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European Witch Craze Essay Examples

For three centuries of early modern European history, diverse societies were consumed by a panic over alleged witches in their midst. Witch-hunts, especially in Central Europe, resulted in the trial, torture, and execution of tens of thousands of victims, about three-quarters of whom were women. ` The years between 1550 and 1650 were the worst. Choose a European society of those years and describe, as one of the witch’s prosecutors, your role in ferreting out these monsters.

Include such things as where you live, why your geographic area became involved, how people were chosen to be arrested (their crimes), what methods you used to make them `confess`, their punishments, and finally now, 20 years later, your thoughts on the entire matter. My name is Dietrich Hassler, the year is 1595 and I live in Bremen, Germany. I am a well educated man, respected in society, and a leader in the Lutheran Church.

Though I loath Catholicism and its doctrines, one of the beliefs I share with Catholics is the belief that witchcraft is heresy, satan worship, and witches and wizards have been empowered by satan to cast evil spells like bad weather, diseases, death to humans and animals, and rebellion to the Christian Lutheran faith. As a devout Christian, I believe what the Bible says about witches and witchcraft, especially Exodus 22:18 – “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”.

I am also acquinted with the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) published in 1487 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. I am thus particularly knowledgeable about the following with regards to witchcraft: It is a heresy not to believe in witches, witchcraft can be discerned by the observance of certain particular activities, and witches must be punished with death as the Bible prescribes in Exodus 22:18. I am also very aware of the fact that most witches are women as they are the weaker sex and are more susceptible to be used by the devil.

As Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger have stated in the Malleus Maleficarum: “What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours! ” (quoted in Kors and Peters, 2000, p. 183) In the past few years, Bremen has experienced very bad harvests due to droughts, and there has been an outbreak incurable diseases resulting in deaths of both humans and animals.

Many have reported that there is witchcraft activity going on in Bremen and it is to blame for the disasters we are currently facing. Due to my vast knowledge in theology and my leadership in church and society, I have been appointed as a prosecutor at a court specially convened for trying the witches who are causing this menace to our society. As prosecutor, I have special informants who investigate activities of suspected witches and compile evidence against them. Members of society (especially women) who are not Christians and those who do not attend church are potential suspects.

Other notable suspects are ‘native healers’ who use herbs and other weird things as medicines, and particularly those who practice magic and sorcery. People who are found with magic and sorcery books and other heretical materials are witches so I have been empowered to send court officials to search houses of suspected witches for such materials. Suspects who are brought to the court are interrogated to obtain information about their activities and the names of their associates and collaborators.

To obtain such information, suspects are sometimes flogged in public, ‘dunked’ in water, put in stocks, and mutilated. All these forms of torture are a necessary part of the court procedures and our sanctioned by me as the prosecutor. As prosecutor, I always recommend death as the punishment for convicted witches and the court always adheres to my recommended punishments. Within the past five years that the court has been in session 60 people have been convicted of witchcraft and 48 of them were women. Some have been burned on the stakes while others were either hanged or beheaded.

20 years after the trials I look back with regret at the role I played in the witch-hunts, and though my views have changed, I am afraid to express them as I could be branded a heretic myself and be tried for being drafted into witchcraft. I now realise that a lot of my informants used their position to settle old scores with their enemies and competitors in their trades. References: Kors, A. C. , and Peters, E. ed. (2000). Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700: A Documentary History, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Identify and analyze at least three major reasons for the persecution of individuals as witches in Europe from the late fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. From the Middle Ages until the 1700s, a fevered witch craze was spread throughout Europe. These witches were isolated, persecuted and when found, tortured

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and consequently killed. With most of the population concentrated in southeastern Europe, over 100,000 witches were tried.

It was believed that these individuals practiced black magic and were associated with the Devil, but a single fact becomes clear when studying the witch craze and that is that there is a certain type of individual that was singled out as a witch. The majority of of accused witches were female(Witchcraft Statistics, doc 2) and mostly over 50 years old(Witchcraft Statistics doc 3). The witch craze concentrated on elderly women who more often than not were from a low social class (Witchcraft Statistics, doc 1. ).

A combination of religious beliefs, social prejudices and cultural precepts helped heighten the already rampant witch persecution throughout Europe. The witch craze spread throughout the common-people of Europe, this due to a strong support to the persecution of witches advertised by influential religious leaders. Although Europe was in a state of religious turmoil due to the warfare between Catholic and Protestant faiths, Catholics and Protestants alike contributed to the spread of the witch craze. Martin Luther preached that “sorcerers or witches are the Devil’s whores who steal milk…

torture babies in their cradles… ” (Religious Opinions, doc 3). John Calvin, another influential religious leader said “… We are therefore taught by these examples that we have to wage war against an infinite number of enemies… ”(Religious Opinions, doc 4). Pope Innocent VII, issued “The Witch Bull” in 1484 where he stated it was the peoples duty to get rid of witches and he gave inquisitors the right to “exercise their office of inquisition and to proceed to the correction, imprisonment and punishment” of witches(Religious Opinions, doc 4).

The strong religious belief that witches were instruments of the Devil and that it

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was society’s duty to eliminate them, along with the confusion and anger that was brought about by the Catholic-Protestant conflict was a contributing factor to the persecution and killing of many witches. While the preachings of influential leaders against the witches was a main factor of this witch craze, the fact that witches were women was an important factor within the faith.

For centuries women within the Catholic church were seen as inferior to men and more susceptible to sin. Both the Protestant and Catholic leaders believed that women, specially elderly women were and easy pray for the devil’s deeds. “The Hammer of Witches” a witch-hunting manual created by Dominican monks they stated that women are more likely to be witches because they are more “credulous, impressionable and passionate”(Religious Opinions, doc 1).

Once again due to the longstanding discrimination against women within the Catholic faith, the monks were probably heavily influenced by their faith which led them to speak so badly of women. The social prejudices held by European society about women made it easier for the persecutors to pinpoint them as lesser, crazy and most of all guilty. The belief that women, specially elder women were weak and inferior is an important factor to understand why they became the target group for witchcraft charges.

The thought that elderly women were impure and more corrupt was spread by the lawmakers that made links between the physical body and witchcraft. A legal conference that took place in 1618 announced that “The bodies of aged persons are impure, which when they[become diseased with] malice” are used by the Devil to carry out his evil deeds(Scientific Opinions, doc1). This shows a clear societal prejudice against old people, specifically older women, but not everyone agreed there was a link between age and corruption.

Belgian physician Johan Wier, while still showing disdain towards women and asserting their inferiority with their “melancholic nature and small brains”, concludes that although women were prone to depression the causes of their diseases were hardly supernatural(Scientific Opinions, doc2). Although not all society was convinced about the existence of witches, the fear and prejudice against older women was a contributing factor to the persecution of this specific group.

The last, and probably greatest factor, that contributed to the fever of witchcraft was the fact that the European culture was characterized by strongly superstitious beliefs. The belief that witches could control men and do a variety of spells, is derived from the belief in the supernatural that most of the European population had. Thomas Ady, as describing the feelings of an English householder explains that “… he cryeth out of some poor innocent neighbor that he or she hath bewitched him(Testimony of Accused Witches and Eyewitnesses, doc3).

The testimony of a licensed midwife at Dillingen, Germany confessed her “witchcraft” and admitted that “she often had a good roast or an innocent child,… kill young infants at birth” (Testimony of Accused Witches and Eyewitnesses, doc1). The report of Churchwardens in Gloucestershire England, reported that “… Alice Prabury in our parish that useth herself suspiciously in the likelihood of a witch, taking upon her not only to help Christian people of diseases… ”(Testimony of Accused Witches and Eyewitnesses, doc4).

All of these documents have in common the belief in evil women guided by the devil to preform witchcraft and unexplainable and horrible deeds such as eating young children, or bewitching young men. The fact that these happenings were not only attributed to the supernatural, but where held as completely true, show the superstitious beliefs that so many held during the witch craze. These accusations were so serious that even those who were not guilty of anything ended up making delusional confessions in the midsts of torture.

The beliefs were held as such truth that these innocent individuals would most likely by the end of their torture end up believing what they were charged with. “Some call me witch… this they enforce upon me; and in part Make me to credit it”, cites the poem “The Witch of Edmonton”(Testimony of Accused Witches and Eyewitnesses, doc5). “Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent must I die” wrote Johannes Junios to his daughter, clearly showing that many of these accusations were completely false(Testimony of Accused Witches and Eyewitnesses, doc 7).

The combination of social prejudices, religious beliefs and cultural precepts helped spark the fire of a European witch craze that lasted over a century and claimed thousands of lives. The main target of this witchcraft were poor elderly women who were easy to dispose of due to years of hatred, superstition and discrimination. The European witch craze is a frightening example of how easily mankind is corrupted by hatred and prejudice and is lead to leave behind any sense of compassion, decency and rational thinking.

While modern day “witch hunts” have been left for the movies and books to recreate, a great deal of prejudice still exists in the society we live in. The targeting of certain “weaker” groups by a “stronger” majority sadly remains a part of 21st century society. The reality of human society is that hardly anyone is willing to go through the excruciating process of admitting they are wrong, or realizing that things like gender, age, skin-color or religion are not to be used as an excuse to harm others.

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