European Witch Hunt

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The epoch of Medieval European history concerning the vast and complicated witch hunts spanning from 1450 to 1750 is demonstrative of the socioeconomic, religious, and cultural changes that were occurring within a population that was unprepared for the reconstruction of society. Though numerous conclusions concerning the witch trials, why they occurred, and who was prosecuted have been founded within agreement there remains interpretations that expand on the central beliefs. Through examining multiple arguments a greater understanding of this period can be observed as there remains a staggering amount of catalysts and consequences that emerged. In the pursuit of a greater understanding three different interpretations will be presented. These interpretations which involve Brian Levack’s “The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe,” Eric Boss’s “Syphilis, Misogyny, and Witchcraft in 16th-Century Europe,” and Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s “The European Witch Craze of the 14th to 17th centuries: A Sociologist’s Perspective,” share various opinions while developing their own theories. The comparison of these observations will focus upon why the witch trials occurred when they did, why did they stop when they did, why did the witch trials occur when they did, and who was persecuted and who was responsible for the identification and punishing of witches.

Concerning why the witch hunts occurred when they did the agreed upon opinion by all three author’s is the social unrest and uncertainty felt due to the Protestant Reformation and the schism it created amongst the populace, the effects of recovering from plague and war, and the enforced patriarchal structure of a society that was changing. It was during the Reformation that Christian...

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...nt of the world with a broader awareness and accepting of the world without a “reliance upon supernatural explanations...and encouraged...scientific manner,”8 abolishing the need for scapegoats. A view that both Levack and Ben-Yehuda share is the result of religious changes. There emerged a new religious tolerance attributed by Ben-Yehuda to the Peace of Westphalia, stating that

“once stability was achieved and religious pluralism accepted, the witch-hunts weakened, finally disappearing altogether.”9 Though Boss does not exclusively establish a view it can be inferred through the understanding of disease and medicine, the end of persecution due to death and illness would cease.

Works Cited

1 Nachman Ben-Yehuda The European Witch Craze of the 14th to 17th Centuries: A Sociologist’s Perspective. The University of Chicago, 1980. 15. 2 Levack! 123.3 Levack 164.

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