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To what extent were the witch hunts of the Early Modern Period the result of religious and social upheaval?

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Introduction

To what extent were the witch hunts of the Early Modern Period the result of religious and social upheaval? The Early Modern Period was a time of great change in and around Europe. The people of the age were faced with upheaval of all forms; religious, social, political and even economical. Religious upheaval stemmed from changes in religious views and practises. The Reformation was a hugely significant event that took place in the years spanning 1520-1650. It was a religious, and political, movement in Europe that began as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church, but ended in the establishment of Protestantism and Protestant churches. The aim of the reformers was to restore the Church to its early Christian purity, and in order to accomplish this, they made significant changes. The Reformation denied the power of indulgences, redefined the function of the sacraments, eliminated or drastically altered the Roman Catholic Mass and changed the role of the clergy. A developed idea from the Reformation was that each believer was a priest and it posited a direct relationship between man and God. In Medieval Catholicism, clerical and angelic intermediaries were already established between man and God, but reformers choose to remove many of these. ...read more.

Middle

This increased people's awareness of the devil's presence in the world and therefore increased their fear of him. With the Protestants' distinct lack of rituals to ward off the devil and the prominence of his evil in their faith, they had to invent ways to defeat him themselves. The medieval perspectives were that the devil could assume a physical form, occupy real space, and be located inside a human victim. With this in mind, people started to accuse others of being in league with the devil when terrible, evil things went wrong in their lives. Therefore, with more and more people being persecuted as witches, witch hunts were encouraged to start and become common practise. It seems that witch hunts were a kind of deterrent used by Protestants to protect them from and rid themselves of evil spirits. Thus, it is respectable to say that the witch craze was triggered by lose of Catholic rituals, and that the Reformation, and the religious upheaval it caused was a catalyst to it. Another significant event that took place in the Early Modern Period that caused religious (as well as social) upheaval was the Counter Reformation or Catholic Reformation. ...read more.

Conclusion

Another social change which mainly helped to spread the practise of witch-hunting from place to place was the increase in market networks/ relationships. This meant that rumours and gossip of such things as witch-trials and suspicion of witches were being spread from place to place. As market folk travelled, so did the rumours and gossip. Evidently this form of social upheaval increased people's awareness of the practise of witch hunting and therefore encouraged them to take up the practise themselves. With the increase of the population, and therefore the augmentation of poverty within communities, disease became more widespread and people were more susceptible to becoming ill. Concerning this, and the fact that people of the age had a distinct lack of scientific knowledge, yet again, 'suspicious' people were being accused of being witches because there was nothing or no one else to blame for the increased amount of death and turmoil. Overall, in conclusion to the question, religious and social upheavals were incredibly significant factors to why witch hunts resulted in the Early Modern Period. In my opinion, the word upheaval reflects the changes in which people of the age had to endure and face. Evidently, with these changes came the changes in people's psychological outlooks on life, and therefore changes in their behaviours. This resulted in events such as the accusations of, more than likely, normal people as witches. ...read more.

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