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Witch Hunts

There are several sources on the subject of Witch Hunts but this paper attempts to briefly give a few points on the factors relating its occurrence, women’s role during this time, and why the witch hunts eventually ended. A book by Russell (Russell, Jeffery Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University, 1972) argues on the role of Christianity and how it facilitated the emergence of witchcraft. The author starts with events taking place during 300 A. D. when Christianity identified Paganism as a menace.

As the medieval Western Church developed in dimension, prosperity, and power, the extent of the witch obsessions advanced. The factual fury of the hunts started in 1360, according to the author. He considers that the cruelty of the witch hunts were exactly due to persons who attempted to oppose progress of the Church, which would elucidate the reason why lots of women and Jews were perceived as convenient marks for accusations and put on trial. The hunts stretched throughout the Late Middle Ages, for the reason that Christians more and more accentuated on the Devil and his influence.

The question now is did the hunts focus primarily on women? Whereas numerous witch hunters plainly turned after women, very frequently men became victims to the witch hunts (Barstow, 1994). A quantity of witch hunts did almost solely target women, in percentages as high as 95% of the victims. An additional remarkable aspect is that the components of the legal structure, its “judges, ministers, priests, constables, jailers, judges, doctors, prickers, torturers, jurors, executioners” were nearly 100 percent male (Barstow, p. 142, 1994).

There are grounds why we ought to look at various features of the witch hunt as an offense versus women, yet we must not move too far to make it only about women. It is worthwhile to note what Christine Larner said, that “Witchcraft was not sex-specific, but it was sex-related” (Barstow, 1994). Historians are still striving to clarify the causes for this immense range in witch hunting (Barry et al, 1996). Significant factors could have been: the authority of the central government; the autonomy of community authorities; pressures fashioned by war, worsening financial system, or food shortage; and suspicions about religious compliance.

There were several of contributing factors that ended the with hunt madness (Klaits, 1995). The main reason was that “spectral evidence” against the defendant was ultimately prohibited, which meant there wasn’t substantial extra proof to result in guilty verdict (Breslau, 2000).

Reference:

1. Barstow, Anne L. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts: Our Legacy of Violence Against Women (San Francisco: Pandora/Harper Collins, 1994), 142). 2. Barry, Jonathan, Marianne Hester and Gareth Roberts, ed. Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Past and Present Publications. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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