Heresy Magic And Witchcraft In Early Modern Europe Pdf
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- Magic and the Common People of Early Modern Europe
- Heresy, Magic, and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe - Review
- Heresy, Magic, and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe
It provides a useful overview of key issues for students interested in modern history and the social history of conflict. BBC History Magazine Weekend in Chester A short video showcasing a recent public event with BBC History magazine that can be used to help students and educators discuss how history can engage the public and its role in contemporary society. Probably the best overall introduction to the subject of the European Witchcraze.
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Magic and the Common People of Early Modern Europe
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The deadline for academic application is March To book a personalized entrance counselling appointment, contact our Recruitment Office at The sensationalism of the witch hunts dominates much of what one considers when exploring issues of magic during the early modern period, but the witchcraft trials was not the only area in which magic played a role. Throughout Europe between and , belief in magic and sorcery was pervasive.
A widely believed concept involving the presence of invisible, supernatural powers that could impact the affairs of people—both positively and negatively—was the basis of magic. Magic involved the attempt to take advantage of these powers for personal benefit. Even though the church attempted to discredit magical practice, there was a substantial gap between official doctrine and what was practiced by the general population.
An interesting combination of magic and religion was involved in the daily lives of early modern commoners and at times they would utilize individual magical and spiritual practitioners who specialized in a multitude of beneficial magical services. Charms, prayers and rituals which incorporated some aspects of Christianity were commonly employed in attempts to provide a diverse array of benefits as well as protection from harmful magic, or maleficium , which was blamed for many of the hardships that plagued the European population during this period.
Life for the masses was wrought with difficulty. Drought, famine, disease, malnutrition, high infant mortality rates and countless other hardships plagued the European population during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
With little scientific or medical knowledge, their world was generally explained and understood through superstitious, religious, and magical means—as were their hardships and any perceived solutions to them. The dominant worldview included belief in sorcery and witchcraft as well as a number of forces that could positively or negatively impact human affairs. Given this understanding of the world, practices that could be considered magic were common in daily life.
People used magical procedures—often taught to them by their parents—for a multitude of purposes. They believed in omens and portents. Traditional ceremonies and rites that involved magical elements were also used for reasons such as the protection and well-being of livestock and crops. However, despite multiple designations, they all engaged in what could be regarded as beneficial magical practices. The magic they used, unlike maleficium —the evil, harmful magic employed by supposed witches—was considered to be good and was used to achieve multiple ends.
Cunning folk would perform numerous magical activities like fortune telling, magical healing, fertility rituals, divination, and love magic. They would be consulted to undo bewitchments, find a lost item, or even to identify a witch or thief. Many of these people claimed to have the ability to do such things because of knowledge or power that was passed on to them through hereditary lines, or by some event later in their lives, but they were not typically regarded as witches by their communities.
The male dominance may have been because to be regarded as a cunning person, an appearance of literacy was necessary.
The techniques used for magic were similar all over Europe. Like most other varieties of magic in early modern Europe, divination was perceived by churchmen to involve the manipulation of demonic powers and was sometimes also seen as an abuse against God because they believed only he should know what the future holds. As such, those who practiced divination were occasionally subjected to criminal prosecution.
Although divination was a widely used type of magic, especially among magical practitioners, it was not the only form of magic used in early modern Europe.
As was suggested, there was a second purpose for which magic was used—to wield some power and influence over what occurred in the world. The most frequent forms of magic were used for protection and were closely intertwined with normal daily activities, often merging with popular Christian belief.
The practices that people employed often combined folk beliefs with spiritual or religious ones, so many of the common customs and ideas that had endured since pagan times had developed a Christian veil, while some rituals and beliefs associated with Christianity were conducted in popular society in such a way that they appeared to have magical elements. The types of influence that these practices were intended to have on the immediate world were many - but of these, healing was the most important.
A variety of modes were employed to magically assist healing, including the utterance of blessings, charms, incantations, prayers and songs, as well as a multitude of practices that used magical objects and concoctions. Healing blessings often invoked the power of God or the Holy Spirit and used biblical words to initiate healing in a suffering person, so it was not necessarily believed to be the healer or cunning man who healed the person, but rather God working through them.
Not only were these blessings thought to be powerful in themselves, or at least to invoke a greater power; some of them also provided instructions for healing activities and procedures for creating medicines using plants and herbs that were both taken internally and used externally.
In addition to blessings and medicines, certain objects were believed to hold healing powers and were part of the healing repertoire of the common people. Amulets, containing a range of substances, including roots and pieces of paper with special words or symbols written on them, were used by people throughout Europe to cure diseases and infections as well as for protection from evil magic and spirits, while healing stones, books, and other miscellaneous objects also were utilized in magical practice.
Early modern Europeans also participated in special activities that they believed would bring about magical healing, sometimes instructed to do so when consulting a cunning person. An example of such activities involved an elderly woman entering a graveyard as it was getting dark on Pentecost evening. While there she buried a tooth, urinated on it, and appealed three times to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This endeavour was meant to cure the fever from which she suffered and return her to good health. Essentially, some magical healing may have worked through the placebo effect, which is understood medically today. The people of early modern Europe sought to use magic to manipulate the world around them in ways other than healing as well. They used it in an attempt to offset or reverse malicious spells that had been used on them, to gain back items that had been stolen from them, exorcised demons and spirits that possessed people, and attempted to magically heighten certain skills, abilities and characteristics.
Many of the tactics used to create a counter spell, or to reverse magic used upon a person were closely related to the methods used in magical healing, although many were simply preventative measures. Whether magic in the early modern period fell under the category of gaining unknown information—like the practice of divination—or involved some form of manipulation of the world and its events—such as healing, counter spells, or magical enhancements—it is clear that there was a prominent magical element among the masses of Europe and the realm that it encompassed was much larger than only the evil magic that was attributed to witches.
But even though it was not the only type of magic that existed in their worldview, for the people living at this time, harmful magic, or maleficium , was a real concern. The witch hunts, which arose out of popular concern about witchcraft, had a number of causes, but the reason people believed in the existence of maleficium was not particularly complicated.
The lives of early modern Europeans were wrought with struggle and suffering, and their understanding of the world as a place where supernatural powers had influence allowed for witches and maleficium to be blamed for inexplicable hardships, such as the deaths of children, drought, crop failures, death of livestock, storms, illness, and even impotence.
In many ways maleficium became a social scapegoat for the numerous tensions that arose in the period. The fear that surrounded it was only exacerbated by the perpetuation of belief in it by both the church and scholars of the time. Theologians, churchmen, and scholars all had their opinions about magic and witchcraft, and many labelled all magic as the work of the Devil.
However, they made sure to differentiate between magic that called upon the power of the Devil and practices that were explicitly involved within the church itself which they claimed drew upon the power of God but did not command him.
In this way they justified religious practices that could easily have been considered to have magical elements and quite likely did in the perceptions of the masses.
Why then, in the eyes of religious authorities, were cunning folk and other magical practitioners able to provide good magical services that were not intended to harm? In , William Perkins, a minister and theologian, wrote on the subject of both bad and good witches and of the latter said:.
The religious establishment claimed that the common use of magic, despite the possibility of having no ill intent, necessarily involved the power of the Devil. This opinion was further fuelled by larger social upheavals that took place during the period. In the wider scope of European culture, much more was going on during the early modern period.
This era of magic and witchcraft overlapped the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, periods of significant change on the continent and in England. Popular magical activities were not greatly affected by the shifts in intellectual thought that came with the Renaissance, but they were, on the other hand, influenced by the religious turmoil created through the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent Catholic Counter-Reformation.
With the schism that emerged within Christianity, creating a divide among different religious groups, concern about magic and superstition grew as the different religious groups attempted to clearly define true beliefs and values. This meant that Protestants dismissed many of the sacraments and items associated with them, as well as the saints and holy relics. These fundamental differences in theology created a platform for important change within popular magic.
The Catholic authorities maintained that human actions could manipulate divine power and therefore had to more carefully stipulate the difference between legitimate actions and superstitious ones.
Although Protestantism did not believe that one could access divine power, they did not deny that there were supernatural powers in the world. They simply regarded them as demonic. Therefore, while both Protestants and Catholics were actively involved in the witch hunts of the early modern period, Protestant authorities may have been more eager to perceive any practitioner of magic—even if it was for obviously good purposes—as employing demonic powers.
But even though Catholic authorities believed a theology that allowed people to invoke divine power, they too showed a general sense of mistrust of anyone who did so. Common people and cunning folk alike had to be careful of their magical activities during the early modern period because this was a time when all magic fell under suspicion of being linked to the Devil, or at least to lesser demons.
But with the rise of the witch hunts and the systematic accusations, the trial process was designed to depict them as a threat to Christian society and part of a satanic conspiracy that denounced the Christian faith. An explanation as to how magical activities intended for good could get caught up in the paranoia of witchcraft prosecution was provided in a sermon by Bernardino of Siena in However, contrary to modern perceptions, the witch hunts did not put an end to magical activity in Europe.
Magical practitioners continued their work throughout the hunts, and for hundreds of years afterwards. Into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, common people maintained belief in magic and witchcraft, although the authorities, both ecclesiastical and secular no longer paid them heed. Inexplicable maladies continued to be blamed on supernatural forces, especially if medical doctors failed to cure them and people who were sick or believed themselves to be bewitched continued to visit cunning folk to be cured.
When one thinks of magic in the early modern period, a number of assumptions and sometimes misguided beliefs come to mind. The witch hunts marked a major crisis in European history, but they were not the only aspect of magical activity at the time.
The world in which the common European lived involved belief in supernatural and magical elements, over which humans could exert some influence—with not only evil intentions and outcomes, but with good results as well. Although doing so was forbidden by the church, magical activities were an integral part of daily life for the early modern common people.
Brian P. Levack New York: Routledge, , Ian Temple is a long-time resident of Regina. He is currently working to complete his undergraduate program, which combines a BA in history with a BEd with a major in social studies and minor in English.
When not immersed in his academic work, Ian likes to travel, camp, and spend time with his family, which includes a new baby daughter. Ready to learn more? Get all the details straight to your inbox! Magic and the Common People of Early Modern Europe By Ian Temple The sensationalism of the witch hunts dominates much of what one considers when exploring issues of magic during the early modern period, but the witchcraft trials was not the only area in which magic played a role.
Heresy, Magic, and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe - Review
Belief in and practice of witchcraft in Europe can be traced to classical antiquity and has continuous history during the Middle Ages , culminating in the Early Modern witch hunts and giving rise to the fairy tale and popular culture "witch" stock character of modern times, as well as to the concept of the "modern witch" in Wicca and related movements of contemporary witchcraft. The topic is a complex amalgamation of the practices of folk healers , folk magic , ancient belief in sorcery in pagan Europe, Christian views on heresy , medieval and early modern practice of ceremonial magic and simple fiction in folklore and literature. Instances of persecution of witchcraft in the classical period were documented, paralleling evidence from the ancient Near East and the Old Testament. In ancient Greece , for example, Theoris , a woman of Lemnos, was prosecuted for casting incantations and using harmful drugs. In Ancient Rome black magic was punished as a capital offence by the Law of the Twelve Tables , which are to be assigned to the 5th century BC, and, as Livy records, from time to time Draconian statutes were directed against those who attempted to blight crops and vineyards or to spread disease among flocks and cattle.
Heresy, Magic, and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe
The publication in of Hugh Trevor-Roper's essay on the European witch-craze marked a watershed in modern scholarship. On the one hand, motivated by his war service, he was eager to make a point about persecuting ideologies; on the other, however, fearing a hostile reception, he distanced himself Most users should sign in with their email address. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in.
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