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Phoenix 1/ 4th Period
22 November 2015
Fear of Witches: The Origin and Diffusion of the Witchcraft Hysteria
Although in today’s Western world the art of witchcraft is widely dismissed as nothing but a fairy tale, only a few hundred years ago the threat of witches was seen as very real and very imminent. Neighbors and friends turned into bitter, suspicious enemies, throwing accusations of heinous crimes committed through dark magic
Those who were determined to be witches were not only hanged by wild mobs but were tried, tormented, and executed in official courts. One of the main causes of the witch craze was the terror associated with the idea of sorcery. A deep-set fear of witchcraft, rooted in religion, formed over many centuries and spread across Europe and the Americas, resulting in the torture and murder of thousands.
Until the 18th century, it was a widespread belief that witchcraft existed and was practiced primarily by women, who sold their soul to Satan in exchange for powerful black magic used to harm or kill other people and animals; but despite common perception, witchcraft was not the worship of the devil- it was a belief system, completely separate from Christianity. In fact, the origin of witchcraft predates all of the world’s popular religions (Unknown, Origin of Witchcraft). Shamans and witch doctors were respected for practicing “the ‘craft of the wise’…[they] followed the path of nature and were in tune with its forces, had the knowledge of herbs and medicines, gave wise counsel”(Unknown, Origin of Witchcraft). Many of the stereotypes linked with witchcraft were created in religious folklore. In ancient Greek mythology, there are many creatures with qualities resembling those of a witch, such as “winged harpies and screech-owl-like “strixes” – frightening flying creatures that fed on the flesh of babies”(Sooke, Where Do Witches Come From). Evil witches surface in the story of King Saul and the Witch of Endor in the Bible, in which the witch is said to be a woman with a familiar spirit. The Roman Catholic Church affirmed the existence of witchcraft and promoted it as an “imaginary evil religion… they said that Pagans who worshiped Diana and other Gods and Goddesses were evil Witches who kidnapped babies, killed and ate their victims, sold their soul to Satan, were in league with demons, flew through the air, [and] met in the middle of the night”(Robinson, The Burning Times: The Christian Extermination of Witches and Other Heretics). There are many theories on why the Church conveyed this demonic picture of witchcraft. It is generally agreed that witchcraft was framed a scapegoat; witches were blamed for events that couldn’t be explained. When crops failed, harsh weather struck, and children or livestock died without warning, it was proclaimed the work of witches. A college professor named Walter Stephens speculated "witches were a scapegoat ...