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A witch-hunt was traditionally a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, which could lead to a witchcraft trial involving the accused person. Many diverse cultures throughout the world, both ancient and modern, have reacted to allegations of witchcraft either by superstitious fear and awe, and killed any alleged practitioners of witchcraft outright; or shunned it as quackery, extortion or fraud. Today such events are recognised as a type of moral panic. Witchhunts still occur in the modern era, in many and various communities where religious values condemn the practice of witchcraft and the occult. On a general basis, the term may also denote the persecution of a perceived enemy (commonly socially non-conformist groups) with extreme prejudice and disregard of actual guilt or innocence.


[edit] Early modern Europe

Pre-Christian Norse cultures related to seid magic with strong antipathy, and while deity Odin was practitioner of seid, any male individual caught from seid was either killed or expunged off the community. For several centuries, predominantly Christian societies believed that Satan was acting through humans and animals. These beliefs can be seen as a reaction to emerging alternatives to the Christian hierarchical order, such as the worldly knowledge and cultural practices brought into a relatively backward Europe from the Middle East by those returning from the Crusades, or they can be seen as a continuum of the beliefs of Pre-Christian Germanic and Finno-Ugric religions and the almost universal Pagan belief in totem animals.[citation needed]

Over the centuries, there were extensive efforts to root out the supposed influence of Satan by various measures aimed at the people who were accused of being servants of Satan. To a lesser degree, animals were also targeted for prosecution, as described in the article animal trial. People suspected of being "possessed" by Satan were put on trial. These trials were biased against the witch. On the other hand, the church also attempted to extirpate the superstitious belief in witchcraft and sorcery, considering it as fraud in most cases.

It had been proposed that the witch-hunt developed in Europe after the Cathars and the Templar Knights were exterminated and the Inquisition had to turn to persecution of witches to remain active. In the middle of 1970s, this hypothesis was independently disproved by two historians (Cohn 1975; Kieckhefer 1976). It was shown that the pursuit originated amongst common people in Switzerland and in Croatia that pressed on the civil courts to support them. Inquisitorial courts became systematically involved in the witch-hunt only in the 15th century: in the case of the Madonna Oriente, the Inquisition of Milan was not sure what to do with two women who in 1384 and in 1390 confessed to have participated in a type of white magic. Witch-hunts were seen across early modern Europe, but were particularly strong in countries lacking strong central institutions and affected by social conflict - and they were significantly less bloody in Catholic and Orthodox countries than in the Reformation-torn regions of central and north-western Europe<ref>Brian Levack: The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, 2nd ed, 1995 (which page?)</ref>.

As shown by the scholar Max Dashu, the medieval concept of a witch began to develop already in pre-Christian times, as its elements can be found in the Roman cult of Bacchanalias, especially when led by Paculla Annia, and in the Roman mythological creature of strix. Many suspects were women who lived in towns, villages or rural areas and who may have been practitioners of herbalism, natural healing or midwifery; but often it was simply poor, uneducated women who did not have influential friends, or who were mentally imbalanced and who would today be considered schizophrenic. Early Modern Christian authorities in Europe (both Catholic and Protestant) strongly condemned any such expression of non-Christian spirituality. This was in accord with literal readings of the Old Testament, which contains strong denunciations against the polytheism of non-Hebrew peoples.

[edit] Early Modern Europe Germany

In modern Europe witch trials became the new approach for witch-hunting for the period. The most significant area of witch-hunting in modern Europe is often looked at as southwestern Germany. In Germany the number trials compared to other regions of Europe is viewed as a relatively late starter. Witch-hunts first showed to have appeared in large numbers in southern France and Switzerland during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The peak years of witch-hunts in southwest Germany occurred between the years of 1561-1670.<ref>H.C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684,1972,71</ref> The first major persecution in Europe is recorded in 1563 in a pamphlet called “True and Horrifying Deeds of 63 Witches” that caught, tried, convicted, and burned witches in the imperial lordship of Wiesensteig in southwestern Germany.<ref>Wolfgang Behringer, Witches and Witch-Hunts,2004,83</ref>

One theory for the number of witchcraft trials connects the counter-reformation to witchcraft. In south-western Germany between 1561 and 1670 there were 480 witch trials. Of the 480 trials that took place in southwestern Germany, 317 occurred in Catholic areas, while Protestant territories accounted for 163 of them.<ref>H.C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684,1972,31</ref> During the period from 1561 to 1670, at least 3,229 persons were executed for witchcraft in the German Southwest. Of this number 702 were tried and executed in Protestant territories, while 2,527 were tried and executed in Catholic territories. <ref>H.C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684,1972,31-32</ref> Nineteenth-century historians today dispute the comparative severity of witch hunting in Protestant and Catholic territories. “Protestants blamed the witch trials on the methods of the Catholic Inquisition and the theology of Catholic scholasticism, while Catholic scholars indignantly retorted that Lutheran preachers drew more witchcraft theory from Luther and the Bible than from medieval Catholic thinkers.”<ref>H.C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684,1972,31</ref>

Other theories have pointed that the massive changes in law allowed for the outbreak in witch trials. Such laws pointed out heretical nature, and punished all aspects. Another theory is that rising number of devil literature popularized witchcraft trials, in which the German market saw nearly 100,000 devil-books during the 1560’s.<ref>H.C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684,1972,69-0</ref> Another assumption is that climate-induced crop failure and hash weather was a direct link to witch-hunts. This theory follows the idea that witchcraft in Europe was traditionally associated with weather-making.<ref>Wolfgang Behringer, Witches and Witch-Hunts,2004,88</ref> Scholars also imply that a connection between witchcraft trials and the Thirty Years’ War may also have a direct correlation.<ref>H.C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684,1972</ref>

After 1666, the number of witchcraft trials declined from earlier larger scale trials, to smaller scattered ones. Opposition against witchcraft trials began to decline as preachers used enlightened thinking to adapt ideas about witchcraft.

[edit] Evidence

The evidence required to convict an alleged witch varied from country to country - but prosecutions everywhere were most frequently sparked off by denunciations, while convictions invariably required a confession. The latter was often obtained by extremely violent methods. Although Europe's witch-frenzy did not begin until the late 1400s - long after the formal abolition of "ordeal" in 1215 - brutal techniques were routinely used to extract the required admission of guilt. They included hot pincers, the thumbscrew, and the 'swimming' of suspects (an old superstition whereby innocence was established by immersing the accused in water for a sufficiently long period of time). Investigators were consequently able to establish many fantastic crimes that could never have occurred, even in theory. That said, many judicial procedures of the time required proof of a causative link between the alleged act of witchcraft and an identifiable injury, such as a death or property damage.

The flexibility of the crime and the methods of proving it resulted in thirty<ref>(German) Behringer, Wolfgang: Neun Millionen Hexen. Enstehung, Tradition und Kritik eines populären Mythos, in: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 49. 1987, pp. 664-685, extensive summary on [1]</ref>to a hundred thousand executions. Any reckoning of the death toll should take account of the facts that rules of evidence varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and that a significant number of witch trials always ended in acquittal. :"At the height of the Great Hunt (1567–1640) one half of all witchcraft cases brought before church courts were dismissed for lack of evidence. No torture was used, and the accused could clear himself by providing four to eight "compurgators", people who were willing to swear that he wasn't a witch. Only 21% of the cases ended with convictions, and the Church did not impose any kind of corporal or capital punishment."<ref>Jenny Gibbons (1998). Recent Developments in the Study of The Great European Witch Hunt. Retrieved 12 June 2006.</ref> In the Pays de Vaud, nine of every ten people tried were put to death, but in Finland, the corresponding figure was about one in six (16%). A breakdown of conviction rates (along with statistics on death tolls, gender bias, and much else) can be found in Brian Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (2nd ed, 1995).

There are particularly important differences between the English and continental witch-hunting traditions. The checks and balances inherent in the jury system, which required a 23-strong body (the grand jury) to indict and a 12-strong one (the petit jury) to convict, always had a restraining effect on prosecutions. Another restraining influence was its relatively rare use of torture: the country formally permitted it only when authorised by the monarch, and no more than 81 torture warrants were issued (for all offences) throughout English history.<ref>John H. Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof (Chicago and London, 1977), p.81ff.</ref> Continental European courts, while varying from region to region, tended to concentrate power in individual judges and place far more reliance on torture. The significance of the institutional difference is most clearly established by a comparison of the witch-hunts of England and Scotland, for the death toll inflicted by the courts north of the border always dwarfed that of England.<ref>Brian Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (2nd ed, 1995), p.202; see also Christina Larner, Enemies of God. The Witch-hunt in Scotland (London, 1981), pp.62-3</ref> It is also apparent from an episode of English history during the early 1640s, when the Civil War resulted in the suspension of jury courts for three years. Several freelance witch-hunters emerged during this period, the most notorious of whom was Matthew Hopkins, who emerged out of East Anglia (a county in eastern England) and proclaimed himself "Witchfinder General".<ref>A detailed account of Hopkins and his fellow witchfinder John Stearne can be found in Malcolm Gaskill's Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy (Harvard, 2005). The duo's activities were portrayed, unreliably but entertainingly, in the 1968 cult classic Conqueror Worm (US: Witchfinder-General).</ref> Such men were inquisitors in all but name, proceeding pursuant to denunciations and torture and claiming a mastery of the supposed science of demonology that allowed for identification of the guilty by, for example, the discovery of witches' marks. Research into the laws and records of the time show that the witchfinders often used peine forte et dure and other torture to extract confessions and condemnations of friends, relatives and neighbors.

An overview of the history of Europe's witch-hunts - which traces the continuities between the witch-hunts' continental origins, its later manifestions in England and colonial America, and the late twentieth-century pursuit of supposed Satanist child abusers - can be found in Sadakat Kadri's The Trial, A History, from Socrates to O.J. Simpson (Random House, 2005).

[edit] Execution

Punishments for witchcraft in 16th century Germany. Woodcut from Tengler's Laienspiegel, Mainz, 1508

The most common methods used to execute alleged witches were burning and hanging. The frequent use of 'swimming' to test innocence/guilt mean that an unknown number also drowned more or less accidentally prior to conviction. Burning at the stake was common on the Continent as a penalty for heresy, but the common-law jurisdictions of England and colonial America invariably sent people convicted of witchcraft to the gallows. (In a handful of exceptional cases, such as that of Giles Corey at Salem, alleged witches who refused to plead were pressed to death without trial.) More generally, the majority of trials have always occurred within "Christian/European/American cultures; they were most often justified there with reference to the Bible's prescriptions: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22:18) and "A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones" (Leviticus 20:27).

The measures employed against alleged witches were some of the worst ever to be legally sanctioned in the Western world. In A History of Torture, George Ryley Scott says:

"The peculiar beliefs and superstitions attached to or associated with witchcraft caused those who were suspected of practising the craft to be extremely likely to be subjected to tortures of greater degree than any ordinary heretic or criminal. More, certain specific torments were invented for use against them."

It has been suggested that the execution of persons association with witchcraft resulted in the loss of much traditional knowledge and folklore, which was often regarded with suspicion and tainted by association.<ref>See Keith Evans' Religion and the Decline of Magic, first published in 1973.</ref>

[edit] The Burning Times

The term "The Burning Times" was coined by Mary Daly and first used in her 1978 book, Gyn/Ecology: The Meta-Ethics of Radical Feminism. The term refers to the persecution of women by patriarchy to include both the European Witchhunts as well as the "entire patriarchal rule." The use of the "Burning Times" to refer to the Witchhunts by Neo-Pagans occurred when Starhawk subsequently introduced the term into her book The Spiral Dance in 1979.

The term was adopted by various American feminist historians and popularised in the 1970s for all historical persecution of witches and pagans, often citing a massive figure of nine million casualties, drawn from nineteenth century campaigner for women's rights, Matilda Joslyn Gage. They also referred to it as the Women's Holocaust.<ref>See Hutton, Ronald. Triumph of the Moon. chapter 18 for his exploration of their ideas</ref> However, the figure of nine million casualties is today believed to be grossly inflated; among other things, the entire adult female population in Europe at the time was no more than 20-22 million.<ref>[2] European population, 16th century</ref>Generally accepted casualty figures amongst historians today range from Levack at around 60,000 to Hutton at around 40,000. Modern historians have shown that the victims of the witchhunt were not always female (in Iceland, for example, 80% of those accused were men), though they were in the majority. Misogyny is usually considered an important part of the forces behind it, along with social unrest and religious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics.

The term was used in popular Neo-Pagan culture to refer to the time of the Great European Witchhunts (1450-1750). Gerald Gardner is retroactively attributed to using the term by such authors as Ronald Hutton (344). Gardner is claimed to have used the phrase in reference to his claim that Wicca was an ancient persecuted religion, relying in turn heavily on the work of Margaret Murray. Gardner believed Wiccans should remember their forebears who were burned by the Church. In fact, witches in England were never burnt, but were hanged; burning of witches was practiced on the European continent (additionally, many aspects of Wicca are of modern origin and were not part of the historical Pagan practices). Modern historians agree the witchhunts had nothing to do with persecuting a pagan cult, but were the result of an interplay of a series of complex historical and societal factors. It is probable that the majority of the accused identified as Christian.<ref>Keith Thomas 514-7, Hutton passim</ref>

Contemporary practitioners of Wicca and related Neo-Pagan religions admit that Margaret Murray's work was flawed and that Wicca was not, in fact, an ancient religion, but a new incarnation of "ideal" pre-Christian beliefs. They believe that their religion is no less valid because of its recent inception.

In some countries, especially in Scandinavia, the majority of the people accused of witchcraft were male. In Finland some 70% and in Iceland almost 80% of the accused were men. Taking Europe as a whole between 1450 and 1700, males made up between 20-25% of those accused.

[edit] Africa

In many African societies the fear of witches drives periodic witchhunts during which specialist witch finders identify suspects, even today, with death by mobs often the result. Audrey I. Richards, in the journal Africa relates in 1935 an instance when a new wave of witchfinders, the Bamucapi, appeared in the villages of the Bemba people<ref>A Modern Movement of Witch Finders Audrey I Richards (Africa: Journal of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, Ed. Diedrich Westermann.) Vol VIII, 1935, published by Oxford University Press, London </ref>. They dressed in European clothing, and would summon the headman to prepare a ritual meal for the village. When the villagers arrived they would view them all in a mirror, and claimed they could identify witches with this method. These witches would then have to "yield up his horns"; i.e. give over the horn containers for curses and evil potions to the witch-finders. The bamucapi then made all drink a potion called kucapa which would cause a witch to die and swell up if he ever tried such things again. The villagers related that the witchfinders were always right because the witches they found were always the people whom the village had feared all along. The bamucapi utilised a mixture of Christian and native religious traditions to account for their powers and said that God (not specifying which God) helped them prepare their medicine. In addition, all witches who did not attend the meal to be identified would be called to account later on by their master, who had risen from the dead, and who would force the witches by means of drums to go to the graveyard, where they would die. Richards noted that the bamucapi created the sense of danger in the villages by rounding up all the horns in the village, whether they were used for anti-witchcraft charms, potions, snuff or were indeed receptacles of black magic.

The Bemba people believed misfortunes such as hauntings and famines to be just actions sanctioned by the High-God Lesa. The only agency which caused unjust harm was a witch, who had enormous powers and was hard to detect. After white rule of Africa beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft grew, possibly because of the social strain caused by new ideas, customs and laws, and also because the courts no longer allowed witches to be tried.

Amongst the Bantu tribes of Southern Africa the witch smellers were responsible for rooting out witches.

[edit] Sociology

Some sociologists have attributed the occurrence of witchhunts to the prevalent human tendency to blame unexplaniable occurrences on someone or something familiar. For example, Europe relied heavily upon agriculture during the period of the witch hunts; if there were large scale crop failures, the consequences would very likely be disastrous. Crop failures often correlated with the occurrence of witchhunts, leading some sociologists to suggest that communities often took out their anger about a lack of food on community members who were unpopular (witches.) This can be paralleled in more recent examples such as the Nazi use of anti-semitism to apportion blame for economic problems. A perception of moral righteousness, by the community, is a necessary element that enables rationalization. This, however, is only one element in a complex tapestry of factors leading to the events in question.

The modern notion of a "witchhunt" has little to do with gender, the historical notion often did. In general, supposed "witches" were female. Noted Judge Nicholas Rémy (c.1595), "[It is] not unreasonable that this scum of humanity, [witches], should be drawn chiefly from the feminine sex." Concurred another judge, "The Devil uses them so, because he knows that women love carnal pleasures, and he means to bind them to his allegiance by such agreeable provocations." <ref>Klaits, Joseph — Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (1985) p.68</ref>

[edit] Modern witch-hunts

In some parts of the world, such as Pakistan and India, witch-hunts still occur to this day.<ref>Four tribals held for killing 'sorcerer', The Hindu 4 December 2000. Retrieved 1 September 2006.</ref><ref>Women branded 'witches' to settle scores, The Asia Times 23 February 2000. Retrieved 1 September 2006.</ref>

In modern terminology 'witch-hunt' also has a metaphorical usage, referring to the act of seeking and persecuting any perceived enemy, particularly when the search is conducted using extreme measures and with little regard to actual guilt or innocence.

[edit] George Orwell

The Oxford English Dictionary describes the first recorded use of the term in its metaphorical sense in George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (1938). The term is used by Orwell to describe how, in the Spanish Civil War, political persecutions became a regular occurrence.

[edit] McCarthyism

The most famous 'witch hunt' of the 20th century is perhaps the McCarthy Era of 1950-1954, in which Senator Joseph McCarthy accused many American citizens of being Communists or Communist sympathizers, and hearings were held by anti-Communist committees, panels and "loyalty review boards" across the US. These hearings, later deemed unconstitutional, resulted in ostracism, ruined careers or even imprisonment for tens of thousands, and represent a major breakdown in civil liberties and civil discourse.

The term 'witch-hunt' was widely popularized in this context through Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, ostensibly about the Salem witch trials, but intended to criticize the hearings of McCarthy as well as the general atmosphere of paranoia and persecution that accompanied them.<ref> Arthur Miller, 'Why I Wrote "The Crucible"', New Yorker, October 21 & October 28, 1996, p.158.</ref>

The term has also been used to describe allegedly harsh treatment or investigations of those undergoing the political confirmation process of US presidential appointees.

The practice of involuntary commitment has been described as a witch-hunt, with systematic bias in the standards for involuntary commitment, the search for people to involuntarily commit, and the judicial procedures that may result in their commitment. [citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] References


[edit] External links

cs:Čarodějnické procesy de:Hexenverfolgung es:Caza de brujas fr:Chasse aux sorcières it:Caccia alle streghe he:ציד מכשפות hu:Boszorkányüldözés nl:Heksenjacht ja:魔女狩り no:Hekseprosessene nn:Hekseforfølgingane pl:Procesy o czary pt:Caça às bruxas ro:Vânătoare de vrăjitoare ru:Охота на ведьм fi:Noitavainot sv:Häxjakt


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