Witch Hunting In Europe During The Modern Age

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Witch hunting in Europe during the Modern Age

Witch hunting was a tragic episode of history that happened in Europe during the Modern Age. It is here when the foundations of today’s society are implanted. It occurred during the 15th – XVIII centuries after the Middle Ages and was the predecessor of the contemporary era. It is a atapa marked by religious, philosophical, political changes … America was discovered, South Africa, the printing press was invented, the church was divided ..

The European kings agreed with the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie to centralize their power. The bourgeoisie, who had just emerged wanted to get rid of the aristocracy to break her status as vassals. The old regime was implemented in which society was divided into the privileged class, clergy and nobility, or the non -privileged, bourgeois and peasants

The bourgeoisie began to gain importance, until it reached the point of supplanting the ancient aristocracy. They were the ones who had economic control in most sectors. The bourgeois somehow occupied part of the place of the clergy in politics, thus necessary the creation of separate rulers from the Catholic Church, which would not lose too much importance in society.

When the Byzantine empire fell many of its inhabitants took refuge in Europe. When this empire was located in the current Greece, its inhabitants were aware of great philosophers such as Plato, Herodoto, Horacio … so they transmitted this knowledge to the rest of Europe. This revolutionized the philosophical panorama. People began to think that life was more than one step on the road to the hereafter, they began to enjoy life. It is here, with the decameron of Boccaccio when there is some sexual freedom. It arises in humanism. Religion is partially aside to focus on the human. This is reflected in art with the appearance of Recentism. There is also a scientific revolution with characters such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton ..

In 1492 America is discovered. A stage of conquest begins in the name of the Catholic faith. Spanish and Portuguese the new territories were distributed. Soon the rest of Europe launched to conquer.

During the Modern Age there is a change from feudalism to capitalism. A global vienne market emerged from which the big European cities were protagonists. The discovery of the new lands caused commerce with slaves to be one of the most lucrative activities of the time. Mercantilism won power giving way to a capitalist society. The commercial and financial class was strengthened with the modern state.

As for religion, the most important change was the Protestant reform initiated by Luther. There was a crisis in the Catholic Church for accusations of ecclesiastical corruption and lack of religious piety. Luther hung accusations against the same church. The Pope condemned Luther’s thesis. What he did was give him more advertising. Thanks to the printing press Luther’s ideas expanded throughout Europe. Different Protestant confessions emerged in Europe. The King of England Enrique VIII founded the Anglican Church thus breaking his connection with Rome. Calvinism was another Catholic movement of the time when work dignified man, so the countries in which Calvinism was practiced more. The Protestant reform led by Lutherans, Anglicans and Calvinists left at his bloody wars of religion.

At the same time that all this happened began to carry out a persecution of women who were called witches. These witches were characterized by being older women (about 50 years old), little graceful, single, poor and who lived outside society. They were considered a discomfort for the rest of the population. Thus it was very easy to condemn them for problems totally oblivious to them as a bad harvest. As for character, they were associated with being aristed women and little submissive. This persecution was carried out for two centuries.

Being poor women, when accused they had no opportunity to defend themselves before court. They were tortured until they ended up recognizing their guilt and naming "other witches". The witches were accused to submit to the devil, have relations with him, they were accused of the lack of fertility, droughts, bad harvests … All the evils of society fell on them. There were countries like England in which it was forbidden to torture the suspects of witchcraft, but they were the least. The women faced the sadism of the man who applied the worst imaginable torture to obtain a confession that, seen from the point of view of today, was totally invalidated.

Once the guilty sentence had several destinations. One was the bonfire that was the most common. In this way burning the body they also killed their soul. It was made of humans, as usual with many punishments at the time, a show and a form of entertainment. They could also be submerged in water if there was doubt whether it was a witch or not. If he floated and survived he was a witch, and therefore he burned, if he did not float he had died equally, but had ascended to heaven.

The witch hunt fever was only worse over the years, until it reached the point that a man tried to cut a woman and if she rejected him he was accused of witch. At the beginning the witches were older and ugly women, but any woman who did something minimally inappropriate was a witch. If you thought you were already accused of witchcraft. There was no need to do anything wrong. If you dedicated yourself to certain works such as midwife or healer, even if you helped people, you were a witch. If you got too together with other women, you were a witch. It should be noted that there were also men convicted of witchcraft, but they were the least. For two centuries approximately 60000 people were executed of which less than 20% were men. Most condemnations occurred in Germany. Almost all cases of witchcraft occurred in countries that followed the new type of Christianity, the Protestant.

As I said before with the fall of the Byzantine Empire, a new philosophy of life began in which earthly life was more appreciated. This witch hunt was also a way to dismantle any type of progress towards freedom, however.

With the arrival of capitalism, his only way to make life, fence the fields that were previously open and anyone could work withdrawn to the peasantry. In this way they were forced to pay an income. This is when the paid work appears that until now did not exist. However, it was only paid for man, thus leaving a large number of widowed women to fall into poverty.

Capitalism demanded perfect bodies to be perfect workers that generate the greatest number of benefits. Man begins to conceive of man as an automaton, as to a mechanized body at the service of the State it did not interest that the woman worked since when she came from a plague epidemic the European population had reduced significantly. The woman had to stay at home thus becoming a machine to have children, the coal that feeds the capitalism machine.

Capitalism also develops a policy against sexuality. All sex with a non -reproductive purpose, from the Modern Age, is demonized. The use of any contraceptive method is also pursued and abortion is strictly prohibited.

Witch hunting is the expression of the terror presented by the Government before the changes of society. It was a war against women. As I said before at the beginning, poor old women were accused that they were not suitable for the work imposed on the female gender for caring for the family. Capitalism established the hunt for witchs as a screening of the are worth bodies and the bodies that do not. This could be related to the 5 identity control mechanisms mentioned by Foucault in several of his books.

According to Foucault, a twentieth century philosopher, the government uses 5 power mechanisms to control society. What they do is modulate the identity of the individual since childhood so that it can be easily controlled. These power mechanisms are:

  • The educational system with which the way of thinking of children is controlled.
  • the police and penitentiary institutions with which the behavior is controlled. They take away our natural way of defending ourselves, which is violence, and it is given the power to use it only to a small sector of society.
  • The hospital with which the bodies are modulated. The normativity of the human body form and also of the psyche is created. • The factory, which controls the forms of production
  • Sometimes the normative couple model lubricated by romantic love, heteronormative family, monogamy and inheritance control is included. This mechanism controls the emotional and justifies a macho system


With the advance of witch hunting they transform women into something submissive and restrained that only fulfill their new role in society: serve her husband and take care of her children. The woman begins to be afraid of expressing her opinion or showing a minimum of character since it is something that could take her to the bonfire. So it is quiet and still.  

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