Why I liked learning about the witch hunts during the 16th and 17th centuries in Western Europe



3/26/02


In the movie “Snow White” the evil witch was knocked over a cliff with the help of the seven dwarfs who rid of all evil that plagued Snow White. “I’m melting, melting,” were last lines of the wicked witch of the West in Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz. However in the 16th and 17th century of Western Europe an accused witch was burned on the stake, and literally meant, “I’m melting, melting.” Luckily with the advancement of scientific knowledge and realization that curses were just meager words with no power, the supernatural witch hunt ended. But what was it that caused this era of dark superstition in the first place? And why were women the main target for practicing witchcraft? What did witches really even do? With my further reading of Ch. 17 the authors were able to answer these questions, fulfilling my mind with knowledge. More importantly they caught my attention of a subject I found most interesting, and enjoyable, and here’s why……..


To begin with, the media has always viewed witches as some kind of wicked old woman with a wart of the tip of her nose who always cast spells on beautiful princesses in order to achieve some ambitious goal. Actually, witches were seen as cannibalists who ate Christian children, and participated in sexual orgies with the devil at meetings called sabbats. Pretty much on the contrary huh? However one thing remains the same, yes, witches were thought to fly. The origins of witches began with cunning folk who cured people with spells after calamity. They provided hope after disaster, and continuation after death. About this time the Protestant Reformation was well under way. The church had to keep their authority above such reformists as Martin Luther and John Calvin, thus enforcing heavy laws and regulations on villages in the countryside. When these “witch doctors” (if you may) received much attention for the miracles they performed; the clergy felt somewhat suspicious of this power these people had. After all, it was only God who gave power to the clergy. If one wasn’t the clergy it was thought they attained power from Satan. Already in the 13th century priests, and only priets had proclaimed their right to practice magical power. These Satanists witches seemed to be somewhat of a threat to society, and the clergy. So the church took tactics to rid of these people practicing malificium. Nearly seventy thousand to one hundred thousand people died for being accused of witchcraft. Not only did the church rid of the fear in society, but enforced they’re authority morally and politically over a village. Also if one ruler or reformists became an ever so popular threat to the church, the clergy could simply proclaim them as “devilish” and thus they’d be no more.


Apparently the reason women were mainly accused of witchcraft is for the following reasons…..


v Women were seeking power over they’re male counterparts, as well as attention from society.


v Older women in need of assistance, thus proclaimed themselves as “supernaturally gifted” in order to receive the attention they needed.


v If an infant, child or an adored wife died the “popular” magical women were to blame.


For these reasons nearly 80% of all executed as supposed witches were women.


Eventually the stake burning stopped and society developed such advances as insurance instead of the supernatural. The clergy stopped the proclaiming their power, but rather God’s to rid of the devil. “Only one little word can slay him (devil),” Martin Luther said. It seems that one word people realized, was God.


The reasons I found all this so interesting was because since I was a kid witches have been depicted only in fairy tales and children’s plays. To my surprise such things as witches actually existed. Only they weren’t living in the fairy tale world I had thought of. I found it interesting to see how society developed such a morbid theory on evil, in a time of religious reformation. In a way my attention was grabbed at how witches were treated, and how the clergy played the role as mediator and savior in a time of wicked chaos. I was very attentive