HST 376 – Paper 2
October 18, 2012
The Reformations Role in Rise and Decline of the Witch Hunts and the Change in Magic
The Reformation era was a time of great change in Early Modern Europe. Sixteenth and seventeenth century Europeans were attempting to make sense of the frightening events that were happening, such as the Black Death and famine. To find meaning in a world that seemed in constant chaos, early modern Europeans looked to find patterns that would set things right. “The Reformation would not have happened if ordinary people had not convinced themselves that they were actors in a cosmic drama plotted by God: that in the Bible he had left them a record of his plans and directions as to how to carry them out.” The Reformations brought a new direction of faith, where one had to be more active in one’s own salvation. They also brought a profound sense of the fear of hell, and this directed much of the actions of the reformed. The Reformations were a catalytic force in the rise of the witch hunts during sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Europe because they brought a new emphasis on the fear of the devil, a new direction of faith that required personal accountability and brought a sense of guilt to the one that felt they were not doing as they should, and did away with the familiar tokens and practices of magic that characterized an aspect of pre-Reformation, early modern European religion. The Reformations also contributed to the decline of the witch hunts as theology evolved during the time period to include an awareness of the sovereignty of God as well as Biblical literalism. The Reformations contributed to the development of the witch hunts in several ways, the first being a new emphasis on the fear of the devil. In terms of the Protestant Reformation, this was not necessarily a contradiction to former Catholic beliefs of demonology, as Catholics had an awareness of the presence of the devil. It was simply a new heightened fear of the devil and his influence in the world. “Although the great reformers did little to change traditional Catholic demonology, they did tend to emphasize the presence of the Devil in the world and exhibit a more profound fear of him.” Catholic theology incorporated the presence of the Devil, but did not adopt the concept of diabolical power. However, during the Counter-Reformation, Catholics became just as diligent in expressing this fear of the Devil. “Catholic priests often matched their Protestant colleagues in convincing their parishioners of Satan’s omnipresence and in raising their fears of him. They could also be equally effective in encouraging them to campaign ceaselessly against him.” This awareness of diabolical activity for both the Protestants and Catholics was a new phenomenon, and it was a beginning phase in the persecution of witches during the Reformation era in that witchcraft came to be viewed as the work of the Devil. Along with this new emphasis on the danger of the Devil and diabolical temptation was an emphasis on one being active in leading a morally conscious life and being responsible for one’s own salvation. “Instead of merely encouraging conformity to certain standards of religious observance (such as attending church), the reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries instructed the people to lead a more demanding, morally rigorous life.” Personal sanctity became the new means for one’s salvation. A side effect of the emphasis on personal piety was a deep sense of sin that people sought to relieve in any way possible. Naturally, one of the methods of relief was projection of guilt onto another person. A person regarded as a witch often took the brunt of that projection during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. “[I]n sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, many accusations arose when individuals refused to provide economic assistance to people who needed it and who came to one’s door asking for it. In denying...
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