1577: Soulmother of Kussnacht

On an uncertain date in November of 1577, a popular medium whose given name is lost to history was burned to death in a lakeside town for claiming to speak with the dead.

The Soulmother of Kussnacht ran a successful enterprise channeling spirits for those who survived them. Though her persecution by a Church ill-disposed to “wise women” seems a given in retrospect, she evidently ran this business openly for well over a decade, and was at least once before brought to the attention of authorities who found her harmless.


Kussnacht as seen in an old postcard. Image reproduced with permission.

Historian Carlo Ginzburg locates Die Seelenmutter within the cosmos of pre-Christian “shamanism” that persisted in Christendom under varying degrees of toleration. In Ginzburg’s Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century, which chronicles the Inquisition’s crackdown on a sect of northern Italian occultists, the contemporaneous execution of the Soulmother is both barometer and precedent for Rome’s rising intolerance of heresy.

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