Becoming Modern: Witchcraft and the Great Witch-Hunt, 1484-1700 (Episode #39)

We trace the roots of the idea of witchcraft in the “cunning folk” of the Middle Ages. We consider how the church and state began to fuel fear of witchcraft and persecute witches in the tens of thousands during the age of the Renaissance and the Reformation. We consider theories of why witch-hunting arose so dramatically in this age, including economic strain and political agendas. Finally, we examine evidence for an enduring shamanic belief system centering on ecstatic night journeys that may have provided the inspiration for the mythical witches’ sabbath. Suggested further reading: Margaret Murray, “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe”; Norman Cohn, “Europe’s Inner Demons”; Carlo Ginzburg, “Ecstasies”; Mary Beth Nortion, “In the Devil’s Snare”; John Demos, “Entertaining Satan.”

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