Free «Why were so many Women accused of being Witches during Early Modern Period» Essay

Why were so many Women accused of being Witches during Early Modern Period

During early modern period, witch trails were the main and the most effective tool of Church domination and power. Witch hunting and trials were used as tool of oppression and terror. This paper is devoted to consideration of the issue of witches in the Christian culture of Europe. Christian doctrine of evil is a very controversial problem, and thus different historians contemplate it accordingly – from different perspective and taking into account different angles of historical development of European countries. Before viewing the opinions of witchcraft it is necessary to give a brief description of the historical period and to try and conclude about the reasons this issue appeared.

In general, early modern period is considered an Era of Religion (15th-16th centuries). Religion here means many aspects of the life of Western European societies. During this period, Roman Catholic Church dominated in social and political life and dictated human norms and values. These aspects include not only religion, but also the development science, social patterns, new ways of gaining wealth and new views of people and their intended purpose. In this period of time religion was the symbol of the Era for everything in the world could be explained with the help of rationalism and natural laws. The early modern period is considered the time when trade and art developed, and individualism became the most important issue for many people. It consisted in the statement that any person is able to transform the world with the help of one’s individual effort. This position became dogmatic, and many people hold by this opinion even nowadays. What prevented the new generation of people from completely reshaping the Europe were absolutist kings and dogmatic churches. But many steps were anyway taken in this direction. Anyway, the early modern period is supposed to be an important period in the people’s history.

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Church and religion in general was intolerant to dissidents. In this case, women were seen as a weak social class which needed direction and control. In spite of limited theoretical and scientific knowledge, religion caused many disputes connected with tolerance. This was the start of the disgust for witches. According to statistical results, from 60,000-100,000 people were accused in witchcraft and executed. They were talked to kill Christian children for making bloody bread. One of the historians, who contemplate the question of witch trials and intolerance, is Ewen. He is a known personality among chronologists, and he specializes on the period of 15th-15th centuries of English history as well as Early Modern age in the history of Europe. Among his monographs, there is a book Witch Hunting and Witch Trails, which is of particular interest for this paper. In general, about 12,000 witch trails took place during 15th-16th centuries.

The controversy connected with religious intolerance started after the execution of Servetus in the 16th century. In defense of the later, humanist scholar from Geneva Clemens started a debate in his work Wit'ch Fire. This book induced serious disputes because Clemens stated that heresy was nothing more than disagreement, different opinions of religion. There is no one single opinion towards religion and one cannot be wrong if the other considers so and believes that he is right. In defense of Clemens asserted that having killed him for his religion was not a Christian-like act. As a result, the Catholic doctrines words were opposed adamantly by John Calvin and his follower Theodore Beza, according to Zagorin. Perez Zagorin names many people who supported religious toleration during the centuries beside Castellio. Among them was the Dutch writer Dirck Coornhert (who believed that religious toleration was good for the country), as well as Hugo Grotius and Jacob Arminius. The author also mentions in his work such writers as Milton, John Lock and Pierre Bayle, whose books as well included ideas on tolerance. Thus, even having depicted the mentioned above scholiasts and philosophers Zagorin could not deeply analyze their work in the historical context of those days as well as the outcomes and the influence of this work upon the minds of contemporaries. It would be desirable for the author to pay more attention to this issue but not simply to the praise of these scholars.

Witches and witch hunting can be interpreted as “mass hysteria”. Yes, this point of view can be really consistent because in the period there was seen the raise of toleration towards other religions and beliefs. But this has happened not only due to the propaganda started by scholars of the time, which was as a result spread among many citizens of the countries in Europe. It may seem that nothing more but the progress in the period of the Middle Ages caused in the development of tolerance. Through the centuries people became wiser, more educated and thus more tolerant to other religions for they understood that these religions could not harm their beliefs and their lives in any wa There simply was a possibility to co-xist and collaborate in everyday’s life without any prejudice and persecution. It was supposed to be a victory of Reason over the lack of education and narrow-mindedness. And the idea that the progress in this issue happened due to elite thinkers and their work can be a mistake because there exists evidence that even in the most difficult period for other religions people saw ways to live in peace with each other. These people were not scholars or even at least a little educated people but the representatives of the middle and lower classes of the society who tolerated the representatives of other religions. And this toleration was based not only lofty sentiments such as respect for other personalities and their rights, or understanding that other people have their own way of thinking and believing, and that religious conformity is not the only way to coexist in any society.

For A Middle Age man, the problem of evil was one of the controversial topics because of different religious, social and philosophical interpretations of this phenomenon.  One of the most popular answers was that evil is due to the work of a whole host of perverted spiritual beings consciously trying to defeat God's purpose. The evil was that resulting from human choices. In this situation, the witchcraft was considered as evil activity while the Church was seen as rescue. Its relation to natural evil may be more or less apparent. Destructive floods, for example, can often be traced to the exploitation of forests and fields by an earlier generation. Even though natural factors such as population pressure may help set the stage for war, actual hostilities depend on a highly organized human endeavor. But along with any possible worthy objectives (such as the attainment of freedom or the protection of a homeland) come hosts of evils--mass killing, wholesale destruction, and the personal and social problems that war leaves in its wake. The problem of evil is closely connected with the issue of God and divine power. So long as man has pondered his experience, he has sought to wrestle with the problem of evil, precisely because it is contradictory to the balance of his experience. And this point may well be emphasized: The problem is with these evil aspects of life. Occasionally someone will surrender to skepticism or nihilism, but most people assume on good evidence that life as a whole makes sense. The pattern of meaning takes shape, and these things of which we now speak contradict it. The over-all impression is not that they prevent any formulation of meaning. But the attempt to impress a pattern of meaning on every fact of life without considering it fully gives rise to partial or fallacious answers to the problem of evil. One's appreciation of love is increased if he has also known faithlessness.

For the Middle Age Church, good may well question whether the good can be known only by contrast with evil. Church does not have to eat good and rotten apples alternately in order to appreciate wholesome food. But aside from arguing this issue, the question at hand is whether every evil can be explained as a necessary contrast to good. A twinge of toothache may give me a momentary appreciation of sound teeth, but it surely is not good sense to say that a person must be helplessly crippled by disease in order to appreciate good health. And if we even concede that one person's suffering may increase the enjoyment of others who participate in it only vicariously, we have the additional question as to why the individual reaping the benefit does not also pay the price.

Scholars believe that not the ideas of educated people of the period of the Middle Ages made religious tolerance a reality. What played a significant role in development of tolerance were popular beliefs and people’s behavior. And while Zagorin believed that religious toleration and respect for other religious cults is the merit of scholars of the 17th century, and only due to the religion it became possible, Levack adheres to a different opinion. According to the latter, peaceful co-operation and co-existence of people of different religions in one and the same city (or country) was possible not due to mere generous impulse or kindness of heart but should be considered “a pragmatic move” And even more, opinions similar to Zagorin’s are entitled by Levack by mere myths. Toleration developed and came to stay not only because the societies in Europe became more developed, educated and modern, but because of pragmatic necessities according to which people in the developing world lived. Peaceful living and remaining neutral was vital for the development and prosperity of the European society of those days.

It is known that due to the old values and the European culture and social development– the world of Western Europe changed significantly, and Christian toleration was of great impact upon this change. Christians have always been very intolerant in their beliefs and attitudes towards other religions’ supporters – namely, polytheistic Greco-Roman religions and non-Christian religions, as well as Judaism. And finally, today’s world is known for serious intolerance towards Islam Christian oppressions and slaughters against non-Christian followeers were very dramatic in the periods of the 16th and early 17th centuries. But things changed in the periods of the 15th and 16th centuries when Europe and America experienced revolutions. Democracy and liberty were the distinctive features of many European states in particular after these revolutions. As a result the religious toleration appeared which can be considered the outcome and the extension of the democratic changes. Many scientists, historians, theologians contemplate this question and their opinions cause the division of them into many parties. Here we are going to view this division and try and make conclusions as for the correctness of their opinions and studies. Supporting one opinion and challenging the other will be the key aspect of this paper.

It is evident that the perspective of history consideration in this case is a “bottom up” one. And according to this concept, not philosophers or intellectuals caused the increase in witch hunting. This happened to a greater degree due to simple people – peasants, craftsmen, minorities, and women. The arrangements and co-existence of people of different religions was improvised and triggered in order to regulate the necessary interactions. Thus, it is evident that according to their pragmatic intentions, common folk of all countries in Europe – from Britain to Poland – managed to live together and respect and tolerate other religions. Their practical contribution to the issue of religious tolerance is of the same significant importance as that theoretical one of scholars and intellectuals who propagandized the ideas of the period. And finally, in the last part of the book Levack contemplates changes which the European societies experienced in the period between the 15th and 16th centuries in respect of religious toleration.

The problem of evil in Catholic Church is not to ignore it, or to deny it by attempting to force it into some total pattern of meaning, but rather to eradicate it. This approach is indicated in several ways in the Bible. God is represented as giving man dominion over the earth for his welfare.

Witch hunting had a very shaky ideological ground, according to Levack. He mentions such proponents of toleration as Castellio to Locke but Levack considers that their arguments in favor of tolerance were fixed and not enough to make the entire society follow these so-called directions. The important role in the development and establishment of religious toleration played the Edict of Nantes and Edict of Westphalia which allowed Huguenots to operate churches by virtue of possession (Nantes) and gave the possibility to Catholics and Protestants to worship in the places where they worshiped as for the date of the adoption of the statute (Westphalia) Of course, these edicts stopped their effect with time and with the change of rulers but meant a lot in means of toleration. In general, in this book Levack considers different concepts of tolerance and intolerance and describes their implementation in the political field of European countries of those days – in the 16th century. Levack devotes a lot of his energy to supporting and convincing his theory concerning religious tolerance and writes about it in many publications. His contribution into developing this theory is really important and inappreciable.

The issue of witch trials is very important in the history of European countries in the period of the Early Modern Era. This phenomenon played a significant part in lives of people in all European states. Religious intolerance caused many wars and conflicts in Europe – almost in every country – and as a result the deaths of common people guilty only of their religious beliefs which differed from others’ generally accepted ones. Different historians attribute the phenomenon of religious tolerance to various reasons and causes. Christian tolerance developed due to elite thinkers and theorists who supported humanistic ideas of liberalization of all aspects of social life.

In sum, witch trials and witch hunting was extremely popular during the early modern period because of the growing power of Church and religious values in society. Witchcraft was seen as evil and the cause of all troubles and problems. It recognizes an interrelatedness in the realm of evil, but it does not explain the origin of Satan or the origin of the temptation to pride that in the traditional view made the angels fall. The Genesis account represents man's sin as corrupting the whole natural order because it was created to be subject to man. While he still maintains dominion, it is won only at the price of pain and frustration. But science makes it difficult for us to conceive of the world with man at the center. Natural processes are seen to run their course whether or not men are even around to benefit or to suffer from them. The idea that natural catastrophes are punishment for sin is hard to accept even though we take it, as the earlier theologians did, as referring to a general, corporate human sinfulness and not the particular sin of the individual or community stricken.


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