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Essay/Term paper: Withccraft in british history

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History

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"European

witchcraft was a unique phenomenon which differed from

European high magic from the low magic or simple sorcery"

(Russel 658). "High magic and simple sorcery differ

however in methods and motivation" (658). High magic

was astrology and alchemy (658). Sorcerers are usually

people that are motivated by strong feelings of jealously,

revenge, malice which are experienced by everyone

(Marwich 3042). "More supernatural are witches who are

slaves of aberration and addiction that are consideration

weird" ( 3041). "The word witch derives from the Old

English noun wicca 'sorcerer', and the verb wiccian 'to cast

the spell'." The term does not really have a sinister meaning

to it. It comes from the adjective 'white' which means to

help others. Throughout British history superstitions

regarding witches have affected the lifestyle of the people

and literature of the world. One question that everyone

wants to know, is if European witchcraft really exists. If it

exists merely as a concept, a body of beliefs or whether it

exists objectively is the question that baffles people. But

whether witchcraft exist or not the concept of witchcraft

dominated the period of the late Middle Ages through the

Renaissance and the Reformation and down to the

Eighteenth century. "Estimated over 100,000 to 200,000

people were executed and millions were tortured and

terrified by the government" (Russel 658). Therefore,

witchcraft brought the darkest periods in the European

history. The first witches knew about nature, they really

helped perform remedies, in a time of need. Magic is what

people started to beleive the witches were performing at

first in their lives (Stallman 11). "They started to beleive

they could start making people afraid, and so thats what

they did ( 13). People also believed to became a witch, a

seed in the mothers milf while breast fedding was placed in

a little child during infantsy (Marwich 3042). First the

witches practiced sorcery (Eliade 417). Sorcery fills

societal functions that merges from religion (416). Since the

1800's a new kind of diabolic witchcraft evolved in

medieval and early modern Europe (417). Sorcery

demands no attributes and can be practiced by anyone

who can receive necessary magical substances (Marwich

3042). "Sorcery may have a variety of social functions: to

relieve social tension, to define and sustain social values; to

explain or control terrified phenomena; to give a sense of

power over death; to enhance the solidarity of a community

against outsiders" (Eliade 416). An other element in the

development in witchcraft in Europe was Christian heresy.

It had been established by the fifteenth century. Its chief

elements were pact with the devil, formal repudiation of

Christ, the secret nocturnal meeting, the ride by night, the

desecration of the Eucharist and the crucifix, orgy,

sacrificial infanticide and cannibalism (417). At the first

formal trial in 1022 is were sorcery was linked with the

Devil. "In this trial the accused was said to hold orges

underground at night, to call up evil spirits, to kill and

cremate children conceived at previous orgies and use their

ashes in blasphous parody of the Eucharist, to renounce

Christ and desecrate the crusifix, and to pay homage to the

Devil" (417). Ideas introduced by courts suggested the

differences in witchcraft and in sorcery, that suppossed

these two religions were alike. In deciding the laws against

witchcraft than against sorcery in the prosecution of the

witches the courts finalized the separation ,although in

England that distinction was never made. In England,

witchcraft remained a civil crime, so that convinced witches

were hung ( Russel 661). "Theology , then, made a logical

connection between witchcraft and heresy. Heresy is any

persistently held belief counter to orthodox doctrine"

(Eliade 418). The worst imaginable heresy was if one used

demons serves the Devil rather than God, and if one serves

the devil, one acknowledges that correct theology involves

serving the Devil rather than God (418). The inquisition

was another way to transform sorcery into witchcraft. The

connection between them both, meant that sorcery could

be prosecuted with much greater severity than before.

Penalties for heresy were severe. In 1198, Innocent III

ordered the execution of those who persisted in heresy

after having been convicted and excommunicated.

Gradually almost all sorcery came to be included under the

heresy. In the Middle Ages, pagan religion and folklore

were the next elements in the formation of witchcraft (

Russel 660). "The Weld Hunt, and example was a model

of the witches Sabbath" (660). It was about the spirits and

ghosts who strayed around exposing and ruining everything

(660). If anyone approached who was a human being

would be killed (660). Pagan festivals of light and fertility

were maintained in revised form. "One particular was "need

fire" festivals on the 31 of October changed into Halloween

by Christians on the Eve of All Saint's Day. To the

churches minor definition of minor demons were dwarves,

fairies, trolls and other small nature spirts derived from the

thoughts of witches (660). In this time there were many

famines and earthquakes. Warfare and plagues also

increased. The witches were not blamed for these

disasters. Rather, the tension of witches generated the

disaster (663). The accompanied of general high levels of

anxiety made people afraid of witches, so that made more

people ready to lodge accusations at witches (663). They

called it the beginning of the Old Religion also known as

"the burning time" in the mid 1300's (Revesz 24). The

number of executions for witchcraft measured in the

hundreds. This time period from 1450 to 1700 was know

as the witch craze ( Eliade 419). Women and men, put on

trial once had a right to be innocent until proven guilty but

when the trials of the witches started there was no doubt

that every person that went on trial would be burned at the

stake. The courts allowed to gossip and rumor stand as

evidence. Many children even testified against their own

parents. Lady Alice Kyteler lived in Ireland. People said

she made her family rich by magic. When she swept the

city streets she chanted. She was accused of witchcraft and

went on trial. Two of her loyal servants went against their

master and stated that they all made potions and worshiped

the devil. Each one of the women were burned at the stake.

Another women named Isoble Gowdie lived in Scotland on

a farm. She was not happy. Isobel told people she met the

Devil and flew on a piece of straw. She stated even that

she turned into a black cat and saw fairies that tried to kill

people. She was put on trial and also burned at the stake (

Stallman 17 - 20). Terror of witchcraft grew in both

Catholic and Protestant religions between 1560 - 1660

while there was wars going on in the different regions

(Eliade 419). In the witch craze all incomes levels were

represented among the accused, with a biased towered the

poor because no one beleived what the poor had to say at

this time period. Toward the end of the craze however, the

rich and the powerful were accused more frequently than

the poor. That is one of the reasons for the rapid decline of

the craze in the seventeenth century. There were many

stereotypical ideas of witches. They were thought to be

old, lame, pale, fowl, and full of wrinkles ( Revesz 4). They

were thought to be old, between the ages of forty and sixty

were accused of witchcraft because they would be wise

and full of knowledge and be like hermits. Also anyone

connected with medicine especially midwives, was prone to

suspicion, because illness and death could do easily be

blamed upon witchcraft. Children were seldom accused of

witchcraft but were often believed to be the victims of

witchcraft. People that were accused and convicted were

either usually bad or usually had good reputations. They

ranged from thieves and quarrels to magistrates and

teachers. Although about one - third of the accused and

convicted witches were males, the greatest majority were

females ( Russel 664). A male witch was known as a

warlock, sorcerer or a wizard. Women were considered to

be inferior to men and more weaker and easily led stray by

the forces of evil. The men were considered powerful and

that is good to avoid prosecution of any kind. Women

tended to live longer, even with the child birth death

statistics they survived plagues and famines better. This

meant women lived longer than men without their legal and

social protection. People used many kinds of tests to

determine whether a women was a witch. They looked for

moles, scars, birthmarks or other marks on a womens

body where a pin could be stuck without causing pain.

These were known as devil marks, telling where the devil

touched her. In other tests, people tried the suspected

woman's arms and legs and threw her into deep water. If

she floated, she was considered guilty of being a witch. If

she sank she was innocent. Interpretations of the meaning

of European witchcraft have varied in the extreme. "Serious

writings about witchcraft from the nineteenth century was

limited to polemical attacks upon or defense of belief in

witchcraft"( 658 - 659). In 1899 Charles Leland published

Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches showed evidence that

witchcraft was the survival of a fertility cult (658 - 659).

This piece of work influenced Margret Murray, an

antroropologists, that lead a school called Murrayite school

to argument that witchcraft did exist as a ancient pagan

religion centered on the worship of a honored god that was

called Dianus (658 - 659). Having little historical basis the

Murrayite theory is now rejected by scholars(Marwich

3043). The first critical historical study of witchcraft by a

writer in English was Henry Charles Lea's History of the

Inquisition of the Middle Ages in 1887 (Russel 659). He

studied the context of its repression. Much the same view

was taken by George Burr who with the assistance of

others at Cornell University wrote The Encyclopedia of

Witchcraft and Demonology in 1959. Witchcraft did not

just affect the people of the time period but it also affected

the literature around the time period. The most famous

witches live and die in fairy tales. These witches can change

shape as in the tale of the witch cat, they can eat children in

Hansel and Gretel, keep them in a castle like in Rapunzel,

some witches just want power as in the white witch in the

Lion and in the Witch and the Wardrobe. There are a few

witches who are always on the good side as in The Wizard

of Oz (Stallman 28 - 43). One main writer who loved to

write about witchcraft is William Shakespeare. He included

witches in many of his poems and plays. In Macbeth he

displays the stereotypical form of a witch as ugly, poor,

wrinkly, fowl (Scot 4). In this story the witches give

prophecies that mess with the characters mind and makes

them react to their prophecies. Though modern man may

have given up the more specific beliefs in witchcraft, many

writers have retained many of its associated concepts. The

fables of witchcraft have taken to people so fast that the

idea will probably never leave our culture. People will see

the idea in many more books, poems and television.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Eliade, Mircea. "Witchcraft." The

Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Mircea Eliade. Vol 15 New

York: Macmillian Publish Company, 1987. 415 - 421.

Marwich, M. G. "Witchcraft." Man, Myth and Magic. The

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the

Unknown. Ed. Richard Cavendish. Vol 11. New York:

Marshall Cavendish, 1985. 3041 - 3046. Revesz, Therese

Ruth. Witches. Milwalkee: Raintree Childrens Books,

1977. Russel, Jeffery Burton. "European Witchcraft."

Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Ed. Joseph R. Stayer.Vol

12. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1989. 658 - 665.

Scot, Reginald. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. New York:

Dover Publications, 1972. Stallman, Birdie. Learning

About Witches. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1981.  

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