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Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Europe: the End of the ‘Bloodbath of the Innocents.’

Simon Lemieux explain why witch-hunting ended when so many Europeans supported it.

The story of witch-hunts in Early Modern Europe has fascinated many and been the object of much historical debate, yet the factors behind its decline and eventual eclipse are much less well understood. The aim of this article is to suggest some reasons why a phenomenon that claimed the lives of around 50,000 Europeans, mostly women, came to a virtual end by the close of the seventeenth century. 

By 1700, official witch-hunting was all but over in western Europe, even if popular beliefs in witchcraft endured for rather longer. It will be argued here that the fundamental reasons for this change lay primarily in the attitudes of the authorities both secular and religious, in no small part due to their experiences of the effects of witch-hunts during the 16th and 17th centuries. Furthermore it will be suggested that many of the same forces that encouraged the growth of witch-hunting in the first place, such as religious beliefs and publications, were also instrumental in its decline. 

Evidence for Decline 

Perhaps the best place to begin our investigation is with the statistics and direct evidence of a decline of witch-hunting.

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