Early Modern Witch-Hunting: Identifying Occult Activity in Communities - Essay Sample

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Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1833 Words
Date:  2023-07-05


During the early modern period, it was widely believed that there were coordinated operations of satanic witches that were hell-bent at frustrating Christianity. Notably, the period was punctuated by increased cases of suspected witches that caused fear in the entire communities. Witch-hunting was staged to ensure that the individuals who practiced occult activity are identified. The task of locating people who practiced witchcraft during this time was bestowed on various individuals who were largely judicial authorities. The group relied on accusations and rumor to arrest people who were then subjected to interrogation. In some situations, the arrested individuals were forced by judicial authorities to name their accomplices for protracted investigations on occult activity. Further, during the period, there was intense competition for religious market share as the churches were focused on saving the people from devilry. Also, the Catholic Church emerged as the largest religion group before the 1500s, and it adopted a competitive strategy aimed at stifling the activities of its main challenger. During the late fifteenth century, the Protestant group argued that witchcraft was a spiritual crime aimed at discrediting the established Christianity.

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Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe

Notably, prior to the 1400s, most Europeans hinged their belief on magic. However, there was no consensus on the identities of witches and their operations. The people believed that witches could engage in activities that could inevitably reverse the established societal norms. Moreover, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, ritual magicians were not entirely categorized as witches. However, in some situations, they were witch-hunted and prosecuted as witches, especially if their relationship with the demon was believed to have morphed into that of servant and master. In early modern Europe, white witchcraft was regarded as the practice anchored on magical healing. Worth noting is that during the period between 1590 and 1700, most witchcraft prosecutions were aimed at witches who were accused of causing possession of other people. Furthermore, during these times, most Europeans became more anxious because of magic and witchcraft that resulted in increased witch-hunting. More imperatively, witch-hunting was premised on socio-economic challenges and the inherent religious upheavals that punctuated early modern Europe.

It should be noted that witch-hunting significantly increased in the sixteenth century. Most witch-hunts were executed in the borders of Catholic and Protestant regions. More significantly, social and economic problems influenced witch-hunts, where people from the low economic class were at high risk of a witch-hunt. Some people were designated as witch-finders where they were supposed to identify, accuse, and try the suspected witches. In the period between 1520 and 1640, most people in Europe faced stagnation where prices of vital commodities rose. Also, there were epidemic diseases and plague that affected various communities. Further, there bad harvests during the 1580s and 1590s resulted in widespread famine and hunger that affected entire communities. Undoubtedly, these situations greatly influenced witchcraft prosecutions as the protracted conflict within communities encouraged witch-hunting. Equally important, torture was effectively used to secure confessions to witchcraft. Despite the belief among the accused that they might survive the horror of torture and probably be released, they had a deep-rooted fear that they might be socially isolated, and this made them to voluntarily confess.

Colonies and Ties to Europe

Understandably, prior to the sixteenth century, most Christians developed fear towards witchcraft. People were accused as witches were generally regarded as servants and worshippers of demon that were heel-bent at causing pain to God-fearing Christians. It is worth noting that as the European countries colonized other nations across the world, they focused on spreading their beliefs and faith that was anchored on Christianity. Also, the fear of the Devil, together with people believed to be involved in witchcraft, was embedded in their message. The colonies were subjected to the laws of their empire. More particularly, American colonies operated under the confines English law since they belonged to the English empire. In 1692, the most popular witchcraft trial was the Salem Witch Trial, although other witchcraft cases occurred before the period. The trial of John Samford's servant, Mary, in 1730, was the last witchcraft trial that was documented. She was convicted and punished for engaging witchcraft. Notably, the first law that criminalizes witchcraft was legislated in 1542 during the leadership of King Henry VIII. Before this period, witch trials lay under the scope of the Church, and the legislation transferred the task to the judiciary.

Furthermore, witchcraft trials concentrated in England, Scotland, and France among other countries and the practice continued until the trial in Scotland in 1722. The Act of 1563 that was passed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I stated that any individual who has committed witchcraft resulting in deaths, "shall suffer pains of death as Felon." It was argued that Queen Elizabeth I was a strict Protestant and that she greatly influenced the act. James VI of Scotland indicated in his Demologie written 1597 that practicing of witchcraft exists and that individuals engaged in it should be hunted and ultimately prosecuted for such acts. He highlighted how witches could be found and the different methods they are using to inflict suffering and pain on people. Further, James VI outlined how the witches can be punished after their arrest. It should be noted that James VI's aim was premised on the need to get rid of witchcraft that had bedeviled England and Europe in general. He noted that witches and their devilish acts had brought great misery to Christians. In 1603, James VI became James I of England, and he further wrote how witches had dotted other parts of the world. Notably, the belief influenced early colonists who were focused on exploring the New World. The colonists became fearful that natives were potentially devil worshippers hell-bent at helping Satan to hurt them as they settled in North America.

After becoming King James I of England in 1603, he intensified his desire to hunt down the witches, and this led to the passage of the law in parliament christened, "An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and Dealing with evil and wicked Spirits." The law subdivided the witchcraft into two levels. On one level, people who have committed witchcraft for the first time and which has not resulted in any harm will be given a chance to repent to God. Further, the law stated that people who have committed petit witchcraft would be imprisoned for one year, and they are required to offer public confession upon their release. More importantly, religion played a critical role in witchcraft accusations and the subsequent trials in American colonies and England. Colonists believed that witchcraft is anchored on two sins, that is, the sin of pride and sin of lying. Notably, the sin of pride was labeled as the greatest Satan sin, and the sin of lying was believed to be a tool that Satan uses to inflict pain and misery on people. The Anglicans provided a softer tendency to people accused of witchcraft where they were accorded fair trial and allowed to repent and return to God's ways.

Witchcraft Trials

The series of witch-hunts during the 15th and 18th centuries formed the hallmark of witch trials in early modern Europe and European colonies in North America. It was widely believed that the increased witchcraft that appeared coordinated was becoming a threat to Christendom. The accused were depicted as devil worshippers focused on bringing misery to God-fearing Christians. The essence of trials was to ensure that the potential witches are tried for their crimes and varying punishments applied to them. The medieval period was punctuated with belief in magic, which was then divided by the Roman Catholic Church as the natural magic and demonic magic. The natural magic was largely accepted as it was considered a mere use of natural powers provided by God. However, the demonic magic was unaccepted and was linked to demonology. More fundamentally, during the 14th and 15th centuries, witches were believed to have formed a pact with the Devil, and they were more focused on renouncing the established Christianity, and there was the need to institute trials that would inevitably level heavy punishment on them.

It should be noted that witch-hunt as a phenomenon began in the mid-15th century, majorly in western Switzerland and southeastern France. During this time, many people sought to eliminate satanic witches that had bedeviled society. For instance, Claude Tholosan tried more than 200 people after they were accused of practicing witchcraft in Briancon, Dauphine, in 1420. The period between 1580 and 1630 that was characterized by European wars on religion formed the peak of witch-hunts, in which the trials for the entire period were estimated to be 100 000 people. The biggest trials in Europe were held between 1560 and 1630. Further, it was widely believed that the biggest witch trial in European history was the Witch Trials of Trier in Germany. During the mid-17th century, witch trials began to fade away across Europe. However, the trials continued in the American colonies and on the fringes of Europe.

European Ideas About Women

Most Europeans believed that a high number of witches were women. It is worth noting that female was greatly stereotyped as witches in European circles. Understandably, the early modern European culture viewed women as sexually indulgent members of society. Henry Boguet, a secular judge, opined that witches had sexual relations with the Devil because "women love carnal pleasures." Further, it was believed that women are driven by lust and that they were making a pact with the Devil due to sexual temptation. Equally important, witchcraft was regarded as the foundation of female sexual power. Also, it was popular among the European culture that witches had the desire to sacrifice the unbaptized babies to the Devil, who will then feast on their flesh and use the remnants in making magical ointments. For instance, in 1728, a Hungarian midwife from Szeged was accused of witchcraft and burned for baptizing more than 2000 children in the name of the Devil.

Additionally, the estimated number of the accused in the early modern European witch trials was between 75% and 85% women. Undeniably, this points to the deep-rooted misogyny that characterized persecution of witches during the period. Notably, there was a widespread belief that women had less intelligence compared to men during early modern Europe, and therefore they were most likely to commit sin. Evidence from the witch trials pointed out that most women were being accused by their fellow women for engaging in witchcraft, and this informs the fact that witnesses were predominantly female. More imperatively, a combination of different factors such as the highly wage-oriented economy, less value attached to women, and inherent fear placed on women as evil all played against women. Further, the misogyny was attributed to the emergence of persecuting culture that characterized the early modern periods.


It is worth noting that the early modern European period was heavily characterized by witchcraft and witch-hunt. The increased religious competition had a bearing on the intensity of witch-hunting in Europe. Witches were believed to be focused on advancing the satanic agenda of bringing misery to Christians. Understandably, witch-hunting was largely associated with soc...

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Early Modern Witch-Hunting: Identifying Occult Activity in Communities - Essay Sample. (2023, Jul 05). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/early-modern-witch-hunting-identifying-occult-activity-in-communities-essay-sample

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