The fear of witches in the Middle Ages was rooted in the Salem witch trials, which occurred about 300 years ago. Those trials resulted in the execution of about 70,000 to 100,000 souls. Despite their horrible nature, witches were still feared by some people, including a wealthy woman named Merga Bin. Her tortured confessions – which included admitting to murder and participating in witches’ sabbaths – led to her execution.
In the early Middle Ages, there were no legal definitions of witches. The term “witch” was associated with heretics, Jews, lepers, and others. It was also used for people who wore certain objects. In some cultures, a witch was a female who swore to do certain things, such as sacrifice or fasting. In these communities, witchcraft was a serious crime, and the punishments remained harsh.
The Middle Ages were also marked by the advent of religious reform. Witchcraft was viewed as a crime, and people who practiced it were often burned alive. It was also believed that witches had sexual relations with demons. In addition to killing, witches could perform magic spells, both good and bad, to cure and prevent disease. These spells were often used for human benefit. During this time, it is difficult to determine whether a witch was practicing magic or a religion.
In the Middle Ages, the fear of witchcraft increased as Europe recovered from several crises. The plague was common, and wars were widespread. A split in the church, with two or three rival popes, was raging. The printing press made it easier to spread new ideas. The Protestant Reformation was brewing, and the fear of witchcraft was heightened. Despite church authorities telling the public that witchcraft did not exist, many people still resorted to local “witches” for help with health problems.
The Devil was a central role in witchcraft beliefs, making the Western tradition unique. Modern researchers have misinterpreted modern witchcraft as a political conspiracy. During the Middle Ages, Satan was considered the greatest enemy of Christ and his church. His aim was to destroy every individual’s soul and life. Thus, the belief in witchcraft was that witches were followers of Satan and counterstates of the church and the state.
The gendered stereotype of a witch is rooted in the attitudes of medieval society towards magic. Witchcraft was regarded as a crime, and women were more likely to be accused of it than men. Men, meanwhile, often had a strong faith in the power of their own magic. In such a setting, women were more likely to inflict vengeance than men. The belief in malevolent spirits fueled the fear of witchcraft, even in periods of no witchcraft.
Despite this, however, men were not encouraged to make contact with demons. Because of this, men had a better chance at resisting demonic control than women. In fact, the medieval church believed that women were less intelligent than men and were more likely to make pacts with demons. And despite the widespread fear of witchcraft, it didn’t take long for the fear to spread in Europe.
Despite widespread fear of witchcraft, the Middle Ages were a time of increasing repressions. The Renaissance period was a time of intellectual stimulation, and homicide was on the rise in Western Europe. Witch-hunts were intensified after the first edition of the Hammer of the Witches, a book by the Dominican monk Heinrich Institoris and the German physician Jacob Sprenger in 1478. The book laid the foundation for witchcraft, and even recommended tortures to be used against suspected witches.
The Reformation was also a time of persecution of witches. Inquisitions based on witchcraft doctrines were carried out by a group of priests known as “inquisitors.” The Inquisition was strict about procedural rules and tortured suspected witches until they confessed. For example, witch doctors would force people to sit on a “witch’s chair” with sharp wooden spikes. Some even poured boiling water into leather boots to induce a confession. Others were tortured with boiled eggs.