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It argued that much of what was thought to be witchcraft was not supernatural at all but natural trickery.

Christian Persecution of Witches, Witchcraft, and Women

The second English Witchcraft Act was passed. Many historians consider this period, especially the years —, as the one with the largest number of witchcraft cases.

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The Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, England, accused 12 witches. The charges included the murder of 10 by witchcraft. Ten were found guilty and executed, one died in prison, and one was found not guilty. The Loudun witch trials took place in France after Ursuline nuns reported being possessed.

They claimed to be the victims of Father Urbain Grandier, who was convicted of sorcery despite refusing to confess, even under torture. Although Father Grandier was executed, the "possessions" continued to occur until Mary Trembles and Susannah Edward were hanged, the last documented witch hangings in England itself. Salem witch trials took place in the British colony of Massachusetts. It was a forgery claiming massive witchcraft executions in the 14th century. The evidence was, essentially, fiction. French writer Jules Michelet advocated a return to goddess worship and saw women's "natural" inclination to witchcraft as positive.

He depicted witch hunts as Catholic persecutions.

Persecuting Witches and Witchcraft

Matilda Joslyn Gage published "Women, Church and State" which reported that nine million witches had been executed. In this book about the witch trials, she argued that witches represented a pre-Christian "old religion. Gerald Gardner published "Witchcraft Today " about witchcraft as a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion. Anthropologists explore the beliefs different cultures have about witchcraft, witches, and sorcery.

The phenomenon of the diabolic witch and the early modern practice of witchcraft prosecution originated in the region of what is today western Switzerland around the year From that geographical origin, the beliefs and practices that fueled both prosecutions and witch hunts spread most effectively from one region to adjacent regions. Although rumors of the "new sect of the witches" appears to have inspired isolated witch hunts in such far flung places as Arras in northern France, most of the fifteenth century witch trials took place in a fairly narrow geographical region.

Witch-hunts did not exist in Europe before the mid-fifteenth century. What conditions fostered the concept of the witch-hunt? LS: Over the course of about two centuries, European clergy went from condemning witchcraft beliefs as "superstitious" to sharing them and elaborating them into the concept of the diabolic witch.

Why did this happen? In part, it was due to the influence of magic within clerical circles, where esoteric knowledge derived in part from the Arabic world was cobbled together with quasi-magical elements of popular religious practice to create the art of necromancy. The popularity of necromancy among the narrow upper crust of learned men contributed to their belief that magic was likely to be real, and provided the fabric for fears of secret attack.

These fears were particularly strong among the high clergy during the fraught years of the great Western schism, when two popes vied for control of Europe. The schism was resolved in the early fifteenth century, but left a profound dispute over the seat of power within the church.

Meanwhile, the development of the medieval inquisitions had led to the creation of guides for the discovery and persecution of heresy. These guides, in the manner of medieval religious writing, aimed to systematize knowledge and to explain how apparently quite disparate elements fit within a single, coherent Christian worldview. In so doing, the manual writers merged together heresy, village magic, popular fears of witchcraft, and the demonic elements of clerical necromancy.

What new insight have you gleaned in considering the persecution of witchcraft from a legal, rather than religious or purely social, standpoint? LS: Persecution is a phenomenon which can take place within religious, social, or legal spheres, as well as across them. Prosecution is the particular prerogative of the legal apparatus. By examining the persecution of witches through the lens of legal prosecution and within the context of prosecution generally, my work highlights the persecutory nature of early modern criminal prosecution.

It is the similarities, not the differences, between witch trials and other criminal trials that are most instructive in this regard. This is of importance to historians of witchcraft, who have often examined the witch hunts as an exception within early modern criminal justice.

It is of importance to contemporary observers of law as well, because it was in combating that persecutory tendency of early modern justice that the modern legal protections of the individual arose. Given that our modern system is also prone to lapse into persecutory paths, it is useful to know how the persecutory tendencies of the old system were facilitated, that we might better fight their intrusion into our own criminal justice system.

You describe witchcraft prosecution as ebbing and flowing during the period of to Is this evidence of the importance of social control in pre-Reformation cities?


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LS: The ebb and flow of witchcraft prosecution is not so much evidence for the importance of social control, as it is evidence that both social control and witchcraft prosecution were driven by the same forces. That social control was important to pre-Reformation cities has been long understood by historians of the urban communes, and indeed is seen as one reason that early Reformation innovations in social control were largely urban experiments.

What is interesting about the relationship between social control and witchcraft prosecution in my work is that they follow the same trends, that both appear to be expressions of a zeal for reform within the ruling circles of the cities. The waxing and waning of that zeal had many causes, some of which are lost to the historian. Among these is without a doubt some measure of the natural flux of generations, by which young people often have more in common in their temperament with their grandparents than with their parents.

One cause which I have been able to trace in the book is the process by which a single, spectacular event can cause a social panic, resulting in a renewed zeal for moral and social control.

The book opens with a summary of a trial that took place in Lucerne, where you describe how a secular, urban court had a man who was accused of theft tortured until he also confessed to a charge of diabolic witchcraft. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience.

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Witch hunt history of Western Switzerland

E-mail this to a friend Printable version. A 17th Century woodcut showing three witches and their familiars. Traditional image of a witch in pointed hat with cat at her feet. This book from the s is on currently display at the Cromwell Museum. BBC News - African children accused of witchcraft. The Daily Telegraph: When England was betwitched.

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