The Witch Hunter

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?

The witch hunter!

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, "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.

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 protection 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 The Hunter. 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, one of Doctor Strange's foes.
  • John Constantine the Hellblazer, he is a modern day sorcerer (or an occultist) and fights other occultist 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.

     Fan Fic  

     Film  
  • Vincent Price plays one in Tigon British Film Productions' Witchfinder General, which is based on the exploits of Matthew Hopkins, who is mentioned in the Real Life section of this page.
  • Hansel and Gretel grew up to be Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. How fitting!
  • The 17th century Giles Redferne in Warlock is a fairly benevolent example, contrasting strongly with the immensely evil Warlock. He ostensibly became one after the Warlock murdered his wife, and tries to save as many lives as possible from his enemy's magical malice. He only has his salt-coated whip, knives, and some limited knowledge of the Warlock's weaknesses to defeat him.

     Literature  
  • The Cunning Man from the Discworld novel I Shall Wear Midnight is practically an Anthropomorphic Personification of Witch Hunters.
    • Also from Discworld, 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.
  • Played with in Good Omens. While played straight in Agnes Nutter's case, 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.

     Live Action TV  
  • The Witchsmeller Pusuviant from Blackadder.
  • 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.

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

     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".
  • 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 not fit this trope better without a burning heretic at her feet. 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.

     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.

     Western Animation  

     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.
  • An earlier example would be Heinrich Kramer, a german Inquisitor and author of the Malleus Maleficarum from 1486, commonly known as the Hexenhammer (eng. Witchhammer). Also was he responsible for the so called Hexenbulle, a papal bull, which he used to prompt several witch processes. He claimed to have led 200 witches to execution.