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The Causes of Witch Hunting Hysteria

Uploaded by Brent R Goodin on May 09, 2004

From the late fifteenth century until the seventeenth century, Europe experienced a hysterical religious movement, centered on the persecution of individuals as witches. The movement was born during a period of considerable economic, religious, and social upheaval. The Protestant Reformation challenged the old structures of the Catholic Church; as a result, many parts of Europe had broken away from papal authority. Yet, the Catholic Church was far from defeated, it still held the attention of avid followers especially those in Spain and Italy. Certainly the Inquisition was in part responsible for instigating the witch craze and also for creating social tensions, which contributed to its propagation. Moreover, there were great socio-economic changes resulting from imperialism, mercantilism, and the deterioration of the manor. The main causes for the witch craze lie in the Reformation, the socio-economic changes, the scientific ambiguities indirectly endorsing mass hysteria and the failure of the justice system to deal effectively with preposterous claims.

A witch is a person with supernatural knowledge and powers, usually acquired from the Devil in exchange for his or her soul. Witches are believed to be able to change shape, transform others, cause illness and death, concoct charms, and tell the future. In Europe from the late fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, people accused of practicing witchcraft were generally poor, working class people. In addition to being poverty stricken, they were for the most part female and between the age of 24 and 50. As the lower class, unemployed, old, and women were collectively seen as the doormat of society, they were easy targets in this time of instability. Many parts of Europe (e.g. Germany, France, England, and Switzerland) employed this widespread discriminatory policy. Persecution was most prevalent in those areas where Protestant friction heightened religious tensions.

Witchcraft predates the reform period. All religious authorities of the time believe in witchery. Pope Innocent VIII’s policy stated that, “… it shall be permitted to the inquisitors to exercise their office of inquisition and to proceed to the…punishment of the aforesaid persons for their said offences and crimes,” (Document 9) in 1484 establish the problem of witchcraft. The pope commissioned his inquisitors to punish witches, in doing so the pope gave them a wide range of powers to question, imprison and execute those, who were believed to be witches....

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Uploaded by:   Brent R Goodin

Date:   05/09/2004

Category:   European History

Length:   7 pages (1,502 words)

Views:   2560

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