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Creado el: 8 Ene 2011
Política de participación Aprobación del propietario
Creado el: 8 Ene 2011
A group focused on the study, discussion & debate around one of European history's most interesting & memorable phenomena from the early modern era (15th to 18th century) ---> the witch-hunts
<> Francesco Maria Guazzo, Compendium Maleficarum, 1626 <>
During the early modern period of European history, stretching from roughly 1450 to 1750, thousands of persons, most of them women, were tried for the crime of witchcraft. About half of these individuals were executed, usually by burning. Some witchcraft trials took place in the various ecclesiastical courts of Europe, institutions which played an important role in regulating the moral and religious life of Europeans during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. More commonly, especially after 1550, the trials were held in the secular courts - the courts of kingdoms, states, principalities, duchies, counties and towns.
The geographical distribution of cases throughout Europe was extremely uneven. In some jurisdictions there were very few prosecutions, if any at all, whereas in others hundreds and sometimes thousands of persons were tried over the course of three centuries.
There was also an uneven chronological distribution of witchcraft trials. A gradual increase in the number of prosecutions during the fifteenth century was followed by a slight reduction in the early sixteenth century , a dramatic increase in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and finally a gradual decline in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Within each jurisdiction there were even more pronounced fluctuations in the number of trials. Instead of a steady stream of prosecutions we often find some periods when large numbers of witches were prosecuted and others when the crime does not appear to have been a problem.
Although the number of witches who were tried varied from place to place and from time to time, all of these witchcraft prosecutions can be considered parts of one very large judicial operation that took place only in Europe and only during the early modern period. this general but nevertheless clearly defined historical development is usually referred to as either the European witch-craze or the European witch-hunt. The former term, which is the one most commonly employed, should be used with great caution. it is appropriate only to the extent that European authorities and communities harboured such deep fears of witches during this period that they often manifested frenzied, irrational or manic forms of behaviour in pursuing them. In some instances the number of suspected witches was so large, and the fear of them so profound that entire communities became caught up in a panic. The problem with the word "craze", however, is its implication that the set of beliefs which underlay the prosecution of witches was the product of some sort of mental disorder, which was certainly not the case.
The latter term, witch-hunt, is preferable to witch-craze because all witchcraft prosecutions, even those that gave no indication of collective psychoses, involved some sort of search for malefactors. Witch-hunts did not usually involve the physical pursuit of a named individual, as in the case of man-hunt when a prisoner escapes from goal or evades the law. Occasionally, witches who escaped or went into hiding were hunted in that way, but the essential process of combating witchcraft was discovering who the witches were rather than where they were located. Witch-hunting involved the identification of individuals who were widely believed to be engaged in a secret activity. Witches were hunted, therefore, in the same way that members of an underground movement or secret organization would be hunted today. This was a task undertaken by various individuals, usually judicial authorities but sometimes professional witch-finders. Acting on the basis of accusations, denunciations or sometimes mere rumour, these men arrested persons whose names came to their attentation, interrogated them, and did everything in their power to extract confessions from them. Sometimes judicial authorities continued this investigation by forcing confessing witches to name their accomplices, the type of legal prosecution most commonly associated with the word "witch-hunt" today. The final stage of the witch hunt was, in most cases, the formal conviction of the accused, followed by their execution, banishment or imprisonment.
There is no consensus of opinion on the historical question of why the great European witch-hunt took place. indeed, it is difficult to think of any other historical problem over which there is more disagreement and confusion. During the tweentieth century alone the witch-hunt has been attributed, in whole or in large part, to the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Inquisition, the use of judicial torture, the wars of religion, the religious zeal of the clergy, the rise of the modern state, the development of capitalism, the widespread use of narcotics, changes in medical thought, social and cultural conflict, an attempt to wipe out paganism, the need of the ruling class to distract the masses, opposition to birth control, the spread of syphilis, and hatred of women. Rather than endorse any one of these all-encompassing explanations for the hunt, we should adopt a multi-causal approach which sees the emergence of new ideas about witches and a series of fundamental changes in the criminal law as the necessary preconditions of the witch-hunt, and both religious change and social tension in its more immediate causes. Only by studying all of these factors and by seeing how they reinforced each other, can we begin to understand why the hunt occured. Even then, however, it is necessary to go beyond these general causes of the hunt and explore the specific circumstances and events that triggered individual witch-hunts, for the European witch-hunt was really nothing more than a series of separate hunts, each of which had its own precipitants. Each of these hunts also had its own dynamic, and therefore we must also try to explain why witch-hunts, once they had begun, followed many different patterns of development.
The complexity of the great European witch-hunt is evident not only in an analysis of its causes but in a study of its chronological and geographical development. Since witch-hunting was more intense in some areas than in other and at certain times than at others, it is imperative that we explain why these variations occured. Only in this way can we appreciate the relative importance of some of the more general causes of the entire European witch-hunt.
Although magic and sorcery are in a certain sense universal phenomena that occur in all societies at all periods of time, the European witch-hunt was a time- bound phenomenon, which did not begin until the fifteenth century and ended by the middle of the eighteenth. A study of its termination can, therefore, deepen our understanting of the conditions that both made it possible and sustained it.
(Brian P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, Longman, 2nd edition, 1995, pp. 1-3)
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