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The European Witch Trials: Hidden Motives?

Essay by   •  March 10, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,118 Words (5 Pages)  •  2,177 Views

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From the 14th to 17th century, continental Europe underwent a mass hysteria with regard to witches. In this time frame, "Europeans executed between 200,000 and 500,000 witches, 85% of whom were women" (Ben-Yehuda). Without explanation it is terribly obvious that this belief of the existence of witchcraft caught flame to the entire continent. It is truly a marvel of how influential such a myth could spread throughout the region. Therefore, it makes sense to examine a higher power as mainly responsible for the spread of this myth. After all considerations have been made, it seems most logical to suspect the church as the chief culprit. Overall, witchcraft was classified as heresy, which meant war upon the church or otherwise a virulent threat. In a time of clear weakness, the church took advantage of the rising hysteria in order to draw people back to mass and ultimately revamp the Catholic setting.

Judging from the sudden witch craze, it seems most likely that the Catholic Church took advantage to strengthen them. Again, the witch hunts were sparked quickly over a short amount of time yet lasted for centuries. Many historians ponder at the possibilities to why this accelerated entry into this myth is the case. Before the 14th century, the church's view on witches was a neutral one in contrast to their fueled hatred during the 14th to 17th centuries. This is because witches, devils, and demons were never associated with one another as the basis for a demonic world. "But, with the publification of the Malleus Maleficarum in the 1480's, demonological theories reached a peak in which witchcraft constituted an antireligion" (Ben Yehuda). The of this classification prompted those to attend church masses so that they were not suspected of witchcraft. Furthermore, this process was again accelerated by Pope John XXII in 1326, when he issued his Super illius specula which "authorized the full use of inquisitorial procedure against witches" (Ben-Yehuda

). Undeniably, the church felt it was necessary to advance in full throttle to not only spread a fear of witches, but a fear of persecution. This general message is reiterated in the Malleus Maleficarum, where it states that, "he who does not believe in the existence of witches is himself a victim of witchcraft practices" (Ben-Yehuda). Cleverly, this prevents any type of contradictory thoughts to the consensus of witchcraft and therefore allows it to progress. After observation of the actions taken by the church, it becomes increasingly noticeable that the church felt a certain motive behind their spread of the myth of witchcraft.

As a mechanism for influencing the European continent, the culture of witchcraft was explicitly described by the church. With provided background information of witchcraft, the people of the time period were given reason to feel a sense of hatred towards witches. One event that was highly implemented by the figures of the church was the Witch's Sabbath, a giant orgy between the witches and the devil. Witches would supposedly fly on their broomsticks to this ceremony in which Catholicism was scoffed at as well as the feasting of dead, unbaptized babies (Lyndall). This again stressed the antireligion that the witches assumedly celebrated as a means of attending church itself. After the extermination of the previous

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