"You shall not permit a sorceress to live" (Ex. 22: 18). Introduction The ancient belief in witchcraft and magic has existed for a very long time, having been mentioned in the tales of Homer in ancient Greece and even in the Bible. Witches are supposed to be females that have supernatural powers for evil purposes. A male with such powers is called a warlock, sorcerer or wizard. The Craze The first man to take action against heretics was John XXII, who was Pope from 1316 to 1334.
A century later, in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the "Summ is Desiderantes," which condemned the practice of witchcraft, declaring it opposed to catholic faith. In Europe, the practice of witchcraft officially became a felony in 1543 and was made a capital offence in 1563. The situation immediately after 1563 was unclear due to lost records but it is estimated that from about 1560's until around the 1630's, this ancient belief in witchcraft got completely out of hand. Witch hunting crazes swept through Europe and even spread as far as the new world settlements in Salem, Massachusetts.
Belongings confiscated from the victims were usually given to the witch hunters, which further encouraged them. Victims of the witch trials have been estimated to number from hundreds of thousands to the millions. Witchcraft in England The witchcraft craze in England was not as hysterical as other parts of Europe, such as Germany, and parts of America, such as Salem. It is thought to be because the goods confiscated off the accused in England went to the Crown and not the locals, unlike in the other countries. However, England was not completely unaffected. Witch trials and executions rose steadily, especially in the southeast and in the town of Essex.
They peaked at around the 1600's and declined within a few decades. England also had some professional witch hunters, of which the most famous was Matthew Hopkins from Essex. He claimed that he could detect witches, all for fee, of course. Matthew Hopkins was the "Witch-Finder General" and was involved in the accusation of two hundred and fifty witches and one hundred executions. What Distinguishes a Witch? A high percentage of the people accused for practicing witchcraft were female midwives because it was believed that they had access to the evil spirit in un baptised stillborn babies.
It was also believed that virgins could not be witches. All witches were believed to have distinguishing marks on their body. When these "witch-marks" were pricked pin, it did not hurt the person. Records show that the "witch-marks" were likely to be located on exposed parts of the body such as the back of the neck. Witches were also believed to have a "familiar," which is an animal, usually a cat or a toad, which can turn into the devil and carry messages for the witch. Also, witches were believed to have regular social meetings (eg, Sabbaths) and be most active on the 30 th of April and the 31 st of October.
The Trials There were many different ways of trailing an accused witch, most of which ended with the witch dying whether they were proven guilty or innocent. One method called "swimming the witch." This consisted of tying the victim's hands and feet together and throwing them into deep water. If they floated, it was a sign of evil possession and if they sank, it proved them to be innocent. A variation of this trial consisted of tying the accused witch to a makeshift chair and continuously dunking them into a lake.
If they survived, this proved that they could save themselves using magic. If they drowned, their innocence was proved. Another method of trailing a witch consisted of throwing the accused witch off a cliff. If they used magic to save themselves, they were considered to be guilty and if they fell to their death, then they were innocent. The method that produced the most amounts of 'guilty' witches was using torture, as the accused often confessed to being a witch just to stop the torment. If a witch were to be proven guilty, they would be tied to a stake surrounded by hay, dry leaves and twigs and burned to death.
The Closing Stages A few decades later at around the 1630's, the witchcraft craze slowly died down. The last execution took place in the district of Exeter, Devon in 1685. The last trial took place in 1712. In England in 1732, the death sentence against witches was repealed. Soon after, other European countries followed suit.
Overall, the executions that took place in England were mild compared to many other parts of Europe. It is unlikely that there were more than 500 deaths. During the second half of the 17 th century, sceptism of the existence of witchcraft grew among educated people, largely due to more new scientific ideas. However, the belief in witchcraft never really faded until the 20 th century where factors like better communication and mass schooling eroded most belief in witchcraft.
However, there is still a small percentage of the population in the world today that still believes in a little magic. Conclusion Today when we look back on the witch trials of the past, some say that the persecutions were earnest attempts by Christians to stamp out superstitions; some say that they were merely an excuse to take property from others while some say that it was really just a huge overreaction to a threat to their way of life. No matter the reason for the witch trials and executions, we need to learn from this mistake in our past and make sure nothing like that ever happens again. Bibliography 1.
Text - "Time, Continuity and Change" written by Meg Grey B landen. Published by Longman d in 1997. 2. Text - "The Oxford Companion to British History" Edited by John Cannon. Published by the Oxford University Press in 1997. 3.
Encyclopaedia Britannica CD - ROM, 1998.