The Witch Hunter

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Send for the General, there's witches to burn
The day of your judgment draws nigh
In torment and torture, the bringer of pain
Disciples of Satan will die
Saxon, "Witchfinder General"

Let's say you live in a fantasy setting. But no, you're not having it easy. That's no happy-singing-rainbows-and-fairies kind of fantasy you've got here. And there's a problem. Perhaps the resident wizard isn't too much into helping upstart heroes, or something has to be done with that "persecuted religious community" at the corner before you run out of virgins.

Who You Gonna Call? This guy.

The grim, broody, badass-longcoated, and nice-hatted guy who's always prepared to lead a Witch Hunt. But beware, for this guy, as much as he is well intentioned and soul-saving, often leaves that pesky sort-them-out trade to the Lord. And he tends to be a bit creepy about his principles. He can be seen handing out the Torches and Pitchforks, and "Burn the Witch!" is a solution he is eager for indeed. Due to these traits, a witch hunter is usually the one to commit Van Helsing Hate Crimes either out of racism or mere cruelty and profit.

While we're at it, the Trope Namer for the latter trope hunted vampires instead of witches, but even the standard ones are rarely above an occasional hunt after a vicious vampire or demon.

A witch hunter may receive supernatural help, whether from angelic or divine patrons or from being some sort of Half-Human Hybrid — this often takes the form of Religion Is Magic or Holy Burns Evil. However, most of them are plain, baseline humans, which in stories where magic is real and their foes really are magic users, makes them Badass Normal. Having said that, for a witch hunter to operate, magic isn't really needed — its appearance just makes the difference between being a harsh, but possibly (depending on the story's cynicism) needed protector from supernatural threats, and a fanatic with few redeeming features (if any at all).

An Anti-Magical Faction is often filled with these.

A whole religion made of these guys is a Church Militant, but they don't actually have to be ordained, or even a part of church structure. When they are, it's usually Church Police. While some of them were specifically trained to perform their duties, they tend to be freelancers, working alone or within a small team (institutionalized witch-hunting is a slightly different matter in trope terms). Since they often face the need to investigate the nature of the threat before dealing with it, many are more than a bit of an Occult Detective. And, of course, a Witch Hunter is quite a case of Hunter of Monsters. If a witch hunter is also adept at using magic, and lives in a more modern or contemporary setting, he may be a Blue-Collar Warlock.

Subtly differs from Mage Killer: a Mage Killer is empowered to be resistant to magic and/or especially powerful against magic-users, while a Witch Hunter is ideologically opposed to their very existence (whether they really exist or not). The two can overlap — maybe a Mage Killer chose that path because of a grudge against mages, or maybe a Witch Hunter stocks up on Depleted Phlebotinum Shells and Anti-Magic wards as a professional necessity. They may even exist independently of each other, depending on the setting's treatment of Unequal Rites.

Compare with Demon Slayer and Vampire Hunter. Don't confuse with Witch Hunter or El Cazador de la Bruja.


Examples:

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     Anime And Manga  

     Comic Books  
  • Hansel from Fables. However, he is a vile and sadistic man who knows full well that the women he targets and executes are innocent. He's venting his frustration that he can't do anything to real witches.
  • Silver Dagger and the Imperator, two of Doctor Strange's foes. The former is a genuine witch hunter, whereas the latter is more of a Mage Killer.
  • John Constantine from the Hellblazer. He is a modern day sorcerer (or occultist) and fights other occultists for various reasons; either he just wants to save the day, for his personal gain, or just to show off who is the best sorcerer there is.
  • In The Return of Bruce Wayne, when Bruce Wayne was stranded in Puritan times, he got a job as a witch hunter, mostly using his forensic knowledge to help clear the names of innocent women accused of being witches. Ironically, the only real witch in the story is the girlfriend he meets there, Annie, who isn't evil. Unfortunately, Bruce's ancestor Nathaniel Wayne is the traditional religious zealot who targets any woman for being unusual. He hangs Annie before Bruce can get there.
  • Doctor Who Magazine: In "Witch Hunt", Clara is dressed as a witch for Halloween when she is transported through time to The Cavalier Years where she runs afoul of the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins.

     Fan Fic  

     Film  

     Literature  
  • Discworld
    • The Cunning Man from I Shall Wear Midnight is practically an Anthropomorphic Personification of Witch Hunters.
    • The Omnian Church (Pre-Small Gods) used to hunt down and burn witches. But then again, they used to burn just about everybody. Now they just give witches informational pamphlets, which isn't nearly as bad. (Granny Weatherwax's view is that they hunted old women who didn't know what was going on — if they'd tried burning actual witches, they wouldn't have done so for long, as the Cunning Man found out.)
    • Parodied in A Hat Full of Sky by giving Miss Tick the title "witchfinder". She's a witch who finds young girls with the talent and helps them deal with it.
  • Within the The Dresden Files, wizards and witches view the Wardens somewhere between cops, witch hunters, and the bogeyman. Even Harry Dresden, a magical heavyweight as wizards reckon these things, has nightmares about them.
    • In one of Harry's cases, the crime scenes are magically tagged with the quote "Suffer not a witch to live."
    • Harry famously looks the part, even though he's the sort of person a witch hunter would hunt.
    • In one of the short stories Karrin Murphy, Harry's sometimes-sidekick and cop chick, explains how Harry's moments of power are so viscerally terrifying that she understands how people could start hunting witches.
    • Over the course of the series, Harry develops a reputation in the supernatural community as a thug who occasionally murders gods and talks flippantly to angels, and because they don't know most of the details of the cases or have the ability to understand his motivation, they default to a view of him much like this trope.
    • In a moment of desperation, the Wardens recruited Harry. He gets to experience the trope from the other side.
  • Played with in Good Omens. While played straight in Agnes Nutter's case, Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, a modern professional witch hunter, doesn't get much work these days.
  • Solomon Kane is a quite unambiguously good case and likely the Trope Codifier. Even the slouch hat, worn by Kane, wound up on many characters who followed his legacy when Gorgeous Period Dress would be out of place.
  • Both the Spook and the Quisitor in The Wardstone Chronicles. The major difference is that the Spook a) has some magical knowledge himself and b) cares whether the women accused of witchcraft are actually guilty.
  • Mathias Thulmann, main protagonist of the short stories by C.L. Werner set in Warhammer universe (and the guy portrayed on the trope image above) certainly qualifies.
  • "The McCarthy Witch Hunts" by Kim Newman is set in an Alternate Universe where magic is real and fears of witchcraft (not totally dissimilar to more modern "Satanic Panic") has replaced the Red Scare. The story centres on two agents who are harassing a housewife named Samantha Stevens.
  • One of these guys, referred to as simply "The Witchfinder," plays a small but important role in the DungAges prologue of The Festering. He's less interested in actually finding witches (assuming any exist) and more interested in just having a lot of political and religious clout in the English town of Garth, accusing and executing people on a whim in order to instill fear in the locals. His main role in the story is having Patient Zero for The Plague executed and buried without treatment and study, thereby ensuring the disease will return to threaten future generations in Garth.
  • The Hell-bards of The Witchlands are an elite unit whose job is hunting down witches who didn't register with the government or committed a crime.

     Live Action TV  
  • The Witchsmeller Pursuviant from Blackadder, who finds the title character guilty of witchcraft via an over-the-top Kangaroo Court.
  • The Witchfinder in Merlin. However, he was actually fabricating all of his evidence.
  • The Witchfinder in Maddigan's Quest. Atypically for this trope, she's a woman.
  • Subverted in Kaamelott: The local Witch Hunter (Repurgateur, the term used in the French translation of Warhammer Fantasy) is a complete and utter dumbass and the epitome of Activist Fundamentalist Antics who tries to set fire to anyone he disagrees with (pagans, magic users, heretics, women, King Arthur...). In the pilot, he suffers a minor brain freeze when Arthur points out that his sword is magical (and thus heretical) before trying to have Arthur burned, and ends up tied at his own stake. His final appearance has him declare he's become a paladin, demand Arthur's sword, and prove himself incapable of defeating the village idiot in a swordfight.

     Manhwa  
  • Witch Hunter. People with special powers unite in a battle against genuine witches.

     Music  
  • The page quote comes from Saxon's song, "Witchfinder General".

     Tabletop Games  
  • Warhammer: There is some deviation from the norm, in that some Witch Hunters are merely petty tyrants who only signed up for the opportunity to bully people around, and do very little in the way of actually killing witches. They often worship Solkan, the god of order and revenge, which further separates them from organised structures.
    • Later versions of the gamenote  had the witch hunters belong to the Holy Order of the Templars of Sigmar (or Order of Sigmar for short).
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Holy Orders of the Emperor's Inquisition have three branches devoted to hunting daemons (Ordo Malleus), heretics (Ordo Hereticus), and aliens (Ordo Xenos), each of which has a militant arm: the Grey Knights (an entire chapter of psychic Space Marines), the Sisters of Battle (an Amazon Brigade that loves burning witches and heretics), and the Deathwatch (a corps of expert Space Marines from various chapters). The Inquisition in general is closest to the traditional "witch hunter", down to the longcoat and hat.
  • Many Hunters of Hunter: The Vigil would fit the description quite well, too, but perhaps the closest types are the Malleus Maleficarum and the Knights of the Order of St. George. The Malleus are basically the Inquisition with machine guns, bearing both holy rituals and a "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" policy. The Knights are a division of the Anglican Church that pursue sorcerers almost exclusively and use "divine magic" (really rituals learned from an Eldritch Abomination) to sabotage magic.
  • Following in the steps of Warhammer and Robert E. Howard, Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder now features an Inquisitor class. The iconic Inquisitor could only look more like this trope with a burning heretic at her feet, though in personality and outlook she is a far cry from the stereotyped angry witch hunter and more of a kind-hearted scholar who happens to engage in the grim business of monster-hunting. The Inquistor class even has an archetype (class variant) called Witch Hunter, who drops some of the Inquisitor's abilities to counter beasts and discerning lies and alignments for abilities aimed at arcane spellcasters.
  • Inquisitors in Anima: Beyond Fantasy are far more this than a Church Police, and extending their work to hunt super-natural/non-human entities toonote . Burning at the stake, sometimes after torture to extract information from them, is the usual fate for those who they capture and don't kill in the spot.
  • The game Witch Hunter: The Invisible World (now in its second edition) is a horror game set in an alternative earth that can best be called a Solomon Kane story with less sexism, racism, and cultural superiority. Witch Hunters are individuals from any place that have learned secrets once woven into the Seal of Solomon. They use this to fight against supernatural terrors that serve the Adversary, a cosmic evil being (or group) whose identity is unknown (most Witch Hunters equate him the Adversary the Big Bad of their religion, hence the name the Adversary). Since the core rulebook focuses on Europe and the Americas in the 17th century, most Witch Hunters will be a walking embodiment of this trope. The remainder are this trope only seen through the culture they come from. For example, imagine this trope, only the hunter happens to be from the Ottoman Empire. With a little work, your Witch Hunters are this trope in any pre-Industrial time and culture.

     Video Games  
  • The immortal protagonist of Knight's Contract was originally this trope. After Who Wants to Live Forever? set in, he ended up joining forces with the witch who cursed him in hopes of a way to die.
  • In Disciples games, the Empire unit Squire can be upgraded to be a Witch Hunter, which is resistant against magical attacks.
  • In Demon's Souls, Mephistopheles, along with his Dragon, Yurt The Silent Chief, are a group of assassins known as the Soul Society, they duty is to hunt down every single person who practices the Soul Art, although the later is more interested in killing every single existing human.
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the Witch Hunters of the Eternal Flame are a fanatical faction bent on tracking down and exterminating anyone using magic or occult practices, as well as magical non-human creatures. The ones in the free city of Novigrad are responsible for the worst atrocities, but they tend to pop up all over the North, hunting down mages and other creatures deemed abhorrent by their faith - including those creatures and mages who are completely benign. They're unfriendly toward Geralt, the game's protagonist, because he's a mutant Witcher, but a combination of powerful friends and the fact that Geralt can butcher a dozen of them in less than a minute leads to them usually leaving him be.
  • The End Times: Vermintide features Viktor Saltzpyre, a classic Warhammer witch hunter. He captured one of the characters in the game and hired the other as a mercenary to help guard her, meaning his witch hunting is responsible for three of the five heroes being in town when the action in the game commences.
  • Witch Hunter is a premade character class in both The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. In their description, it's noted that their purpose is to combat cults and necromancers. In gameplay terms, their skills gravitate towards being a Mage Marksman, taking elements from the archer and thief classes and the schools of destruction, conjuration and mysticism.

     Web Comics 
  • Despite the name, the protagonist of Witch Hunter is actually an Aversion of this trope. While he has the power to see people's sins, and therefore the power to identify the very evil, he is insistent that this doesn't give him the authority to dispense some kind of vigilante justice. The one time he directly attacks a group of evildoers, it's because they've just kidnapped a girl and are about to rape her. His more usual M.O. is to simply tip off the police, since he can generally spot when someone has just commited a crime, and the nature of his powers tells him a lot about what crime was committed (different sins have different appearances).

     Western Animation  
  • On one "Rita and Runt" segment of Animaniacs set in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, a witch hunter is after Rita, claiming she's a witch's familiar.
  • Tim the Witch-Smeller from Sabrina: The Animated Series has the distinct honor of being one of the silliest, scariest, and most dangerous villains the show has ever produced.

     Real Life  
  • A notorious example from real history: Matthew Hopkins, the original "Witchfinder General". During the English Civil War, Hopkins travelled through eastern England at the head of a team of self-styled witch-hunters; within two years — from 1645 to 1647 — he and his accomplice John Stearne caused the death of about 300 women (who were executed by hanging). Though he claimed to have a mandate from the Parliament, this was probably a lie (the title "Witchfinder General" was his own invention) — however, the Parliament obviously tolerated his actions. As if that wasn't enough, Hopkin's book The Discovery of Witches, which he published shortly before his death in 1647, helped to spread the witch-craze to the New England colonies, where it immediately sparked a wave of witch hunts. The Salem witch trials of the 1690s still used Hopkins's methods.
  • Heinrich Kramer, a Dominican monk and Inquisitor and the author of Malleus Maleficarum (i.e. Hammer of the Witches, 1486), a treatise on witches and a tutorial on how to conduct witch trials. Kramer was also responsible for the so called Hexenbulle, a papal bull, which he used to prompt several witch trials. He claimed to have led 200 witches to execution. Then again, there is little reason to believe his empty boasts. Kramer and reality weren't always on speaking terms and he was regarded by many people who knew him as a paranoid loon even in his own lifetime. That said, his work, like The Discovery of Witches, caused great harm after it was taken up during the witch-hunting craze of the 1500s-1600s (the Pope had sanctioned witch trials after his book was released, but this wasn't acted on then).
  • Witch Smellers were found in some African tribes, and the hunts they kicked off could be devastating in their effects. But they didn't always have it their way. According to legend some Zulu witch hunters tried this on Shaka Zulu. He outsmarted them and it ended badly for them.

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