Dynamics of witch hunting

Chapter 6 Levack

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pEuropean Witch-hunt- 1500-1700. pMotives- eradicate heresy/rebellion. pIntensity- varied from place to place and time. pTimeframe- began in the 15th century; more intense from 1550; peaked in 1620 and then slowly declined in the late 17th century onwards.

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Preconditions for the hunt

Witch-beliefs of the local population- reality of maleficia (harmful magic).

pJudicial institutions of the area (local authorities more concerned)- belief in the cumulative concept of witchcraft. pMood of the community. p‘Popular witch-beliefs predated the formation of the cumulative concept of witchcraft and were easily rekindled by preachers when they became convinced that witches were loose in the community.’ (Levack Page 161). pSouthern Spain- no belief in the cumulative concept- hence few prosecutions for witchcraft.

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 Elites in society- belief in the cumulative concept and the reality of witchcraft= no witch-hunt without these beliefs.                               Late 17th century- elites became more sceptical- hence the decline of the witch-hunt.                                                                        Improvements in Literacy/printing-witchcraft treaties reached small communities/spread by word of mouth.

2)Changes in the law- Holy Roman Empire Code on the crime of witchcraft, the Carolina of 1532- set up the conduct of the witch-hunt  Papal Inquisitors- prosecution of witches was not possible until sorcery was classified as heresy. 5) Changes in legal procedure- moving away from the Accusatorial System to the Inquisitorial System- emphasis on the authorities to investigate witchcraft accusations and use torture to obtain confessions (in Germany). In England torture was not used and they had the use of the Jury System

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 Increased anxiety as a factor- triggered by preaching or indirectly from economic, political or religious tensions. Clearly, the sermons of the witch-hunting preacher prepared the minds of his/her parishioners to look for witches in their communities.

 Increased communications- news of witch-hunts and official pronouncements regarding the danger of witchcraft raised fears in communities.

8) Harvest failure/famine- an indirect factor in the witch-trials in Trier, Germany, in the 1580-90s-  ‘rough correlation’ periods of economic crisis and intensity of the witch-hunt- 1562-1630. This created an atmosphere in which accusations of witchcraft were likely to rise.

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Religious crises- increased communal anxieties that led to witchcraft accusations.

pPolitical crises- created anxieties amongst the elites- led to the suppression of opposition through the medium of the witch-hunt. pWar- war disrupted witch-hunts- preoccupations were elsewhere. ‘Witch-hunting was a peace-time pursuit.’ (Levack page 166). pConclusion- the mood of the community was one factor in the preconditions for the witch-hunt.

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Triggers of the witch hunt

 Catalyst- accusation of witchcraft based on a personal misfortune like the death of a child or a loss of an animal/mysterious illness.

pMotives- explanation of the calamity and to seek vengeance on past enemies or to find a scapegoat for misfortune (normally the ugly old woman in the community).   pInitial action- local magistrate to investigate. pMost alleged maleficia were responsible for precipitating most witch-hunts, occasionally, however, accusations of Devil-worship could provide the stimulus to prosecution. pGatherings of witches- Matthew Hopkins Witch-hunt in England:  Confessions- some witch-hunts began when individuals made confessions to diabolical activity. pDemonic possession- triggered some witch-hunts such as in Lille (France) in 1613

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Individual prosecutions and small hunts- mainly one to three persons.

pMost common in England- based on charges of maleficia and no use of torture. pMedium-sized hunts- mainly five to ten victims. pTorture was involved- possibly ended when the supply of stereotypical witches (old and ugly single women) had dried up or there was less popular hysteria.  Large hunts  ten to hundreds of victims- high degree of panic/hysteria. Common in Germany- ‘chain-reaction’ hunts: witches provided the names of accomplices- who were arrested, tried, convicted and forced to denounce others through the use of torture. Trier-306 witches named 1,500 accomplices.

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Anxiety- when people were being denounced as witches in their community they became terrified, especially of being accused of being a witch. This terror led them to support the trials.

p   Guilt- cases of guilt-ridden people confessed to being witches. The End of Witch-Hunts:  Large hunts- mass hysteria/use of torture/desire to find accomplices= trials could go on for long periods. pWhy was there a suspension of the judicial process? a)When innocent people were accused- who broke the stereotype of the witch- old and poor. b)When accusations centred on the educated classes- credibility issue. c)When fraud or deceit was present in an accusation.

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