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Why were Witches women?

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Introduction

Why were Witches women? For over three centuries, early modern Europe was largely dominated by witchcraft persecutions, the scale of which such atrocities had never been witnessed before. These persecutions arose from various significant instabilities of the times. Tens of thousands of executions were carried out, especially within Central Europe and the vast majority of deaths were attributed to women. This is what was most remarkable about this period; the fact that so many women were recognised as practitioners of witchcraft. I shall be closely following the reasons for such large-scale prosecutions within the early modern period. In particular, I shall be looking at the different sub-categories concerning reasons for such a rise in the nature of witch prosecutions. These categories will be broken up as follows; the Church's view on maleficia, whom the witches were, the effect society had on the arrival of witchcraft, literature's perspective, natural thought and freethinking, and the confessions of witches. The Church was integral to the whole belief system within modern day Europe and was the main, driving component for social, economic and religious conformity. However, the Catholic Church as a unit had been threatened through 'The Reformation' and theological perceptions and ideas were changing. People's interpretations and prior beliefs were now being challenged, criticised and there was now total religious uncertainty and unbalance within society. 'This consequently led to the powerful 'Counter Reformation' in which the Catholic Church began an attempt to not only counter the Protestant Reformation, but also to eliminate corruption, educate clergy and inspire faith in the common people'- (B.P. ...read more.

Middle

12). The reason for this was ostensibly that men wanted to keep women in their rightful place within society, largely pacified and subdued. This came with the great fear of feminist accounts, which started to take place within this period. The subject of women projected as witches was widely held in belief within local communities and often formed the deciding factor in disputes within local communities. So if a particular person has had a bad harvest, or their child has dies in the night, the climate of Early Modern Europe was conducive to such accusations and provided the ammunition with which to prosecute. The times of the period were one of extreme economic turbulence and poverty. Across Western Europe in particular, the gulf between the rich and poor was consistently growing and there was a general decline also in the living standards of much of Europe. These conditions may however have persuaded people to contemplate using magic to help themselves and to achieve monetary or land gains, but on the other hand, it also maintained that accusations would be at a new high. Below is a table showing the relevance of monetary/land/food disputes within local communities and the effect being a widow within society would have concerning such disputes and jealousies in Essex, 1564-89: Kinship Relationships Husband and Wife * 4 Unspecified Quarrels (2) Sexual Jealousy (1) Broken Marriage Contract (1) Stepfather and Stepchild 1 Over Inheritance Grandmother and Grandchild 1 Obligation to collect wood Total 6 Neighbourly Relationships * (Object of dispute) ...read more.

Conclusion

(Christina Hole, date unknown). Furthermore, women within society were very much pacified throughout this time and this meant that they were easy targets for attack. These poor victims of attack simply existed within a delicate age of uncertainty, confusion and anger. Society believed in the existence of witchcraft and in the exponents of maleficia, the women of the times. On a more local scale too, communities widely looked to the accusation of witchcraft as a means to a specific end, whether it concerned land disputes or money disputes etc. These were very testing times, times of extreme economic struggles and religious disputes. In conclusion, it is interesting to note that as standards of living vastly improved and religious irregularities disappeared, prosecutions decreased dramatically and people suddenly began to notice that most prosecutions were actually highly nonsensical and irrational. Society gradually came to accept that it had indeed made many mistakes. Sources Cited: 1. J. B. Russell, 'Witchcraft in the Middle Ages', Cornell University Press, London, 1972. 2. A. Macfarlane, 'Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England', Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1970 3. S. Clark, 'Thinking with demons: the idea of witchcraft in Early Modern Europe', Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997 4. R. Briggs, 'Witches and Neighbours. The social and cultural contexts of European witchcraft', Penguin, London, 1996 5. P.B. Levack, 'The Witch-hunt in early modern Europe', Longman Publishers, London, 1995. 6. Many authors, 'The Bible', Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1985 7. http://www2.kenyon.edu/Projects/Margin/witch.htm 8. http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/ 9. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.html 10. http://www.cog.org/witch_hunt.html Tables used: 1. Types of dispute leading to witchcraft prosecutions in Essex, 1564-89 (Cited in 'A. Macfarlane, 'Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England', Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1970'. Alex Ewing- 03036224 ...read more.

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