From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic, mass hysteria and mob lynching, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials.
The classical period of witchhunts in Europe falls into the Early Modern period or about 1480 to 1700, spanning the upheavals of the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War, resulting in an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 executions.
The term "witch-hunt" is often used by analogy to refer to panic-induced searches for perceived wrong-doers other than witches. The best known example is probably the McCarthyist search for communists during the Cold War,
Early Modern Europe
The witch trials in Early Modern Europe came in waves and then subsided. There were trials in the 15th and early 16th centuries, but then the witch scare went into decline, before becoming a big issue again and peaking in the 17th century. Some scholars argue that a fear of witchcraft started among intellectuals who believed in maleficium: that is, harm committed by magic. What had previously been a belief that some people possessed supernatural abilities (which were sometimes used to protect the people) now became a sign of a pact between the people with supernatural abilities and the devil. To justify the killings Christianity and its proxy secular institutions deemed witchcraft as being associated to wild Satanic ritual parties in which there was much naked dancing, orgy sex, and cannibalistic infanticide.
Witch-hunts were seen across early modern Europe, but the most significant area of witch-hunting in modern Europe is often considered to be southwestern Germany.Template:Citation needed Germany was a late starter in terms of the numbers of trials, compared to other regions of Europe. Witch-hunts first appeared in large numbers in southern France and Switzerland during the 14th and 15th centuries. The peak years of witch-hunts in southwest Germany were from 1561 to 1670. The first major persecution in Europe, when witches were caught, tried, convicted, and burned in the imperial lordship of Wiesensteig in southwestern Germany, is recorded in 1563 in a pamphlet called "True and Horrifying Deeds of 63 Witches".
In Denmark, the burning of witches increased following the reformation of 1536. Christian IV of Denmark, in particular, encouraged this practice, and hundreds of people were convicted of witchcraft and burnt. In the North Berwick witch trials in Scotland, over 70 people were accused of witchcraft on account of bad weather when James VI of Scotland, who shared the Danish king's interest in witch trials, sailed to Denmark in 1590 to meet his betrothed Anne of Denmark.
Current scholarly estimates of the number of people executed for witchcraft vary between about 40,000 and 100,000.
During early 18th century, the practice subsided. The last executions for witchcraft in England had taken place in 1682, when Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards were executed at Exeter. Jane Wenham was among the last subjects of a typical witch trial in England in 1712, but was pardoned after her conviction and set free. Janet Horne was executed for witchcraft in Scotland in 1727. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 saw the end of witchcraft itself as a legal offence in Britain: those accused under the new Act were restricted to people who falsely pretended to be able to procure spirits, generally being the most dubious professional fortune tellers and mediums, and punishment was light. In Switzerland Anna Göldi was executed in 1782. Poland saw the burning of two women in 1793. Helena Curtens and Agnes Olmanns were the last women to be executed as witches in Germany, in 1738 and Barbara Zdunk in Rößel (West Prussia) in 1811Template:Clarify.