The Rise of the Witchcraft Craze in 17th Century Britain Essay

The Rise of the Witchcraft Craze in 17th Century Britain Essay

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The Rise of the Witchcraft Craze in 17th Century Britain

Accusations of witchcraft date back to 900 AD, but killing following
accusation reached a fever pitch in the late 16th century Europe, and
late 17th century Britain. Germany and Scotland were the areas that
were most heavily purged, with an estimated 4000 witches dying in
Scotland and 26 000 dying in Germany (Gibbons). The Inquisition in
Britain happened against a backdrop of new ideas competing with
established traditions which created a sense of confusion and
religious hysteria amongst the general population. A number of
theories have developed from historians as to what sparked the
witchcraft craze; ideas of the Reformation and rise of Puritanism have
been published alongside beliefs of the witch hunt being a
'gendercide' (Katz).

The transformation of the established church in Britain alongside the
rise of Puritanism created a sense of disorder and fear. The church
was an integral part of the British society in the 17th century, and
the Reformation which featured the split of the Catholic church under
Henry VIII provoked feelings of uncertainty amongst the general
population. The weakness of the established church had been revealed,
generating disunity among the highly conservative and religious
population. Nachman Ben-Yehuda describes the effect of this
transformation in relation to the witchcraze: "Where the Catholic
Church was weakest {they} experienced a virulent witch craze. Where
the Catholic Church was strong hardly any witch craze occurred". This
correlates to the figures for Italy, Spain and Portugal, countries
where the church was strong, having much lower fi...


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ignorant and "religiously indoctrinated" public perhaps had been more
stable, the craze would never have reached the level it did.
Identification of witchcraft with Hopkins and Stearne personalised the
witch hunt, and most of the population used the charges of sorcery as
a way of ridding their communities of evil, whether to create a
Puritan 'land of saints' or as a scapegoat to explain the frightening
scientific and religious reforms. The craze was allowed to develop
because of ignorance and fear, but it is certain that the reason it
started was religion. Because of the Papal Bull of 1484, the
religiously commissioned "Malleus Maleficorum", Hopkins and Stearne's
puritan fundamentalism and the general indoctrination of religion into
society legitimised the hunt in a time of religious transformation and
uncertainty.

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