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  • In the German town ofrdlingen in 1593,

  • an innkeeper named Mariall found herself accused of witchcraft.

  • She was arrested for questioning, and denied the charges.

  • She continued to insist she wasn't a witch through 62 rounds of torture

  • before her accusers finally released her.

  • Rebekka Lemp, accused a few years earlier in the same town, faced a worse fate.

  • She wrote to her husband from jail

  • worrying that she would confess under torture,

  • even though she was innocent.

  • After giving a false confession,

  • she was burned at the stake in front of her family.

  • ll and Lemp were both victims of the witch hunts

  • that occurred in Europe and the American colonies

  • from the late 15th century until the early 18th century.

  • These witch hunts were not a unified initiative by a single authority,

  • but rather a phenomenon that occurred sporadically

  • and followed a similar pattern each time.

  • The term "witch" has taken on many meanings,

  • but in these hunts, a witch was someone who allegedly gained magical powers

  • by obeying Satan rather than God.

  • This definition of witchcraft spread through churches in Western Europe

  • starting at the end of the 15th century.

  • It really gained traction after the pope gave a friar and professor of theology

  • named Heinrich Kraemer

  • permission to conduct inquisitions in search of witches in 1485.

  • His first, in the town of Innsbruck,

  • didn't gain much traction with the local authorities,

  • who disapproved of his harsh questioning of respectable citizens

  • and shut down his trials.

  • Undeterred, he wrote a book called the "Malleus Maleficarum," or "Hammer of Witches."

  • The text argued for the existence of witches

  • and suggested ruthless tactics for hunting and prosecuting them.

  • He singled out women as easier targets for the devil's influence,

  • though men could also be witches.

  • Kraemer's book spurred others to write their own books

  • and give sermons on the dangers of witchcraft.

  • According to these texts,

  • witches practiced rituals including kissing the Devil's anus

  • and poisoning or bewitching targets the devil singled out for harm.

  • Though there was no evidence to support any of these claims,

  • belief in witches became widespread.

  • A witch hunt often began with a misfortune:

  • a failed harvest, a sick cow, or a stillborn child.

  • Community members blamed witchcraft, and accused each other of being witches.

  • Many of the accused were people on the fringes of society:

  • the elderly, the poor, or social outcasts,

  • but any member of the community could be targeted,

  • even occasionally children.

  • While religious authorities encouraged witch hunts,

  • local secular governments usually carried out the detainment

  • and punishment of accused witches.

  • Those suspected of witchcraft were questioned and often tortured

  • and under torture, thousands of innocent people confessed to witchcraft

  • and implicated others in turn.

  • Because these witch hunts occurred sporadically over centuries and continents

  • the specifics varied considerably.

  • Punishments for convicted witches ranged from small fines to burning at the stake.

  • The hunt in whichll and Lemp were accused dragged on for nine years,

  • while others lasted just months.

  • They could have anywhere from a few to a few hundred victims.

  • The motivations of the witch hunters probably varied as well,

  • but it seems likely that many weren't consciously looking for scapegoats

  • instead, they sincerely believed in witchcraft,

  • and thought they were doing good by rooting it out in their communities.

  • Institutions of power enabled real harm to be done on the basis of these beliefs.

  • But there were dissenters all along

  • jurists, scholars, and physicians countered books

  • like Kraemer's "Hammer of Witches"

  • with texts objecting to the cruelty of the hunts,

  • the use of forced confessions, and the lack of evidence of witchcraft.

  • From the late 17th through the mid-18th century,

  • their arguments gained force with the rise of stronger central governments

  • and legal norms like due process.

  • Witch hunting slowly declined until it disappeared altogether.

  • Both the onset and demise of these atrocities came gradually,

  • out of seemingly ordinary circumstances.

  • The potential for similar situations,

  • in which authorities use their powers to mobilize society against a false threat,

  • still exists today

  • but so does the capacity of reasoned dissent to combat those false beliefs.

In the German town ofrdlingen in 1593,

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B2 US TED-Ed witchcraft accused torture occurred century

Ugly History: Witch Hunts - Brian A. Pavlac

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    April Lu posted on 2019/06/12
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