European Witch Hunt Essay

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Witch-hunting in Early Modern Europe

The infamous witch hunting which took place in Early Modern Europe is a fascinating and recently contested event of significance to New Zealanders. From around the time of the mid-15th century to that of the 17th, the European continent was plagued by what is now known to be ‘The Great Witch Craze’. Many were put to trial under the belief that they had been practising Satanic rituals that did not align with conventional Christianity. Now, as historians look back to the witch hunts, there is much horror in reflecting on the torture and numerous deaths that ensued from successful prosecution, as the witch trials became a leading event in Early Modern European history.

Many influencing factors lead to the
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At the beginning of the Renaissance era, feudalism was declining and diseases ran rampant, often devastating populations and crops. Village shamans of sorts were greatly respected and the acknowledgement of magic and demonology was taking shape. Meanwhile, the Protestant Reformation and counter-Reformation resulted in warfare as countries did not agree on religious beliefs. In terms of political and legal developments, accusatorial frameworks were supplanted by questioning tactics, and the government was seeking to exert more control over the lives of citizens. In addition, the prosecution of cases against suspected witches was no longer restricted to religious hearings. The invention of the printing press in approximately 1440 increased the ability to share knowledge of demonology, and hence the population became more and more educated on the subject of witchcraft.

These trials often resulted in horrific forms of torture such as being burned at the stake, flogged, beheaded or hung. The exact number of executions is unknown but prominent historian Brian Levack has estimated around 45,000 cases. The decline of witch-hunting varied from place to place but generally witch-hunting became less frequent between the mid-17th and 18th centuries. This was perhaps due to the newfound disapproval of prosecution. In 1782

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