Unit IV Lecture I – February 28, 2012
Witchcraft, Science & Skepticism
By end of 17 c., defenders of demonology & witchcraft tried to halt skepticism/disbelief
among educated classes of Europe
By 18 c., those who wanted to end witch-hunts were triumphant – last witch trials held in
first half of 18 c.
By end of 18 c., witchcraft had become topic of historical interest
Social Improvement? Perhaps witches were hunted because they gave people what felt
like control over an uncertain world; once social conditions improved, there was no longer a
need to hunt witches.
o Unlikely. General economic conditions remained the same in the late 17 c.;
conditions of life for most remained unchanged; disease & famine persisted;
technological innovations did not occur until 1800’s.
Decline of Popular Witch Beliefs? Perhaps people felt that the regular persecution of
witches brought no end to problem that plagued early modern life – So general population
became skeptical of reality of witchcraft.
o No Evidence. Seems that villagers continued to feel anxious about birth, death,
disease, and climate during the 17 & 18 c., and continued to see witchcraft
behind many misfortunes; very little evidence about popular beliefs.
Decline in Witchcraft Beliefs of the Elite Classes? Perhaps the beliefs of the ruling
classes changed, and their new way of understanding the world resulted in decline of witch
o POSSIBLE. 17 c. saw rise to prominence of 3 profoundly influential ways of