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Why did the witch-craze happen in Early Modern Europe?

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Introduction

Why did the witch-craze happen in Early Modern Europe? For three centuries between 1450 and 1750, diverse societies were consumed by a panic over alleged witches in their communities. Witch-hunts, especially in Central Europe, resulted in the trial, torture, and execution of tens of thousands of victims. Historians have carried out a huge amount of research into the reasons for this 'craze' and found that predominantly the witch hunts took place against a backdrop of rapid social, economic and religious transformation that inspired feelings of disunity, fear and uncertainty. These three factors interlink continuously within the explanation for the witch-craze, the factor that appears to dominate is that of social transformation lying especially within its intellectual foundations. By the end of the 16th Century, most educated Europeans believed that witches, in addition to practicing harmful magic engaged in a variety of diabolical activities 1. At the outset, the ideas surrounding the witch-craze were mainly the property of the literate and ruling classes and not of the common people, formulation of those ideas had been the work of theologians, philosophers and lawyers, and the men who subscribed to them were judges, clerics, magistrates and landlords 2. ...read more.

Middle

The major epidemics of syphilis in Europe coincided largely with the witch-craze during the 16th and 17th centuries; Stanislav Anreski claimed that the disease itself was largely responsible for the persecution of witches; he even suggested that syphilis, in its advanced form, could cause the physical characteristics of the witch image 10. This argument is supported by evidence showing that witch hunting coincided geographically as well as chronologically with the syphilis epidemics. The Black Death and the wars of the 15th Century killed more men than women. There were visibly more women than men. Such demographic transformations led to changes within the family structure creating many more unattached women, namely spinsters and widows who were not under the control of fathers of husbands 11. There is reason to believe that this single status contributed at least indirectly to their plight. In a patriarchal society, the existence of women who were subject to neither father nor husband was an increasing source of concern, if not fear and it is not unreasonable to assume that both the neighbours who accused such women and the authorities who prosecuted them were responding to such fears 12. ...read more.

Conclusion

Sharpe, J.A. Witchcraft in Early Modern England. (Harlow: Longman 2001) Waite, G.K. Heresy, Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) ?? ?? ?? ?? Library Card: 04023308 1 Levack, B. The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe (London: Longman 1987), p.27 2 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.28 3 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.29 4 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. p.31 5 Bossy, J. 'Moral Arithmetic: Seven Sins into Ten Commandments', in Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe. (Cambridge, 1988), pp.229-231 6 Trevor-Roper, H.R. The European Witch Craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p.11 7 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.102 8 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.105 9 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.107 10 Quaife, G.R. Godly Zeal & Furious Rage (London: Croom & Helm 1987) p.16 11 Quaife, Godly Zeal & Furious Rage, p.15 12 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.147 13 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.61 14 Monter, E.W. European Witchcraft (New York: Wiley 1969), p.10 15 Ben-Yehuda, N. The European Witch-Craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries in 'Moral Panics' 114-184 (1994), p.11 16 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.64 17 Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.65 ...read more.

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