The Witchcraft Craze in Europe

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Critical Analysis of the Witchcraft Craze and its Depiction of the European Society and the Place of Women in the 16th and 17th Centuries

The period between 16th and 17th

centuries marked the Europe’s major decision to stand against witchcraft. During this time, many regions under the Catholic Church underwent a Reformation which altered the perception of religion and the relationship between God and Satan. As a result, countries and regions rose against witchcraft as a way to ensure sanity among the communities and individuals. Arguably, between 40,000 and 60,000 people were murdered by hanging and burning due to witchcraft accusations (Schultz). In this case, many women in the European society were targeted for this vice with most of the victims succumbing into death through torture. The St. Maximin settlement conducted the first cases of witch torture which were followed by over 500 deaths of other accused community members, with most of them being men while a significant minority were men. In this light, the witchcraft craft craze exposed the depiction of the society as well as the place of women during that era.

The emergence of natural disasters such as floods, droughts, diseases for humans and animals, mice and caterpillar plagues, and deaths instilled fear, mistrust, and suspense in the 16th

and 17th centuries’ European society (Schultz). In this light, people started attributing negative occurrences with those around them. At the same time, individuals confessed of using magic to make things work, for example, boost harvests, enhance animals’ fertility, and heal people (Trevor-Roper & Hugh Redwald). However, this only prompted others to think that such individuals could use the same magic to cause harm. On the same note, the rise of the Reformation period caused a significant change across the continent and the people. During this time, disagreements between the Catholic Church and some community members led to the beginning of persecutions of the people with ill and opposed behaviors. With church taking some people as ‘agents of Satan’ the witchcraft craze also emerged at that moment.

Numerous women were targeted and also associated with witchcraft during the 16th and 17th

centuries in various European regions such as Central Europe, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Belgium. According to the Malleus Maleficarum, the witchcraft craze contributed critically in showcasing the position occupied by women in the society (Schultz). Firstly, women were taken as morally weaker than men (Schultz). With Malleus Maleficarum attributing the actions of first woman in the Bible, Eve, with all women, the book shows how the church communities and community members associated, accused, and tortured women due to witchcraft allegations. Secondly, women were only taken as sexual creatures meant to perform various sexual roles in the society (Schultz). Some argued that women had the power to attract men and the community members at large into sins and any ill-intentions that they secretly conceived (Trevor-Roper & Hugh Redwald). The characteristics such as lustfulness and seductiveness, which were associated with women in that time, led to many being convicted of involvement in witchcraft. As a result, significantly more women were accused and tortured for association with witchcraft during that time even without enough evidence to prove the claims.

In conclusion, the 16th and 17th

centuries turned into a time in which Europe started taking witchcraft as a powerful force and a vice within the society. Although several scholars dismissed the influence and impact of witchcraft, the church as well as many community members supported the step to arrest, convict, accuse, and torture individuals associated with the vice. In this light, both men and women were found guilty and killed as a way to eradicate and discourage the behavior in the society. However, more women were accused and tortured due to witchcraft. In this light, the witchcraft craze in that period served the purpose of depicting the place of women as morally weaker than men and as sexual creatures in the society.

Works Cited

Schultz, Angela Michelle. “Witchcraft: What Caused the Witch-Hunts in Early Modern Europe.” Exemplore, Web. 19th Dec. 2018, <>

Trevor-Roper, Hugh Redwald, and Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper. The European witch-craze of the 16th and 17th centuries. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.

November 13, 2023

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