During the late fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, thousands of individuals were persecuted as witches. It was thought that these individuals practiced black magic and performed evil deeds, the deeds of the devil. This all happened during a time of great change in Europe, during the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the consolidation of national governments. They were persecuted for a variety of reasons, but three major ones were religious reasons, social prejudices, and the economic greed of the people.
Religious leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin influenced the ideas of their followers. Religion dominated the time period and it’s easy to see how many opinions were shaped by the religion. Socially it is quite evident that the Europeans held many prejudices, mainly against older women. They were not loved in society so they were tried as witches when something bad would happen involving them. Also, people used the idea of witchcraft as a means for economic gains. When someone was tried and killed, their money, goods or wares, and all their belongings were taken, usually by the accuser.
Some saw this as a way to increase their personal wealth. The witch craze took place between 1480-1700, encompassing both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. The religious philosophies and the influence of the prevalent religious leaders of the time played a crucial role in the progression of the accused. Religion dominated the time period and it’s easy to see how many opinions were shaped by the religion. A great example is Martin Luther. Luther preaches that “sorcerers or witches are the Devil’s whores who…torture babies in their cradles…force people into love and immortality. He then states that the Devil himself is capable of doing these by himself, but chooses to use humans to carry out his evil deeds. (Doc. 10) As Luther was quite influential, it’s known that he shaped the beliefs and ideas of his followers, causing them to believe the same way he did. Similarly, John Calvin, another major power in Religion during this period, stated that the witches were “great armies, which wage war against us…we have to wage war against an infinite number of enemies. ” (Doc. 11) Calvin’s ideas were similar to Luther’s, as they were both anti-witch and felt them to be Devil’s spawn.
Even the most influential person in religion and politics at the time, Pope Innocent VII, stated in his “The Witch Bull,” that people should “remove all impediments…to exercise their office of inquisition and to proceed to the correction, imprisonment, and punishment of the aforesaid persons for their said offences and crime… ” (Doc. 9) The fact that the highest ranking power in religion acknowledged the existence of witches in the world led to a whirlwind of accusation and chaos. In the end, all three religious leaders had a strong influence on the people’s beliefs.
It is quite obvious that they are biased towards their cause, and therefore are not necessarily believable or reliable in their observations. They basically scared people in order to gain loyalty and so people would accept and follow their sayings. This is shown in the diary entry of a young Protestant boy in Document 12. “I suffered terribly from fear of Hell and… had, the fears that I was in. ” (Doc. 12) He is basically stating his fears of the devil and hell, as a result of the beliefs placed in his head by religion.
This is a more reliable source because a diary entry usually shows true emotions and beliefs. The religious aspect greatly came into power when it came to the persecution and trial of witches. Socially, it is seen that Europe held many prejudices, mostly against older women. These older women were the most often tried as witches. As can be seen from the Witchcraft Statistics Drawn from Contemporary Court Records, we can determine that witches were not very upper class type people.
Most were married to laborers and farmers, which showed that they were poor, not wealthy. (Doc. 15) Also when looking at the males and females executed in Southwestern Germany, Switzerland and Selected Parts of France, it is visible that approximately 80% were women. Very few men were tried as witches. (Doc. 16) It should also be noted that almost all witches tried were older, around 60 years old, as shown in the chart Age of Suspected Witches. (Doc. 17) When taking all this into consideration, most witches were powerless, being both elderly and feminine. W.
Fulhecke states that “The bodies of aged persons are impure…by the Devil whetted for such purpose to the…destruction of others. ” (Doc. 13) Kramer and Sprenger, two Dominican monks, took it a step further stating that women are the target because they are weaker and are formed at the very core from sin. They are more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit. The first woman was born imperfect, thus making women imperfect animals, leading them to always deceive and be evil. (Doc. 8) These both show obvious bias towards women, especially the elderly.
They believed that women were naturally evil, thus were more likely to work with the Devil, which is a naming characteristic of a witch. The accusations towards the witches mainly occurred as a result of the people observing the unexpected or unknown. For example, Walpurga Hausmannin, a midwife, was tortured into confessing to lust, adultery, and killing children and infants. As a result of childrens’ death, the people immediately suspected witchcraft and that she had made a deal with the Devil. (Doc. ) However this can not be taken as 100% accurate, as she was tortured and people tend to lie to escape the torture. Also, we see that some accused witches, such as Alice Prabury, cured ailments of both human and beast through the use of charms and magic. These were baseless observations that led to the death of many accused. (Doc. 4) The social prejudices of the European people were a very important factor in the persecution of witches. The economic aspect to the witch trials was also apparent. The Canon Linden, from Trier, Germany, tells of how people used the trials for their own financial gain.
He stated that “The movement was promoted by many in office, who hoped for wealth from the persecution”, as well as “the executioner rode a blooded horse, like a noble of the court, and went clad in gold and silver…the children of those convicted and punished…their goods were confiscated. ” This showed that people in a high position used the trial for their own financial gain, receiving both money and goods, increasing their wealth (Doc. 1) This is a reliable, accurate source because The Canon Linden was an eyewitness and a member of clergy, who is assumed to have many connections and knew much about his surroundings.
Another example is when the mayor of Bamberg, Germany, Johannes Junius, was jailed and wrote a letter to his daughter. He was tortured until confession and lied so as to prevent further torture. His high social status as mayor definitely made him a target, and this could be seen as a major motivator. (Doc. 7) Judges also were under great pressure. Roger North, the brother of the chief justice in Exeter England, said that if a judge questioned the response of the public, he himself would be accused of being a witch. (Doc. 6) The economic issues uring this period greatly affected the persecution of witches in Europe. During the late fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, thousands of individuals were persecuted as witches. These individuals were thought to be inherently evil, Devil’s spawn, working black magic against the natural laws of human nature. These trials occurred during the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the consolidation of national governments. Religious reasons, social prejudices, and the economic greed of the people, among other reasons were mainly why they were persecuted.
Religious leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin influenced the ideas of their followers. Socially it is evident that the Europeans held many prejudices, mainly against older women. They were not loved in society so they were tried as witches when something bad would happen involving them. Also, people used the idea of witchcraft as a means for economic gains. When someone was tried and killed, their money, goods or wares, and all their belongings were taken, usually by the accuser. This was taken as a means to increase personal wealth, along with fitting in with society.