The 16th and 17th centuries experienced a great shift of ideals with the Reformation that contributed to the rise of witch-hunts. Although the Reformation is notorious for the disagreement between the Protestants and the Catholics, what both groups agreed on was that witches were to be punished for their evil deeds. The two major religious figures during this time were John Calvin and Martin Luther. These two men believed in non- clerical celibacy, and less stress on chastity before marriage.
Now, “obedience had replaced chastity as a women’s prime virtue”. This lead the image of the Virgin mary to become less mportant, and because there are no other positive, important female figures in the bible, Eve took Mary’s place. This had two major effects; the reinforcement of marriage, and the emphases on Eve and the inheritance of the original sin. Much like Kramer and Sprenger, Martin Luther and John Calvin were also incredibly misogynistic. They believed that all women lead men into sin, because Eve’s original sin is inherited to all women.
This portrayal of women in the likeness of Eve, impressionable and susceptible to the devil, made women easy targets for a witchcraft allegation. Luther, along with Calvin, reinforced the patriarchy by “reinscribing women within the family” and providing the framework for a successful marriage under the complete authority of the patriarch. This was emphasized so much that unmarried women were now symbols of disorder. This model of marriage lead to all women who defied this order to be labeled as a threat, and susceptible to witchcraft accusations.
Even for the groups of people who remained Catholic through the Reformation experienced a reinforcement of patriarchal ideals, sometimes even harsher than before the Reformation. One illustration of this is in Seville, where women were hidden from the outside, because they were part of the private sphere, and required special enclosure. In turn anyone who disrupted the patriarchy was labeled a witch. The rise of anti-clericalism as well as the disorder of acquiring new religious figures, made tensions grow, and with it a need for a scapegoat, which became witches.
If you may recall the theft of penises described by Kramer in the Malleus Maleficarum, this provides an example of anti-clericalism in the early modern period. People disliked their officials, because they were notorious for being corrupt, people became became angry, and scared. This caused people to look for a way to solve their anger, and witchcraft was the answer. In England the vicar of Radwinter was accused of being part of a campaign to appropriate land, so to resolve this dispute the people of Radwinter accused him of “conjuring witchcraft or by some device or sleight. and) fearful & ugly shapes & forms of evil spirits”.
Much like the need for religious leaders, people were also in need of reliable political figures. Giving England and Germany as an example, witch-hunts rose when political figures were specifically paranoid about witchcraft, or at a time of crisis. James I was particularly obsessed, and paranoid about witchcraft himself. He wrote a book concerning witchcraft called Daemonologie in which he describes what witches are capable of doing, along with the appropriate punishments.
This lead to mass hysteria in ireland, but James ignored it, and proceeded to put a new witchcraft act in motion. This code was tougher than England’s penal code, and mandated death for any offense of witchcraft. Another political figure with an obsession with witchcraft was Pope Innocent VIII. He wrote a papal bull in order to grant Kramer and Sprenger full authority to charge anyone in their area of Germany of witchcraft, saying, “we grant to the said inquisitors that they or either of them… ay exercise against all persons, of whatsoever condition and rank, the said office and position, correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising, according to their deserts, those persons whom they shall find guilty as aforesaid”. This text bought masses of people to be charged ith witchcraft throughout germany, because the crimes that Innocent VIII describes are so ordinary.
In the bull he says that the charms that witches conjure “ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals.. he grapes of vines and the fruits on trees”. Along with political leaders and their acts, witch-hunts also rose in times of war and crisis. One example of a crisis was the Glorious Revolution in England. War broke out between the king and the parliament, worsening the living conditions of the common person. To make matters worse, the ing raised taxes, and people started to question whether or not monarchs could rule by divine right. This lead to chaos within England, confusing people and implanting a new need for control.
This forced the people of England to put the power back in their hands. And an easy way to gain back that power was through a witchcraft accusation. An illustration of this is Matthew Hopkins, England’s biggest witch-hunter. He Exploited people’s fear during the time of the English civil war and used it to capture, hang, burn and drown witches. His method to capturing a witch was to listen to the people in the town, and ather their gossip. Eventually he would find a suspected witch and torture them until they confessed.
His method worked so well because any coincidence like making plants not grow, as described in the papal bull, could be a charge of witchcraft. Another one of Hopkins’ obsessions was the devil’s mark. This was a strange mark, scar, or birthmark hidden in “secret places”, that proved that a pact with the devil was made. Because the devil’s mark was hard to find, “inquisitors routinely stripped off the accused witch’s clothes and shaved off all their body hair so hat no square inch of skin was missed”. Of course these rituals were done by men, who would in turn examine every inch of a woman’s body.
This could have compelled more men to accuse certain women of being a witch. Germany, along with England saw an increase of witch accusations during the 30 years war. People were dying of plague, a shortage of food because of bad crops. This caused mass hysteria, and the use of witches as a scapegoat. Witch-hunts during the early modern period were a reaction to the novelties arisen by the 16th and 17th centuries. The “crisis of he patriarchy” caused women who disrupted the natural order to be exiled.
Along with the “crisis of the patriarchy” the Reformation enforced women’s roles in a marriage as the subordinate, always subject to man. This compelled men and women to accuse women of witchcraft if they strayed from these values. The poor quality of life, along with crises and wars lead people to bring power back in their hands, forcing petty disputes to be settled with witchcraft accusations. All these factors lead people to question what was happening, and because they had no answer they turned to the evil witches, ho could be tried and hanged with little to no evidence.
What factors contributed to this rise of witch-hunts in the 16th century? The growth in witch-hunts during the 16th century is due to “the crisis of the patriarchy” reaffirming the natural order, the reformation along with its new ideals, as well as some wars and witch-paranoid rulers. The rise of witch-hunts is a perfect demonstration of what not to do when you cannot explain why things are happening, and you do not have the power to change the situation. Hopefully, it will never happen again.