The European Witch Craze

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The European witch craze started in the 14th century and lasted until the 17th century. Over this period of time there have been between 200,000 and 500,000 witches executed. 85% of those were women. The Change of the inquisition’s objectives determined the character and timing of these executions, also a big part of that played differentiation process within medieval society. Women began to occupy higher positions within European society. A part of it was the higher proportion of female leaders and their influence on the changing economic roles. On the one hand it was a great period of time for women on the other they had to face increasing pressures from society and unfortunately, men became threatened by them therefore they put them in a worse light and highlighted their negatives. These executions gained common acceptance within society. People developed demonological theories and studied it. Witch craft in the early period was mainly a means of allocating blame for disasters that couldn’t otherwise be explained. People believed that there was a war between god and the devil and devil sent witches to earth as a means of revenge and to punish the human race. Because there was no logical or scientific explanation for meteorological incidents or deaths people looked into religion. There are several questions I asked myself when researching the subject witch craze. Why did it start in 14th century? Why did it end in 17th century? Why were women the main victims? And why did people associate witches with demons?

The answers are based on numerous conclusions. The inquisition and the collapse of the authoritative framework of religion and of the feudal social order have determined the beginning of the witch craze. ‘ Changes in the economy, demography, and family, especially changes in the role of women- some of which were of catastrophic proportions-explain the nature of the target of the craze. The spatial distribution of the witch hunt and its termination resulted respectively from the presence or absence of all or some of these conditions in different parts of Europe ‘.(Ben – Yehuda, 1980, p.2) The last of my questions is based on mystic beliefs, scientific explorations and idealistic expectations.The religious motif is inseparable when talking about witch craze although canonical books mostly ignore the subject. In the Bible witches aren’t associated with demons at all and the supernatural world is never mentioned however, in Greece and Rome people used magic to ‘produce rain, prevent hailstorms, drive away clouds, increase wealth and the like, but were also used for evil purposes ( Ben-Yehuda, 1980, p.3). What I think is very interesting is the way O’dea describes religion which is mentioned in Ben – Yehuda work’… the manipulation of non-empirical or supra-empirical means for non-empirical, or-supra empirical, ends…’ and magic he says is’…the manipulation of non-empirical or supra-empirical means for empirical ends’. What it basically means is that magic can be used to serve human race particularly their needs. These are crucial information we need to know to fully understand European which craft. ‘Its technological nature, its ad hoc purposes, its extremely specific goals (love potions, specific spells, love magic, and the like).’ As we can clearly see the’ witch matter’ had its roots way before 14th century when it expanded and developed. The European witch craze in the 14th to 17th century was transformed into a devilish object. ‘These changes in the conceptualisation of witchcraft are of crucial importance. Because witchcraft was regarded as a routine, day-to-day (almost personal) technology until 14th century, witches were classified as good or bad, depending on the objective of their magic. After the 14th century, a whole systematic theory was devoted to witchcraft: books were written on the subject, and experts specialised in its theory (demonologists) and practice (inquisitors, witch-hunters, and the like)....
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