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Medieval Witchcraft

During The Middle Ages, especially the earlier part witchcraft was considered a punishable crime with punishment on the same level as that of poisoning. Christianity eventually changed peoples thoughts on witchcraft and it became to be considered as a superstition. According to Baptismal formula, it was required for medieval people to denounce all the works of demons. In the early medieval period until the tenth century, non-stop persecution of witchcraft continued.

Definition of Medieval Witchcraft

Medieval witchcraft was a very complex topic and couldn’t be defined precisely as the views among different cultures and religions in medieval times varied a lot. Its most common definition would be belief in, and practising of magical skills. During the Middle Ages witchcraft had a religious, medicinal and divinatory role and could be thought of anything like the paranormal, sorcery, superstition, possession and the nature of worship.

Medieval Witchcraft - The Dunking Chair

Medieval People Dunk a Medieval women suspected of Witchcraft and being a witch

Medieval Witchcraft, Religion and Pagan Beliefs

In the medieval period religion, especially Christianity had a huge impact on the thoughts of the people regarding witchcraft. Pagans believed in witchcraft and thought it was a power to control nature with ones will and was associated with the goddess Diana. Whereas many Christian Saints during the medieval period declared the witchcraft as an evil act believed that pagan religion and magic were the invention of the Devil to detract people from the right of Christianity. Several civil laws were also passed on the pressure of the Church that discouraged witchcraft and punishments were given to those people considered to have been involved in witchcraft such as being burned at the stake.

Demons, Magic and Spells

In the Medieval period it was believed that witches had demons under their possession and controlled them for their personal interests. It was also alleged that witches had sexual relations with the demons. Witches had the ability to cast a spell, in order to accomplish some goal through magical action, or to have influence on someone. Certain spells were beneficial whereas others were harmful. Beneficial spells were considered a blessing as these were mostly done the beneficiary of human kind like getting rid of a deadly disease. Harmful spells were known as “curses" and were mostly done with a negative intention. The Same was true for Magic which was used to control nature through paranormal or mystical means.

Witches in the Middle Ages

From the 11th to 14th centuries there were mixed thoughts about witches. There were people who considered them healers and helpful whereas there was another group of people who feared them and considered them as sorcerers. There was also a distinction among the medieval witches. Some medieval witches were called the white witches, the “wise women", whose wisdom was considered helpful towards the humanity as they had the knowledge of healing through the herbs and plants. Whereas other witches were called the “black witches" mainly because it was thought that they wanted to do harm to others for personal gain and power..

Medieval Witchcraft - Witches and Cauldron

Medieval witches are cooking a spell potion in a cauldron in medieval times

History of Medieval Witchcraft

In the history of the medieval witchcraft the initial period was very prominent when Christian saints declared that pagan religion and witchcraft was invented by the devil. Witchcraft was considered as something against the Christianity. People were discouraged from witchcraft and punishments were announced for those found guilty such as being burned at the stake.

Early Medieval Period Witchcraft

St. Augustine, the Christian theologian, was of the view that sorcerers were helped by the demons and that is why their supernatural arts were useful. He also claimed that pagan religion and magic was a creation of the devil to tempt the people away from Christianity. This perception got more strength with the passage of time and it was thought that witches had made a secret pact with the devil. In the early Medieval Period it was also believed that witches could change their shape, bring bad weather and fly when they wanted to, especially at night. In the 8th century St. Boniface announced that even believing in the witches was a UN-Christian act.

Middle Period Witchcraft

In the middle medieval period the civil law was greatly influenced by the Christianity. Many anti-witchcraft laws were established and it was declared “maleficium" which meant wrong doing. Later it was declared that magic was an act of the devil and it was not only a crime against society but also a crime against God. It had a negative effect on the positive side of witches. Most witches were experienced in the treatment of diseases through plants and herbs, but with the passage of time most of them had to leave these activities as well.

Medieval Witchcraft - WItches burned at the stake

Medieval witch-hunt, witches are burned at the stake accused of Witchcraft

Late Medieval Period Witchcraft

In the late medieval period people started to consider several others ideas and practices in relation to witchcraft. Some of these ideas and practices were forecasting the future, healing through the spells, the use of different kinds of ointments, etc. In England there was something called “curative magic" that was considered the positive side of witchcraft. There were also “witch doctors" that were also known as “white witches" and their prime job was to rid people of evil magic and diseases caused due to it. Although they were not true witches, but due to their anti social behaviour people started to call them “white witches". Whereas those considered to be doing negative witchcraft were called “black witches"

Witchcraft, Witches and Burned at the Stake

During Middle Ages witchcraft was a punishable crime and someone accused of witchcraft and a non believer of Christianity was labelled as a heretic. The accused, of witchcraft was tortured for a confession and then he/she was hanged or burned at the stake. Witches were persecuted in the early medieval period as the church had declared them the God’s enemies and they were considered the reason for any natural disaster, disease or death. Although witches were persecuted during the medieval period, historians have proved that mass witch-hunts and burning at the stake started just after the end of the medieval period.

Summary of Witchcraft

Witchcraft during the Medieval period was considered a bad thing and the work of Satan. Civil laws were influenced by the Church and many anti witchcraft laws were created. Witches’ historic contribution to medieval society through the use of herbs and plants came to an end. Anybody found guilty of witchcraft was severely punished and usually burned at the stake. There was also a distinction among black (bad witches) and white (good witches).

 

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