Growth and Decline in the persecution of witches

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  • Growth and Decline in Witch Persecutions
    • Papal Bull 1484
      • declared witchcraft as an exceptional crime and that legal limits on torture could be removed in order to obtain evidence
    • Malleus Maleficarum 1486
      • first published in 1486, reprinted 13 times by 1520
      • written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Spreger
      • based on Kramer's investigations as an Inquisitor for Southern Germany
      • the book argued that witches, who were mainly women, committed terrible crimes which meant to usual legal procedures had to be abandoned
      • Wolfgang Behringer claims that the years after 1470 were years of crisis due to plagues. People sought scapegoats so Kramer may have been just playing on people's fears
        • But prosecutions dropped in the period of 1520 to 1560
    • religious changes and confessional strife
      • Reformation challenged key ideas of the late medieval Catholic Church, resulting in a number of religious wars.
        • increased Europe's fear of the Devil, which increased fear of witches and urgency to eradicate them.
      • protestant attack on superstition, elements of paganism and magic led to campaigns against witches
        • also encouraged its followers to look to the Bible, which declared that 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'
      • New determination to create a godly state and purify society
      • Witchcraft persecution was most intense in areas where there were religious divisions
        • witch-hunts took place in areas that bordered states where the alternative form of Christianity prevailed or in areas where there was a large minority of the other faith
          • Particularly true in France, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Scotland as it helped to create political instability and violence
            • In areas where there was no religious divide, such as Italy, Spain and Scandinavia, witnessed only small-scale witch-hunts
      • witch hunting had begun nearly a century before the start of the Reformation in 1517
      • Early years of Reformation  (1520-1560) witnessed very few witchcraft persecutions
      • In France witchcraft persecutions declined during the Wars of Religion and were at their height during periods of peace
      • Conclusion: religious conflict made people more concerned about moral subversion purifying society and that those prosecuting could argue that they were carrying out God's work. But it may be that religious war devastated a country and created the social and economic disasters to give rise to the conditions for a witch-hunt
    • socio-economic causes
      • witch-hunts in western and central Europe coincided with a period of rapid population growth and a significant increase in poverty
        • put increased pressure on the better-off to help the poor, but their willingness to do so declined
          • arguably led to conflict and anxiety within communities, which might have encouraged the witch-hunt
          • the period saw an increase in capitalism, in both towns and rural communities - served to undermine charity at the time
      • argued that accusations of witchcraft were used to divert attention and anger away from the economic dislocation that was taking place
      • the conflicts withing villages that led to accusations of witchcraft were constant features and did not depend on rapid social changes
      • There were areas of extreme hardship but where witch-hunts did not occur
      • Generalisations about conditions extending over two hundred years are difficult to support
    • scapegoats and minorities
    • popular culture and cultural changes
    • persecution from above or below
      • ABOVE
        • States grew in power and sought to bring the territories over which they ruled under greater control. they also took an increased interest in religious matters and wanted to impose moral conformity ... arguably led to an ideological base for witch-hunting
        • legal system may have affected prosecutions... very few cases in England where there was judicial centralisation opposing the Holy Roman Empire which had high levels of persecution with no central judicial regulation
        • had to be a belief in magic and witchcraft . elite played a role for the spread of diabolism through literature
          • Appears that without state encouragement prosecutions on a large-scale would not have taken place
        • without beliefs in witchcraft and fear of diabolism, the judiciary would have been unwilling to prosecute .
      • BELOW
        • Growing tensions within villages --- those accused were usually unpopular, anti-social, involved in begging and accused of cursing those who would not give them help .... accusations and trials were a means to remove anti-social members.
        • Most accusations began in small, local communities where everyone knew each other. Peasantry within the villages were conservative in outlook and beliefs and cunning men and wise woman were part of village life
        • the anxieties of villagers forced central authorities to take action.
          • During the period from 1550 to 1650, village communities organised themselves to put pressure on the elites for hunts.
            • in Trier peasants formed village communities to investigate their concerns and, with support from higher authorities, carried out prosecutions.
              • Gave them the chance to settle old scores
    • the role of wars and natural disasters
      • The Black Death and the plague
        • in cities such as Milan witches were blamed and in Geneva 80 were put to death
          • Despite outbreaks of plague in 1633 and 1636, witch-hunting in Germany was then in decline and most people simply accepted plague as a fact of life
      • The Weather and the mini ice-age
        • there was an ancient belief in weather magic, where women were seen to be conjuring up storms
          • also believed that weather magic could not be conjured up by a single witch and therefore collective culprits could be accused.
        • the period witnessed deteriorating weather conditions that resultef in a lowering of the snowline an expansion of glaciers
          • impact on the amount of land which could be cultivated - raised the prospect of famine and created tensions
          • happened in Southern Germany in 1590 where a tract blamed witches for the weather
          • Duke of Bavaria executed 63 women for weather magic between 1589 and 1591
          • in Franconia in the 1630s witches were forced to confess that they were responsible for the weather
        • Witch-hunting began some 80 years before the mini ice-age
      • War
        • a number of witches were burned near Bern in Switzerland between 1395 and 1405, during the war against the Turks.
    • Decline in persecutions by region
      • decline generally seen to happen in the period after 1630
        • last persecution in the United Provinces (Netherlands) in 1610
        • Last Spain prosecution in Spain between 1609-1611
        • Last persecution Holy Roman Empire 1775
        • BUT some rise in persecutions
          • Sweden and Finland in the 1660s and 1670s.... Poland between 1675 and 1720 and the Salem hunts in 1692 and 1693
    • Legal Changes
      • New conduct rules: to limit local judges and  inferior courts
        • The French Parlement demanded that  all death sentences within its jurisdiction be reviewed
      • use of torture came under attack as the evidence obtained was viewed as unreliable
        • Torture abolished in Prussia in 1754, Saxony in 1770 and France in 1788
      • judges demanded higher standards of evidence... circumstantial evidence not allowed and suspects named by other witches would not be tried.
        • Confessions less willingly accepted and those who 'made pacts with the Devil' were seen as mentally ill
        • Less likely to use evidence from children, servants and accomplices
    • Religious Changes
      • Growing belief in the supremacy of God and therefore that witchcraft could occur only if He allowed it
        • Closer study to the Bible found that there was little reference to witchcraft and one to Devil worship
    • Intellectual Chnages
      • developing of science led to a questioning of events
        • growing belief that the physical world followed a set of rules and that there was a natural or rational explanation for events
          • undermined the belief that the Devil could influence events
      • Scientific Revolution challenged the idea of demons and magic
        • resulted in agreater understanding of medecine and cures challenging the idea that disease and illness were the result of witchcraft
    • Social and Economic Development
      • after 1650: rising prices and inflation came to an end...
        • Wages started to rise- people were better off
          • Impact of war on civilians decreased
            • The plague and other epidemics declined

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