Superstition And The Witch Hunts In Early Modern Britain

1856 words - 7 pages

Superstition and the Witch-hunts in Early Modern Britain

The people of Early Modern Britain were deeply superstitious and this
aspect to their character had a major bearing on the course that the
events of the witch-hunts took. The belief in witches was as illogical
as many of the other beliefs that were popularly held in Early Modern
Britain. The populous held many beliefs that were not based on fact.
These beliefs would be very old and passed on from generation and
built in to the character of every person.

People had always believed in witches throughout Europe but there had
not been any official attempt to exterminate them as a group. Witches
thought to be causing harm to the community would not have been
brought to trial but dealt with in the community, either by lynching
them or by ostracising them from the community that they depended on.
Superstition governed these proceedings and logical thinking did not

Although the existence of witches was not a superstitious belief as
many people practised as witches in villages, the belief that they
could cause harm by using their 'evil eye' was certainly a
superstitious belief. If it weren't for this widely held belief that
witches could cause harm, they would not have been seen as such a
threat that needed to be eliminated.

However, when compared with other European countries, Britain has a
relatively low number of executions for witchcraft. Even in the most
prolific region of England, Essex, only 26% were executed compared to
over 90% in Europe. This statistic can be traced back to the popular
beliefs and superstitions held by the people of Britain. Although it
was generally accepted that witches could cause harm, it was not
thought that this required a pact with the devil. Therefore harmful
witchcraft was tried under the secular crime of maleficium, this meant
that the accused were punished according to the scale of the damage
they caused. Convicted witches could be given short prison sentences
or fines for more minor crimes. In Europe witches would be simply
executed as they had formed a pact with the devil. The belief in
Britain that witches did not necessarily form a compact with the devil
had a crucial impact in curbing the use of state-sponsored torture. If
torture was not used, witch-hunts would not develop as spectacularly
of the mass-hunts of Europe.

The British legal system in the way that it was organised in itself
helped to curb the development of witch-hunts. The system was
organised so that the victims would have to bring proceedings against
the witches as opposed to the 'faceless' state. This would mean the
'victims' of the witchcraft might not initiate a trial for fear of
counter accusation. The way that the secular courts were organised was
also important as the judges presiding over cases...

Find Another Essay On Superstition and the Witch-hunts in Early Modern Britain

How has Britain experienced the transition from the early modern to the modern period?

2782 words - 11 pages This essay addresses the question of how Britain has experienced the transition from the early modern to the modern period. It argues that Britain has developed dramatically during this period of time: it became a very powerful nation and indeed assumed the mantle of global superpower. To support this argument and to understand its development, the essay analyses economic, social, political and cultural developments in Britain. Specific

Witch Hunts: Then and Now Essay

3111 words - 12 pages incidents, in winter of 1692. By March 1693, the interrogations were in full force, and five weeks after that, 36 people now had separate cases brought upon them (Ray, 2002b). What most forget is that colonial America was not the only place witch hunts were being conducted. All across Europe, at the conclusion of the crusades in the medieval period, church doctrine became very specific about defining demons, devils, and witches. The church kept

Comparing the Witch Hunts of India and Historical Salem

1035 words - 4 pages , societies such as the Puritans executed untold numbers of people in the name of justice. These series of persecutions began the witch hunts. Usually, brutal torture, imprisonment, or death awaited those accused of witchcraft. Imagine if such atrocities became regular occurrences for the ‘modern day’ societies around the globe. In India these witch hunts occur frequently and without consequence. Witch hunts occur in rural Indian societies

Magic and Superstition in the Middle Ages

3500 words - 14 pages witches, which resulted in the superstitious fear of bats and the misfortunes they may bring. Late Medieval Europe was so plagued by the idea of witches that, “from 1500 and 1660 Europe saw between 50,000 and 80,000 suspected witches executed” (Linder, A History of Witchcraft Persecutions). Most of these executions were carried out in Germany. Thousands of women migrated to Germany in the fifteenth century, driven out by the witch hunts and

The Decline of Family in Modern Britain

1462 words - 6 pages The Decline of Family in Modern Britain Family- “a group of people who are related to each other such as a mother, a father and their children “(Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Cambridge University Press (2008)), Is this the view of a family in 2008, clearly it could be said that this definition is somewhat outdated but does it point to the family being in decline? In Britain today the family has certainly

Skepticism and the Philosophy of Language in Early Modern Thought

3259 words - 13 pages Skepticism and the Philosophy of Language in Early Modern Thought ABSTRACT: This paper discusses the importance of skeptical arguments for the philosophy of language in early modern thought. It contrasts the rationalist conception of language and knowledge with that of philosophers who adopt some sort of skeptical position, maintaining that these philosophers end up by giving language a greater importance than rationalists. The criticism of

An Overview of Britain in the Early 20th Century

1253 words - 5 pages An Overview of Britain in the Early 20th Century During the early 20th century in Britain, lives for everyone changed dramatically. The population levels increased. From 1901 – 1911 the population increased from 42 million to 45 million. This meant there was an increase in birth and a decrease in death rates. There were very distinct social divisions. At the top were the upper and upper middle classes. They earned

Early Modern England and Wales How rational were supernatural beliefs in Early modern England and Wales?

1757 words - 7 pages Supernatural beliefs and belief in witchcraft were popular during the early modern period. To consider the rationality of these beliefs necessitates that we consider them in the context of the period. To impose our modern ideas of rationality and reason upon the beliefs of this period takes them totally out of context and renders them irrelevant and possibly even ridiculous. When we study them within the period we can see the beliefs as part of

Security of the Political and Social Position of the Nobility in Early Modern Europe

1908 words - 8 pages Security of the Political and Social Position of the Nobility in Early Modern Europe The nobility of early modern Europe were descended on the whole from the mounted knights of medieval armies who had been granted land along with social and political privileges and had subsequently formed a higher social class. Between 1500-1789 the status of the aristocracy came under threat both politically and socially. The rise of

Evolution of the Haunted House in Early and Modern Gothic Novels

959 words - 4 pages Evolution of a Haunted House: The use of setting in early and modern gothic novels The setting for a novel plays a big part in how the story and its characters relate to the reader. This paper will examine how setting in gothic literature, plays an important role in the telling of a story by using Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Shirley Jackson’s The House on Haunted Hill as examples. During the eighteenth century, the Romantic

Essay on Order and Superstition in the Tragedies of William Shakespeare

1644 words - 7 pages modern mind would consider totally unrelated -- underlies the existence of superstition. For example, we consider it bad luck to break a mirror because it shatters our own image, in other words, it destroys ourselves. By believing in this superstition, we are accepting the presence of an underlying pattern in the universe that allows what happens to one component to happen to the other.     Caesar and Macbeth are not, of course, the only

Similar Essays

Witch Hunts Of The Early Modern Period As The Result Of Religious And Social Upheaval

1559 words - 6 pages Witch Hunts of the Early Modern Period as the Result of Religious and Social Upheaval The Early Modern Period was a time of great change in and around Europe. The people of the age were faced with upheaval of all forms; religious, social, political and even economical. Religious upheaval stemmed from changes in religious views and practises. The Reformation was a hugely significant event that took place in the years

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

Mc Carthyism As Modern Witch Hunts Essay

2253 words - 9 pages McCarthyism as Modern Witch Hunts McCarthyism: The Real "Witch Hunts" Some people nowadays may consider the government, or some of its agencies, corrupt. Today's scenario is nothing compared to that of McCarthyism in the 1950s. During McCarthyism, the nation was being torn apart. Their loyalty to one another was crushed and common human decency went down the drain (Miller, Crucible xiv). These Communist hunts were eerily similar to

The Witch Hunt In Early Modern Europe How It Came About, Progressed, And Ended.

718 words - 3 pages The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern EuropeDuring the 13th century, the increasing association of ideas about heresy with ideas about sorcery lead to the development of the concept of witchcraft being devil worship, which paved the way for the witch-hunt in Europe (Monter viii). In 1487, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, who were serving as inquisitors for Pope Innocent VIII, published the Malleus Maleficarum or "Hammer of Witches". The Malleus had