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The new science by no means swept away all other thought. Traditional beliefs and fears long retained their hold on the culture. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many Europeans remained preoccupied with sin, death, and the Devil. Religious people, including many among the learned and many who were sympathetic to the emerging scientific ideas, continued to believe in the power of magic and the occult. Until the end of the seventeenth century almost all Europeans in one way or another believed in the power of demons.
The great witch panics occurred in the second half of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The misfortune created by religious division and warfare were major factors. The new level of violence exacerbated fears and hatreds and encouraged scapegoating. But political self-aggrandizement also played a role. As governments expanded and attempted to control their realms, they, like the Church, wanted to eliminate all competition for the loyalty of their subjects. Secular rulers as well as the pope could pronounce their competitors “devilish”.
Some argue that the Reformation was responsible for the witch panics. Having weakened the traditional religious protections against demons and the Devil, while at the same time portraying them as still powerful, the Reformation is said to have forced people to protect themselves by executing perceived witches.
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Anthropology of religion, Magic, Folklore, Supernatural, Witchcraft
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