Witch Craze

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 11th grade February 2008

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It was not until the very end of the medieval period that a definition emerged of the witch as a person in league with the devil, and that full-scale persecution began. In the period from 1000-1500, concepts of the witch ranged from that of compassionate healer to feared sorcerer or sorceress. The transition from these early indistinct ideas of witchcraft to a fully formed image of the diabolical witch deserves study because it illustrates the style of persecution that had come into existence by the end of the medieval period through the efforts of an ambitious ecclesiastical order. Witchcraft was not a new phenomenon in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its practice had been part of traditional village culture for centuries, but it came to be viewed as both sinister and dangerous when the medieval church began to connect witches to the activities of the devil, thus transforming witchcraft into a heresy that had to be punished.

Whether or not actual witches existed does not matter so much as the concept of witches, which was an exaggerated result of overactive ecclesiastical fears. The Church tried controlling Western Europe by implanting the idea that the devil was constantly around them and that to stamp out those in league with him would be in their best interests. The ecclesiastical powers urged the persecutions of witches and heretics on, with the help of handbooks such as the Malleus Maleficarum as well as empowering the Inquisition with the abilities to privately try people for heresy. Considering that this happened at the time when turmoil was created by wars, religious upheaval, and economic and social uncertainty, many were also empowered to discover and uproot theological error and justified their accusations by believing that they were benefiting society as a whole.

The devil played a central...