Witchcraft and Judgement in Reformation Germany

The great witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have a continuing fascination for the general public as well as the social and cultural historian. Whether we have derived our interest from historical, literary or dramatic treatments of the subject, we all feel we have a working knowledge of how a witch-hunt evolves. An accusation of witchcraft is brought against an individual and stirs up deep-seated fears and anxieties; persons are interrogated, accomplices sought, confessions made and other persons named; the list of suspects grows longer as the activity of witchcraft is revealed as a widespread conspiracy, precipitating a moral panic in the community at large. The net of complicity spreads out to encompass those apparently above reproach: potentially everyone within the community is implicated. There are interrogations under torture, burnings, a rising tide of panic, until even the very judges themselves are suspect. Then the boil bursts, the fever burns itself out and the exhausted social body is left to recuperate as best it can.

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