Witchcraft. In Early Modern Europe. Witchcraft Trials. In Europe, between 1500-1650, thousands of witchcraft trials were held. Between 40,000-100,000 people, accused of being witches, were killed. Some 80 percent of them were women.* Why then? Why women?
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In Early Modern Europe
In Europe, between 1500-1650, thousands of witchcraft trials were held. Between 40,000-100,000 people, accused of being witches, were killed.
Some 80 percent of them were women.*
Why then? Why women?
*NOTE: In some outlying areas of Europe (Iceland, Estonia, Finland) far more men than women were accused. On the other hand, in many regions 90 per cent or more of accused witches were women (Hungary, Denmark, and England, for instance). Still, overall, 80 percent of those accused throughout Europe were women. Courts did not give male suspects more favorable treatment. (See Robin Briggs, Witches & Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft, pp. 260-61.)
A response to change? What change?
Note: Conditions created an atmosphere in which it was easier for the trials to occur
Note: An article by Edward Bever asserts that early modern women acted more like witches than men – they were more likely to poison enemies, use ritual magic, and show great anger because these were the weapons available to them.
Weak, so susceptible to devil’s advances
Sexually powerful through association with devil, so able to seduce men into sin
Important during marginal spaces – the intersection between life and death. (Women were the midwives. Women prepared the bodies of the dead.)
Durer, Three Witches
The witchcraft scares began where the Italian states, German states, France, and Switzerland meet. Why? Protestant-Catholic conflict?
The Elite View of the Witch
This influential work, written by two Dominicans, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, was published in 1484. Its ideas of witches were held by many of the elites.
The devil in this picture shows signs of paganism – he seems to be part goat. The “witch” is actually an alchemist, one of those intellectuals who sought to turn lead into gold and other “magic.” He could be Faust. This is just one version of the witch under the power of the devil.
The goat-like demon here presents his back end to the woman. A common element of ritual life is that of reversal or “upside-down-ness,” which plays upon opposites. The demon shows the most vulgar part of his body, the opposite of the face, perhaps.
This demon has bird-like characteristics, showing the animality of evil.
The woman worships the reptilian-avian-monkey demon. Note his human torso, legs, and arms. – And his modesty.
The Witch in Popular Culture
*Look it up!
A witch stealing milk rides on a Star of David. Sometimes prejudice against Jews was linked to witchcraft. However, Jews could not be heretics because they were not Catholics.
These witches are cooking up a storm.
Some witches had the ability to fly, sometimes out of body, usually at night. They possibly were members of pre-Christian fertility cults. Example: the benandante of Fruili (good witches), born with a caul (amniotic sac) on their heads as a sign they were witches, supposedly flew out of their bodies to a meadow to fight for the harvest against bad witches. (See Carlo Ginzberg, Night Battles.)
More flyers. The man in red is a common figure in tales about night-flying witches. He is usually the leader. The witches flew on brooms, yes, but also on animals.
Church Elite Transforms pre-Christian Ceremony
A pre-Christian rite (harvest festival, say) transformed by church doctrine into an upside-down mass?
According to this piece of lore, which probably emanated from the elites, the participants worshiped the Devil instead of God and engaged in lewd behavior that aped some part of Catholic ritual. For instance, they would kiss the demon’s rear, the opposite of kissing the pope’s ring.
Some made a profession out of it.
Matthew Hopkins, English witch hunter, 1644
Lower rate of convictions
More accusations of malefice
More emphasis on Devil’s Sabbat
Higher rate of executions
Fewer accusations of malefice
More emphasis on diabolic pact
Common law forbade torture
Accusation more often from below
Explanation as guilt of accuser
Accusation more often from above
More trials (superstructure of myth of Satanic witches and sabbat)
How to prove someone’s a witch?
Burned, hanged, executed by other means
Why did the period of many witchcraft trials end?