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The Witch Craze Of The 1600′S Essay, Research Paper

Are there such things as a witch? If the answer is yes, then what do they look like? Where do they live? In what way are they different from the modern day illusionist or magician? If the answer is no, then explain why nearly the entire population of Europe was convinced that witches existed for more then a century so much so, in fact, that a section of their written laws was devoted to the steps for discovery and prosecution of witches ? If you were to ask the average individual in North America what they new about witches, they would probably mention something about the Salem witch trials that took place in Massachusetts during colonial America. The fact of the matter is that the twenty witch burnings that took place in Salem in 1692 pale in comparison to the witch craze that engulfed Western Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries . If the entire population of a continent believed in witches, then it is unquestionable they do exist, or at least did exist, right? One logical way to accurately answer these questions is to examine books pertaining to the controversial subject of witches. The two books chosen for this investigation provide both a macro and a micro perspective on the European witch craze. Joseph Klaits Servants of Satan: The Age of Witch Hunts gives a general overview of the witch hunt craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The more detailed book A Case of Witchcraft: The Trial of Urbain Grandier by Robert Rapley, on the other hand, describes a specific series of events, which occur during the same time period. By comparing these two books, an understanding of the political, religious, and social attitudes of that era can be obtained. Thus, once this understanding is outlined then perhaps these witch related questions can be answered.

In order to understand these books more clearly, the scene must be set for the impending investigation. Although the witch craze was a phenomenon that swept throughout all of Europe, the Western half of the continent proved to be the main theatre of events, probably due to its more populated urban centers. The focus of the study will consequently be of that particular region . The life of a European in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was difficult at best. That time period saw a constant struggle, involving everything from great wars to minor disputes and boycotting, between two religious factions: the Catholics and the Protestants . At a time when the belief in God was constant, the devotion to religion strong and battle worthy, personal beliefs could prove to be dangerously life threatening. Along with these fanatical religious views, the European person also had to survive through food shortages, economic depression, famine, and a plague as destructive as the Black Death that decimated local populations wherever it went . Overall, life proved to be quite difficult for the average European and virtually impossible for the poor.

Now that the backdrop has been established, I will demonstrate how these two books help to understand life of that era. By comparing the arguments made in each book, the approaches and methods used by the historians, and the evidence used by each author, an understanding of the political, religious and social events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can be found.

One the first steps in comparing the arguments presented in each book is to establish their respective main arguments. Focusing first on Klaits Servants of Satan, it was evident that the author s main goal was to explain the witch craze by highlighting and interpreting the political, social and intellectual dimensions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries . Secondly, the book by Robert Rapley A Case of Witchcraft, underlined how a specific individual, in this case a Catholic priest named Urbain Grandier, was convicted of witchcraft due to his political, social, and religious views. It should be noted that although these authors approached the issue of witchcraft differently, the main theme of both these books remained similar in the fact that both historians attempted to clarify the outburst of the witch hunts with political, religious, and social explanations.

In The Servants of Satan, Klaits produced many logical arguments related closely to the three key factors: politics, religion and society. Perhaps the strongest arguments made by the author fell under the religious category. To fully understand the scope of these arguments, an appreciation of the importance of religious beliefs of the time must first be conveyed. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, every European was sure of two things: their belief in God, and their belief in Satan. These two strong practices led them to the acceptance of divine intervention and acts of God, and fear demonic possessions crafted by Satan . [L]earned or illiterate, nearly all Europeans before the mid-seventeenth century were convinced of the reality of malevolent demonic spirits who caused all manner of misery. Another important factor to consider was the massive religious reformation that took place in Europe during the sixteenth century. These reformations, orchestrated by both Catholic and Protestant parties, led to many accusations, convictions, tortures, and killings of people labeled to be against the predominant religion or heretics . Taking into consideration these two factors, an excellent backdrop for the outburst of witchcraft accusation was evident. Witches were believed by many to be either possessed by Satan or have some sort of pact with the devil. It is because of this association with the devil, that witches were labeled as being against God or heretics . Therefore, according to Klaits, the preoccupation with the eradication of heretics spawned by the religious reformations was the foundation for the witch-hunt craze .

Did Rapley s book produce the same argument? Similar in content, yes, but not identical. It was because of the author s focus on one specific case of witchcraft that his argument differed from Klaits . Rapley s argument was that a rumored religious belief of Urbain Grandier and his crime against the cloth was directly related to his conviction as a witch. The author explained that the conspirers against Urbain used his rumored affiliation with the protestant Huguenots, and his strictly forbidden affairs with women, to persuade the involvement of the Catholic monarchy against Grandier . This was important because during the seventeenth century the French monarchy was trying to unite a divided France by attempting to eliminate the influence of the Huguenots. The Catholics, on the other hand, were more inclined to emphasize links between witchcraft and heresy, since they regarded Protestants as heretics. One of the methods implemented by the crown was to eliminate the fortifications of towns known to be populated by Huguenots. Rapley therefore argued that because Grandier was head priest in a fortified town known to harbor a Huguenot population, he was labeled as a witch to eliminate his influence in order to implement their plans for a unified France .

How did these arguments produced by Rapley compare to the religious mindset approach employed by Klaits? There was an evident connection between the subject of religion described by Klaits and the political aspects of his main argument. In The Servants of Satan, Klaits explained how religion and politics were closely inter- connected. It was because of this connection that the witch-hunt erupted during the outlined time. The historian argued that the religious based power structure of Europe fueled the outbreak of the witch craze in order both eliminate religious heretics and control the populous .

One way of understanding the witch craze is to see it as a part of the many sided war on popular culture waged by reforming clerical and lay establishments in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The chronology of witch hunting argues for this thesis, because the onset of large-scale witch trails corresponds almost exactly with the uneven spread of reforming impulses across Christendom.

Klaits continued this theory by summarizing that women were primarily labeled as witches due to the changing sexual attitudes of the time. Therefore, because of the liberal sexual expressions of these women, the conservative male-dominated power political structure targeted them in hopes suppressing different views . Klaits went on to explain the specific accusation of women in more detail, relating it to social issues of the time. These political arguments provided adequate explanation for the witch craze on a general scale but the arguments presented in A case of Witchcraft focused on how politics played a role in a specific incident.

In this book, Rapley attempted to prove how politics were the basis for Urbain Grandier s conviction of witchcraft. According to the written record shown by Rapley, Grandier was basically convicted of witchcraft due to the confessions of a group of possessed nuns from the town of Loudun who said that Urbain was casting spells on them . Rapley argued that these accusations by the nuns were falsified convictions fabricated by political and personal enemies of Grandier who were conspiring against him. The authors proof was that because the nuns resided in a convent and rarely had contact with the outside world, they could not have come in contact with Urbain more than once or twice. Also, Rapley questioned the method of conviction by proving that political and personal enemies of Grandier were the only ones aloud by the Catholic Church to exorcise the possessed nuns. It was during these private investigations that Grandier was accused, never in the midst of other people at the nuns public exorcisms. Finally, Rapley attacked the credibility of the nuns by implying that they were acting and that the head nun and key accuser, Jeanne des Anges, was certifiably insane . The progression of Jeanne des Anges from a women under severe stress to a subject of demonic possession was thus a mixture of imagination, mental sickness, deceit, and manipulation. With this evidence, Rapley proved that Urbain s conviction of witchcraft was weak at best, but how did it tie into the political views of the country of France? The historian argued that Grandier was Royally prosecuted as a witch because of his religious beliefs and his interference with the unification of France. Grandier was a known Huguenot supporter preaching in a fortified town know to be populated by these Catholic heretics . Also, Urbain publicly protested the government, ordered removal of the protective town walls and aided his governor in delaying the removal of them . Rapley believed that, in the Royal court these factors, rather than the disputable weak case of the possessed nuns, were what convicted him of witchcraft .

Continuing to focus on A Case of Witchcraft, Rapley conveyed that it was not only these political issues that convicted Urbain but rather that a combination of both political and social factors was the key to the guilty verdict. The author argued that protection of social status directly related to the downfall of Urbain Grandier . Rapley proved this by theorizing that it was due to Grandier s scandalous involvement with a socially significant town figure s daughter, and that person s inability hold Urbain responsible due to the social repercussions. This led the aforementioned person to conspire with other high officials in order to obtain personal revenge. The problem was that Urbain impregnated Philippe Trincant, whose father was an import town official with many connections. Trincant could not admit that Grandier was the father due to the social impact it would have on his house, so Philippe was quickly married off to cover up the potential scandal. Rapley therefore concluded that the conviction of Urbain as a witch was a plot for revenge implicated by Trincant and his friends in order to punish the priest.

Are these the same kind of social implications towards witchcraft that Klaits presented? The social factors that contributed to witch convictions in Servants of Satan differed significantly from those expressed by Rapley. As it was touched upon in the political arguments, Klaits explained how women were labeled as witches due to their changing sexual attitudes and the threat that this posed to the conservative religious leaders. It is, however, doubtful that this was the only reason for the women witch stereotype. Klaits argued that there were many other factors that contributed to this wide spread belief. The author provided proof that women, at the time were seen as inferior to men and therefore more acceptable to witchcraft.

Women, wrote Kramer and Sprenger, are inferior physically, mentally, and morally. Their imperfections cause women extraordinary difficulty in warding off temptation. They have an insatiable carnal lust, are inclined to deception, resist discipline, and lure men into sin and destruction. Such are the characteristics that make them likely targets for the devil; hence, the preponderance of females among the devil s servants.

Therefore, the foundation for the accusations of women as witches was set. Another reason was put forth related to the type of women being accused as witches. Klaits argued that the reason that the majority of women convicted as witches were either widows or other unmarried women was due to the inability for men to see a social role for unattached females . These social factors presented by Klaits underlined a general hatred towards women that undoubtedly fuelled the witch craze.

Combined with the other arguments, the book The Servants of Satan provided an excellent explanation for the outbreak of witch-hunts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but the methods of presentation were not completely the same as those in Robert Rapley s book. One of the key elements that separated these respected books from each other was the method of presentation. It was evident that both authors revealed the presence of a religious element in the witch craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The difference was that the arguments were visibly different in their respective methods of presentation. In A Case of Witchcraft, Rapley showed how religious ambitions contributed to a conviction of witchcraft in a specific case. On the other hand, Klaits described how the religious mindset of the population as a whole led to witch paranoia on a grand scale. By comparing the outlined political arguments, a difference in method of presentation was again exemplified. Klaits, in his general approach to the topic, showed how the controlling powers of Western Europe used the witch crazed as an excuse to prosecute religious heretics and subdue liberal public uprisings. On the other hand, Rapley focused on how political factors such as personal enemies and national reformation played a vital role in the conviction of witches. Finally, the difference was again emitted with Rapley s social implications for witches dealing mainly with the importance of personal social status and the consequences that could ensue if that status was threatened. Klaits contrastingly argued that a general prosecution of women as witches was due to their social views and placement in society. It was evident that these two books posed different methods of presenting their arguments.

It is now important to discuss whether the evidence used in these books was different as well. One of the few similarities between these books was the evidence used to support their arguments. Both The Servants of Satan and A Case of Witchcraft use primary as well as secondary sources of evidence to create their arguments. Examples of primary sources used by both books would be written first hand accounts or recovered personal journals or diaries. Some of the second sources used by both authors were related books to the subject of witchcraft, and historical archives. Another similarity was the amount of evidence used by both authors. It was evident by the numerous bibliographical pages in both books, that each historian used a lot of evidence in researching witchcraft in an effort to explain the with-hunt craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

By comparing these two books and their political, religious, and social related arguments, an understanding of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been obtained. That understanding is that life, as we know it today, differs immensely to life during that era. This is evident in the political, religious, and social attitudes expressed in these two books. An interesting question nonetheless remains: Has life really changed that much? It is true that the technological advances are enormous and women s social status has changed completely for the better, but have the witch-hunts truly stopped? In order to understand this question one must take into account the political, religious, and social factors produced by these two books surrounding the witch craze of the past. Based on the study of humanities in recent history, an obvious answer would be that there are no recorded witch trails anymore. However, a response to that could then be that perhaps we as a society have just simply replaced the witch with something or someone else.

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