based on the traditional method of killing witches, but rather Dany's family affinity for fire.
The trope is then inverted from Book 2 with the introduction of Melisandre, a fire-worshiping witch that burns the effigies of what she deems "false gods", as well as the "heretics" that speak against her and her beliefs.
In Terminal World, tectomancers are regarded with fear and suspicion by the superstitious and must conceal their distinguishing birthmarks or risk being burned.
Averted in the 1632 series, on account of the uptimers not being fans of it. In one short story, "A Witch to Live" a down-time noble wants to burn an accused witch in an American town, and won't take no for an answer. He gets shot.
The Rifter: According to the laws of the Payshmura theocracy, burning is the penalty for witchcraft (along with quite a few other crimes). There are lots of burnings. Metal posts for doing so line the Holy Road, and it’s even become a standard finale to the Harvest Festival.
David Drake's short story The Dancer in the Flames involves a witch who reaches through time while being executed in this way and contacts an officer in the Vietnam War via his pyromania. It ends badly for him.
The non-fiction Memoirs Of Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds by Charles Mackay* Available at Project Gutenberg has a section that details some of the enduring memories and records of the men, women, and children who were killed because of the hunt for witches, often purely on malicious accusations. The inhabitants in a small area in the north of Germany at Würzburg, who refused to bow to the Catholic Church or pay taxes to the nobles who illegally claimed the land, were accused of witchcraft and killed in many ways, including burning at the stake.
In Tales Of Wyre, this is the Inquisition's preferred punishment for heretics.
Brey: As unrepentant apostates, heretics, idolaters and blasphemers, ...I am authorized to inform you that the entire adult population of Trempa will be condemned to burn.
In Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, the switched Prince Edward witnesses how two low-class women were executed like this merely for not professing Anglicanism. Their daughters try to self-immolate themselves as well so they won't be orphaned. The epilogue says that Edward, once he's restored to his proper place and made King, had the orphaned girls located and made sure they'd be well looked for.
Discussed in the Simon Ark short story "The Witch is Dead". When the eponymous witch is found burned to death inside her locked trailer, The Watson wonders if she was burned for being a witch like at Salem. Simon points out that the witches at Salem were hanged (with one pressed to death).
Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch by Dorothy K Haynes. Beatrice tricks the intellectually disabled Jinnot into accusing Beatrice's love rival of witchcraft; the woman is "ducked" to test whether she is a real witch, and drowns. Subsequently, Jinnot comes to believe that she herself is a witch, and tries to use her "powers" to curse Beatrice. When Beatrice's baby dies suddenly after a visit from Jinnot, Jinnot is instantly suspected of witchcraft, and thrown into the river. She is terrified and thinks she'll drown - but she floats, and is summarily burned as a witch.
Emelius, in Bedknob and Broomstick, is subjected to the dunking stool, then has to be rescued from the post by Miss Price.
Live Action TV
In the Firefly episode "Safe," River incurs the wrath of the settlers of Jiangyin when her mind-reading powers are misunderstood as witchcraft. Interestingly, the village elder doesn't believe in witchcraft but he tries to kill her to shut her up, as she finds out that he killed the previous elder. She is about to get burned at the stake along with her brother Simon when the Big Damn Heroes show up in the moment that named the trope. Amusingly, Mal agrees with the townfolk that River's a witch. His objection is that she's also part of his crew.
Mal: Yes, but she's OUR witch. [KA-CHINK!] So cut her the hell down.
Played with in an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Sabrina's class visits Salem; everyone was given a little slip saying if they were a witch or not, and were supposed to find the witch. Sabrina loses hers without reading it. After all the predictable accusation hijinks goes down, the teacher announces that nobody had a slip that said "witch", as a lesson to the class about crazy witchhunts. Sabrina finds her slip on the bus home, which says "witch" on it. Salem... is not a good place for witches. It's also worth noting that when Jenny is "found guilty" of being a witch, Mr Pool says "you can pretend we hanged her" instead of burning. He was with the history teacher after all.
In Highlander: The Series, Duncan MacLeod escaped being burned. His also-immortal buddy was not so lucky. Apparently, when you can regenerate, being burned continually for hours is enough to drive you Ax-Crazy.
Parodied in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "False Profits" when the townspeople decide to honor their three deified Sages by sending them back up to Heaven on "wings of flame" as the prophetic poem central to their religious canon instructs them.
An episode of the first season of The Dead Zone television show had Smith going through a small town where a murder with satanic vibes had been committed. Since he displays knowledge of the crimes via his powers, they think he did the murder. They put him on trial for witchcraft so he can't leave the town while they search for evidence to pin him with. An angry mob ends up carrying him out of the courtroom to burn him at the stake for the murder, because a child and her mother was involved, and another girl was missing.
There was a whole episode of Midsomer Murders about burning witches; at the end, Barnaby comments that they never actually burned witches, they just hanged them. Hanged, hanged, hanged. In England at least, burning was strictly reserved as a punishment for men committing Heresy. However, for centuries it was on the statute books that for capital crimes women should be put to death by burning whereas men should be hanged.
In the episode "Gingerbread," Buffy, Willow, and Amy are almost burned at the stake in a Witch Hunt organized by Buffy's own mother because of a demon posing as two dead children who reappear every fifty years to use More Than Mind Control to convince a town to kill the "bad girls" (witches). The demon is European, so the burning is actually accurate. Oddly enough, the (averted) burning takes place inside the city hall. Apparently the ventilation system is really good. And has really big air vents. Of course, the demon that was orchestrating the whole thing didn't care if its mob asphyxiated itself. The more dead, the better.
Anya, a former vengeance demon who was alive during the actual Salem witch trials, notes that real witches could use their powers to escape. "So, really, it was only bad for the falsely accused — and, well, they never have a good time."
Averted in the episode "The Witch", but a deleted line in the shooting script had Giles consulting his books on the best way to find a witch, only to come up with the drowning test. He admits that his texts are somewhat outdated.
"The Witch Is Back", had the Halliwell sisters' ancestor burned at the stake in Salem. The same mistake is made in the second or third episode, in a documentary that Piper watches on TV.
Another episode, "Morality Bites", had the Halliwells traveling forward in time to keep Phoebe from being burned at the stake after they did something that would have led to massive witch hunts in the future.
Subverted in "All Halliwell's Eve" when the sisters are sent back in time to colonial Virginia. When they are accused of being witches, they are hanged.
In an episode of Bewitched, the characters are transported back in time to old Salem. Someone ends up tied to a stake with kindling piled around their feet before the episode is out. Ironically, it was Darrin who ended up accused of witchcraft for having used a match. Bewitched spent several episodes in Salem, either 4 or 8. It was a sizable chunk of that season.
The Black Adder episode "Witchsmeller Pursuivant" had loads of fun with this trope. The witch hunter is the real witch, since when he is killed, the King recovers and everything goes back to normal (for the show.) There is another witch running around, but she's Edmund's Mother!
In the story "The Dæmons", The Doctor is nearly burnt at the stake by Morris Dancers. He's saved by the local 'white' witch.
Tegan is nearly burnt at the stake as a sacrifice in the Doctor Who serial "The Awakening". By Civil War recreationists.
In Voyagers!, Bogg winds up tied to a stake when he shows up during the Salem Witch Trials (or a variant thereof), but the judge explicitly states that this is "without precedent in these colonies"; the other accused are sentenced to imprisonment and hanging.
In Merlin, people who are suspected of being witches are either burnt at the stake or beheaded.
In "The Mark of Nimueh", Gwen is falsely accused of witchcraft, and has to be saved by the other characters.
The episode The Witchfinder, where Gaius is almost burnt at the stake.
The midwife/healing woman Matilda is accused of witchcraft and dunked in the village pond. Somewhat subverted in that her accusers don't really believe she's a witch, but in fact want her to use her healing abilities to save the life of a political enemy. She refuses, and into the water she goes...
In a later episode, the outlaws are deemed heretics and nearly burnt at the stake.
In the audiobook The Witchfinders Kate is nearly burnt as a witch.
QI skewers this, with Alan expressing the opinion that witches were burnt, and Stephen Fry explaining that, regardless of what you might have read in books - "and I use the term 'books' very loosely" - like The Da Vinci Code, two people may have been burnt for witchcraft, ever, and most accused witches were found not guilty.
Smallville's fourth season features the story of Margerite Isobel Theroux, a witch burned alongside two accomplices in 17th Century France. She comes back to possess her descendant, Lana Lang, to exact vengeance against the descendants of the woman who sentenced her to death. Which involved Kryptonian artifacts, for whatever reason.
Isabelle [in Lana]: We don't have time for this.
Madeleine [in Chloe]: Time is the only thing we do have. Isn't that what you said right before the angry mob set us on fire?
Isabelle [in Lana]: You're really not gonna let that go, are you?I
Subverted in Robin of Sherwood where a suspected witch is sentenced to be hanged rather than burnt (and it is made quite clear that this is not a normal punishment, but is Guy of Gisbourne rigging the evidence against her as revenge for her refusing his advances).
The original-series Survivors has the community start down this road in the episode "The Witch", but, mercifully, saner heads rein in the hysteria before the (innocent if slightly strange) victim gets tied to a stake.
In the first few episodes of Stargate SG-1 season 9, this happens to Vala twice and Daniel once. Luckily it was just their minds inhabiting host bodies, so they came out of it okay for various reasons. The first time, to Vala alone, wasn't even for any good reason, either. She forgot a prayer and was accused of being possessed. Things sort of went downhill for the duo (and the galaxy) after that.
A friend of Peggy in Mysterious Ways survives what should have been a fatal motorcycle accident in Uganda, where she is trying to convince the local population to use modern medicine instead of witch doctors and the like. She is accused of being a witch because of her miraculous survival and blamed for a disease that threatens to destroy the village. The witchcraft accusation is mostly a smokescreen to get rid of her since the more traditional members of the tribe do not agree with her attempts to change their ways; Declan, Peggy, and Miranda travel to Uganda to save her from her fate.
On True Blood, the villainess Antonia is the ghost of a witch burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition thanks to vampires within the Catholic Church.
When someone starts murdering members of a coven in the Rizzoli & Isles episode "Bloodlines", the first victim is burnt at the stake.
Spoofed in this sketch from Horrible Histories called "Wicked Witches". The sketch is an advert for Witch-finders Direct who claim to find some innocent woman and blame your misfortunes on her and have her burnt to death. They might also send witches' cats to prison.
Witch-finder: Do you have a cat?
Old woman: Yes.
Witch-finder: Then thou art a witch!
Discussed in The X-Files episode "Chinga" which is set in New England and the Salem trials receive a Shout-Out. Jane, a former Sadist Teacher who was sacked, would very much like to invoke this trope for Polly's mother and burn her at the stake — for being an attractive woman and having an autistic daughter who Jane sees as a Creepy Child. Jane, Jane... it was Polly's Perverse Puppet that was the real problem.
Invoked in the BBC/Starz series The White Queen, when Margaret Beaufort refers to the fact that Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth Woodville, not the more famous daughter of Henry VIII) had so far produced only daughters for King Edward IV: "That one produces only more witches for burning." This seems rather cruel since she's hoping for the deaths by fire of three adorable little girls. Of course, in the series, the Woodville womenareall witches, although none of them are ever burnt for it. In Real Life, Elizabeth and her mother were both accused of witchcraft at different times, but the accusations were of course not actually true, nor were either of them or Elizabeth's daughters ever burnt to death.
On American Horror Story: Coven, the Salem Witch Trials are discussed, and a present day witch is burned at the stake for having the ability to bring people back from the dead. The witches also burn their own at the stake if they are convicted of murdering another witch.
MacGyver: In "Good Knight, MacGyver'', Sir Duncan attempts to burn Merlin at the stake after framing him for attempting to murder King Arthur.
Salem: Averted; as in the actual witch trials, convicted witches are sentenced to hang, never to burn. Giles Corey is pressed to death (to coerce him into entering a plea), as he was in real life.
Hale says his entire family was burned at the stake, but Mary's response indicates this was in Europe, which is where it was historically used.
Referenced in Chewin' the Fat where Ronald, "the second worst actor in the world", lands a movie role as a Puritan villager demanding the burning of an accused witch. As usual he ruins the scene despite having no lines.
Subverted in Sleepy Hollow: The grave of Ichabod's wife Katrina indicates that she was burned as a witch, but in truth, this never actually happened: She's really stuck in Purgatory and the grave is meant to mark the location of the Headless Horseman's head.
Witchfinder General, "Burning a Sinner". Also, "Witchfinder General".
In "Flames of Yellow Phosphorus," Rin's character is burned at the stake for killing her father. Subverted because they're not accusing her of witchcraft, they're doing it because she committed arson.
Both subverted and played straight with two songs off the Rob Zombie album 'Educated Horses'. 'American Witch' subverts the trope with the line "We all hang high - 20 innocents" (referencing the twenty victims of the Salem Witch Trials), while 'Lords of Salem' plays it straight and subverts it with the line "Burn me and hang me".
"Burning Times" by Iced Earth refers to the witch hunts.
"Words of the Witch" by Lonewolf is a scathing condemnation of the Salem witch trials.
The Swedish song "I Lågornas Sken" (In the Fires Light) by Nordman is about a young girl judged to burn at the stake.
CreatureFeature mentions this and many other tortures in their new song Here There Be Witches
The majority of Warhammer magic users — and Warhammer 40,000 psykers — end up in this manner. Unusually for this trope, many of the witches actually are in contact with malign supernatural beings. Even in the comparativelyLighter and SofterWarhammer one inquisitor's position is: "The question is not how to separate the innocent from the guilty. The question is how many I can burn."
Another inquisitor offered a nice quick death from his sword (practically considered a wonderful gift in this Crapsack World) to a host of accused already bound on their pyres if any one of them would confess — unfortunately none did, or even could, as he had drugged every single one beforehand. They burned to death, and the inquisitor just made a passing thought about how he was saving their souls. Bastard.
One witch hunter burns a 6-year-old girl at the stake because her parents went to a mad scientist to heal her broken leg and ended up mutated as a result. The witch hunter got her drunk because he knew that she was an innocent who just had the misfortune to have the traveling doctor be an insane lunatic, but she couldn't be allowed to live because of the mutations.
The Ravenloft module Servants of Darkness gives PCs the opportunity to derail this trope, proving an accused woman's innocence by exposing the evil fey creature which is truly to blame for the misfortunes plaguing a Tepestani village.
The generic Dungeons & Dragons module "The Apocalypse Stone" has a sort of subversion. The player characters come upon a town where they are about to "burn the witch". They must (to pass a test of character they don't know about, anyway) find out the truth about her guilt. At first it appears she is innocent, and the missing child she's accused of killing can be found elsewhere - but looking into it more carefully reveals that yes, she is still a witch who's into human sacrifice and worships a devil. Mind you, even if the burning takes place, the local good-aligned community leader intends to quickly strangle her under the cover of smoke instead, so that's another aspect that's subverted.
Played straight with the Order of Seropaenes from the sourcebook Tome of Magic, with the binder playable class standing in for the witch.
Generally, though, most D&D settings avert this under the rather understandable logic that witch-burning cannot be a 100% effective way of eliminating wizards before they achieve high-levels and, when that happens, the resultant Reality Warper will not look kindly on the people who spent his or her youth threatening him. Given a high-level wizard is basically a living Weapon of Mass Destruction, the population of witch-burners, and those willing to support witch-burners, would experience a very sudden, very sharp, decline.
This is the core concept of the party game Werewolf. There are monsters hiding in the village and killing people at night, but you can't tell them from the innocent villagers by looking at them. What's the solution? Grab a pitchfork or a torch, form a lynch mob, and tie a rope to the old hanging tree.
Hunter The Reckoning implies repeatedly that the Salem and Inquisitorial witch hunts were both justified and effective. Of course, in the Old World of Darkness, that's not entirely ridiculous.
The Fighting Fantasy gamebook Spellbreaker contains a notable subversion in that the witch hunters are the good guys, fighting against an evil coven of witches and warlocks that are trying to free a powerful demon from its mystic prison. The reader can even encounter a supposed witch-burning, although the young woman about to be burned is actually innocent, and the warlock is actually the inquisitor who's about to burn her, having framed her as a way of throwing suspicion off himself.
House Karanok in Forgotten Realms burns every arcane caster they can get their hands on. Presumably, they haven't yet gotten their hands on Elminster. Why? They still exist.
Wicked's "March of the Witch Hunters" is pretty self-explanatory. The citizens of Oz hunt for Elphaba, egged on by Madame Morrible.
In Finians Rainbow, Sharon is charged with using witchcraft to turn a white man black, and her lover Woody of aiding and abetting her, in accordance with a 17th-century state law against witchcraft. ("Don't you think it's a little obsolete by now?" Woody says.) The pair are saved from the flames by the Just in Time reversal of her wish.
The Crucible, a play which has as its running theme the Salem witch trials, and was written, very tellingly, during the communist witch-hunts in America, is actually an aversion — they don't burn the witches, instead hanging them, as was actually done in the trials.
Il Trovatore by Verdi, anyone? Everything began with a witch burning, and a Roma woman taking revenge for it...
The Lady's Not for Burning by Christopher Fry. The evidence against her is laughable, but the town's officials can see she's well-to-do, and if they convict her, they can confiscate her property. But there's that pesky ex-soldier who insists he murdered the man she supposedly bewitched....
"Though we administer persuasion with great patience, she admits nothing. And the man won't stop admitting. It really makes one lose all faith in human nature."
In the Interactive FictionH.P. Lovecraft-inspired Anchorhead, the founder of the American Verlac clan, Croseus, got his entire family accused of witchcraft, and only he and his youngest daughter escaped being burned.
Maybe not a witch per se, but Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn features a mob threatening to burn Viconia at the stake in the middle of Athkatla. As the protagonist, you can choose either to save her (incurring the ire of the mob in the process), or to be a jerk and let her die.
It was originally part of an initial decision for Viconia to be infected with Lycanthropy, but they still went with it after they scrapped the werewolf idea. Since she's still a drow elf and a priestess of very nasty goddess Shar, they have a pretty natural reason to try to burn her.
There is a +4 magical staff in the game which is stated to be the remnant of a stake at which a powerful witch was burned. It is stated that with her last breath, the witch caused the fire to burn down the entire village.
An achievement in Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts called "Burn the Witch" involves shooting the antagonist Gruntilda in the town square with the laser you get near the end of the game. Naturally, since you have to fight her later, the laser doesn't do anything except irritate her.
Very present in the Castlevania series, especially in the 1470s stories.
Later games in the series suffered witches more politely, and by the time of the Sorrow games, one of them directly works for the church. (Said witch is a descendant of the aforementioned Sypha Belnades.)
In Drakengard 2, Manah is accused of being a witch, and she did break one of the seals, so she's captured by the hero, and the guy he's working for burns her. She does have magic, however, and escapes, and later joins you.
Not completely true to the trope, but when Final Fantasy VIII's Rinoa is discovered to be a Sorceress, she is sentenced to put into stasis. Of course, she gets saved by the hero at the last moment.
Referenced in Left 4 Dead, an achievement titled "Burn the Witch" is obtained by setting fire to the Witch boss zombie. It's also arguably one of the most effective ways of dealing with one if you have someone to run.
The Big Bad of Legaia 2: Duel Saga was the victim of a witch hunt, which is what made him into the monster he became. You visit his home village later on in the game, and the place still bears the mark of his retaliation.
The Suffering reveals that while it was still settled by the Puritans, Carnate Island suffered a spate of witch-burnings that began when three little girls accused several of their fellow villagers — as a joke. Centuries later, these three children live on as the Infernas, the personification of all those on the island that were burnt at the stake. Lampshaded by Consuela, who notes that burning was non-existant among Puritans in other parts of America.
In Quest for Glory IV, the suspicious townsfolk go on a Witch Hunt after the gravedigger goes missing, capturing a gypsy and accusing him of being a werewolf. If you don't set him free in time, he gets burned at the stake, but not before he curses you and the entire town, causing game over. If you free him, you find out that he really was a werewolf, although innocent of what he was charged with.
Used almost exactly by angry mob in the outskirts area of The Witcher (the first real area in the game). The witch in question is most likely harmless, although her exact morals are certainly questionable (especially if you have the uncensored version, in which she appears nude and smeared with blood on her card), and the player has the choice of sleeping with her and allowing the villagers to kill her, or sleeping with her (a redundant theme in the game which actually becomes something of a side-quest) and saving her. In the latter case, the player later has to fight off most of the important villagers (while fighting a hell hound variant).
In Eternal Champions, this was the cause for Xavier's death. There's even a smoldering stake in the immediate background of his stage that you knock your opponent into.
Just one of the many things the Inquisitors of the Citadel in AdventureQuest Worlds like to do to people. One of your quests on the chain involves rescuing witches who have been put to the torch.
In the backstory of the Dragon Agegames, Andraste was burned at the stake after her husband betrayed her to the Tevinter Imperium. The leader of the Imperium, Archon Hessarian, felt pity for Andraste in her final moments and drove his sword into her heart so she wouldn't suffer any longer. He became the first convert to the Chant of Light and helped spread it over Thedas. The Blades of Mercy are enchanted replicas of Hessarian's sword and are considered badges of honor in the Imperium. An inversion, as Andraste was burned by witches (well, mages).
Conquests of the Longbow: Invoked by the Abbot towards Marian. You will have to rescue her from this. How well you handle this determines the ending you get.
In Heroes of Might and MagicIV, a necromancer named Gauldoth is wrongfully accused of being a child murderer, and a town guard named Mardor attempts to have him burned. Gauldoth flees the town, returns several months later with an army, besieges the town, and captures it. One of the first things he does is have Mardor arrested... and executed by being burned at the stake.
Invoked in Dangan Ronpa. When Celestia "Celes" Ludenberg is proved to be the one who first manipulated Hifumi into killing Ishimaru and then killed him, she is sentenced to execution via being burned at the stake. This is actually the perfect way to die in Celes's opinion, as Word of God said that she wanted a very romanticized and dramatic death like those in the novels, so she is rather gleeful (at least publically) as the pyre is lighted under her feet and she waits for the fire to consume her, hands steepled and looking up dramatically... But since her executioner is Monobear after all, he then subverts the trope via summoning a huge firefighter truck at the very last moment and ramming it into Celes's pyre, killing her.
Starbound has the Glitch as a race born of an experiment to test out how civilizations advanced, who got stuck in Medieval Stasis when their programming bugged out. The response of the rest when one figures it out and turns self-aware? This trope.
Professor Layton Vs Ace Attorney: The city of Labyrinthia is rather hardcore when it comes to witches: any young girl suspected of witchcraft is immediately put on trial, then punished by being locked up in an Iron Maiden-esque cage and plunged into a pit of fire. It doesn't help that much like people in the medieval ages, the citizens are very superstitious, quick to refer to anything they don't understand as "magic", and rather stubborn, which leads to many innocent young ladies being burned to a crisp. Eventually subverted when it is discovered that this is actually an elaborate scam used to smuggle the accused witches out of the city and brainwash them into being slaves. In addition, the Judge delivers a stay of execution for the culprit of one case as Phoenix had argued that she had not committed any crimes, and he expresses relief when he learns that no one was actually executed, suggesting that he had doubts about the whole thing.
It is stated that minor Sparks in rural areas were often treated as witches and burned. Considering the fact that a Sparky "witch" could probably make those herbal concoctions work, and that Sparkyness usually equals at least periodic insanity, they were probably on the money as often as not.
Also subverted. Early in the story, the protagonist is told that girls with the Spark are especially vulnerable, and tend to just... disappear. Readers later find out that, rather than being killed as witches, most of them were probably kidnapped by Sturmhalten soldiers, so that Prince Aaronev, a Spark himself, could use them for his experiment to bring back the Other. Including his own daughter.
A variation occurs in this comic from Scandinavia and the World, in which Denmark and Norway sit Sister Finland ("the witch") on a burning maypole as part of a midsummer celebration.
Sam is captured and almost burnt on the stake in Danny Phantom for no reason other than the possibility that her Gothic appearance looks much like the witch type. Vlad, disguised as a pilgrim, eggs on the crowd, which doesn't help her cause at all.
The Scooby-Doo episode "To Switch a Witch" features the gang going to Salem, MA, on Halloween, and ending up having to save a friend who is accused of being a witch. A mob of townspeople forms and wants to burn the accused witch at the stake, and this was what, in the 1970s?
Played for laughs. During a news report, viewers learn that Springfield has the lowest science scores in the country. Cut to angry mob surrounding Principal Skinner who is tied to a stake:
Skinner: I'm telling you people, the Earth revolves around the Sun!
Grampa Simpson: Burn him!
a photographer snaps a picture of Grampa Simpson
Grampa Simpson: You've stolen my soul!
There was also a Halloween special that took place in the time the Witch Hunt happened and Marge and other women were accused of witchcraft and were tied to the stake. Lisa pointed out that if they were witches, they could use their powers to escape. She quickly shuts up when Homer threatens to add her to the pyre. Of course, they really were witches. It's that kind of episode.
A group of Wiccans were accused of blinding people in Springfield, and were going to be drowned in a lake. It turns out the reason people turned blind was because Homer and some rednecks threw moonshine into Springfield's water source.
Family Guy: You hear that? A girl solved a math problem. You know what that means? A WITCH!
Home Movies - at the Medieval Faire, McGuirk is talking on his cell phone - faire organizer Lynch swipes it away from him. McGuirk starts yelling "He has a PHONE! BURN him!!!" Several faire goers advance on Lynch with torches.
An utterly bizarre example occurred with the death of the two last Great Auks; apparently the last two individuals were killed because their capture occurred at the same time a storm came, leading the sailors to think the birds were witches.
Older Than Print: Saint Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Though the charge was witchcraft, what the English really burned her for was leading the French to freedom in men's clothes. And heresy, can't forget heresy. It was also probably coerced crossdressing, at least while in prison. Before her capture by the English, she had been wearing men's clothing and this was one of the things she was condemned for. After her abjuration, she had to wear women's clothing. It's suspected that one day her guards took all her clothes away and left some men's clothing in their place. She had a choice between going naked and risking being raped (repeatedly) or putting on the men's clothing. She chose to put on the men's clothes and this was perceived as evidence that she was no longer repentant and so should be burned.
In Real Life, the methods for dealing with suspected witches varied greatly between areas and eras:
During the Middle Ages proper witchcraft wasn't a major crime — malevolent magic was treated essentially as a subsection of poisoning, and punished accordingly, death-leading "magic" with death, though not burning one, while lesser offenses could only lead to a fine. Only with The Late Middle Ages and the publication of the infamous MalleusMaleficarum did the mass witch hunts begin.
After the Reformation witch-hunts gained rapid popularity on both sides of the fence, as religious paranoia rose to ridiculous degrees. Most of the witch-trials were performed by secular courts or minor clergy with little idea how to perform any actual investigation, though in Protestant countries even higher levels of clergy sometimes got themselves involved. Martin Luther was recorded saying something to the effect of: "I would gladly burn them myself."
In England and America, witches were usually simply hanged, and sometimes burned post mortem to prevent them from coming back as undead. However, in continental Europe, burning alive was a very popular method of execution for witches and heretics alike — the distinction between the two was often narrow, to say the least. Not until Henry IV's decree "De Heretico Comburendo" was burning authorized in England as a punishment for heresy, and this sentence was rarely passed. Interestingly enough, getting convicted of witchcraft didn't mean an automatic death sentence. In England and Wales, the vast majority of those accused of witchcraft were pardoned. Apparently people liked a good trial, but couldn't be bothered to actually carry out the sentence.
The Spanish Inquisition actually refused to do this after the late-16th century, but even before then they were rather 'lax' on witchcraft — the Grand Inquisitor himself pronouncing the tales of mass "sabbats" unlikely and unsupported by any evidence — and most accused survived with "minor" torture and fairly small official punishment, as the Inquisition was more concerned about Moors (Castile-Leon having only conquered Granada in 1492, the region and its Muslim people being something of an ongoing problem until the last of them were ethnically cleansed in the early-17th century) than peasant superstitions. But this didn't stop non-Royal and non-Church town authorities (i.e. about 2/3 of all towns) from holding Witch Trials and hanging 'witches', or angry mobs from doing likewise.
Sadly, the practice continues today in various African countries.
In Iceland, from 1625-1683, 21 people were executed by burning after being accused of witchcraft (which could include just keeping magical talismans in their homes). All but two of these people were male, as men were believed to be the only people capable of being witches in Icelandic society. There's an interesting, albeit somewhat cheesy, museum dedicated to Icelandic witchcraft in the 17th century in the town of Holmavik, in the West Fjords.
A common misconception, even in Massachusetts, is that the victims of the Salem Witch Trials Hysteria of 1692 were burned, when in fact, most were hanged, with the exception of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death (i.e., had a large board the size of a door laid on top of him and then rocks were piled onto the board, till he suffocated. He got special treatment because he refused to enter a plea and was found in contempt of court. He just told them to add more weight).
Urbain Grandier, a French Catholic priest in Loudun who is accused of a diabolical pact and causing a whole convent of nuns to become possessed. His case is notable in having inspired a book by Aldous Huxley (The Devils of Loudun), a film by Ken Russell (The Devils), and an opera by Krzysztof Penderecki (Die Teufel von Loudun).
In Sweden, about 300 "witches" were burned between 1668 and 1676. Most of them admitted to having committed witchcraft, and were rewarded by being decapitated before the burning. The only one to be burned alive was Malin Matsdotter, to whom this was punishment for refusing to admit anything. Before she was burned alive, she noticed that one of her daughters (the one that had accused her) stood in the crowd and told her and everyone present that her daughter now belonged to the devil. She (reportedly) did not scream when she was burned. It was probably due to a sack of gunpowder being placed around her neck out of mercy.
The Swedish trials ended with the church, who had been against the trials from the beginning but forced to prosecute them due to the sheer number of accusations, declaring that all witches had forever been exorcised from Sweden. They then proceeded to publically torture and burn some of the accusers (most of which where in their teens!) saying that they were the last remaining witches.
In Germany, the trial of the Pappenheimer family, considered to be the worst witch trial in German history. Don't read the article if you have a weak stomach. The parents and the eldest sons were to be executed together with two other men. The bodies of the men were torn six times each with irons, Anna's breasts were cut off and rubbed in the faces of her adult sons, the skeletons of the men were broken on the wheel, the father was subjected to impalement on a pike, and finally, they were burned at the stake.
The Würzburg witch-trials. Over the course of six years, nine hundred people were burnt as witches in Germany, including many children, some as young as four.
Interestingly, the passage quoted at the top of this page, from the King James Version, is actually a rather iffy translation. The term "witch" is a more recent invention of the English language, and of course no particular method of execution was prescribed. The word used in the original language roughly translates to "sorceress" with "one who twists the minds of others for personal gain" connotations. Though rulers who served God often stamped out all practitioners; this is why Saul had trouble finding one when he decided to actually consult one.
Another translation renders the word as prostitute. Sacred prostitutes often served the god(desse)s of the nations opposing Israel. They were seen as trying to tempt God's people away from him. Some may have practiced sacred rites.
It's also possible that the original word was poisoner, as there was overlap between the Greek and Latin words for "poisoner" and "witch"; King James was rather obsessed with witchcraft, which may have influenced the translation.
One of the first recorded convictions of witchcraft in Europe occurred in Ireland in 1324 and involved Alice Kyteler, a wealthy four-time widow accused by the local bishop and gossips of poisoning her former husbands for their estates, sacrificing animals to demons, heresy, sorcery and having sex with an incubus. In reality, she was probably only guilty of moneylending, which piss-poor Middle Ages folk would have deeply resented. Something of an aversion, in that it was Kyteler's servant, Jack Bauer'd into giving a possibly false confession, who was burned at the stake, while Kyteler herself fled to Europe and promptly disappeared from history. Her former house, in which authorities allegedly found such items as "body parts of an unbaptized infant; evil powders; communion wafers imprinted with satanic images; the fingernails and toenails of corpses boiled in the skull of a robber; candles made of human fat", is now a popular local pub.
In Denmark, a holiday based around the history of burning witches (St John's Eve) have been held in tradition. Of course, no real person is used, but a scarecrow-like-doll that looks like a stereotypical witch is burned instead. It's also more like a bonfire with a doll stuck in it.