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Witches and Superstition During Elizabethan Age

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How Witches Were Misunderstood during the Elizabethan Era

Witches, during the Elizabethan Era were a dangerous, evil menace to society that made pacts with the devil and had supernatural powers that were used to commit unspeakable crimes against humanity. Witches were held responsible for sudden deaths, illnesses or accidents. The public hated the witches for these calamities that the witches had no knowledge of or control over. Many times they were burned at the stake or drowned. Witches were greatly misunderstood during the Elizabethan Era due to a superstitious perception of their religion, lifestyle, and intricate knowledge of nature and natural medicine.

For hundreds of years, the word "witch" has been associated with innumerable negative images. Witches were considered devil worshipers who committed scores of evil deeds toward society. By the 14th Century, a law was passed outlawing any practice of witchcraft or sorcery; anyone in Europe accused of witchcraft was subject to the torture and execution. In the 1450's there was a breakout of violent persecutions against people accused of being witches. "During this time more than 100,000 people (mostly woman) were killed for allegedly practicing witchcraft" (Kallen 33) . Witches were viewed by the public as dangerous and uncontrollable menaces to society. They were believed to have relationships with the devil, this relationship was developed because of the church demonizing the witches in the 1450's. During this time, people lacked medical knowledge about sickness and disease. When the witches were healthy during many of these wide spread diseases, the people believed they were the ones that cursed everyone with it. The people believed that witches could curse people that they did not like. In the city, It was common for old beggars to be on the side of the street asking for change but when people refused to give the beggars coins, they would angrily curse at the passersby. If the people that the beggar cursed at had a baby that died of an unknown disease then the father and mother would blame the beggar for it and accuse them of practicing sorcery and witchcraft.

To verify if a person was a witch , after being accused, they used "witch swimming" which was a popular but a deadly way of determining the guilt or innocence of the accused. To perform a "witch swimming", the accused was stripped naked and they bound her right thumb to her left toe and her left thumb to her right toe, then she was cast into a pond or river" (Kallen 50) . If the accused sank, which they often drowned, she was declared innocent, if she swam, she was declared guilty without any further evidence being required and so escaped drowning to be hanged or burned. "Many times during these practices, relatives would tie a rope around the victims waist, so that when they sank into the river they could hopefully pull them out and they could be revived" (Kallen 51). (Kallen9,33,35,46,50,51)

"The word witch comes from the old English word 'wicca', meaning male witch, or 'wicce', meaning female witch. In the old English language, used in the dark ages, to 'wiccan', meant to cast a spell, or to bewitch someone"(Kallen 9) "modern wiccans say that witch really comes from the word witan, or wise one, and witchcraft is the craft of the wise" (Kallen 10). The wiccans had an enormous knowledge of nature and herbs. Others believe they were practicing sorcery because of this knowledge. The people became scared and persecuted them in fear and ignorance of natural medicine. Witches were mostly women who studied plants and knew their natural and supernatural



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