Witch trials in the early modern period
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The period of witch trials in Early Modern Europe were a widespread moral panic suggesting that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom during the 15th to 18th centuries. Those accused of witchcraft were portrayed as being worshipers of the Devil, who engaged in such acts as malevolent sorcery at meetings known as Witches' Sabbaths. Many people were subsequently accused of being witches, and were put on trial for the crime, with varying punishments being applicable in different regions and at different times.
Though some of the earliest trials are from the Late Medieval period, the peak of witch hunting was during the European wars of religion, climaxing from 1580 to 1630. The witch hunts declined in the early 18th century, culminating with the British Witchcraft Act of 1735,but sporadic witch-trials during the second half of the 18th century, the last known dating to 1782 (though a prosecution was commenced in Tennessee as recently as 1833).
An estimated total of 40,000-60,000 people were executed during the witch trials. Among the best known of these trials were the Scottish North Berwick witch trials, Swedish Torsåker witch trials and the American Salem witch trials. Among the largest and most notable were the Trier witch trials (1581–1593), the Fulda witch trials (1603–1606), the Würzburg witch trial (1626–1631), the Bamberg witch trials (1626–1631) and the Salem witch trials (1692-1693).
The sociological causes of the witch-hunts have long been debated in scholarship. Mainstream historiography sees the reason for the witch craze in a complex interplay of various factors that mark the early modern period, including the religious sectarianism in the wake of the Reformation, besides other religious, societal, economic and climatic factors.
- 1 Background
- 2 History
- 3 Trials
- 4 Causes of the trials
- 5 Academic study
- 6 Reception in wider culture
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The witch-trials emerge in the 15th century out of the practices surrounding the persecution of heresy in the medieval period, although they reach their peak during the Wars of Religion and on the heels of the Protestant Reformation.
While belief in witches and praeternatural evil were widespread in pre-Christian Europe, the influence of the Church in the early medieval era resulted in the revocation of these laws in many places, bringing an end to traditional pagan witch hunts. Throughout the medieval era mainstream Christian teaching had denied the existence of witches and witchcraft, condemning it as pagan superstition, however, Christian influence on popular beliefs in witches and maleficium (harm committed by magic), failed to entirely eradicate folk belief in witches.
The work of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century was instrumental in developing the new theology which would give rise to the witch hunts. Because sorcery was judged by secular courts, it was not until maleficium was identified with heresy that theological trials for witchcraft could commence. The resurgence of witch-hunts at the end of the medieval period, taking place with at least partial support or at least tolerance on the part of the Church, was accompanied with a number of developments in Christian doctrine, i.e. the recognition of the existence of witchcraft as a form of Satanic influence, and its classification as a heresy. As Renaissance occultism gained traction among the educated classes, the belief in witchcraft, which in the medieval period had been part of the folk religion of the uneducated rural population, was incorporated into an increasingly comprehensive theology of Satan as the ultimate source of all maleficium.
These changes in the doctrinal shift were completed in the mid 15th century, specifically in the wake of the Council of Basel and centered on the Duchy of Savoy in the western Alps, leading to an early series of witch trials by both secular and ecclesiastical courts in the second half of the 15th century.
Malleus Maleficarum, the 1485 treatise by Henricus Institoris met initial resistance in some areas while elsewhere in Europe only the first wave of the new witch trials was experienced in the latter half of the 16th century.
Magic and witchcraft
Early Modern Europe and its North American colonies were replete with a belief in the reality of magic and witchcraft. Belief in the witch, an individual who practiced malevolent magic, was not new to Early Modern Europe. Witches had appeared both in literature – most prominently with the character of Circe in Homer's Odyssey – and in reality, with many individuals writing curses on leaden tablets across the Roman Empire. In parts of Early Medieval Europe there was a widespread and long-lasting belief in witches who rode out with a goddess, varyingly known as Diana, Herodias, Holda, or Perchta; in the Canon Episcopi, the Roman Catholic Church maintained that cavalcade did not really happen, and that instead it was an erroneous superstition caused by the Devil.
Many Early Modern communities contained professional or semi-professional practitioners of folk magic; in England they were known as "cunning folk" although other terms were used elsewhere. They were believed to be able to cure disease, counter malevolent sorcery, identify enemies, foretell the future, and locate treasure and lost property, and would offer their services in these areas for a fee. In contrast to this low magic was the high magic practiced by learned men of the Renaissance. Advocated by the likes of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, this Renaissance high magic was influenced by ancient philosophies like Neoplatonism and Hermeticism and was theoretically complex, seeing the practice of magic as part of a wider spiritual system.
Historians like Carlo Ginzburg and Éva Pócs have suggested that various beliefs pertaining to magic and witchcraft in Early Modern Europe represented a survival of shamanistic pre-Christian beliefs about visionary journeys. For instance, Emma Wilby has argued that the Early Modern accounts of familiar spirits represent a survival of pre-Christian animism, and has drawn comparisons between alleged witches' Sabbath journeys and the spirit-visions found in ethnographically-recorded shamanic societies in Siberia and North America.
It was also during the Medieval period that the concept of Satan, the Biblical Devil, began to develop into a more threatening form. Around the year 1000, when there were increasing fears that the end of the world would soon come in Christendom, the idea of the Devil had become prominent, with many believing that his activities on Earth would soon begin appearing. Whilst in earlier centuries there had been no set depiction of the Devil, it was also around this time that he began to develop the stereotypical image of being animal-like, or even in some cases an animal himself. In particular, he was often viewed as a goat, or as a human with goat-like features, such as horns, hooves and a tail. Equally, the concepts of demons began to become more prominent, in particular the idea that male demons known as incubi, and female ones known as succubi, would roam the Earth and have sexual intercourse with humans. As Thurston noted, "By about 1200, it would have been difficult to be a Christian and not frequently hear of the devil ... [and] by 1500 scenes of the devil were commonplace in the new cathedrals and small parish churches that had sprung up in many regions." The field of demonology had emerged in Medieval Christendom as certain members of the clergy began to focus in particular on the actions of demons in the world.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the concept of the witch in Christendom underwent a relatively radical change. No longer were they viewed as sorcerers who had been deceived by the Devil into practicing magic that went against the powers of God, as earlier Church leaders like Saint Augustine of Hippo had stated. Instead they became the all-out malevolent Devil-worshiper, who had made a pact with him in which they had to renounce Christianity and devote themselves to Satanism. As a part of this, they gained, new, supernatural powers that enabled them to work magic, which they would use against Christians. It was believed that they would fly to their nocturnal meetings, known as the Witches' Sabbath, where they would have sexual intercourse with demons. On their death, the witches' souls, which then belonged to the Devil, subsequently went to Hell.
For many educated Christians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including theologians and judges, there was a great concern about the idea that witches were in league with the Devil. Conversely, it appears that the idea of the witch as Satanist was far less prevalent among the peasantry and popular classes, who were far more concerned about the potential harm that they could receive from witches than from where the witches gained their magical power.
Medieval prosecution of heresy
While the witch trials only really began in the 15th century, with the start of the early modern period, many of their causes had been developing during the previous centuries, with the prosecution of heresy by the Medieval Inquisition during the late twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, and during the Late Medieval period, during which the idea of witchcraft or sorcery gradually changed and adapted. The inquisition had the office of protecting Christian orthodoxy against the "internal" threat of heresy (as opposed to "external" military threats such as those of the Vikings, the Mongols, and the Saracens or Turks).
During the High Middle Ages, a number of heretical Christian groups, such as the Cathars and the Knights Templar had been accused of performing such anti-Christian activities as Satanism, sodomy and malevolent sorcery in France. While the nucleus of the early modern "witch craze" would turn out to be popular superstition in the Western Alps, reinforced by theological rationale developed at or following the Council of Basel of the 1430s, what has been called "the first real witch trial in Europe", the accusation of Alice Kyteler in 1324, occurred in 14th-century Ireland, during the turmoils associated with the decline of Norman control.
Thurston (2001) speaks of a shift in Christian society from a "relatively open and tolerant" attitude to that of a "persecuting society" taking an aggressive stance towards minorities characterized as Jews, heretics (such as Cathars and Waldensians), lepers or homosexuals, often associated with conspiracy theories assuming a concerted effort on the part of diabolical forces to weaken and destroy Christianity, indeed "the idea became popular that one or more vast conspiracies were trying to destroy Christianity from within." An important turning-point was the Black Death of 1348–1350, which killed a large percentage of the European population, and which many Christians believed had been caused by their enemies. The catalog of typical charges that would later be leveled at witches, of spreading diseases, committing orgies (sometimes incestuous), cannibalizing children, and following Satanism, emerged during the 14th century as crimes attributed to heretics and Jews.
Witchcraft had not been considered a heresy during the High Medieval period. Indeed, since the Council of Paderborn of 785, the belief in the possibility of witchcraft itself was considered heretical. While witch-hunts only became common after 1400, an important legal step that would make this development possible occurred in 1326, when Pope John XXII authorized the inquisition to prosecute witchcraft as a type of heresy.
As historians Geoffrey Scarre and John Callow highlighted, the trials of demonic witches was "an early modern and not a medieval phenomenon".
By the late 14th century, a number of "witch hunters" began to publish books on the topic, including Nicholas Eymeric, the inquisitor in Aragon and Avignon, who published the Directorium Inquisitorum in 1376.
Beginning of the witch hunts during the 15th century
The earliest known witch trials in which the accused were associated with the fully developed stereotype of the demonic witch was in the Valais witch trials of 1428, which took place in communities of the Western Alps, in what was at the time Burgundy and Savoy. Here, the cause of eliminating the supposed Satanic witches from society was taken up by a number of individuals; Claude Tholosan for instance had tried over two hundred people accusing them of witchcraft in Briançon, Dauphiné by 1420.
Soon, the idea of identifying and prosecuting witches spread throughout the neighboring areas of northern Italy, Switzerland and southern Germany, and it was at Basel that the Council of Basel assembled from 1431 to 1437. This Church Council, which had been attended by such anti-witchcraft figures as Johann Nider and Martin Le Franc, helped to standardize the stereotype of the Satanic witch that would be propagated throughout the rest of the trials. Men who had been at the Council of Basel went on to spread the ideas regarding demonic witchcraft throughout other parts of Europe in the ensuing years.
The development of the printing press allowed for a number of books to be published which outlined the existence of demonic witchcraft and described how to deal with it; circulating throughout the literate sectors of Western Europe, they stimulated increased interest in the subject and advocated a coherent intellectual response to it. Works published in this vein included Johannes Nider's Formicarius (c.1435), the Errores Gazariorum (c.1450), Nicholas Jacquier's Flagellum Haereticorum Fascinariorum (1450s), Ulrich Molitor's De Lamiis (1489), and most famously Heinrich Kramer's Malleus Malificarum (The Hammer of the Witches). At the same time, printing allowed fictional stories about witches and magicians to be spread throughout the continent, such as the tales of Dr Faustus, thereby reinforcing the belief in malevolent practitioners of magic who interacted with the Devil and his demons.
On December 5, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Summis desiderantes affectibus, a papal bull in which he recognized the existence of witches and gave full papal approval for the inquisition to move against witches, including the permission to do whatever necessary to get rid of them. In the bull, which is sometimes referred to as the "Witch-Bull of 1484", the witches were explicitly accused of having "slain infants yet in the mother's womb" (abortion) and of "hindering men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving" (contraception[dubious ]).
Peak of the trials: 1580–1630
The height of the European trials was between 1560 and 1630, with the large hunts first beginning in 1609. During this period, the biggest witch trials were held in Europe, notably the Trier witch trials (1581–1593), the Fulda witch trials (1603–1606), the Basque witch trials (1609-1611), the Würzburg witch trial (1626–1631) and the Bamberg witch trials (1626–1631).
In 1590, the North Berwick witch trials occurred in Scotland, and were of particular note as the king, James VI, became involved himself. James had developed a fear that witches planned to kill him after he suffered from storms whilst traveling to Denmark in order to claim his bride, Anne, earlier that year. Returning to Scotland, the king heard of trials that were occurring in North Berwick and ordered the suspects to be brought to him—he subsequently believed that a nobleman, Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell, was a witch, and after the latter fled in fear of his life, he was outlawed as a traitor. The king subsequently set up royal commissions to hunt down witches in his realm, recommending torture in dealing with suspects, and in 1597 he wrote a book about the menace that witches posed to society entitled Daemonologie.
Decline of the trials: 1650–1750
Even throughout the 16th century, there had been isolated expressions of scepticism regarding the trial, increasing throughout the 17th century. In 1635, the Roman Inquisition acknowledged that it had "found scarcely one trial conducted legally". In the middle of the 17th century, the difficulty in proving witchcraft according to legal process contributed to the councilors of Rothenburg (German), following advice to treat witchcraft cases with caution.
Whilst the witch trials had begun to fade out across much of Europe by the mid-17th century, they continued on the fringes of Europe and in the American Colonies. In the Nordic countries, the late 17th century saw the peak of the trials in a number of areas: the Torsåker witch trials of Sweden (1674), where 71 people were executed for witchcraft in a single day, the peak of witch hunting in Swedish Finland, and the Salzburg witch trials in Austria (where 139 people were executed from 1675–1690).
The 1692 Salem witch trials were a brief outburst of witch hysteria in the New World while the practice was waning in Europe. In the 1690s Winifred King Benham and her daughter Winifred were thrice tried for witchcraft in Wallingford, Connecticut, the last of such trials in New England. While found innocent, they were compelled to leave Wallingford to settle in Staten Island, New York. In 1706 Grace Sherwood of Virginia was tried by ducking and jailed for allegedly being a witch.
The 18th century witnessed increased urbanization and technological development in Europe, giving European Early Modern society an increased belief in its own abilities to fashion the world and leading to the decrease in the belief of invisible forces affecting humanity. Belief that Satan interfered in human affairs directly was also waning and the belief in demons became rare among the educated elites, thus the belief in demonic witchcraft eroded with it. Rationalist skeptics of the trials came to the opinion that the use of torture had resulted in erroneous testimony.
During the early 18th century, the practice subsided. Jane Wenham was among the last subjects of a typical witch trial in England in 1712, but was pardoned after her conviction and set free. The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1716, when Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth were hanged. Janet Horne was executed for witchcraft in Scotland in 1727. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 put an end of the traditional form of witchcraft as a legal offense in Britain. Those accused under the new act were restricted to those that pretended to be able to conjure spirits (generally being the most dubious professional fortune tellers and mediums), and punishment was light.
Sporadic witch-hunts after 1750
While the educated elites had largely abandoned their belief in the reality of witchcraft, this belief remained widespread in popular culture. From this point on, it was very rare for an accused witch to undergo a judicial process and be threatened with execution, but there was still a danger from popular justice and lynch mobs. The death of Ruth Osborne is an example of one such case that occurred in 1751. The last person in Germany to be executed for witchcraft was fifteen-year-old Zeritschin, who was beheaded and then burned on April 2, 1756 in Landshut.
In the later 18th century, witchcraft had ceased to be considered a criminal offense throughout Europe, but there are a number of cases which were not technically witch trials but are suspected to have involved belief in witches at least behind the scenes. Thus, in 1782, Anna Göldi was executed in Glarus, Switzerland, officially for the killing of her infant-a ruling at the time widely denounced throughout Switzerland and Germany as judicial murder. Like Anna Göldi, Barbara Zdunk was executed in 1811 in Prussia not technically for witchcraft but for arson. In Poland, the Doruchów witch trial occurred in 1783 and the execution of two additional women for sorcery in 1793, tried by a legal court but with dubious legitimacy.
Despite the official ending of the trials for Satanic witchcraft, there would still be occasional unofficial killings of those accused in parts of Europe, such as was seen in the cases of Anna Klemens in Denmark (1800), Krystyna Ceynowa in Poland (1836), and Dummy, the Witch of Sible Hedingham in England (1863). In France, there was sporadic violence and even murder in the 1830s, with one woman reportedly burnt in a village square in Nord.
In the 1830s a prosecution for witchcraft was commenced against a man in Fentress County, Tennessee named either Joseph or William Stout, based upon his alleged influence over the health of a young woman. The case against the supposed witch was dismissed upon the failure of the alleged victim, who had sworn out a warrant against him, to appear for the trial. However, some of his other accusers were convicted on criminal charges for their part in the matter, and various libel actions were brought. In 1895, Bridget Cleary was beaten and burned to death by her husband in Ireland because he suspected that fairies had taken the real Bridget and replaced her with a witch.
The persecution of those believed to perform malevolent sorcery against their neighbors continued into the 20th century. In 1997 two Russian farmers killed a woman and injured five other members of her family after believing that they had used folk magic against them. It has been reported that more than 3,000 people were killed by lynch mobs in Tanzania between 2005 and 2011 for allegedly being witches.
There were extensive efforts to root out the supposed influence of Satan by various measures aimed at the people who were accused of being servants of Satan. To a lesser degree, animals were also targeted for prosecution (see animal trial). People suspected of being "possessed by Satan" were put on trial. On the other hand, the church also attempted to extirpate the superstitious belief in witchcraft and sorcery, considering it as fraud in most cases.
Most historians agree that the majority of those persecuted in these witch trials were innocent of any involvement in Devil worship. Geoffrey Scarre and John Callow thought it "without doubt" that some of those accused in the trials had been guilty of employing magic in an attempt to harm their enemies, and were thus genuinely guilty of witchcraft.
Most of the trials were not motivated by stupidity or a love of violence, but of a belief that it was the morally appropriate course of action for people to take; while some of those carrying out the trials appeared to exhibit sadism, most appear to have acted "from a spirit of duty and a concern for the public welfare." Scarre and Callow described the trials as "a frightning example of how morally motivated action can lead to massive suffering". Lecky argues there was a large amount of impartial evidence demonstrating the existence of witchcraft and that views only changed when the concept of evil spirits came under skepticism in general.
There were many regional differences in the manner in which the witch trials occurred. The trials themselves emerged sporadically, flaring up in some areas while neighbouring areas remained largely unaffected. In general, homogenous catholic States, such as Spain and Italy, remained largely unaffected, while religiously divided countries like the Holy Roman Empire or France were more affected.
One of the areas that witnessed the largest number of panics, trials, and executions were the German-language of the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, there were regional variations here, with relatively few executions in southern Bavaria and the Lower Rhine area. On the whole the trials were less severe in neighbouring France, although there was regional variation domestically, with the Pyrenees, Languedoc, the Alps and the North East being particularly heavily affected by the trials. There were also large trials in Lorraine and Franche-Comté, although these regions would only be permanently annexed by France after 1660. The situation differed in Southern Europe, with few trials taking place in either Spain or Italy. When they did occur in these nations, it was in the northern regions such as Spain's Basque Country; being close to neighbouring countries, these areas were more open to foreign influences and had a weaker central authority.
There was much regional variation within the British Isles. In Ireland, there were few trials, and those that did take place lacked the demonic elements present elsewhere on the continent. Similarly, the trials in England were atypical of Europe as a whole, for the emphasis of the charges was normally on the practice of malevolent magic rather than contact with the Devil, while the concept of witches' familiars played a key role, which was conversely largely absent from the continental trial accounts. North of the border, in Scotland, witch trials were far more numerous and resulted in far more executions than in England, having far more in common with the trials of France and Germany. Among the British settlements in New England, witch trials were very rare and not a feature of typical Early Modern life.
A country's government and legal system often made a major difference. England, for instance, had and has a long history of strong judicial centralization and therefore regulations prevented easy convictions, except for periods such as the English Civil War and the periods of Witch-hunting; Scotland, on the other hand, lacked the strong central government that England had and authorities had greater trouble controlling local justice or even contributed to the problem. During the time of the Witch Hunts, Germany was a patchwork of more than 300 autonomous territories and was highly decentralized politically, therefore making Germany highly vulnerable to massive witch hunts that spun out of control in the absence of judicial regulations
There are particularly important differences between the English and continental witch-hunting traditions. The checks and balances inherent in the English jury system, which required a 23-strong body (the grand jury) to indict and a 12-strong one (the petit jury) to convict, always had a restraining effect on prosecutions. Another restraining influence was its relatively rare use of torture: the country formally permitted it only when authorized by the monarch, and no more than 81 torture warrants were issued (for all offenses) throughout English history. Continental European courts, while varying from region to region, tended to concentrate power in individual judges and place far more reliance on torture. The significance of the institutional difference is most clearly established by a comparison of the witch-hunts of England and Scotland, for the death toll inflicted by the courts north of the border always dwarfed that of England. It is also apparent from an episode of English history during the early 1640s, when the Civil War resulted in the suspension of jury courts for three years. Several freelance witch-hunters emerged during this period, the most notorious of whom was Matthew Hopkins, who emerged from East Anglia and proclaimed himself "Witchfinder General".
Italy saw much less witchcraft accusation, and even fewer cases where witch trials ended in execution. In 1542, the establishment of the Roman Inquisition effectively retrained secular courts under its influence from liberal application of torture and execution. The methodological Instructio, which served as an "appropriate" manual for witch hunting, cautioned against hasty convictions and careless executions of the accused. In contrast with other parts of Europe, trials the Venetian Holy Office never saw conviction for the crime of malevolent witchcraft, or "maleficio". Because the notion of diabolical cults was not credible to neither popular culture nor inquisitorial theology, mass accusations and belief in Witches' Sabbath never took root in areas under inquisitorial influence.
Because The Holy Office viewed witchcraft as a theological violation toward Catholic doctrines, torture was used sparingly, with the purpose of making subjects renounce their errors and thus be reintegrated back into Catholic society. This means there was much less potential to name other associates, thus decreasing the chance of mass accusation.
Identity of the accused
The majority of those accused were from the lower economic classes in European society, although, in times of severe panic, wealthier and high ranking individuals were accused as well, including priests, judges and, in very rare cases, members of the nobility. On the basis of this evidence, Scarre and Callow asserted that the "typical witch was the wife or widow of an agricultural labourer or small tenant farmer, and she was well known for a quarrelsome and aggressive nature."
In various instances, it was men rather than women who constituted the majority of the accused. For instance, in Iceland 92% of the accused were men, and in Estonia 60% of the accused victims were male, mainly middle-aged or elderly married peasants, and known healers or sorcerers. In the witch trials of Moscow, Russia, two-thirds of those accused were male.
Although it was far more common for them to be accusers rather than accused, children were sometimes put on trial for witchcraft. For instance, during the Würzburg trials of 1629, children made up 60% of those accused, although this had reduced to 17% by the end of the year. Several decades later, in the late 1660s, children in Mora, Sweden publicly claimed that adults had taken them to the witches' Sabbath. As a result, fifteen boys over the age of 16 were executed, while forty younger children were whipped.
Interrogation and torture
Various acts of torture were used against accused witches to coerce confessions and cause them to name their co-conspirators. The torture of witches began to increase in frequency after 1468 when the Pope declared witchcraft to be "crimen exceptum" and thereby removed all legal limits on the application of torture in cases where evidence was difficult to find.
In Italy, an accused witch was deprived of sleep for periods up to forty hours. This technique was also used in England, but without a limitation on time. Sexual humiliation was used, such as forced sitting on red-hot stools with the claim that the accused woman would not perform sexual acts with the devil. In most cases, those who endured the torture without confessing were released.
The use of torture has been identified as a key factor in converting the trial of one accused witch into a wider social panic, as those being tortured were more likely to accuse a wide array of other local individuals of also being witches.
Punishment and executions
A variety of different punishments were employed for those found guilty of witchcraft, including imprisonment, flogging, fines, or exile. Thehe Old Testament's book of Exodus (22:18) states, "Thou shalt not permit a sorceress to live". Many faced capital punishment for witchcraft, either by burning at the stake, hanging, or beheading. Similarly, in New England, people convicted of witchcraft were hanged.
Number of executions
The scholarly consensus on the total number of executions for witchcraft ranges from 40,000-60,000 (not including unofficial lynchings of accused witches, which went unrecorded but are nevertheless believed to have been somewhat rare in the Early Modern period). It would also have been the case that various individuals would have died as a result of the unsanitary conditions of their imprisonment, but again this is not recorded within the number of executions.
Attempts at estimating the total number of executions for witchcraft have a history going back to the end of the period of witch-hunts in the 18th century. A scholarly consensus only emerges in the second half of the 20th century, and historical estimates vary wildly depending on the method used. Early estimates tend to be highly exaggerated, as they were still part of rhetorical arguments against the persecution of witches rather than purely historical scholarship. Notably, a figure of nine million victims was given by Gottfried Christian Voigt in 1784 in an argument criticizing Voltaire's estimate of "several hundred thousand" as too low. Voigt's number has shown remarkably resilient as an influential popular myth, surviving well into the 20th century, especially in feminist and neo-pagan literature. In the 19th century, some scholars were agnostic, for instance Jacob Grimm (1844) talked of "countless" victims and Charles Mackay (1841) named "thousands upon thousands". By contrast, a popular news report of 1832 cited a number of 392,000 victims "in Great Britain alone". In the early 20th century, some scholarly estimates on the number of executions still ranged in the hundreds of thousands. The estimate was only reliably placed below 100,000 in scholarship of the 1970s.
Causes of the trials
Various suggestions have been made that the witch trials emerged as a response to socio-political turmoil in the Early Modern world. One form of this is that the prosecution of witches was a reaction to a disaster that had befallen the community, such as crop-failure, war, or disease. For instance, Midelfort suggested that in southwestern Germany, war and famine destabilised local communities, resulting in the witch prosecutions of the 1620s. Problematically for this theory, it has been highlighted that, in that region, the witch hunts declined during the 1630s, at a time when the communities living there were facing increased disaster as a result of plague, famine, economic collapse and the Thirty Years' War. Furthermore, this scenario would clearly not offer a universal explanation, for trials also took place in areas which were free from war, famine, or pestilence.
Catholic versus Protestant conflict
The English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper advocated the idea that the witch trials emerged as part of the conflicts between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Early Modern Europe. This theory has however received little support from other experts in the subject. This is because there is little evidence that either Roman Catholics were accusing Protestants of witchcraft, or that Protestants were accusing Roman Catholics. Furthermore, the witch trials regularly occurred in regions with little or no inter-denominational strife, and which were largely religiously homogenous, such as Essex, Lowland Scotland, Geneva, Venice, and the Spanish Basque Country. There is also some evidence, particularly from the Holy Roman Empire, in which adjacent Roman Catholic and Protestant territories were exchanging information on alleged local witches, viewing them as a common threat to both. Additionally, many prosecutions were instigated not by the religious or secular authorities, but by popular demands from within the population, thus making it less likely that there were specific inter-denominational reasons behind the accusations.
In south-western Germany between 1561 and 1670 there were 480 witch trials. Of the 480 trials that took place in southwestern Germany, 317 occurred in Catholic areas, while Protestant territories accounted for 163 of them. During the period from 1561 to 1670, at least 3,229 persons were executed for witchcraft in the German Southwest. Of this number 702 were tried and executed in Protestant territories, while 2,527 were tried and executed in Catholic territories.
Inspired by ethnographically recorded witch trials that anthropologists observed happening in non-European parts of the world, various historians have sought a functional explanation for the Early Modern witch trials, thereby suggesting the social functions that the trials played within their communities. These studies have illustrated how accusations of witchcraft have played a role in releasing social tensions or in facilitating the termination of personal relationships that have become un-desirable to one party.
Undertaking in-depth analysis of the social and cultural context of the English witch trials, Keith Thomas and Alan Macfarlene showed that the accused were unpopular, anti-social, and often aggressive, known for begging from their neighbours and verbally cursing those who turned them away. In this they provided an explicitly functionalist explanation of the trials, in that they were used to eliminate anti-social members of the community.
Another theory is that the witch trials represented a method whereby the socio-economic elites used it as form of social control to consolidate their dominance over the poorer sections of the population.
Another theory, proposed by the prominent American anthropologist, Marvin Harris, in his work, 'Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches' (1973), is that the witches were scapegoats victimized by the Church and secular lords to focus and divert public furor at a time of economic dislocation: "The practical significance of the witch mania therefore was that it shifted responsibility for the crisis of late medieval society from both Church and state to imaginary demons in human form." (Harris, 1973, 205) Religious and secular authorities, argues Harris, in leading the witch hunts, not only exonerated themselves but made themselves indispensable, cementing their power.
An estimated 75% to 85% of those accused in the early modern witch trials were women, and there is certainly evidence of misogyny on the part of those persecuting witches, evident from quotes such as "[It is] not unreasonable that this scum of humanity, [witches], should be drawn chiefly from the feminine sex" (Nicholas Rémy, c. 1595) or "The Devil uses them so, because he knows that women love carnal pleasures, and he means to bind them to his allegiance by such agreeable provocations." Nevertheless, it has been argued that the supposedly misogynistic agenda of works on witchcraft has been greatly exaggerated, based on the selective repetition of a few relevant passages of the Malleus maleficarum. There are various reasons as to why this was the case. In Early Modern Europe, it was widely believed that women were less intelligent than men and more susceptible to sin. Many modern scholars argue that the witch hunts cannot be explained simplistically as an expression of male misogyny, as indeed women were frequently accused by other women, to the point that witch-hunts, at least at the local level of villages, have been described as having been driven primarily by "women's quarrels". Especially at the margins of Europe, in Iceland, Finland, Estonia and Russia, the majority of those accused were male.
Barstow (1994) claimed that a combination of factors, including the greater value placed on men as workers in the increasingly wage-oriented economy, and a greater fear of women as inherently evil, loaded the scales against women, even when the charges against them were identical to those against men. Thurston (2001) saw this as a part of the general misogyny of the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, which had increased during what he described as "the persecuting culture" from that which it had been in the Early Medieval. Gunnar Heinsohn and Otto Steiger in a 1982 publication speculated that witch-hunts targeted women skilled in midwifery specifically in an attempt to extinguish knowledge about birth control and "repopulate Europe" after the population catastrophe of the Black Death.
Early rationalist historians interpreted the witch trials as an example of mass superstition, and thus their end in the 18th century was seen as a revival of common sense among the population. This idea did not take into account that the existence of malevolent witches fitted within the worldview of the Early Modern, with its strong divide between good and evil, and that a belief in witches was therefore "common sense" to Early Modern people.
During the Prussian Kulturkampf, starting from the mid-19th century, the Roman Catholic Church was accused of being sole originator of witch hunts, the number of victims was significantly overstated with up to 9 million. According to recent research and extensive analysis of court records, it is believed that the result of persecution throughout Europe were about 40,000 to 60,000 deaths. The Latin book Malleus Maleficarum, a treatise on the prosecution of witches, was firstly translated by J. W. R. Schmidt into German in 1906.
In 1935 the Third Reich started a research program in order to document cases of witch-hunting and witch burning from all over Germany. About 20.5% of the described cases were found in the area of today's state Bavaria. The collection of more than 30,000 large-sized cards and other documents were emplaced in an archive in Poznań, a copy for research purpose is stored in the German Federal Archives in Berlin.
From the 1970s onward, there was a "massive explosion of scholarly enthusiasm" for the study of the Early Modern witch trials. This was partly because scholars from a variety of different disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, philosophy, philosophy of science, criminology, literary theory, and feminist theory, all began to investigate the phenomenon and brought their different insights to bear on the subject. This was accompanied by in-depth analysis of the trial records and the socio-cultural contexts on which they emerged, allowing for a far more sophisticated understanding of the trials than had previously been available. During this process, Britain and Germany established themselves as the main centres for the research of the subject. There have nevertheless been regional differences in how this has been undertaken; scholars in Britain and the United States have for instance largely neglected questions regarding how ancient ideas influenced and informed the identities of Early Modern witchcraft, something which conversely has been of great interest to a number of continental European scholars.
Reception in wider culture
Witch-cult hypothesis and Wicca
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the common belief among educated sectors of the European populace was that there had never been any genuine cult of witches and that all those persecuted and executed as such had been innocent of the crime. However, at this time various scholars suggested that there had been a real cult that had been persecuted by the Christian authorities, and that it had had pre-Christian origins. The first to advance this theory was the German Professor of Criminal Law Karl Ernst Jarcke of the University of Berlin who put forward the idea in 1828; he suggested that witchcraft had been a pre-Christian German religion that had degenerated into Satanism. Jarcke's ideas were picked up by the German historian Franz Josef Mone in 1839, although he argued that the cult's origins were Greek rather than Germanic.
In 1862, the Frenchman Jules Michelet published La Sorciere, in which he put forth the idea that the witches had been following a pagan religion. The theory achieved greater attention when it was taken up by the Egyptologist Margaret Murray, who published both The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The God of the Witches (1931) in which she claimed that the witches had been following a pre-Christian religion which she termed "the Witch-Cult" and "Ritual Witchcraft". She claimed that this faith was devoted to a pagan Horned God and involved the celebration of four Witches' Sabbaths each year: Halloween, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. However, the majority of scholarly reviews of Murray's work produced at the time were largely critical, and her books never receiving support from experts in the Early Modern witch trials. Instead, from her early publications onward many of her ideas were challenged by those who highlighted her "factual errors and methodological failings".
However, the publication of the Murray thesis in the Encyclopædia Britannica made it accessible to "journalists, film-makers popular novelists and thriller writers", who adopted it "enthusiastically". Influencing works of literature, it inspired writings by Aldous Huxley and Robert Graves. Subsequently, in 1939, an English occultist named Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a surviving group of the pagan Witch-Cult known as the New Forest coven, although modern historical investigation has led scholars to believe that this coven was not ancient as Gardner believed, but was instead founded in the 1920s or 1930s by occultists wishing to fashion a revived Witch-Cult based upon Murray's theories. Taking this New Forest coven's beliefs and practices as a basis, Gardner went on to found Gardnerian Wicca, one of the most prominent traditions in the contemporary Pagan religion now known as Wicca, which revolved around the worship of a Horned God and Goddess, the celebration of festivals known as Sabbats, and the practice of ritual magic. He also went on to write several books about the historical Witch-Cult, Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), and in these books, Gardner used the phrase "the burning times" in reference to the European and North American witch trials.
In the early 20th century, a number of individuals and groups emerged in Europe, primarily Britain, and subsequently the United States as well, claiming to be the surviving remnants of the pagan Witch-Cult described in the works of Margaret Murray. The first of these actually appeared in the last few years of the 19th century, being a manuscript that American folklorist Charles Leland claimed he had been given by a woman who was a member of a group of witches worshipping the god Lucifer and goddess Diana in Tuscany, Italy. He published the work in 1899 as Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Whilst historians and folklorists have accepted that there are folkloric elements to the gospel, none have accepted it as being the text of a genuine Tuscan religious group, and believe it to be of late-nineteenth-century composition.
Wiccans extended claims regarding the witch-cult in various ways, for instance by utilising the British folklore associating witches with prehistoric sites to assert that the witch-cult used to use such locations for religious rites, in doing so legitimising contemporary Wiccan use of them. By the 1990s, many Wiccans had come to recognise the inaccuracy of the witch-cult theory and had accepted it as a mythological origin story.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, various feminist interpretations of the witch trials have been made and published. One of the earliest individuals to do so was the American Matilda Joslyn Gage, a writer who was deeply involved in the first-wave feminist movement for women's suffrage. In 1893, she published the book Woman, Church and State, which was "written in a tearing hurry and in time snatched from a political activism which left no space for original research." Likely influenced by the works of Jules Michelet about the Witch-Cult, she claimed that the witches persecuted in the Early Modern period were pagan priestesses adhering to an ancient religion venerating a Great Goddess. She also repeated the erroneous statement, taken from the works of several German authors, that nine million people had been killed in the witch hunt. The United States has become the centre of development for these feminist interpretations.
In 1973, two American second-wave feminists, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, published an extended pamphlet in which they put forward the idea that the women persecuted had been the traditional healers and midwives of the community who were being deliberately eliminated by the male medical establishment. This theory disregarded the fact that the majority of those persecuted were neither healers nor midwives and that in various parts of Europe these individuals were commonly among those encouraging the persecutions. In 1994, Anne Llewellyn Barstow published her book Witchcraze, which was later described by Scarre and Callow as "perhaps the most successful" attempt to portray the trials as a systematic male attack on women.
Other feminist historians have rejected this interpretation of events; historian Diane Purkiss described it as "not politically helpful" because it constantly portrays women as "helpless victims of patriarchy" and thus does not aid them in contemporary feminist struggles. She also condemned it for factual inaccuracy by highlighting that radical feminists adhering to it ignore the historicity of their claims, instead promoting it because it is perceived as authorising the continued struggle against patriarchal society. She asserted that many radical feminists nonetheless clung to it because of its "mythic significance" and firmly delineated structure between the oppressor and the oppressed.
- mostly in the Holy Roman Empire, the British Isles and France, and to some extent in the European colonies in North America; largely excluding the Iberian Peninsula and Italy; "Inquisition Spain and Portugal, obsessed with heresy, ignored the witch craze. In Italy, witch trials were comparatively rare and did not involve torture and executions." Anne L. Barstow, Witchcraze : a New History of the European Witch Hunts, HarperCollins, 1995.
- Thurston 2001. p. 01.
- Thurston 2001. p. 79.
- Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, Volume LX, August 10, 1834, Number 17,057 (From the Nashville (Tenn.) Herald, of 22d July) (transcribed at http://www.topix.com/forum/city/jamestown-tn/TPAPB6U4LVF0JDQC8/p2
- History of Fentress County, Tennessee, Albert R. Hogue, compiled by the Fentress County Historical Society, p. 67 (transcription)
- Touring the East Tennessee Back-roads By Carolyn Sakowski, p. 212
- The belief in and persecution of witches especially in Germanic pagan Europe is reflected in Germanic law, and in an episode in Jordanes' Getica (6th century). See e.g. Hutton 1991. p. 257.
- "Likewise, the Lombard King Rothari (c. 606–52) decreed in 643 that Christians must not believe that women devour a human being from inside (ut mulier hominem vivum instrinsecus possit comedere), and therefore supposed witches (strigae) must not be killed, particularly not convicted in court." Behringer, Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History, p. 30 (2004). Wiley-Blackwell.
- "Clearly, there was an increase in skeptical voices during the Carolingian period, even if we take into account an increase in surviving sources.", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", p. 31 (2004). Wiley-Blackwell.
- "Study after study has shown how, all over Europe, ordinary people regularly appealed not to their own consciences, or to the conscience of the Church, but to local practitioners skilled in healing, divination, and astrology for help with their everyday problems. They did this frequently in cases of suspected maleficium, but any kind of misfortune, anticipated or experienced, could justify a visit to the 'cunning' man or woman.", Clark, "Thinking With Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe", p. 457 (1999). Oxford University Press.
- "Christian theology underwent a major shift of attitude only during the 13th century. In his Summa contra Gentiles, Thomas Aquinas (1255–74) not only confirmed Augustine's semiotic theory, according to which spells, amulets or magical rituals indicated a secret pact with demons, but gave the impression that sorcerers, through the support of the devil, could physically commit their crimes.", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", pp. 35–36 (2004). Wiley-Blackwell.
- "Sorcery was, however, still subject to secular law and secular courts, since the main indictment was maleficium. Subsequent inquisitors like Nicolas Eymeric (c. 1320–99), inquisitor of Aragon, in his Directorium Inquisitorum of 1376 equated sorcerers with heretics because both were supposed to adore the devil. Sorcery, or witchcraft, was thus redefined as a spiritual crime, subject primarily to ecclesiastical courts, and the Inquisition in particular.", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", p. 36 (2004). Wiley-Blackwell.
- "Early Christian theologians attributed to the Devil responsibility for persecution, heresy, witchcraft, sin, natural disasters, human calamities, and whatever else went wrong. One tragic consequence of this was a tendency to demonize people accused of wrongs. At the instance of ecclesiastical leaders, the state burned heretics and witches, burning symbolizing the fate deserved by the demonic. Popular fears, stirred to fever pitch in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, sustained frenzied efforts to wipe out heretics, witches, and unbelievers, especially Jews.", Hinson, "Historical and Theological Perspectives on Satan", Review & Expositor (89.4.475), (Fall 1992).
- "Trevor-Roper has said that it was necessary for belief in the Kingdom of Satan to die before the witch theory could be discredited.", Larner, 'Crime of Witchcraft In Early Modern Europe', in Oldridge, 'The Witchcraft Reader', p. 211 (2002). Routledge.
- "We are reasonably confident today that the 'classical' doctrine of witchcraft crystallized during the middle third of the 15th century, shortly after the Council of Basel, primarily within a western Alpine zone centred around the duchy of Savoy (Ostorero et al. 1999).", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", pp. 18–19 (2004). Wiley-Blackwell.
- "By the end of the 15th century, scattered trials for witchcraft by both secular and ecclesiastical courts occurred in many places from the Pyrenees, where the Spanish Inquisition had become involved, to the North Sea.", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", pp. 18–19 (2004). Wiley-Blackwell.
- "Germany was emphatically not the center of this activity; Institoris encountered enormous hostility in the Austrian Alps, and absolutely no evidence exists that the publication of his Malleus started any chain of trials anywhere in the Empire.", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", p. 19 (2004). Wiley-Blackwell.
- "In Switzerland, the rustic 'forest cantons' of the original Confederation apparently remained unaffected by witch trials until after 1560.", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", p. 19 (2004). "the first known witch-hunt in the kingdom of France began in the northern Pyrenees in the spring of 1562", Behringer, "Witches and Witch-hunts: a Global History", p. 21 (2004).
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 11; Thurston 2001, p. 15.
- Scarre & Callow 2001.
- Hutton 1999, p. 86; Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 6; Davies 2003, pp. 103–109.
- Scarre; Callow.
- Ginzburg 1990; Pócs 1999.
- Wilby 2005, p. 61.
- Wilby 2005, pp. 84-91.
- Thurston 2001. pp. 29–31.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 12-15.
- Thurston 2001. pp. 56–57.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 6-7.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 7.
- Thurston 2001. p. 73.
- Thurston 2001. pp. 73–75.
- Thurston 2001. pp. 16–18, 32.
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. A History of Medieval Christianity, p. 173.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 19.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 22.
- Thurston 2001. p. 76.
- Cohn 1975, p. 225; Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 18.
- Thurston 2001. p. 67.
- Thurston 2001. p. 77.
- Thurston 2001, p. 78.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 20; Thurston 2001, p. 78.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 20-21.
- The Bull of Innocent VIII as published in the Malleus Maleficarum translated by Montague Summers
- The English translation is from this note to Summers' 1928 introduction.
- Thurston 2001, pp. 80-81.
- "even the Roman Inquisition recognized that abuses were common; in 1635 it admitted that "the Inquisition has found scarcely one trial conducted legally."", Midelfort, "Witch hunting in southwestern Germany, 1562-1684: the social and intellectual foundations", p. 28 (1972).
- "Doubts about their ability to prove witches unequivocally guilty according to due legal procedure, fears that they would invoke God's wrath against themselves and their subjects if they overstepped its bounds, and a certain humility in thinking that witchcraft was a matter best left up to God, all played a part in encouraging the Rothenburg councillors and their advisers to handle witchcraft cases with caution.", Rowlands, 'Witchcraft narratives in Germany: Rothenburg 1561-1652', p. 59 (2003). "Compelling legal reasons almost always also existed in specific cases to discourage the councillors and their advisers from taking action against sabbat-attenders.", Rowlands, 'Witchcraft narratives in Germany: Rothenburg 1561-1652', p. 57 (2003).
- "Va. Woman Seeks To Clear Witch of Pungo". USA Today. Associated Press. July 9, 2006. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 65.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 71.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 66.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 69-70.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 63.
- Robert Tombs (1996). "Collective Identities: Community and Religion". France 1814–1914. London: Longman. p. 245. ISBN 0-582-49314-5.
- Touring the East Tennessee Back-roads By Carolyn Sakowski, p. 212.(https://books.google.com/books?id=rLBrUbj02IcC&pg=PA212)
- "3,000 Lynched In Tanzania For 'Witchcraft' In Past Six Years". Huffington Post. 29 May 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
- Medway 2001, p. 70.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 2.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 73.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 74.
- Lecky, William Hartpole. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe Vol. I (1884) pp. 38-40
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 23.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 24.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 25.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 26.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 26–28.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 28.
- Levack, Brian P. (1995). The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe (Second Edition). London and New York: Longman. Pg. 98-102
- John H. Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof (Chicago and London, 1977), p. 81 ff.
- Brian Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (2nd ed, 1995), p. 202; see also Christina Larner, Enemies of God. The Witch-hunt in Scotland (London, 1981), pp. 62–3.
- A detailed account of Hopkins and his fellow witchfinder John Stearne can be found in Malcolm Gaskill's Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy (Harvard, 2005).
- Deutscher, Thomas. "The Role of The Episcopal Tribunal of Novara in The Supression of Heresy and Witchcraft 1563-1615". Catholic Historical Review, 77 (1991): 403-421. Accessed May 5, 2016. http://search.ebscohost.com/libproxy.sdsu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aft&AN=505564775&site=ehost-live.
- Seitz, Jonathan. "'The Root is Hidden and the Material Uncertain': The Challenges of Persecuting Witchcraft in Early Modern Venice". Renaissance Quarterly 62 (2009): 102-129
- Black, Christopher F. The Italian Inquisition. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2009.
- Kallestrup, Louise N. "Lay and Inquisitorial Witchcraft Prosecution Prosecutions in Early Modern Italy and Denmark". Scandinavian Journal of History 36, No. 3 (July 2011): 265-278
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 31-32.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 31.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 29.
- Gibbons, Jenny (1998)  "Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt"] in The Pomegranate #5, Lammas 1998.
- Madar, Maia. Estonia I: Werewolves and Poisoners. pp. 257–272
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 29-30.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 32-33.
- Midelfort 1972, p. 182; Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 33.
- Caro Baroja 2001, pp. 207-208; Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 33.
- H.R. Trevor-Roper, The European Witch-Craze of The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Other Essays, (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 118.
- Camille Naish, Death Comes to the Maiden: Sex and Execution 1431–1933 (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 27.
- Henry Charles Lea, Witchcraft, p. 236 as quoted in Camille Naish, Death Comes to the Maiden: Sex and Execution 1431–1933 (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 28.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 32.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 34.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 12.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 1, 21.
- Historical Dictionary of Stuart England, edited by Ronald H. Fritze and William B. Robison. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996. ISBN 978-0-313-28391-8. (p.552).
- Hutton 2010, p. 247. Scarre and Callow (2001) put forward 40,000 as an estimate for the number killed.(Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 1, 21) Levack (2006) came to an estimate of 45,000. Levack, Brian (2006). The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe Third Edition. Longman. Page 23. Hutton (2010) estimated that the numbers were between 40,000–50,000,(Hutton 2010, p. 247) Wolfgang Behringer and Lyndal Roper had independently calculated the number as being between 50,000–60,000.(Behringer 2004, p. 149; Roper 2004, pp. 6–7) In an earlier unpublished essay, Hutton counted local estimates, and in areas where estimates were unavailable attempted to extrapolate from nearby regions with similar demographics and attitudes towards witch hunting. "Estimates of Executions (based on Hutton's essay 'Counting the Witch Hunt')"..
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 21; Hutton 2010, p. 248.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 34; Hutton 2010, p. 248.
- The history of the "nine million" estimate was researched by Wolfgang Behringer: Neun Millionen Hexen. Enstehung, Tradition und Kritik eines populären Mythos, in: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 49. 1987, pp. 664–685, extensive summary on 
- Grimm, Jacob (1883 ). Teutonic Mythology Volume III. Page 1067.
- Mackay, Charles (1841). Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions Volume II. Page 168.
- 'however incredible it may appear, the enormous sum of three thousand one hundred and ninety-two individuals were condemned and executed in Great Britain alone' "WITCHCRAFT.". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842). NSW: National Library of Australia. 29 September 1832. p. 4. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- Norman Cohn rejected estimates in the hundreds of thousands as "fantastic exaggerations". Cohn 1975, p. 253
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 41–42; Behringer 2004, p. 88.
- Midelfort 1972.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 42.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 41.
- Trevor-Roper 1969.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 43.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 44.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 44–45.
- Midelfort 1972, p. 31.
- Midelfort 1972, pp. 31–32.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 45.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 46.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, pp. 49–50.
- According to R. W. Thurston, 75–80% of the victims across both Europe and North America were women, Thurston 2001. p. 42. According to Anne Llewellyn Barstow, 80% of those accused and 85% of those executed in Europe were women. Barstow, Anne Llewellyn (1994) Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts San Francisco:Pandora. p. 23
- Jones, Adam (1999-2002)
- Klaits, Joseph. Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (1985) p. 68.
- 'On the whole, however, the literature of witchcraft conspicuously lacks any sustained concern for the gender issue; and the only reason for the view that it was extreme and outspoken in its anti-feminism is the tendency for those interested in this subject to read the relevant sections of the Malleus maleficarum and little or nothing else.', Clark, 'Thinking with Demons: the idea of witchcraft in early modern Europe', p. 116 (1999)
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 59; Thurston 2001, pp. 42–45.
- 'the theory that witch-hunting equals misogyny is embarrassed by the predominance of women witness against the accused', Purkis, 'The Witch In History', p. 92 (1996); Purkis provides detailed examples, and also demonstrates how some documents have been misread in a manner which attributes accusations or legal prosecution to men, when in fact the action was brought by a woman. "More numerous than midwives among the accused were women who were engaged in caring for other women's children. Lyndal Roper has shown that many witchcraft accusations in Ausburg in the late sixteenth and early 17th century arose out of conflicts between mothers and the lying-in maids who provided care for them and their infants for a number of weeks after birth. It was not unnatural for the mothers to project their anxieties about their own health, as well as the precarious health of their infants, on to these women. When some misfortune did occur, therefore, the lying-in maids were highly vulnerable to charges of having deprived the baby of nourishment or of having killed it. What is interesting about these accusations is that they originated in tensions among women rather than between men and women. The same can be said regarding many other accusations made against women for harming young children.", Levack, The Witch-Hunt In Early Modern Europe, p. 140 (2nd edition 1995)
- Gibbons 1998.
- "In Lorraine the majority were men, particularly when other men were on trial, yet women did testify in large numbers against other women, making up 43 per cent of witnesses in these cases on average, and predominating in 30 per cent of them.", Briggs, 'Witches & Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft', p. 264 (1998). "It appears that women were active in building up reputations by gossip, deploying counter-magic and accusing suspects; crystallization into formal prosecution, however, needed the intervention of men, preferably of fairly high status in the community.", ibid., p. 265. "The number of witchcraft quarrels that began between women may actually have been higher; in some cases, it appears that the husband as 'head of household' came forward to make statements on behalf of his wife, although the central quarrel had taken place between her and another woman.", Willis, Malevolent Nature, p. 36 (1995). "In Peter Rushton's examination of slander cases in the Durham church courts, women took action against other women who had labeled them witches in 61 percent of the cases.", ibid., p. 36. "J.A. Sharpe also notes the prevalence of women as accusers in seventeenth-century Yorkshire cases, concluding that 'on a village level witchcraft seems to have been something peculiarly enmeshed in women's quarrels.'14 To a considerable extent, then, village-level witch-hunting was women's work.', ibid., p. 36
- 'The widespread division of labour, which conceives of witches as female, and witch-doctors male, can hardly be explained by Christian influence. In some European countries, like Iceland, Finland, and Estonia, the idea of male witchcraft was dominant, and therefore most of the executed witches were male. As Kirsten Hastrup has demonstrated, only one of the twenty-two witches executed in Iceland was female. In Normandy three-quarters of the 380 known witchcraft defendants were male.', Behringer, 'Witches and Witch-Hunts: a global history', p. 39 (2004)
- Barstow, Anne Llewellyn (1994) Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts San Francisco: Pandora.
- Thurston 2001. pp. 42-45.
- Gunnar Heinsohn/Otto Steiger: The Elimination of Medieval Birth Control and the Witch Trials of Modern Times, International Journal of Women's Studies, 3, May 1982, 193–214.Gunnar Heinsohn/Otto Steiger: "Witchcraft, Population Catastrophe and Economic Crisis in Renaissance Europe: An Alternative Macroeconomic Explanation.", University of Bremen 2004 (download) Gunnar Heinsohn/Otto Steiger: "Birth Control: The Political-Economic Rationale Behind Jean Bodin's "Démonomanie"", in: History of Political Economy, 31, No. 3, 423–448 Heinsohn, G. (2005): "Population, Conquest and Terror in the 21st Century." webcitation.com Mainstream scholarship has remained critical of this "macroeconomic approach", e.g. Walter Rummel: 'Weise' Frauen und 'weise' Männer im Kampf gegen Hexerei. Die Widerlegung einer modernen Fabel. In: Christof Dipper, Lutz Klinkhammer und Alexander Nützenadel: Europäische Sozialgeschichte. Festschrift für Wolfgang Schieder (= Historische Forschungen 68), Berlin 2000, S. 353–375, historicum.net; "there is no evidence that the majority of those accused were healers and midwives; in England and also some parts of the Continent, midwives were more than likely to be found helping witch-hunters." (Purkiss 1996, p. 8)
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 64.
- Gerd Schwerhoff: Vom Alltagsverdacht zur Massenverfolgung. Neuere deutsche Forschungen zum frühneuzeitlichen Hexenwesen. Zeitschrift "Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht" 46, 1995
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 2; Hutton 2010, p. 248.
- Scarre & Callow 2001, p. 57.
- Hutton 2010, p. 248.
- Purkiss 1996, p. 15.
- Cohn 1975, p. 103.
- Cohn 1975, pp. 103-104; Purkiss 1996, p. 34; Hutton 1999, p. 136.
- Cohn 1975, p. 104; Hutton 1999, pp. 136-137.
- Murray 1952; Murray & 1962.
- Sheppard 2013, p. 169.
- Hutton 1999, p. 198.
- Eliade 1975, p. 152.
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