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What Were the Most Significant Aspects of the Witchcraft Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries? Why Was It So Widespread? Why Did It Decline?

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Essay Preview: What Were the Most Significant Aspects of the Witchcraft Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries? Why Was It So Widespread? Why Did It Decline?

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There were significant events in history that led to the witchcraft craze during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As mentioned in the textbook, during this time period, Europe was in a state of upheaval resulting from religious wars, economic strife, disease and social unrest. Prior to and during this time period, the Catholic Church was a very powerful force in the lives of Europeans, both politically and spiritually. As a student of Catholicism in elementary school, I can attest to the teachings of the Catholic Church, which have elements of mystery, mysticism, and a call for great reliance on faith and the hereafter. The Church teachings include the existence of heaven and hell, good versus evil, God versus Satan, redemption, salvation, etc. This is important because it reflects the mindset of the people at this time period.

During the 1500’s discontent with the Catholic Church was growing due to corruption and some of its practices. For example, the textbook cites that the Church was enriching itself by selling “indulgences,” where followers were led to believe that their purchase would reduce their time in purgatory. The resulting disillusionment from corruption and some of its practices caused a splintering in the Church and gave rise to the Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther in Germany and shortly thereafter, John Calvin. The Protestant Reformation created political changes and societal changes where a women’s role and worth was not only by obedience to her husband but also her ability to bear children.

During the 16th century, the splintering of the Church caused civil wars in France and conflicts throughout the region. Rebellions, along with political, religious and social unrest, caused an accelerated decline in the region which continued into the seventeenth century with the ensuing Thirty Years’ War over religion. The calamity and devastation of these wars took a large toll on the psyche of generations of people, who grew up with the horror and violence of war.

Prior to this period of time, Europe was recovering from the devastation of the Black Death which took millions of lives. Now population was again decreasing as a result of war, famine, disease and religious and political unrest. To make matters worse, there was a change in weather conditions, causing a colder climate which killed off crops and created food shortages. The colder climate along with the decrease of silver imports from the Americas put their entire economy in peril. These difficult times created immense instability in the lives of the people, making conditions ripe for fear, ignorance, superstition and misogyny to rule over knowledge and reason, which opened the door to the witchcraft craze that began to appear in Europe during the early 16th Century.

The witch was thought to be an agent of the devil, and the devil, being the cause of all evil and despair, needed



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