The Great Witch Hunts

It is widely recognised that Scotland was one of the most brutal persecutors of witches in Europe, largely taking place across late 16th, 17th, and early 18th century. So what the hell happened?

The Witch & Witchcraft

The witch is probably older than humans, at least according to the concept. The auld hag with the broomstick and pointy hat is the popular modern image, but the witch was, in the ancient world, an early figure of heroism- a prophet in many respects, at least considered as such. As with most ancient traditions the concepts and culture would develop over the centuries, and so too would the witch.

Christians had long debated amongst congregations about hocuspocus, aka magic, specifically establishing two types- White (lawful) and Black (unlawful). Individuals who practised white magic were known as particularly wise, and of having abilitys to heal the sick. They are said to have magic curing powers, untold knowledge passed down by previous generations, and most commonly hosting a secret collection of herbs. All fairly realistic. A white witch is a term used to describe these kinds of people, while Cupid is a famous example. From a bible perspective, white magic is generally practised by Angels and special messengers of God, and the use of this kind of magic is often referred to as a miracle.

Significantly rarer, Black Magic on the other hand is were things become very wicked. Those that practice it can bring sickness and misfortunes to others, aswell as having abilities to cause natural disasters. From a bible perspective, Black Magic is associated with, and practised by, the devil and his demons. A medium (depending on your viewpoint) aswell as the witch are famous messengers of the devil. A type of black occurring will often be referred to as a disaster.

So although the witch is both white and black, witchcraft would become entirely associated with black magic as the centuries wore on. This would come about as a result of a number of influences- largely popular literature and religion. Due to its links with the lower class and poor, accusations of witchcraft thus naturally began to flourish during declines in economy, political turmoil, and the subsequent and repeated confidence crisis’ of the nation.

Due to increasing religious and social change an being associated with the lower class and poor, accusations of witchcraft had thus naturally began to flourish during declines in economy, political turmoil, and the subsequent and repeated confidence crisis’ of the nation.

(Photo courtesy of barbarianbookclub.com)

Religious Influences & Rise of James IV

In the 16th century Europe had become embroiled in a widespread religious war. Various countries, supporting varies causes, would erupt into civil war and infighting. It began following the respective Protestant and Catholic Revivals in the earlier part of the century, and became more intense as the century wore on. In Scotland, both sides of the religious parties would accuse one and other of various forms of witchcraft, and the religious tensions gave rise to growing suspicion across the communities. To counter this, Henry VIII introduced the Witchcraft Act (1542). About 20 years later, under pressure from England and Ireland, Scotland following suit and introduced the Witchcraft Act 1563.

For many centuries the mythical belief in witches across the communities in Scotland was present- most famously during the Black Death. The great plague that swept through most of Europe devastating populations was often regarded by many as the act of witches. So although the superstition was present- it was generally ignored, even with the churches who have never acknowledged witches (prior to King James that is). Nevertheless, the Witchcraft act was passed. Although it was during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, it would be her successor that was largely responsible for the subsequent 100+ years of national persecution of thousands of innocent people, largely women. That man was King James IV.

The kings interest in witches comes from various sources. Mostly two influences- first the suspected black magic used against his great-grandfather, King James III, in the closing stages of the 15th century. These suspected attempts on the kings life led to the death of John Stewart at Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh. The second was Nordic influence. The King was heavily involved with the royals of Denmark and Norway, and would later marry Anne of Denmark. These are countries that held widespread witch hunts long before Scotland- and the witchhunts to come in Scotland, orchestrated by James IV, would have most likely been based on the model used in the likes of Copenhagen, and Oslo- places well known for their witchhunts.

So the act was passed before him, but it was he who would enforce it. The act would open up a very dark period in our history- it began the great Scottish witch hunt ‘series’. These were five major national witch hunts that took place in the country, known as the Great Scottish Witch Hunts. They are the hunts of 1591, 1597, 1628-31, 1649-50, and the great hunt of 1661-62. There were many cases of witches being pursued across the country, however with the Privy Council offering commissions around the local authorities on these five occasions- it is this that made them the national hunts.

The Scolds Bridle. Women back in the day were often accused of dishing out often constant criticism. There was a particular attitude to this type of behaviour that was comparable to the theory of the behaviour of an Antichrist- and the behaviour had come to greatly annoy the rest of the deeply religious and rapidly growing superstition communities. Believed to have been introduced shortly after the Witchcraft Act of 1563, a device was created and put forward to be widely utilised- the Scolds Bridle. Placed over the head like a helmet, it had an Iron bar which was placed into the mouth and attached to the tongue- eliminating the individuals ability to speak. A brutal medieval tool.


The Hunts of the 1590s

Although there was sporadic cases of accused witches being pursued in the country prior to 1591, it was early in this year when the mayhem really began. King James had been in Oslo marrying Anne of Denmark, and whilst over there, like in many of his previous visits, he had witnessed the persecution and trials of witches in the country. This particular visit would be different, however, and would have catastrophic consequences for thousand back in Scotland. As the couple made their way back across the North Sea, they were hit with heavy storms that nearly cost them their lives (or so the King said). Upon returning safely the King would proclaim that witches had attempted to take his life while at sea- and so his murderous, blood-thirsty, brutal campaign began.

King James heads to North Berwick after receiving information that the St Andrews Auld Kirk in the town has been the nightly meeting place of witches and the devil. (sound familiar? Nannie?) But to our tale… a small ship with two individuals dressed in black robes was spotted leaving the harbour at North Berwick late at night- the same night of the storm. It was said they could be traced by witnesses to the Auld Kirk and they had been sent to cause the storm. As for that storm- graveyards were dug up and the corpses were attached onto animal carcasses (particularly cats), before being thrown into the sea. This mixture, along with the casting of a spell, was put forward as a potential cause of the storm. Subsequently, the King orders the persecution of hundreds of these supposed witches.

These vicious 1591 North Berwick hunts lasted for around 18 months, and although there is upto 200 people that could potentially be accounted for… there would have been many many more not only killed but brutally tortured. This was all taken in the highest seriousness- these people are accused of attempting to kill the King, they would have been regarded as very evil individuals and treated greatly inhumanly. This torture in these cases would take place at the old tollbooth in Edinburgh, with the famous witches well being installed slightly further up the Royal Mile years later as a tribute to them.

It would be the best part of a decade later, in 1597, when King James would go on his second witch hunt- this time a national hunt. Here, going from town to town, the witch hunters would generally use the same tactics- each town would likely be able to name its witch, that witch would then be tortured until confession. Upon confession she would identify another witch, who would then be captured and tortured, and the cycle goes on from there. So many victims of these hunts were in fact the victims of town gossip and community disputes.

One of the most notable cases of 1597 was that of Margaret Aiken, who would become known as the Great Witch of Balwearie. Aiken seemed to be under the impression that if she continuously identified other people as witches then she would get off Scot free. During a near two year period, the Balwearie witch was to be used as a key assist to the witch hunting team. Claiming that she could identify witches by looking into their eyes- she was responsible for the torture and murder of dozens of innocent women, but was eventually rumbled by a wily prosecutor in Fife. The prosecutor rounded up a group of accused witches, previously identified by Aiken, and cut their hair and changed their clothes- before having them presented to Aiken again. This time, she would declare them innocent- and her game was a bogie. Like many of those who thought they could get off the hook by randomly accusing others- Aiken was executed.

Many historians are perplexed as to why the witch hunt was started. Looking further into it, it seems as though King James was keen to stir up public interest in the subject as it was the same year he released a controversial book, called Daemonologie. The king had began writing the book during the first great witch hunt in 1591. The text was intended to end any dispute as to the existence of witches, aswell as to give a demonstration as to how the witches could be detected, and what witchcraft should be considered as. Although the Scottish Witchcraft Act was passed decades before- this book was the basis in which witches were persecuted in Scotland.


Daemonologie

Daemonologie was the book in which King James would publish in response to the increasing suspicion and confusion about magic and witchcraft. It is written largely as a dialogue between two characters- the sceptical Philomathes, and the believing Epistemon. The king is using this type of writing to to explore questions to propaganda further educate the public. The use of the dialogue is very effective is presenting the different arguments. The work consists of three separate books- the first is touching on the subject of magic, the second on the subject of witchcraft, and the third on his classification of demons. There is repeated references to the bible throughout the text. This is the same King James that later released the famous revised version of the bible (King James Version)- less than 15 years later. So the often biblical context should come as no surprise. Daemonologie was broken down into three books:

Daemonologie Book One- Magic (& Necromancy). There is seven chapters in this one. There is alot on necromancy (relations with the dead) with the book attempting to establish a difference between this, magic and witchcraft (having previously been considered the same). In the book, the King defines witches as being ‘slaves to the devil’, while those practising necromancy are refereed to as ‘commanders of the devil’. Based upon this, King James effectively considers necromancy to be practised by people who would be considered heirs to the devils throne. While witches are simply people who have been touched by evil spirits and are supporters of the devil. So necromancy is within the devils royal family, and witchcraft is the supporting public. This generally supporting the Kings overall theory that magic/witchcraft is a practice, while necromancy is not.

Daemonologie Book Two- Witchcraft (& Sorcery). In book one much of the focus around the magic is acceptable magic- these, according to the King, is magic that is used to expand on a persons knowledge (such as to ‘magically’ know things that other people don’t). Subsequently he moves onto book two as he begins to determine what is unacceptable magic, aka witchcraft. Here, he divides the actions/intentions of witches into two parts. Part one is the action towards themselves. He describes this as a person actively pledging their alliance to the devil. They begin by undoing their baptism, and ridding themselves of any devotion to god. They are effectively, at this stage, condemning themselves to hell. The second part of witchcraft action is the action towards other. Aswell as creating chaos were possible, the person will look to bring death to anybody that has wronged them. Through their pact with the devil, these witches are also recognised as having been given some power over nature and capable of meddling with natural events (such as storms, floods). The second book if therefore effectively a detailed definition of a witch, and what to expect from them.

Daemonologie Book Three- Demons. In the final book James looks to cover the supernatural and demons in general. The king identifies four different spirits- Spectra (the haunting spirit, that invades people), Possessive Spirit (Torments people with sickness, corrupts their beliefs), Obsessive Spirit (Spirits that look to enter and corrupt a person soul via sex), and the final one is the most notable- fairies. At some point during a witches life is it said that they will be taken by fairies to a mystery land, where they will be brought before the fairy courts- who will regulate their witching activities. This third book is very important as it is also a reflection on the previous two books, and sets out how witches should be punished (which was later enforced by law). Considering their behaviour as both an act against the King and God, James sets out strangulation as their punishment for the treason, and burning at a stake for their heresy.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” 

Revised Exodus 22:18, King James Version

The Godly Society & the Prickers

The hunt of 1628-1631 is by far the least documented of the five. It was another national hunt, largely taken place across the lowlands. With King James VI’s death coming in 1625, it would be the Protestants that would lead this new hunt. Its unclear what the motivation was behind these new trials, though with an anti-papist movement growing in the country at the time- it may be that Catholics in particular were targeted. Although records are scarce, there is known to be around 35 commissions for trials that were granted during this period. The hunt was ended around 1631 when the Privy Council began to become unwilling to believe in the accusation of witchcraft and the hunts died out once again.

Nearly two decades later and they would resurface- thanks to the rising power of the Kirk Party. The Kirk Part (Kirk meaning Church in Scotland) were a radical Presbyterian group that came to power in the aftermath of the dissolving of the Engagers (Scottish covenanters fighting for Charles I against the Cromwell New Model Army). Intent on creating a godly society- the Kirk set about weeding out witches and other offenders from society for good. Aswell as tasking protestants up and down the country with finding potential witches (for a reward) the party created local courts to prosecute the witches, this consisting of a local minister and some of his assembly. All this supported by the new Witchcraft Act 1649. This new act was highly influenced by Daemonologie, and brought about strict enforcement of the death penalty as punishment- this leading to more than 90% of all witch hunting cases during this period resulting in execution. Though this is partly due to the use of these temp courts. In previous hunts, were national courts of law were used, only around 60% of cases resulted in death.

This hunt was also notable for the extensive use of pricking. This is where the witch hunter, usually some sort of minister of the Kirk, would strip naked and repeatedly poke the suspected witch with a sharp dagger (a pricker), this causing the skin to pierce. All this was in search of the Devils Mark– said to be an area of the skin that could not be pierced and would not bleed. Many of the suspected witches would have died from the repeated pricking alone.

One of the most infamous prickers was Walter Bruce, a reverend from Inverkeithing. He was made minister of Inverkeithing and Rosyth in 1641 and thus qualified to be a pricker. Through some of his recorded history we can get an insight into the world of a pricker. Especially their corrupt tactics. Bruce was paid 25 shillings per guilty witch, so naturally he and the prickers would be intent of prosecuting people- this leading to a famous trick with the pricker dagger. One side of the dagger was sharp while the other was blunt, and the prickers would often disguise the blunt end before using it, claiming that it didn’t pierce because the devils mark had been found. This effectively led to the court cases being a formality- and payday for Walter and the prickers.

As with the others, the turbulent political landscape in the country would see a change in control- and an end to the witch hunting. On this occasion the Kirk party lost control of the area to Oliver Cromwell. And as the the 1650s drew to a close, the political landscape would begin to change once again and the national witch hunting would return for the last time- atleast on a national basis.

A depiction of prickers at work (photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)

The Final Great Hunt

In would be 1661 then that would see the last large-scale persecution of witches in Scotland. An estimated 700 people were persecuted for witchcraft during this period- the most in all of the famous five hunts. The hunt had began in the aftermath of the Reformation of 1660, which seen the Scottish national monarch restored in favour of Oliver Cromwell. During the reign of Cromwell he had arranged for English judges to work alongside the Scots in the courts. These English judges, operating on more Cromwell/English theories, were unwilling to persecute witches- certainly on a national level. However, the reformation ended their presence in the courts and the restored Scottish judges would look to work through what was labelled a ‘backlog’ of witch cases. This starting around the outskirts of Edinburgh and quickly spreading around Midlothian- where more than a third of the killings would take place. As like the other hunts, the Privy Council would soon be sending commissions to local authorities across the country and by November 1661 the national hunt was in full swing.

The 700+ people that have been recognised as being killed during this period is evidently an incredibly unrealistic number- for example John Ray, the famous English scientist, spent several weeks in Scotland and claimed that he knew of around 200 cases of witches being burned during his visit. So 200 burned in a couple of weeks is unlikely to accurately translate into only around 600 over a wider two year period. One of the most famous pursuits during this period was that of the Crook of Devon witches. The small and quiet village would find itself at the centre of a series of controversial trials. Crook of Devon is very noteworthy as many of the people living there at the time were of a higher class and rich- with the vast majority of previous cases being against people of a lower social status and poor.

There was 13 people in total that were executed as witches in Crook of Devon- this being over a period of around a year. It was not relating to a single case. It was 4 different occasions in which a makeshift court was established at Tullibole Castle- and many of these trials seems to drag on for several months for each person, which is probably relating to the difference in social classes compared with the hunts in Midlothian, which was largely targeting people of a lower class. At the height of the this final hunt Midlothian would have easily processed and executed 12 witches in a single week, to to be fair to the Crook of Devon trials there seems to be more of a element of fairness here- though it is still witch hunting and barbaric in nature.

The Great Hunt of 1661-62 would could to an end around August 1662. It wasn’t any significant changes in political parties or government that brought this final hunt to an end, it was more the increasing outrage caused by the hunts, amid increasing concerns that these people were innocent. This outrage brought about significant changes in the way the Privy Council began operating. First and foremost, the method of torture was clamped down upon and eventually prohibited- this ruling out a method that was the key tool for confession, aswell as hunting other witches.

Furthering up on this the local authorities were strictly prohibited from arresting witches without obtaining a new special warrant from councils to do so. This on top of the national pursuit of prickers, where many were arresting for there money-making schemes, and the final nationally-commissioned witch hunt would draw to a close, though there would still be more cases to come.


The Paisley Witches

The Paisley witch trials relate to the events surrounding an eleven year old girl- Christian Shaw. The story goes that the servant of the Shaw family home, named only as Catherine, had simply helped herself to a glass of milk. Apparently though, the child did. Shaw ‘reported’ the servant to her father, John Shaw, who was the Laird of Bargarran (in modern day Erskine) and immediate action was taken with the servant being dismissed. Catherine would subsequently condemn Shaw to hell and place several curses of illness on her. In line with the wider perspective on witches, several other supposed witches became involved- Catherine would likely have reported the girl herself, at either their regular Auld Kirk meetings or at the Fairy Court. Subsequently several encounters with the girl were reported with several different spells being cast on her.

All these curses resulted in the girl experiencing a range of symptoms and strange behaviours- including severe shivering to coughing up balls of hair, and all this led to the arrest, conviction and execution of 3 men, John & James Lindsay and John Reid, aswell as 3 women- Catherine, Margaret Fulton and Margaret Lang. All this taking place in Paisley. There was a 4th women that was arrested and convicted, and is by far the most famous of the 7, Agnes Naismith. A tradition witches name but not a traditional witches death- she was never executed as she committed suicide shortly after being convicted. Anges N is a bit of a mythical figure in Paisley today as it was claimed that upon her death many of the children in the town became sick, and so today every time child is sick Angus Naismith is often referenced/held responsible.


The Pittenweem Five & Final Witchcraft Act

The Pittenweem witch hunt of 1704/05 is almost identical to that of Paisley. Instead of a teenage girl, this time it was a boy- Patrick Morton. The boy had a job of making nails for his blacksmith father and was doing so in his workshop when a women, Beatrix Layng, approached him to ask for some nails for herself. The boy had told the women that he would do it later- and this apparently annoyed Beatrix. The soon-to-be accused witch was said to have muttered to herself about the dis-respectfulness of youth, with the boy mistaking this as a spell. This suspicion is most likely because this is the same Beatrix Layng that had been brought before the Privy Council around 5 years previous on accusations of bewitchment. Given that Beatrix was the wife of the towns treasurer, her recent past would have no doubt been very well known.

At this point Patrick never made clear his concerns to anybody. However, the next day, as he was making his way to the workshop in the morning, he encountered Beatrix Layng once again. Beatrix was, as reported by the boy, throwing burning coal into a bucket of cold water. Patrick became concerned about her activity and, suspecting she had cast a spell on him, reported her to the town minister Patrick Cowper- who was known to have a bit of an obsession with witches. Soon the boy became very ill- it was reported that he was unable to eat, walk, and eventually talk. The minister, overly-keen to get involve it would seem, identified several accomplices and a pursuit began. Five women in total went on to be captured- Beatrix, and accomplices Isabel Adam, Nicola Lawson, Lille Wallace, and Janet Cornfoot.

The five were imprisoned and brutally tortured at the towns Kirk. Its been well said that Cowper was keen to experiment with torture methods used in trials he had read about. These included starving the women of sleep- they were kept up for upto 5 days/nights at a time, being repeatedly pricked. The trial of the five women dragged on for several months moving into 1705. In mid-January, one of the women, Janet Cornfoot, escaped. Fleeing to the nearby town of Leuchars she would only be able to hide for a couple of weeks before the towns people of Pittenweem would catch up with her. The Lynch mob, of about 20 people, searched every home in Leuchars before she was found and captured. Cornfoot would subsequently endure one of the most sickening and barbaric attacks in our civil history.

Beaten and dragged from the home, Cornfoot had her hands and legs bound before being tied to the bows of a boat down at the Pittenweem harbour. From there invitations to pelt her with stones and all sorts was dished out to passers by, before her half dead body was brought back to the streets- were she was repeatedly trampled on by a horse and carriage to ensure she was dead. As it turns out then, Cornfoots escape was a very very bad idea- the others who didn’t escape all survived. The wider authorities, who were on a long crackdown of witchhunts, began pursuing the frenzied minister and had all of the women released with a fine. As for Beatrix Layng, she was never welcomed back into the town and moved to St Andrews and she, along witch the national witch hunts, would never be seen again.

As the Kingdom of Great Britain came about in 1707, even sporadic cases of witch trials became rare, as the whole concept now began to die out. There was eight years between the last legal execution of a witch in 1727 to the introduction of the last witchcraft act of 1735. This act would end even the behaviour of accusing somebody of being a witch, aswell as any persecution of said witches in any way. That last last witch execution in 1727, of Janet Horne, only serves as a further reminder of the embarrassment of our society at this time. Like all before she was accused of meeting with the devil- though Horne was bizarrely accused of using her daughter as transport, rider her like a horse. It was claimed her daughter had deformed hands and feet, this being proof that she was used as transport to this meeting with the deil.

Its looks like there was fairy courts after-all, but they were not in a magical world.

(Photo courtesy of en.wahooart.com)

Reasons for Era of Demonology

Reason One: John Calvin

John Calvin is traditionally recognised as being the cause of the national witch hunt in Scotland- but why? He never joined in on any witch hunts, nor did he publicly approve it at any point, nor has he even declared any specific belief in witchcraft- it is his very brief references to demonology that seemed to have the ministers trying to put together a collection of these scraps and proclaim Calvin as being in strong favour of the hunt.

This is most likely an attempt to cover it all up, probably behind the religious changes/wars of the times. His only notable statement on the subject (below) is effectively the Frenchman saying that it is not something we are supposed to know about- and we had better be careful to respect that. So although Calvin didn’t actually support the hunts across Europe, his followers seemed to ;portray him as doing so- and alot of hunter were under the impression that they were doing Calvin-approved work.

“Some complain that the Devil’s fall, its cause, manner, time and kind is not distinctly related in Scripture, but this is nothing to us – if not wholly to be passed over, certainly to be lightly alluded to, for it was not worthy of the Holy Spirit to feed curiosity with idle histories”

John Calvin

Reason Two- The Germans

So Scotland was bad, but not the worst. That award goes to Germany. Before Daemonologie over here, the newly emerging German witchcraft industry had dropped Formicarius (1475) and Malleus Maleficarum (1486). With this, its clearly the Germans who are responsible for starting this dark era in Europe. These two books were the first major works of literature on witchcraft, it was books written by very credible authors of the time- Johannes Nider (Formicarius) and Heinrich Kramer (Malleus Maleficarum). They were the bible of witchcraft. The claims that women turn to witchcraft as a means of escaping their inferior position was first stated here. The devils mark, the individuals inability to cite the Lords Prayer, and the often implemented ‘logical solutions’ in dealing with witchcraft- all found in these books aswell.

Theses writers were famous theologists of their time, experienced church men with a legion of followers. Its safe to say this was not the work of the holy uneducated. Formicarius and Malleus Maleficarum would open up the world to ‘sophisticated’ witchcraft and demonology theories. So we can conclude that Germany in general is the culprit- out of nowhere these congressional tales-turned-theories were thrust into matters of great national and religious importance- all thanks to the these Germans theologists work. Danke Schon.

Reason Three- Gender battles?

So everybody asks the question- why was it almost always women persecuted? Was it the same reasons as to why the sickening Scolds Bridle was invented, there was this increasingly intolerant national attitude towards women at the time that they were morally inferior and thus more inclined to participate in witchcraft. This public opinion was no doubt influenced by several major works of literature at the time. The German witch craft books Formicarius and Malleus Maleficarum, the predecessors to Daemonologie, aswell as Daemonologie itself, clearly implied the morally inferior concept. Other similar works distributed around at the time- such as the infamous First Blast by John Knox, would no doubt have been greatly influential in society.

Lets not forgot these events took place during very turbulent times in our nation. Lets also not forget that much of the nation was genuinely under the belief that there was a fairy mystery world with fairy courts and fairy messengers. Turbulent times to say the least. Barbaric times.


Conclusion

Ultimately there was a variety of influences all behind the different reasons for these different spells of national delusion and people hunting. As stated before- although the Witchcraft Act 1563 was passed before him, it would be he who would enforce it. We are talking about King James VI of course.

In Denmark and Norway the King would have been a mere observer in the early European witchhunts and he would have been keen to get involved. It was on his return from Oslo that he began the hunts afterall. Given his later release of Daemonologie and the Union of the Crowns, its clear he had a particular thirst for power. The subsequent horrorshow in North Berwick really opened up what was a very dark period in our history- Scotland was now officially involved in the wider European witch hunts, and we would soon be the big chief, of this very unethical race.

So just how did the extremely paranoid and psychopathic King James create this battered and religiously frenzied nation of wrongdoing ministers, lynch mobs, and rogue prickers? We can come to the conclusion that many aspects of the Scottish witch hunts became used as an attempt to resolve societal disputes once and for all, with the charges against the individuals generally surrounding social disruption. This was highly-influenced by Germany and a fair attempt, atleast primarily presented as such, to create a godly society- with the members of the community deemed ungodly being pursued as witches one way or another. Those deemed to be of a lower class were particularly vulnerable to accusations of ungodly behaviour (behaviour which would quickly be wildly exaggerated).

As for the wider delusion with witchcraft, many say the black death was the spark, some (especially in Germany) say ‘gendercide’, but it looks like religion is the underlying reason. With the rise of Presbyterian thoughts and practice’s, came an end to the dominance of the Roman Catholic church across Europe- dominance that had led to reasonable peace with a widespread single viewpoint, and there was always gonna be a war to go along those changes- if not militant then social often both. These new religious influences would create growing suspiciousness in the community, but there can be no doubting that the concept of witchcraft presented itself, to the Catholics and Protestants alike, as an excellent opportunity for their often brutal campaigns for authority and control.

Its very worth noting that witch hunts were not widespread in countries such as Spain aswell- nations that generally fought off much of the reformation uprisings, successfully maintaining Catholic dominance. The countries in which witchcraft were most widespread (particularly Scotland & Germany) are also the ones who experienced the most significant reformations, so clearly the concept was an important tool for the religious parties. Further evidence.

So all this points to the split of the Christian church as the ultimate reason for the rise in witchcraft and subsequent national witchhunts across the nation. If it not for this being brushed under the carpet with the era of religious wars, the Great Scottish Witch Hunts would most definitely be considered on a par with the Highland Clearances, probably worse.

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