Attitudes About Witchcraft in 17th Century England
Demonized glares, cackling laughs, pointy hats, curling claw-like fingernails, warts perched on their noses, pale sickly skin that contrasts to their black or deep purple clothing: this is the typical description of what most witches are perceived as today. Witchcraft officially began in England in the mid 1400’s. Christianity was the dominant religion at this time in England. To be a witch, one had to sign a pact with the devil, often to worship him, which was heresy and meant damnation. As society became more literate, increasing numbers of books and tracts fueled the witch fears. The Malleus Maleficarum, written by Kramer and Sprenger, was one of the most influential books used by secular witch-hunting courts. Thousands of people (primarily women) were judicially murdered as a result of the procedures described in this book, for no reason than a strange birthmark, cultivation of medicinal herbs, or simply because they were falsely accused (often for financial gain by the accuser). The Malleus Maleficarum serves as a horrible warning about what happens when intolerance takes over a society. During the Reformation, from 1500 to 1660, Europe saw between 50,000 and 80,000 suspected witches executed, 80% of those killed were women. One of these women was Isobel Gowdie, who admitted to transmuting herself into a hare and confessed involvement with the Devil for 15 years. In the 1640’s, witch-hunting, after a major outbreak in France, began to decrease. England executed its last witch in 1682 and the world was changing along with new ideals brought about by the Enlightenment. It wasn’t until the 19th century that people began to see witches as healers. In Year of Wonders, the outbreak of deaths is blamed on a widow, Mem Gowdie, and her niece, Anys Gowdie, who are the village's herbalists and midwives. To test Mem Gowdie for being a witch, they throw her into a flooded mine shaft. Once she drowns, they immediately...
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