The witch craze

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Last updated: February 23, 2019

The witch craze which was witnessed in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries refers to the trial and execution of children, women, and men to death for witchcraft.

  The charges against individuals varied but many were centered on practicing witchcraft and devil worship.  Although witch craze became a big issue during this period, there had been witch trials in the 15th and 16th centuries (Levack, p 12).The fear of witchcraft in Europe is considered to have begun among the intellectuals who had a belief in Maleficium which referred to bad deeds.

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  Some parties that were characterized by cannibalistic infanticide, naked dancing and orgiastic sex were considered to be satanic.  These ritual parties were linked to witchcraft.  The witch craze in Europe led to witch hunts in many parts of Europe.

  Witch craze that was witnessed in Europe can be attributed to capitalist, scientific and religious factors.  Although witch hunting was witnessed in various parts of Europe, Southwestern Germany was the most affected.  In Germany, witch hunting reached its peak in the period between 1561 and 1670 (Behringer, p 23)Thesis statementAlthough witch craze was considered to be important in dealing with witchcraft in Europe, the question of whether there were other reasons that led to witch craze has raised concern.  Initially, the torture and persecution of the witches in Europe was fueled by religious interests.  The witch craze is considered to have been used by the various factions of the church to fight each other (Thurston, p 32).Due to this, witch craze is viewed by many as a tool of the wars in religion that were witnessed during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. As witch craze continued, the torture and execution of those perceived to be witches was motivated by the desire to accumulate wealth.

  In addition, the emerging scientific interest during this period aimed at searching for the answers to the occurences in nature that could not be explained by the religion. The religious reforms that were being witnessed in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries contributed to the witch craze.DiscussionReasons for witchcraze in EuropeOne major reason for witch craze in Europe was the conflicts between various religious factions.  In Europe, religion at this time had become very important due to the controversy and conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants.

  This period was marked with people’s resistance against the religious teachings and dogma that some considered being ridiculous and absurd.  The Catholic Church was experiencing criticism from individuals and movements who went ahead to establish Protestant churches.  This made religious beliefs at this period very important because those who were executed were accused of going against the religious teachings and ceding their bodies and spirit to the devil.  The testimonies that were given against witches were aimed at portraying   an individual’s soul was inhabited by the devil or demons.In the early sixteenth century, the witch craze enjoyed support of the religious leaders.  For instance, in the late fifteenth century, Pope Innocent VIII had indicated his support for the execution of witches.

  The pope had initially given the Spanish Inquisition unlimited rights to execute witches.  In addition, the pope had indicated that people who surrendered to the devil had forsaken the Catholic faith. It was therefore seen to be appropriate that such individuals be punished for their offences, which in turn led to execution of those who were perceived to be witches (Levack, 26).

  Because the highest ranking church official had supported witch hunting and execution, the rest of the Catholic Church in Europe was compelled to obey the churches order and to adopt the Pope’s views.  The accusations of witch craft that had earlier arisen were able to receive official support by the church.  This fueled the witch craze since those executing the witches enjoyed great support from the church and its leaders.In order to have testimonies given against those who were perceived to be witches, people were forced to give confessions of sexual intercourse, devilish lust, and devouring of children.  Any person who was linked to such behaviour was considered to be a witch hence was tortured and then executed.  One would also be accused of witch craft if he or she was purported to cure any form of illness through magic and charm (Midlefort, p 34).

  This can be attributed to the great fear and hatred that people showed towards something that could not be explained through religion or through common sense.Religion also used witch accusations to undermine the woman kind. Many people based on the churches teachings that Eve believed that  women were the source of the original sin .Women were therefore seen to be physically and mentally weak hence were vulnerable to the devil’s temptations.

This made accusations of witchcraft to be directed towards the women. This is confirmed by the great disparity between the number of men and women who were accused of witch craft.  For example, the number of women who are considered to have been executed for witch craft in South West Germany is estimated to have been five times that of men.

  This mentality can also be linked to Martin Luther’s loud proclamation that the witches acted as the prostitutes of the devil.  In addition, the witches were said to ride on broom sticks and to force people into immorality.In the third decade of the sixteenth century, a religious leader referred to as John Calvin announced that witch craze was very important since it had become a war against the Devil and his demons.  The need for the church to fight back the legions therefore justified the witch craze.  The religious leaders such as Calvin increased the people’s fear of witch craft. The gender bias that was supported by the religious teachings therefore fueled the witch craze, indicated by the large number of women who were executed  Gender specific torture was used to either incite or force one to confess that he or she was engaged in activities that were  considered to be satanic.  Torture was also used as punishment for being involved in witchcraft and as witch craze continued, torture reached new extremes of horror.  Torture of those perceived to be witches was also used as a public spectacle aimed at discouraging witch craft in the community since the other community members witnessed the torture.

The publication of the Malleus Maleficarum also referred to as the “Hammer of the witches” prior to the witch craze contributed to the witch craze witnessed in Europe between sixteenth and seventeenth century.  The Malleaus was used in Europe during the witch craze, especially in Germany and Scotland.  The book emphasized on the evils of women and linked activities such as having sexual relations with the devil, participating in organized devil worship rituals, consorting with the devil, and mocking Christian ritual to the women (Brauner, p 48).  This made it easy for women to be accused of witch craft although some men and were also executed after being accused of witchcraft.  This resistance of people to the religious teachings and dogma had been sparked off by the enlightenment philosophers.  The differences in opinion about religious teachings by the people led to the separation of the church into different factions (Thurston, p 29).

In the beginning, both factions did not emphasize on the existence of witches.  In the early modern period, many people did not learn scripture themselves but they depended on oral transmission from those who had learned the scripture.  Therefore, the people depended on superstition to understand what could not be explained by the religious teachings. For example, people believed in magic and spells to make sure they got success in harvests. This made it necessary for the church to suppress these beliefs by imposing a strict form of Christianity on the people.  The practices that people exhibited and could not be interpreted by religious teachings were therefore considered to be demonic.  The Catholic Church had condemned people who were going against its religious teachings after the division of the church.  The Protestants after the division also supported the witch craze.

  The witch craze was used by both factions as propaganda to condemn the other faction as being demonic and confirming that either the Protestants or Catholics were the champions of true religion.  These two factions tried to compete on who could perform exorcisms successfully.Protestants and Catholics accused each other of witch craft with some religious leaders denoting that people belonging to the other faction suffered from satanic delusions.  For example, Martin Luther is said to have been referred by some Catholic Church members as being devil spawn.

  In addition, the Anabaptists were accused of being the authors of witchery and sorcery while the superstitious practices of the Catholic church were alleged to promote black magic.  The Orthodox Church was accused by the other factions to take part in witch-like practices.  The division in the church led to the wide spread belief that witch craft existed and that witches were to be executed.

In Germany, witch craze can be attributed to the religious leaders such as ecclesiasts and the bishops’ interference with the legal system.  The legal systems during the witch craze era were used to try and execute individuals purported to be witches (Hudson, p 52).  Due to the interest of the church in the issue of witch craze, interfering with how the legal system addressed the issue was important.The legal system allowed the religious leaders to have great influence in their territories.

  For example, the permission to have university professors to be full members of the judicial mechanism in Germany is attributed to the creation and widespread ideas about witch craft.  With trials were highly concentrated in Germany, a situation that has raised a lot of questions on why this was so. The widespread belief and knowledge on witch craft is considered to have been resulted from the idea of sabbat which originated from the German universities.  The Germany holocaust of witches was linked to sabbat.  Although there was no prove of sabbats, the theory of sabbats became well known in Germany.The reliance of the local German factions on the advice that was offered by the universities led to the popularity of the idea of sabbats.  In the early modern period, Germany was under the Roman law that demanded that under problematic conditions, the local factions should request for advice from the learned members of the society.

  In Germany, the university professors were the learned members of the society.  It is through the professors that the theory of sabbats became widespread.  According to the authorities, sabbats were large groups of witches through which the witches could communicate with the devil.  This theory was therefore used to execute and torture anyone who was suspected of participating in a sabbat.Another factor that can be attributed to the witch craze in Europe was the need to accumulate wealth.

  The capitalist interests in Europe made it necessary for some individuals to suppress the people who were trying to struggle for freedom, economic prosperity and those opposing aristocratic leadership.  The church and the state acted as twin authorities, hence the aristocrats who led in Europe at this period used to accumulate wealth at the expense of the well being of the society.  The desire to combat the hereditary aristocracy and the domination of the church that was oppressing the people triggered rebellion and resistance from the people.The middle class in Europe, also referred to as bourgeoisie was concerned about the fabulously expensive aristocracy that was benefiting greatly from the high taxes that the people were paying.  Unfortunately, the aristocrats failed to be of any value to the society.  In addition, the aristocrats showed their unwillingness to share power with the large population that was creating national wealth.  Because the church and the state were allied, the religious teachings were used to reinforce aristocracy in Europe.  Efforts to end aristocratic leadership had people view religious teachings as ridiculous and absurd.

  The European  then began realizing that they could improve their lives if they worked hard enough.  For example, the European merchants were able to accumulate wealth; hence the people started acknowledging that they could transform Europe.  The opposition and resistance of the people towards religious teachings and aristocracy had those who resisted being the teachings to be considered as going against the religious teachings.

  This made it easy for the people to be accused of witch craft and executed even if they were innocent.The Catholics and Protestants views about witchesDuring the witch craze period, the Catholics and Protestants (Lutherans and Calvinists) supported the witchcraze. The witch craze was characterized by the religious faction’s accusations of the other as practicing witch craft.

  The Catholic Church had before the division assisted the aristocrats to rule, hence the Protestants considered the Catholic Church to adopt religious practices and teachings that were absurd. The Protestants therefore were ready to break away from the church.  After the division, the Protestants regarded Catholicism as the source of practices that leaned towards witchcraft.The Catholics on the other hand accused the Protestants of suffering from satanic delusions and going against the church teachings (Davies, p 43).  The Protestants used witch craft to reinforce fear of Catholicism.  This was meant to discourage people from joining the faction.  On the other hand, the Catholics used witch craft to eliminate and demonize the Protestants rejected the Catholic religious teachings.

This led to the war between the two factions.The Catholic Church used witchcraft accusations to eliminate and demonize the Protestants. The accusations and attack against each other instilled the belief of witch craft in the society.

  Due to the war between the religious factions, very many innocent people were executed when they were considered to be witches. The factions could label people who belonged to the other religious faction as witches or practicing witchcraft The accused were required to admit to the accusations or were subjected to great and horrifying torture until they admitted to the accusations.  The Protestants religious leaders such as Martin Luther viewed witches as the prostitutes of the devil, which implied that witches were women. John Calvin also supported the idea of witchcraft in the society.Both the Catholics and Protestants considered witch craze to be important since it was a fight against the legion. The Protestants relied on the biblical scriptures to initiate reforms in the church, and used the scriptures to justify why they supported witchcraze.

To them, it was a war against the devil and his demons. The Catholic and Protestant factions promoted female oppression which resulted to more women being executed than men after being accused of witchcraft. The women were viewed by both religious factions as very vulnerable to the devil’s influence. For instance, in two towns in the diocese of Treves, only two women were left alive while the rest were executed after being accused of being witches and sorcerers.The Catholic Church considered paganism as having no place in the theology of the church, hence those purported to be pagans were also labeled as witches.

The   support of execution of witches by the Catholic Popes who reigned between the sixteenth and seventeenth  centuries encouraged witchcraze.The Catholics hated Calvinists,Lutherans,and the Jews. Each faction hated the other; hence this hatred was turned into accusations of witchcraft.ConclusionThe witch craze that was witnessed in Europe during the sixteenth and the seventeenth century had so many people executed to death based on the claims that they were witches, practiced witchcraft, or took part in satanic activities. Majority of those who were killed were women, a situation that has made historians consider the witch craze as having being gender biased.

During the witchcraze, the various factions of the religion accused each other of taking part in witchcraft.This increased the animosity between the followers of the various religions, which made a certain church faction execute people who belonged to another faction by alleging that they participated in witchcraft. The religious leaders supported the execution of the people by stating that the witch craze was a war against the devil and his demons.

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