Early Modern European and the Witch Hunt
Early Modern European and the Witch Hunt
For three centuries of early modern European history, diverse societies were consumed by a panic over alleged witches in their midst. Witch-hunts, especially in Central Europe, resulted in the trial, torture, and execution of tens of thousands of victims, about three-quarters of whom were women. ` The years between 1550 and 1650 were the worst. Choose a European society of those years and describe, as one of the witch’s prosecutors, your role in ferreting out these monsters.
Include such things as where you live, why your geographic area became involved, how people were chosen to be arrested (their crimes), what methods you used to make them `confess`, their punishments, and finally now, 20 years later, your thoughts on the entire matter. My name is Dietrich Hassler, the year is 1595 and I live in Bremen, Germany. I am a well educated man, respected in society, and a leader in the Lutheran Church.
Though I loath Catholicism and its doctrines, one of the beliefs I share with Catholics is the belief that witchcraft is heresy, satan worship, and witches and wizards have been empowered by satan to cast evil spells like bad weather, diseases, death to humans and animals, and rebellion to the Christian Lutheran faith. As a devout Christian, I believe what the Bible says about witches and witchcraft, especially Exodus 22:18 – “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”.
I am also acquinted with the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) published in 1487 by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. I am thus particularly knowledgeable about the following with regards to witchcraft: It is a heresy not to believe in witches, witchcraft can be discerned by the observance of certain particular activities, and witches must be punished with death as the Bible prescribes in Exodus 22:18. I am also very aware of the fact that most witches are women as they are the weaker sex and are more susceptible to be used by the devil.
As Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger have stated in the Malleus Maleficarum: “What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours! ” (quoted in Kors and Peters, 2000, p. 183) In the past few years, Bremen has experienced very bad harvests due to droughts, and there has been an outbreak incurable diseases resulting in deaths of both humans and animals.
Many have reported that there is witchcraft activity going on in Bremen and it is to blame for the disasters we are currently facing. Due to my vast knowledge in theology and my leadership in church and society, I have been appointed as a prosecutor at a court specially convened for trying the witches who are causing this menace to our society. As prosecutor, I have special informants who investigate activities of suspected witches and compile evidence against them. Members of society (especially women) who are not Christians and those who do not attend church are potential suspects.
Other notable suspects are ‘native healers’ who use herbs and other weird things as medicines, and particularly those who practice magic and sorcery. People who are found with magic and sorcery books and other heretical materials are witches so I have been empowered to send court officials to search houses of suspected witches for such materials. Suspects who are brought to the court are interrogated to obtain information about their activities and the names of their associates and collaborators.
To obtain such information, suspects are sometimes flogged in public, ‘dunked’ in water, put in stocks, and mutilated. All these forms of torture are a necessary part of the court procedures and our sanctioned by me as the prosecutor. As prosecutor, I always recommend death as the punishment for convicted witches and the court always adheres to my recommended punishments. Within the past five years that the court has been in session 60 people have been convicted of witchcraft and 48 of them were women. Some have been burned on the stakes while others were either hanged or beheaded.
20 years after the trials I look back with regret at the role I played in the witch-hunts, and though my views have changed, I am afraid to express them as I could be branded a heretic myself and be tried for being drafted into witchcraft. I now realise that a lot of my informants used their position to settle old scores with their enemies and competitors in their trades. References: Kors, A. C. , and Peters, E. ed. (2000). Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700: A Documentary History, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press