What were the causes of the Witch Craze in Europe, 1550-1700?


A drawing of witches from the 16th century

The early modern period in Europe is often characterized as a period of reason when great strides were made in science and culture. However, it was also a period of religious intolerance and mass hysteria, and this is exemplified in the witch-craze that occurred in Europe in the period from 1550-1700. At this time thousands of people were prosecuted and executed for the crimes of witchcraft or sorcery all over Europe.

The origins of this Witch Craze are various and complex. This article will demonstrate that the origins of the craze were a class, gender, social and religious conflicts. The prosecution of witches was related to specific problems in the historical period, and that alleged witches were as often as not unfortunate scapegoats or the victims of powerful religious and political processes.

Europe at the time of the witch-craze was a deeply divided continent, and it was experiencing something of a socio-economic crisis. The population of Europe had grown, and this was putting pressure on scarce agricultural resources. Religious wars had wracked Europe from at least the mid-sixteenth century, and much of the continent had been devastated by the 30 years war and the Huguenot Wars.[1]

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