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17th Century Witchcraft Craze Essay

2946 words - 12 pages

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February 12th 2013

17th Century European Witch craze

Abstract

The 17th century was the height of witch craze in Europe, where many were executed and persecuted for witchcraft. Approximately eighty five percent of those executed for witchcraft were women and this frenzy continued in Europe all the way to the early twentieth century. The loss of life was so severe that it has been referred to some researchers as a holocaust. Did this hysteria against witchcraft reduce their numbers? No. The more violently they were executed, the more in number they became. Most of those executed were women and this form of massive attack on women signifies a type of ...view middle of the document...

Devil or satanic association was not part of these magical powers. Around late thirteenth century, the Catholic Church started to advocate that only its priests had legal magical powers. Because these magical powers were not human, they either came from the devil or from God. Anyone, outside of the Church involved in these activities was believed to have obtained their magical powers from the devil, and thus was considered witches. As a result, a new meaning of witchcraft and witches was created. Pagel (130) affirms that with time, a progressively broader variety of crimes were assigned to witches: power to cause painful illness and crippling, to cause sudden death, to cause frigidity, sexual impotence, barrenness, loss of livestock and crop failure. Any kind of inexplicable disaster was entirely blamed on witches.

According to Levack (180), by late fifteenth century, in certain areas of German states, evidence was found that stated that witches worshipped Satan. In order to examine whether these utterances were true, the Pope assigned some Dominican friars to investigate the presence of witches. These monks found that a significant number of those involved in witchcraft were women. A significant number of scholars have attempted to find out why women were mostly recognized as witches. In Reformation Europe, women were overwhelming tried as witches. In Russia, about ninety five percent of those convicted and sentenced to death were women and in England, the figure was ninety two percent (Trevor 214). By late sixteenth century, accusations and killings of witches were out of control. As the court systems secured more confessions, individuals were satisfied that the witch killings were effectively eliminating witches. Williams & Pamela (246) says that most of those accused and persecuted were only women, from the lower social economic classes.

How many women were sentenced to death? Whilst this has been termed lethal misogyny, many scholars believe that two to nine million women lost their lives (Trevor 215). Then in late seventeenth century, the persecution of witches abruptly stopped. Some of the most worthy reasons postulated about the persecutions of witches are: changing practices in medicines from male midwives to female ones, misogyny, village anxieties and tensions about the poor, witches brew, the Protestant Reformation, psychedelic rye, ergot poisoning and syphilis (Yehuda 27).

In the history of women, misogyny has been a common leitmotif. This hatred and fear of women led men at the time to post or record their negative notations on women. Williams & Pamela (257) states that even notable philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato observed women as intellectually and physically inferior beings. During the fourteenth century, most men believed that women were simply vessels for giving birth or malformed males. Starting in the sixteenth century in England and fifteenth century in France, women such as midwives came...

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