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Europe: Witch Craze (1480-1700)

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Witch craze in Europe during the period of the Protestant Reformation, Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the consolidation of national governments from about 1480 to 1700

In the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, individuals were persecuted as witches throughout the broad continent of Europe, even though the witch hunt was concentrated on Southwestern Germany, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Poland, and parts of France. Over 100,000 witches were persecuted; everyone was affected by this egregious hunt for individuals whom were in league with the Devil. In a collective frenzy, witches were sought, identified, arrested, mostly tortured, and tried for a variety of reasons.

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This essay will identify three major reasons for the witch craze in early modern times.

First of all, everyone was in some way involved with the persecution of witches; all were directly affected, either through being persecuted themselves or by persecuting others. Witches were commonly known to cure people and animals of sickness, bewitch crops, and eat or suck the blood out of people and infants.

When people were accused, they were always found guilty; if you were found guilty, you were killed. Witches were killed in several different ways such as being burnt at the stake, hanged, or drowned. If you did not confess to the actions you were accused of, you would be tortured brutally until you admitted your wrong doings. “It was a loose-loose” for the accused individuals. People would often accuse other individuals of witchcraft because they had disagreements or issues; it was a way for individuals to eliminate competition. The executioners were very wealthy, and their wife’s dress and appearance would be as sophisticated as that of the wives of gentlemen. In addition, individuals would force witchcraft on people until they did something that was in the least bit of the Devil. Secondly, the opinion of religious leaders had a tremendous impact on the persecution of witches.

Two Dominican monks wrote a handbook called “The Hammer of Witches” which talked about the religion, age, gender, and class of witches. It stated that witches are usually female, that women are more easily influenced by the Evil One, and that women are defective; they are imperfect animals that always deceive. Pope Innocent VIII relied on the information in “The Hammer of Witches” to make his claim involving witchcraft. He claimed that males and females give themselves over to devils. He gave inquisitors the right to persecute witches for their offenses and crimes; inquisitors were able to correct, punish, and imprison virtually anyone on suspicion of witchcraft. This meant they

could quite literally cause someone to be sentenced to death. Martin Luther, a Protestant Reformer, claimed that witchcraft was indeed real and described them as the Devil’s whores whom, “…steal milk, raise storms, ride on goats or broomsticks, lame and maim people, torture babies, change things into different shapes, and force people into love and immorality,”. John Calvin, another protestant reformer also believed in witches, claiming that people of God must wage war against them. As you can see, even the most highly respected religious people believed in witches and thought it was appropriate to persecute them. Even every day people were obsessed with witchcraft; a young Protestant boy wrote in his diary about how he suffered from terrible hallucinations of devils. He claimed that devils were everywhere and they constantly tried to capture him as he leapt away in utter fear. Clearly, individuals were so obsessed with witchcraft in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries that they became delusional and paranoid. Thirdly, highly educated people also believed in witchcraft, although they did have slightly different views on how to deal with witches. A lawyer in England said that elderly people are diseased and impure; they are contagious and filled with evil.

A medical doctor from Belgium had a slightly different interpretation of witches, however, the overall concept is the same. He said that witches are usually old, senile women that have the potential to be easily affected and deceived by the Devil. However, he went on to say, these women should not be thrown into prisons, as prisons are filled with evil spirits; that would only make the situation worse. Even the most highly educated individuals believed in witchcraft. Lastly, there are statistics that can give us detailed information on the age, gender, and class of witches. The occupations of the husbands of these female witches were mostly laborers and farmers. Gentlemen and nobles were not accused of witchcraft; they were landowners whom often did the accusing. They accused people beneath them in order to gain higher social status. In addition, the number of males executed in southwestern Germany, Switzerland, and selected parts of France was approximately 20 percent; the women were the majority of the accused at approximately 80 percent. Also, individuals persecuted as witches in Switzerland, Germany, England, and France were usually around the median age of 60.

In conclusion, in Europe, individuals were persecuted as witches for three major reasons in the sixteenth to seventeenth century: religious beliefs, public opinion and peer pressure, and the desire to climb higher up the social ladder. A

majority of the people in the sixteenth to seventeenth century had some type of religion. Because the religious leaders believed in witchcraft, their followers did as well. People believed that by persecuting people as witches, they were following God’s word. Public opinion and peer pressure also played into the desire to persecute witches. People had to agree with the persecution of individuals as witches because if they didn’t, they would be accused of witchcraft themselves. Lastly, individuals with the desire to rise in social status would often times accuse people of witchcraft; it was an easy way to get exactly what you wanted because, remember, if you were accused, you were sentenced to death. These three reasons prove why in a collective frenzy, witches were sought, identified, arrested, mostly tortured, and tried.

Cite this Europe: Witch Craze (1480-1700)

Europe: Witch Craze (1480-1700). (2016, Oct 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/europe-witch-craze-1480-1700/

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