The Salem witch trials Essay began withthe accusation of people in Salemof being witches. But the conceptof witchcraft started far beforethese trials and false accusationsoccurred. In the early Christiancenturies, the church wasrelatively tolerant of magicalpractices. Those who were proved tohave engaged in witchcraft wererequired only to do penance. But inthe late Middle Ages (13th centuryto 14th century) opposition toalleged witchcraft hardened as aresult of the growing belief thatall magic and miracles that did notcome unambiguously from God camefrom the Devil and were thereforemanifestations of evil.
Those whopracticed simple sorcery, such asvillage wise women, wereincreasingly regarded aspractitioners of diabolicalwitchcraft. They came to be viewedas individuals in league withSatan. Nearly all those who fell undersuspicion of witchcraft were women,evidently regarded by witch-huntersas especially susceptible to theDevils blandishments. A luridpicture of the activities ofwitches emerged in the popularmind, including covens, orgatherings over which Satanpresided; pacts with the Devil;flying broomsticks; and animalaccomplices, or familiars. Althougha few of these elements mayrepresent vestiges of pre-Christianreligion, the old religion probablydid not persist in any organizedform beyond the 14th century. Thepopular image of witchcraft,perhaps inspired by features ofoccultism or ceremonial magic aswell as by theology concerning theDevil and his works of darkness,was given shape by the inflamedimagination of inquisitors and wasconfirmed by statements obtainedunder torture.Order now
The late medieval and early modernpicture of diabolical witchcraftcan be attributed to severalcauses. First, the churchsexperience with such dissidentreligious movements as theAlbigenses and Cathari, whobelieved in a radical dualism ofgood and evil, led to the beliefthat certain people had alliedthemselves with Satan. As a resultof confrontations with such heresy,the Inquisition was established bya series of papal decrees between1227 and 1235. Pope Innocent IVauthorized the use of torture in1252, and Pope Alexander IV gavethe Inquisition authority over allcases of sorcery involving heresy,although local courts carried outmost actual prosecution of witches. At the same time, otherdevelopments created a climate inwhich alleged witches werestigmatized as representatives ofevil.
Since the middle of the 11thcentury, the theological andphilosophical work of scholasticismhad been refining the Christianconcepts of Satan and evil. Theologians, influenced byAristotelian rationalism,increasingly denied that "natural"miracles could take place andtherefore alleged that anythingsupernatural and not of God must bedue to commerce with Satan or hisminions (see Aristotle). Later, theReformation, the rise of science,and the emerging modern worldallchallenges to traditionalreligioncreated deep anxieties inthe orthodox population. At thedawn of the Renaissance (15thcentury to 16th century) some ofthese developments began tocoalesce into the "witch craze"that possessed Europe from about1450 to 1700.
During this period,thousands of people, mostlyinnocent women, were executed onthe basis of "proofs" or"confessions" of diabolicalwitchcraftthat is, of sorcerypracticed through allegiance toSatanobtained by means of crueltortures. A major impetus for the hysteriawas the papal bull SummisDesiderantes issued by PopeInnocent VIII in 1484. It wasincluded as a preface in the bookMalleus Maleficarum (The Hammer ofWitches), published by twoDominican inquisitors in 1486. Thiswork, characterized by a distinctanti-feminine tenor, vividlydescribes the satanic and sexualabominations of witches. The bookwas translated into many languagesand went through many editions inboth Catholic and Protestantcountries, outselling all otherbooks except the Bible. In the years of the witch-huntingmania, people were encouraged toinform against one another.
Professional witch findersidentified and tested suspects forevidence of witchcraft and werepaid a fee for each conviction. Themost common test was pricking: Allwitches were supposed to havesomewhere on their bodies a mark,made by the Devil, that wasinsensitive to pain; if such a spotwas found, it was regarded as proofof witchcraft. Other proofsincluded additional breasts(supposedly used to sucklefamiliars), the inability to weep,and failure in the water test. Inwhich, a woman was thrown into abody of water; if she sank, she wasconsidered innocent, but if shestayed afloat, she was foundguilty.
This test, along with theothers, was obviously dumb. For ifthe suspected was innocent, she wasdead, and if she was a witch, shewould be killed. And for the bodymark test, to find this so called"spot" meant the suspect had to bepoked and pricked all over her bodytill a spot that didnt hurt wasfound. This obviously caused thesuspect a great deal of pain, andif the spot was found the victimstill would have gone throughtorture to find it. The persecution of witches declinedabout 1700, banished by the Age ofEnlightenment, which subjected suchbeliefs to a skeptical eye.
One ofthe last outbreaks of witch-huntingtook place in colonialMassachusetts in 1692, when beliefin diabolical witchcraft wasalready declining in Europe. Twentypeople .