QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2005-04 > 1114295304
Subject: Witch Hunts
Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2005 18:28:24 EDT
The Witch Hunts are/were all alike.
FACT: While the Witch Hunts share some essential similarities, they were
enormously different depending on time and place.
COMMENTARY: Briefly, most witch hunts involved government authorities
deciding that a problem with witches existed. Usually the danger was seen in an
organized conspiracy led by the Devil. Or the concern was witches causing harm
(maleficia) through spells: raising storms, killing people or livestock,
and/or causing bad luck. The authorities then pursued an investigation that often
included secret informants and torture to acquire information and
confessions. Finally, convicted witches were often executed. Some hunts involved only a
few condemned, others might exterminate hundreds.
Some parts of Europe suffered many intense hunts, such as provinces in France
and Germany; others experienced several moderate persecutions, such as
England or Hungary; others held comparatively few trials, such as Spain or the
Dutch Netherlands. None of the hunts were constant over the years 1400 to 1800,
but came in concentrated periods, especially intense between 1550 and 1650.
Historians are still trying to explain the reasons for this great variety in
witch hunting. Important factors could have been: the power of the central
government; the independence of local authorities; tensions created by war,
failing economies, or famine; and uncertainties about religious conformity.
The bigger question is why the authorities would consider the witches a
danger (as opposed to traditional scapegoats like Jews, heretics, homosexuals,
foreigners, or even sorcerers)? Specific hunts were often rooted in specific
local circumstances. Still, historians have tried to come up with general
explanations for the complex phenomenon of witch hunts. One should be wary of
any author who suggests one cause for all the Witch Hunts. I discern ten
general trends that some historians have tried to argue as causes for the hunts.
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