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Lecture 16

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Department
History
Course
HIS389H1
Professor
Jane Abray
Semester
Fall

Description
HIS389H1F- LECTURE NOVEMBER 16, 2010 Why Witch-hunts? What caused them? - You cannot generalize about what caused the witch-hunts - You can pick out some preconditions, account for some specific features but no global explanations - Wolfgang Behringer, “Weather, Hunger and Fear: Origin fof the European Witch Hunts” – pointed out that as soon as people were engaged in archival work in central Europe (heartland of witch hunts) most people searched for documentation and whole house of cards fell apart- you do not have one neat and tidy witch hunt but dozens of witch hunts- no sustained single form – many local events instead - For the small hunts- 3 essential things: 2 ideas and 1 process - 2 ideas: idea of maleificia (supernatural crimes) and the idea of the satanic pact combined with the process of judicial torture you have preconditions which = small hunts (small group of people or individual targeted) - Bigger hunts – 3 ideas and a process (idea of maleficia, satanic pact, and idea of the Sabbath + the judicial process of torture) – the difference between the small hunts and the big hunts is the idea of the Sabbath - Once you have idea of humans getting together with devil in conspiracy you have something to = big hunts = judicial torture gets confessions which equals more suspects What triggers hunts? – Chapter 5 and 6 – Levack - The bedrock trigger is maleficia – sense on the part of some people that they have been assaulted by supernatural forces, human being who has got the power to harm them supernaturally – sense of being victimized or insulted leads to a search for those responsible and pressure on authorities to do something to stop crimes – beyond that it is hard to generalize! – historians still have tried tho - Like: Brian Pavlac, “Ten General Historical Theories about the Origins and Causes of the Witch Hunts,” – 10 historical theories on website o 10 general historical theories- calls them attempts to be theories because based on reasonable information and they make some sense in explaining the phenomena. They start from reasonable to some sense A. Theories professional historians never held or have given up: 1. The thin mountain air: Hugh Trevor- Roper, “The European witch-craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” in the collection of the same name, 1969 - Serious essay, set of ideas, published in book of same name, one of the first piece where you had historian taking witchcraft seriously and saying it is worth thinking about why the witch hunts happened. - Explanation seems odd though – Roper said it was a development of isolated mountain valleys and works way down into the low ones- creeps down. - Avalanche, electric storms, cracking of ice = led men to believe in demonic activity - Thin air = hallucinations - Mountains – home of sorcery and witchcraft- grim life up there, dated quality to his gender specific language, “men looking for spirits of revenge, men believing in demonic activity” - Easy to dispose of – mention in essay that is launch pad – important - Witchcraft and witch hunts are phenomena then what caused the notorious train trial of the plot in Arras (area trotted back and forth between Netherlands and France, wealthiest and flattest places – huge chain trial in 1459-60 – no mountains there!) – therefore thin mountain air, dissolved Michelet Arras 1459-60 2. It was the Christians striking out at rival religions, either i) Genuine demon worshippers Michelet Montague Summers o Idea that made sense to witch hunters who believed in genuine gatherings of worshipping the devil o Taken seriously in 19 century by Michelet and Montague Summers o Trouble is that it is not true, there is no evidence of real gatherings of demon worshippers ii) Members of pagan cults Margaret Alice Murray o Pitched in 1920s, had some resonance, but although plenty of evidence that Christianity of some was not that of theologians, there is no evidence of surviving pagan cults, there might be some though displayed through the group called “I benedanti” – people who are born with a call, part of membrane stayed on babies skull = special sign at birth that they had obligation at certain time during the year to protect crops in field against evil spirits 3. Misogyny – but note the importance of continuing work on gender, and witchcraft with women’s history - An attempt to control women, but it wasn’t! - The witch hunts are fertile ground for thinking about gender issues but you can really not argue that it is misogyny pure and simple driving the hunts B. Theories with Continuing Buzz amongst Academics 4. Illness - Epidemics, e.g. plague (Geneva vs. Strasbourg), or ergot poisoning (Mary Kilbourne Motassian, Poisons of the Past, 1989) o Physical illness? – epidemics make people fearful o Geneva: plague did generate witch hunts at least 3 times in 16 century- number of people accused of spreading plague with some kind of grease spreading on surfaces or people – reason for plague was the spreading by certain people o What works for Geneva does not work for other places – take Strasbourg- in 16the century there were no trials of witches connected to plague or any other disease- hardly any trials in Strasbourg. There is plague in Strasbourg though, but unlike Geneva it does not produce accusations of witchcraft o Which is more typical? – Strasbourg is more typical by a long shot – usual supernatural explanation is God’s wrath o What was going on in Geneva? – not typical, not a good general explanation o Ergot poisoning- a fungus that attacks grain like rye, more specific plague, if you eat ergot you can get convulsions, gangrenous, pharmaceutically messes with your mind, will make you have hallucinations- Rye more common with poor – poor harvest = high prices, substitute rye for wheat – bad harvest, bad grain, bad health o Mary Kilbourne found some links between ergot poisoning and witch hunts – but will not explain general phenomena of witch hunts - Hallucinogens – Angelika Borsch- Haubold at o Caused delusions deliberately administered o Active ingredient belladonna o Why some people produce voluntary confessions? – because of hallucinogens o No evidence that drugs suffice though- evidence that drugs may have worked came from pharmacology and study of plants o Website: check blackboard link… - Mental illness: Weyer, Roper Jacques Roulet Apollonia Meyr o Silly old women o Weyer, Roper- works hard to explain mental worlds of people caught up in the trials but she is not mostly dealing with mental illness, but recreates mental worlds o Schizophrenia useful for some- werewolf, roper’s post-pardon depression with apollonia meyr 5. Greed: Canon Linden - In terms of money, no it does not work, most victims are too poor – greed works in some places – Canon Linden and what she said about Trier, bishops driven by desire for money - Monetary greed works for some earlier modern hunts- if you include ambition, desire for revenge you can get somewhat more generalized explanation- think of Rebecca Lemp at Nordlingen as supposition for husband and Else Gwinner at Offenburg - Catch- small hunts die 1 by 1 3 by 3 but with large hunts- speedy deaths - General problem with greed is same with plague as explanation - Greed exists long before hunts start and long after they stop - The hunts may have provided a means to satisfy human phenomena of greed but cannot explain why witch hunting existed in early modern period 6. Disasters - Famine: similar to plague and greed, famines before witch hunts o Seem to be connected- think of Canon Linden- greed of elites and hunger of people (looking for scape goats) – hunger is something that can come in to create tensions around witchcraft - Climate change: Savoy, Lorraine, Silesia, agrarian crises, Walter Rummel o Christina Pfister, Binsfeld, Langenhans, family chronicle Andreas Blauer, Behringer, A Cultural History of climate (English, 2010)  Christina Pfister did a lot on climate history of Switzerland, took samples of trees, looked at growth cycles of trees, snow line in mountains, there is data and it is generally accepted by climate historians that there was a little ice-age  Behringer was new to connect to witch hunts- here is explanation which would cover lots of hunts o Explanation for success of bad harvests (climate change) – a relatively new kin on explanatory block – fabulous genuine explanation for why is there witch hunting because climate change is the baby of Wolfgang Behringer “Weather, Hunger and Fear…” – he does not say it is just climate change, but he is excited about it o In the article he focuses on the timing of the large hunts in central Europe, savoy, Lorraine, etc. holy roman empire and territories around it…certain conditions are measurable according to him.. quantitative o Wolfgang turned to succession of poor harvests and he is driven to looking at these because his archival work made him aware of how often specific maleficia is weather magic, creating hail storms etc. – he argues charges of weather magic raised by entire communities and not by an individual o Walter Rummel – look at lots of places, blame bishop, clergy, but this is not right, we need to pay more attention to others, stop blaming prince bishops and look at below f
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