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Political Catalysts Of The Great Witch Hunts Of Early Modern Europe.

4106 words - 16 pages

Political Catalysts of the Great Witch Hunt in Early Modern EuropeWitchcraft was an almost universally held belief during the early modern period, and the 'crime' of witchcraft was responsible for the prosecution and execution of thousands of individuals - mainly women - in the period 1450 to 1750. Although certain rational thinkers firmly proclaimed their disbelief (for example, Cyrano de Bergerac, 1619-1655, in his Letter against Witches: No, I do not remotely believe in witches, even though many great persons have not been of my opinion, and I defer to no one's authority, unless accompanied by reason …. Reason alone is my queen ….)Others (for example, Joseph Glanvill, although also a rationalist and founding member of the Royal Society), held that Those that dare not bluntly say, "There is no God" content themselves (for a fair step and introduction) to deny that there are spirits and witches." In other words, disbelieving in witches was tantamount to disbelieving in God. Although Cyrano's opinion eventually became the orthodoxy, at the time Glanvill's was the conventional view. This gave people from the highest to the lowest levels in any country in Christendom the justification, even the duty, to persecute those of whom they disapproved, whether for political, financial or personal reasons, under the very convenient blanket accusation of witchcraft.In this essay I intend to show how the crime of witchcraft was used for political advantage by looking at the different political situations which contributed to the dramatic rise in the fear and persecution of witches throughout the period.The numerous calamities of the late fourteenth century - for example, the Black Death - and the frequency of war and general hardship throughout the Medieval period led European intellectuals to assume a greater demonic intervention in the world.It was these very same factors that created the anxieties in early modern communities which encouraged magistrates to prosecute so-called witches.It was a lack of understanding of the events and other factors such as changing weather patterns affecting crop yields that led to a rise in fear of witchcraft and demonic intervention. Wolfgang Behringer's study 'Weather, Hunger and Fear' shows the correlation between the temporary global cooling, dubbed 'The Little Ice Age', and the rise in witch trials in central Europe. The ignorance and superstition of the common folk led them to supernatural explanations for their misfortunes and played an important role in the origin of the witch-hunt. There are many examples of inadequate leaders being bullied into action against 'witches' by rebellious communities. Authorities obviously bear responsibility for witch hunts but individual cases as well as mass persecutions were "often preceded by massive pressure from the population bordering on open rebellion against the established order."As German historian Walter Rammel explains, the problem usually started with lay...

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