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Witchcraft in Germany and England

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 6 (1495 words)
Categories: History, Period, Salem Witch Trials
Downloads: 22
Views: 385

The sixteenth century’s Catholic Europe faced a new revolution called the Reformation. This revolution altered the religious perception of the people across the continent. In order to win the Holy War and prove their godliness, the Reformers used the idea of witchcraft, a remnant of Catholic teachings, to create a social phenomenon called the witch craze. Witchcraft, along with the socioeconomic situations of the European countries, drastically changed how the people perceived religion and led to the death of thousands.

Even though Germany was one of the largest witch-burn centers in Europe, witchcraft arrived rather late as compared to other continental countries. Unlike many beliefs, German witches were widely known to be involved with the Devil and evil spirits in late-night gatherings called Sabbaths, where they would dance and conspire to do harm. Another activity was believed to occur during the Sabbaths was the courting of witches with the Devil. This means that in order to possess magic, a witch would have to sacrifice her soul during the process of courting as a way to seal the pact.

In the time when religions heavily influenced and defined people, any behavior that did not correspond to moral values taught in the Bible, like losing virginity before marriage, would be seen as an evil act. As humans who had already succumbed to the seduction of the Devil, witches became the most wanted targets in the society whose mission was to cleanse their diabolical presence from the surface of the Earth.

In doing so, the German had several ways to recognize if someone was a witch. Most of the time, the number of accused females was disproportionately large because women were automatically perceived as potential threats. The reason for this was the Malleus Maleficarum, a widely read misogynistic book on witchcraft, which referred to women as creatures with weak minds and strong sexual desires. Strengthened by misogynistic ideas from the text, the patriarchal states encouraged men to target on and exert power over women who showed non-standard traits or behaved differently from ‘ideal’ norms.

For instance, a woman who wouldn’t cry when she was supposed to would be seen as merciless or emotionless; these adjectives are used to describe witches. Not only did the German patriarchy’s chauvinistic views feminize the definition of a witch, it also accused women for any sign of weakening masculinity in households or society. By doing so, the male gender superiority was reaffirmed and justified. Even though the gender contest played an important role in the rise of witch hunt, in northern Germany, motherhood was one of the popular themes that the accusations were centered around. Often times, the accusations were brought by immediate neighbors of the accused, or the mother of the child whose care the accused was intimately concerned with (lying-in-maid). An example of this would be when an infant is sick, and the mother accuses the lying-in-maid of sucking out the ‘youthfulness’ out of the child to feed herself. Most importantly, the socioeconomic situation of Germany put innocent women’s lives in danger because the increasing number of witch trials secured the in-flowing benefits for prince-bishops. Once accused, the witch would lose all of her assets, meaning that trials and persecutions became the main sources of income for the people involved, from prosecutors to executors.

The process of getting a confession from the accused was lengthy and involved violent methods or public humiliation. Since German witches were believed to have the witch mark, a public strip search was thought to be common and necessary when someone was suspected to be feeding an imp, an evil creature that sucked from the mark. This method was no difference from a sexual assault because it worked well as a reassurance for the male superiority. However, torture was only used by the persecutor to get consistent confessions from the witch. In some strange cases, the witch would remain silent or even change her confession when asked to confess again, hence forcing the persecutor to inflict pain on her. Accused witches who didn’t crack under torture were set free because they were believed to lack the diabolical interiority despite being seriously accused; while the deaths during interrogations were thought to be the witches’ salvation, their path to return to Christianity.

Unlike the German, English court systems forbade the use of torture on alleged witches. Before becoming King James I of England, he was King James VI of Scotland, where the idea of witches was more common, and trials were processed in continental methods. As he became King of England in 1604, James I passed an Act that made all kinds of witchcraft, including digging up graves, killing or harming using witchcraft, a capital offense which would only result in the death penalty. Before 1604, witchcraft in the eyes of the English was only committing maleficium or doing harm. The arrival of James I to England changed this perception because of the Act’s emphasis on the association between witches and the Devil. Being a capital offense, witchcraft accusations were granted due process in investigations and collecting evidence. The passing of the Act of 1604 significantly decreased the number of witches’ convictions.

Several accusations were made by immediate neighbors of the accused, but the accused person also mentally or physically contributed to the accusations against them. Some alleged witches may have actually believed in the influence of the Devil in their lives. By using the fear from their neighbors, the alleged could convincingly make their neighbors appease them financially much more easily than when the neighbors believed the alleged had no magic. This kind of constant reaffirmation from the neighbors’ fear could make the witches genuinely believe in their supernatural power. Another motif behind the accusations was the antagonisms among the women. Being under the influence of the Malleus Maleficarum, the English society also feminized the definition of ‘witch’, describing the witch to be ungodly, animalistic and cruel to the innocent.

Women who had not been accused felt the need to prove their godliness by posing themselves against witches or even framing the woman next door, knowing very well she was innocent. In some other cases, some women desired to end their lives in times of despair. When finally coming to their senses, those women were too horrified by the thoughts of killing themselves that they would rather think evil spirits had possessed them than admit that those thoughts came from their own consciousness. The growing population of the country also accounted for the accusations. This had to do with the widening gap between the elite and the poor as the population increased. Often times, when an elite found themselves in a financial struggle, they would blame the person they last had had contact with for casting witchcraft. Another example would be when an elite refused to give a homeless person small change and ended up with some kind of tragedy, they would blame the homeless person for using witchcraft as revenge. Finally, the patriarchal anxiety of the Christian society contributed largely to the number of accusations with motifs very much similar to which of the German.

Even though during the Hopkins period, the court systems accounts delineated witches plotting maleficium with the Devil, no sexual engagements were depicted. This made it difficult to provide evidence relating the connection between the accused and the Devil without the use of torture during trials. Even when the evidence had been collected, not all pieces were used by English demonologists to convict a witch, leading to a much lower conviction rate. Another popular witchcraft concept in England was imps and familiars. Evidence of these creatures was commonly used during prosecutions. Especially under judge Matthew Hopkins, the imps were frequently referenced as creatures who sucked three times a day from the witch’s devil mark. Failure to provide evidence and being denied confession by the accused means the accuser would have to accept the release of the witch. In some regions like Suffolk, physical and mental pressure like sleep-deprivation was used to get confessions out of the alleged. Other concepts of witchcraft that gained popularity were white witches (people who used witchcraft to do good) or cunning men (benevolent magic practitioners). However, only trials which involved harming or killing got the most attention from society.

In reality, witchcraft accusations reflected social changes and the religious politics across Europe. They too were a societal problem as they well represented the gender inequality that the male power structure had constructed deep in the people’s consciousness. Not only did the male power structure encourage men to physically and mentally exert dominance over women, it turned women against each other through the antagonisms among them. In heavily Christian societies like the German and the English, the female witch was both viewed as a threat to the people’s way of life and a tool to establish a stable relationship between Christianity and the people. As the Holy War came to an end, the witch craze started to die out.

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Witchcraft in Germany and England. (2019, Dec 03). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/witchcraft-in-germany-and-england-essay

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