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Witchcraft in Europe, 1450 – 1750 Term Paper

Witchcraft is the alleged use of magical powers through the gift of supernatural beings other than God. A practitioner of witchcraft is a witch. Witchcraft was defined as superstition by magistrates in Europe. These magistrates did not believe in witchcraft and hence they reacted in horror at the superstition of the common villagers. From this point of view, witchcraft accusations were connected to the church men and magistrates. They enforced severe reforms of churches and even devotional life.

Witchcraft was also viewed as genderized mass murder. This means that gender was the central issue to the European witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Women or females were mostly suspected and accused of involvement in witchcraft. This is because 80% of all accused witch were women.

Traditional theology assumed that women were a weaker species compared to men. This justified the fact that they were more likely to seek assistance and succumb to the devil. There is also another reason that makes it plain that the growth of witch hunt had something to do with female. The reason is that the panic and the rumors that were going around in Europe were in separable from women stigmatization.

Witch-hunts started in central Europe. This is because this was the places where trial, torture and execution were practiced which are believed to be the causes of witchcraft. Three- quarters of those tortured, tried and executed were women.

The Back Ground of Witchcraft in Europe.

Witchcraft in Europe was formulated in the middle age. This culminated from a rapid decline in social, economic and religious transformation. Panics like natural disaster and epidemics also led to the increase of witchcraft. The people were tried to hide their panic in witchcraft.

The belief in the existence of witchcraft goes back to the time of Old Testament of the Bible. The Bible forbids witchcraft. This makes the history of witchcraft to be associated with Christianity. The church condemned all rites involving the invocation of the spirit.

The traditional attitude towards witchcraft in the 19th century underwent a tremendous transformation. This was the time central Europe was faced by several rumors and panics. There was malign conspiracy which was meant to bring down the effort of Christians and churches. They were to use magic and poison to destroy the Christian kingdoms. The intensity of witchcraft was escalated Black Death which was also known as the bubonic plague.

Witch Trials in Europe.

Witch trial is also witch hunt which is the search of witches in Europe. It also involved the search of evidence of witchcraft. The period of witch hunt falls in the year 1480 to 1750. By no means all the people who were tried by witchcraft were convicted. Some were even acquitted. Not everyone convicted by witchcraft was executed. This is because some of the witches used their witchcraft for good purposes like making crops grow better. Others used it to make humans or animals more fertile. The super natural power was also being used by others to heal the sick. The witches also used their powers to witch hunt.

There were some other lesser punishments given to the tried witches. The lesser punishments involved banishment or imprisonment. In 1735, the Witchcraft Act was introduced by the government. The main aim of the act was to report people who were claiming to follow the religion of witchcraft.

The frequency of witch trials varied over time. The number of witches in a place also determined the frequency of trials. Witch trials were most common in Germany, France and Switzerland. The first major witch hunts occurred in Switzerland in 1427 and 1428. There was a mass burning of around 100 witches. Witch trials were likely to occur in areas with political instability and religious conflict. This is because the areas are likely to have many witches who think they can offer solutions to the problems in the area.

Persecution of witches and their trial held to punish them had almost been abolished in 1680. The last legal execution occurred in 1782 in Glarus Switzerland. This is not far from where the execution of witches had started in 1427. The prosecuting officers were secular officials. They were imbued with the best of thinking prominent personnel. The personnel included theologians, philosophers and even scientists.

According to Russell (12), several theories have been put forward to explain the origin of witch trials. The geographical origin theory is one of the theories which explain that witch hunt originated from specific location like mountainous regions. According to geographical theory economic differences between regions can lead to witch hunts. This can only happen if the regions are caught in a new competition because of a commercial revolution.

The other theory is greed theory. This theory is against the elites. It says that the elites initiated the witch hunt so that they can confiscate other people properties. The elites defend themselves by saying that many persecuted people did not have much property. They also say that property was not confiscated even from wealth targets during the hunt.

The final theory is the confessional conflict theory. This theory involves the conflict between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics. The conflict led each group to attack the other using witchcraft. Hence each group used the accusation of witchcraft so as to persecute the other group leading to witch hunt.

In the period between 1542 and 1753 witchcraft was taken as a crime in law in the history of English. These years also marked a significant increase in the number of witch hunt and prosecution.

How Education Elites Ideas Were Imposed On Witchcraft In Europe.

The Elite classes had the highestlevel of witchcraft.This people constructed the idea of a black mass. This was argued that there was no foundation in the claim that witches worshipped Satan. This notion was formulated in the minds of the persecutors and the accused. However, there was a genuine fear as the witches are known to meet for rituals.

Only fewer educated Europeans believed in witchcraft. This means that they did not believe spell casting or witches flying through the sky. They did not believe even in the accusation of great hunt. They argued that witch trial was as a result of religious bigotry which was either catholic or protestant. This bigotry supported by superstitious monarchs according to educated Europeans is what the other ordinally people call witchcraft.

During the time of great hunt in the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. Some lawyers and physicians were doing their own research. They were testing the flying ointments seized from accused witches. They were attempting to learn the composition and the effects of the flying ointments.

This led to an argument between them and witch hunters. The witch hunters believed that the witches were people who worshipped the devil. On the other hand the physicians tried to convince the witch hunters that the witches were wrenched people deluded by drugs. They said that the witches firmly believe that they should do in awaking state everything that they dream while sleeping.

Theologians also did not agree with the witch hunters that witches were devil worshipers. The theologians made reference with witches smearing their body with oil and sentiments. A witch had been aroused from a deep sleep. Immediately he woke up he ran for the bottle of oil and started smearing it on his body as he had dreamt.

During the early middle age the church writers insisted that witchcraft was a delusion. Priests were asked to discouraged members of their church from believing that anyone could cast a spell. They were asked not to believe in the powers of witches. Those powers include the ability to blight by an evil eye, power over animas, and power of witches to transform themselves into animal shapes.

Witches were also believed to possess the power that can make them invisible. They also have the power of harming other through hurting a waxen image representing them.

However, by the end of fourteenth century the cannon lawyers, prominent inquisitors, learned academics and several popes came together. They agreed that by means with a contract with the devil whether implicit or explicit, a magician might work genuine in the world. The theorists also worked out a composite view of all the different sorts of crimes and activities that the witch are involved in.

By the end of the fifteen century many ecclesiastical had come up with a conclusion about witchcraft. They concluded that witchcraft was a fairly new heresy with its origin in the 1380s. The accounts of the persecutors in the witch trials in early modern Europe have been used to overthrow the idea that witchcraft was a satanic plot to overthrow Christianity. One of the accounts of these persecutors is the witch-cult.

Witch-cult is the hypothetical pre-Christian pagan religion of Europe. This is the group that survived the early modern period. Ginzburg discovered benandanti, a group of people with peasant stock. They were poor and very illiterate. They could not speak pure English and at times had trouble communicating with their judges.

The benandanti are believed to have also survived in the early modern period. They used to ride cocks or goats into the woods away from the village, an even which was happening mostly at nights.

According to their testimony the benandanti could threaten the witches to alter their spells.


Witchcraft in Europe waxed and wined for almost three centuries. Though there were great variations in time and space. The rate of witch hunting also varied with place throughout Europe. The most affected place was Germany with 26,000 deaths and the least affected was Ireland with only 4 deaths. This shows that witchcraft was most common in central Europe, which involves Germany and France.

It has remained difficult to judge the extent of actual witchcraft practice. But it is possible to understand part of the process that helped develop the notion that supernatural powers were indeed a reality. This explains why people in early modern England believed in witchcraft.

Works Cited

Russell, Jeffrey B. Witchcraft in the middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y: Pantheon Books, 1948.

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