12 January 2010
To Be, or Not to Be…A Renaissance Witch
Indescribable is the atrocity that people created during the time period of 1485-1603, that would lead them to the witch-hunting times (also known as the burning times). The Renaissance Era was a time of rebirth, of new thoughts, knowledge, philosophy, and so on. However, dark histories, stories, and tales lie within this bountiful time. The belief in witches and witchcraft was supposed to have been an accepted truth of life in Shakespeare’s era but instead they were executed. Many people, intellectual and commoner alike, spoke for the existence of witchcraft seeing its demonic ways as something palpable. Yet others opposed it, saying that it was a mere fancy and fantasy of man’s imagination. Life for mostly women of that time was questionable, and sometimes even short. There have been many varying reports of how many woman (and an even smaller amount of men) were accused and executed of being witches or doing witchcraft. Apparently, there were supposed to be signs of how to spot such witches and heretics of the Church. A myriad of questions can be asked about witches and witchcraft such as: what was the difference between a white and black witch, were most witches women, and so on. Many people made it famous over the witch-hunt craze by writing books or manuals to hunt witches while others wrote books showing how the existence of witches was preposterous. No matter where one went during this time, however, there was always someone’s accusation or opinion to be heard. There is much controversy over the subject of witchcraft in the time period of the English Renaissance of whether or not it truly existed. So it would make the worthwhile of those who have a curious nature to know if witches and witchcraft between the time period of 1485-1603 can truly be validated with the given knowledge.
To begin this excavation back into the history of witches and witchcraft of the English Renaissance, one must find the signs pertaining to witches. Some people may ask what the signs are that make a witch a witch. Among the many attributes of the witch, most were old women (even though children and young women were blamed too), poor, had no men or any person in particular to protect them, were single or widowed with many pets (familiars). This is merely a quick sum of a witch, since many were described, as Peter Stearns would state, “They were popularly described as old women (but sometimes children and young women) who convened for sabbath (midnight assemblies), worshipped, engaged in sexual orgies, and made pacts with the devil (thus renouncing Christian Baptism), in return for which they acquired powers to control natural forces such as storms, destroy crops, harm cattle, or incapacitate human genitals” (284). Most of these accusations were considered fantasy due to the fact that they could be explained as some natural phenomena unknown during the English Renaissance, but seeing as how they could not explain diseases or natural causes they turned to a scapegoat, witchcraft. These times were considered harsh as well as sparse, women were expected to make home remedies and medicines to cure daily ills, these women were well sought for their herbal knowledge and the Church developed this into a fear and as part of the definition of use of witchcraft, “'Wise women' also used herbs for this purpose. The use of herbs and plants such as mandrake, datura, monkshood, cannabis, belladonna, henbane and hemlock were common ingredients in brews and ointments for medical purposes. As the fear of witches and witchcraft increased in Europe the Catholic Church included in its definition of witchcraft anyone with knowledge of herbs as 'those who used herbs for cures did so only through a pact with the Devil, either explicit or implicit.' Possession of such herbs, many of which did have psychedelic effects, resulted in execution by burning in...
Cited: Kramer, Heinrich, and James Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum. New York: Cosimo, Inc, 1928.
Levack, Brian. The Witchcraft Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Scot, Reginald. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Mineola: Dover, 1972.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Logan: Perfect Learning, 2004.
Stearns, Peter. "Early Modern Europe 1479-1675". The Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
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