Witch Hunt History- Swati Trivedi

It was the 300 year period of witch hunting from 15th to 18th century – the shocking nightmare , the foulest crime & the deepest shame of western Civilization. The church created the elaborate concept of devil worship and then used the persecution of it to wipe out dissent  subordinate the individual authoritarian control and openly denigrate women .

The height of the witch hunting frenzy in Early Modern Europe came in two waves: The first wave occurred in the 15th and early 16th centuries, the second wave in the 17th century. Witch hunts were seen across all of Early Modern Europe,

The witch hunts were an eruption of orthodox Christianity’s vilification of women “the weaker vessel”in St. Peter’s words.

The second century St. Clement of Alexandria wrote – “Every women should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman .

The Church father Tertulian explained why women deserve their status as despised and inferior human beings —

” And do you know that you are an Eve ? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age , the guilts must of necessity live too.

You are the devil’s gateway ; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first deserter of divine law ; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack . You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert – that is death – even the son of God had to die. “

Others expressed the view more bluntly. 

The sixth century Christian philosopher, Boethius wrote in The Consolation of Philosophy ; “Women is temple built upon a sewer “

Bishops at the sixth century Council of Macon voted as to whether women had souls .

In the tenth century Odo of Cluny declared , “To embrace a woman is to embrace a sack of manure .”

The 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas suggested that God had made a mistake in creating woman And Orthodox Christian held women  responsible for all sin. 

As the Bible’s Apocrypha states , “ Of woman came the beginning of sin / And thanks to her , we all must die. 

Women are often understood to be impediments to spirituality in a context where God reigns strictly from heaven and demands a renunciation of physical pleasure .

As I Corinthians states-

“ it is a good thing for a man to have nothing to do with a woman. “ The Inquisitors who wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, “The Hammer of the Witches “ explained that women are more likely to become witches than men ;

         ‘Because the female sex is more concerned with things of flesh than men ‘ beacuse being formed from a man’s rib , they are only imperfect animals and crooked whereas man belongs to a privileged sex from whose midst Christ emerged .”

Christian found fault with women on all sorts of counts. 

According to the Dominican of the same period woman is “the confusion of man , an insatiable beast , a continuous anxiety , an incessant warfare , a daily ruin , a house of tempest , a hindrance to devotion. 

As reformational fervor spread , the feminine aspect of Christianity in the worship of Mary become suspect. Devotion to Mary often became indicative of evil. 

The witch hunts also demonstrated great fear of female sexuality .

The book that served as the manual of understanding and persecuting witchcraft , The Malleus Maleficarum describes how witches were known to “collect male organs in great numbers “

While most of what became known as witchcraft was invented by Christians , certain elements of witchcraft did represent older Pagan tradition. Witchcraft was linked and even considered to be synonyms with ‘divination’ which means not only the art of foretelling the future but also the discovery of knowledge by the aid of supernatural power. It suggests that there is such power available – something orthodox Christians insisted could be power of the devil , for God was no longer to be involved with physical world. 

The word “witch” comes from the old English Wicce and Wicca meaning the male and female participants in the ancient Pagan tradition which holds masculine , feminine and earthly aspects of God in great reverence . Rather than a God which stood above the world , removed from ordinray life , divinity in Wiccan tradition was understood to imbue both heaven and earth. 

This tradition also recalled a period when human society functioned without hierarchy – either patriarchal or matriarchal and without gender, racial or strict class rankings.


It took the Church a long time to persuade society that women were inclined toward evil witchcraft and devil worship. Reversing its policy of denying the existence of witches , in the 13th century the Church began depicting the witch as a slave of devil. No longer was she or he to be associated  with an older Pagan tradition . No longer was the witch to be thought as benevolent healer, teacher , wise woman or one who accessed divine power. She was now evil satanic agent.

The Church began authorizing frightening portrayals of the devil in 12th and 13th centuries. 

The Church developed the concept of devil worship as an astoundingly simplistic reversal of Christian rites and practices.

Witchcraft was not made a capital offence in Britain until 1563 although it was deemed heresy and was denounced as such by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484. From 1484 until around 1750 some 200,000 witches were tortured, burnt or hanged in Western Europe.

Most supposed witches were usually old women, and invariably poor. Any who were unfortunate enough to be ‘crone-like’, snaggle-toothed, sunken cheeked and having a hairy lip were assumed to possess the ‘Evil Eye’ ! If they also had a cat this was taken a proof, as witches always had a ‘familiar’, the cat being the most common.

Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.  

Leviticus  20:27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. 

Exodus and Leviticus, two Old Testament books that make up part of the “Law of Moses” and the primary history of the Jewish people, were written in the sixth century B. C by a Jewish writer. The books, which include the passages quoted above that assume the existence of witches and urge that they be killed,


Martin Luther wrote, “ if women become tired or even die that doesn’t matter. Let them die in childbirth- that is why they are there. 

While the formal persecution of witches raged from 1450 to 1750, sporadic killing of women on suspected witchcraft has continued in recent times. 

Witch hunts was neither small in scope nor implemented by few aberrant individuals; the persecution of witches was the official policy of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches. 

The Church invented the crime of witch craft established the process by which to prosecute it and then insisted that witches to be prosecuted. 

Witch hunting secured the conversion of Europe to orthodox Christianity. Through the terror of the witch hunts reformational Christians convinced common people to believe that a singular male God reigned from above , that he was separate from the earth, that magic was evil, that there was powerful devil and that women were most likely to be his agents. 

The vast numbers of people brutalized and killed as well as the impact upon the common perception of God make the witch hunts one of the darkest chapters of human history. 


(This Article was written by Swati Trivedi

Theswatitrivedi on twitter) 


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