European witch hunts Essay

This essay has a total of 840 words and 4 pages.


european witch hunts





Witch hunts blazed across Europe over the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries not just
killing innumerable innocent people, but stripping women of much of the power they had
once held, and changing society’s perceptions of women all together. The economic
hardships, religious rivalries, and troubled politics of the time made accusing your
neighbors of witchcraft convenient. Where there was war and poverty, or merely bad luck,
peasants would assume witchcraft and rush to blame an old, defenseless woman in trials
which involved unbelievable cruelty and horrible sadism. As religion and the Catholic
Church began to complement and perpetuate the increasing hysteria, European society as a
whole could do nothing but watch as the face of Europe and the role of women were altered
permanently.

Although the belief in witches predates Christianity, and myths were prevalent throughout
Europe, not until the fifteenth century, did witch hunts become endemic, and nearly
epidemic. Once religion became involved, the fear of witches increased dramatically and
the extreme notions of the devil’s powers merely furthered the witch hunts. With
the Church authorizing the Inquisition to investigate witchcraft, the popular concept of
witches as evil sorcerers expanded to include allegiances with the Devil, and a distinctly
evil, as opposed to mystical, character. It has been speculated that this religiously
inspired genocide beginning in the fifteenth century was motivated from the Church’s
desire to attain a complete religious monopoly, and create scapegoats for spoiled crops,
dead livestock, and death in general which could not be explained as part of God’s
plan. If a witch were to blame, peasants had a means of fighting back and combating evil,
whereas if God were to blame for their misfortunes, peasants would either have to blame
themselves or the Church would have to find some answer.

Throughout the witch hunts, women were the primary target; most victims being midwives,
native healers, single women who lived alone, people against whom neighbors had a grudge
or practitioners of ancient pagan rituals. Although not all were women, 75 to 90% of
accused witches were in fact women (Levack,. p. 124), forcing one to question the affects
of the harsh portrayal of women being placed on women.

Prior to the fifteenth century, rural European women were highly revered and respected
pillars of rural community life; not only considered mothers and wives, but seen as
community leaders, physicians, and sources of strength and wisdom. Women had a special
and imperative role in rural life, and even those that lived on the fringes of society
were well respected as the village healers and wise women. These old women would possess
the wisdom of the ages and pass it on to others. This respect for women quickly
deteriorated, however, during the witch hunts. The belief spread that women were morally
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