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The Renaissance Era

Kimberly White English IV Ms. Keeney 12 January 2010 To Be, or Not to Be… A Renaissance Witch Indescribable is the atrocity that people created during the time period of 1485-1603, that would lead them to the witch-hunting times (also known as the burning times). The Renaissance Era was a time of rebirth, of new thoughts, knowledge, philosophy, and so on. However, dark histories, stories, and tales lie within this bountiful time. The belief in witches and witchcraft was supposed to have been an accepted truth of life in Shakespeare’s era but instead they were executed.

Many people, intellectual and commoner alike, spoke for the existence of witchcraft seeing its demonic ways as something palpable. Yet others opposed it, saying that it was a mere fancy and fantasy of man’s imagination. Life for mostly women of that time was questionable, and sometimes even short. There have been many varying reports of how many woman (and an even smaller amount of men) were accused and executed of being witches or doing witchcraft. Apparently, there were supposed to be signs of how to spot such witches and heretics of the Church.

A myriad of questions can be asked about witches and witchcraft such as: what was the ifference between a white and black witch, were most witches women, and so on. Many people made it famous over the witch-hunt craze by writing books or manuals to hunt witches while others wrote books showing how the existence of witches was preposterous. No matter where one went during this time, however, there was always someone’s accusation or opinion to be heard. There is much controversy over the subject of witchcraft in the time period of the English Renaissance of whether or not it truly existed.

So it would make the worthwhile of those who have a curious nature o know if witches and witchcraft between the time period of 1485-1603 can truly be validated with the given knowledge. To begin this excavation back into the history of witches and witchcraft of the English Renaissance, one must find the signs pertaining to witches. Some people may ask what the signs are that make a witch a witch. Among the many attributes of the witch, most were old women (even though children and young women were blamed too), poor, had no men or any person in particular to protect them, were single or widowed with many pets (familiars).

This is merely a quick sum of a witch, since many ere described, as Peter Stearns would state, “They were popularly described as old women (but sometimes children and young women) who convened for sabbath (midnight assemblies), worshipped, engaged in sexual orgies, and made pacts with the devil (thus renouncing Christian Baptism), in return for which they acquired powers to control natural forces such as storms, destroy crops, harm cattle, or incapacitate human genitals” (284).

Most of these accusations were considered fantasy due to the fact that they could be explained as some natural phenomena unknown during the English Renaissance, but seeing as how they could not explain onsidered harsh as well as sparse, women were expected to make home remedies and medicines to cure daily ills, these women were well sought for their herbal knowledge and the Church developed this into a fear and as part of the definition of use of witchcraft, “‘Wise women’ also used herbs for this purpose.

The use of herbs and plants such as mandrake, datura, monkshood, cannabis, belladonna, henbane and hemlock were common ingredients in brews and ointments for medical purposes. As the fear of witches and witchcraft increased in Europe the Catholic Church included in its definition of witchcraft anyone with knowledge of herbs as hose who used herbs for cures did so only through a pact with the Devil, either explicit or implicit. ‘ Possession of such herbs, many of which did have psychedelic effects, resulted in execution by burning in Europe. So basically, if a woman was trying to create a herbal paste to ease a sore or cut, it could be used against her as evidence for being a witch. These were dangerous times for women, for they were the ones who made these ailments to ease the suffering of people, even if some of the plants were not exactly the most beneficial. Just about any woman could be found and tried as a witch, nearly no matter the age, or the reason. Men were also accused of as witches however, these cases are sparse and few in between.

Most of the men accused were due to their association with witches or the use of familiars in bewitching. So far witchcraft cannot truly be validated, the descriptions sound like a typical beggar, a midwife or herbal user, or a pet-crazed person. Not many people in the English Renaissance Era realized that there was a difference between witches, the “white” witch and the “black” witch. The white witch was more, in reality of the time, the midwife or female herbal doctor who had practiced under a superior mentor, “… White Witches – were seen as helpful, if not invaluable, members of the community.

Their knowledge of the healing properties of various plants and herbs were often passed down through the generations. Their role was to provide help for people in need. ” These were the witches who helped the people, but later on became indistinguishable from the black witch that terrified the hearts of the people. The black witches had the familiars and had made the pact with the Devil to use cursed magic, “The ‘Black’ witches were seen as those who practiced the secret arts in order to do physical or practical harm to others.

This distinction etween ‘White’ and ‘Black’ witches was lost during the hysteria of the era of the Renaissance witch hunts”. These were the witches that could harm people, cause storms, fly through the air, and so on as afore mentioned. A big thing of the English Renaissance was the Church’s view of witchcraft. Naturally, the Church has to get involved and make matters Just as unbearable as they were before. One of the books written at the time was the Malleus Maleficarum or The Witch’s Hammer by the two Inquisitors named Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger.

This was supposed to be the guide to hunting witches and within its pages t also tells of how witches and witchcraft is a terrible thing and the work of the Devil, “And this, indeed, is indicated, according to S. Isidore, by the word. For they are called witches (maleficae) on the account of the enormity of their crimes” (75). Many of the women accused of witchcraft were wholly innocent of accusations of having cursed others or of doing some sort of harm.

Most were Just at the wrong place at the wrong misfortune that befell the people. This whole book or manual, as it was used as such, told of many accounts of how God allows the Devil to commit evil in order to perfect he universe and witches are merely his tools, “How God permits evil to be; even though He does not wish it; but He permits it for the wonderful perfecting of the universe… ” (85). In this case why blame the witches for all the things that go wrong, why not blame God?

He permitted the all of the terrible things that happen to people and He didn’t have to either. Furthermore, the Inquisitors, Judges, Juries, and anyone pertaining to the court or as witch-hunters felt safe against the malicious magic of the witches due to that, as stated by Kramer and Sprenger, “Thirdly, it is said that hey cannot injure Inquisitors and other officials, because they dispense public justice”(88). How terribly unfortunate for the woman to receive “public Justice”.

Most of the Malleus Maleficarum is full of text stating how God allows the Devil to use the witches to help clean up the Universe, how people can spot witches, how to tell whether a person was killed by witchcraft and so on, “For example, doctors may perceive from circumstances such as the patient’s age, healthy complexion, and the reaction of his eyes, that his disease does not result from any defect of the blood, or he stomach, or any other infirmity; and they therefore Judge that it is not due to any natural defect, but to some extrinsic cause.

And since the extrinsic cause cannot be any poisonous infection, which would be accompanied by ill humors in the blood and stomach, they have sufficient reason to Judge that it is due to witchcraft” (87). Any number of reasons could be given for the death of a person in the English Renaissance, from the Black Death, malnutrition, ingestion of poisonous plants, to natural causes. Even diseases could be used as a probable diagnosis for the death of a person, considering they were running rampant all across Europe.

The Church is never the last to “Jump-the-gun” and start an unnecessary panic such as what it did during the English Renaissance that caused the unneeded deaths of around a thousand or more people (mostly women who didn’t have much power in the eyes of the Church). This use of the Church’s power and authority to exterminate “witches” with an Inquisition is not the first time, so why should people believe whole-heartedly what the Church says.

One of the popular opinions of the time belonged to Reginald Scot who wrote his famous book on the falsity of witchcraft as well as what the women suffered and so on called, The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Scot did research of his own and saw that the accusers were basing their accusations on flimsy evidence which was then used in court. Naturally, he was countered by churchmen who would then argue, using phrases from the Bible, that witches did indeed exist and were here to do the work of the Devil.

Reginald Scot was not Just some random English Renaissance man, but was well respected as a scholar who had an active lifestyle, “Here we have a man of legal training, an active man in his own circuit, a man full of little businesses and yet of little leisure to give to ‘solid readings’ and the pursuing of obscure authors’ a man ho had a great reputation in his own circles as a scholar and bibliophile, above all a man of intensely spectacle turn of mind” (xxvii).

He did not waste his time on the false notions of others and went straight into research to find out whether or not witchcraft could be proven to exist. Scot attended many trials and took close record usually served for some devious purpose, “In 1590 occurred one of the most famous cases in the whole annals of witchcraft, the trial of Geilles Duncan, Agnes Sampson, John Flan, Barbara Napier, Euphemia McCalyan, and the North Berwick coven. Over eventy persons were implicated in this affair, and we know that there was a deep- laid and widespread conspiracy, high treason being mingled with the sorcery.

The brain which contrived and hidden the hand which directed these plots were those of Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, who was aiming at the throne” (xxi). Greed is a terrible sin, and here it is demonstrated using the feared accusation of witchcraft for the benefit of some other man to gain more power. However, it is not common for one person to use others as a means of “getting ahead” either in riches or for a higher position of power.

The very word “witchcraft” was not only an insult but a very dangerous thing to even mention during the times of the English Renaissance or anywhere outside of Europe for that matter. Anyone who was generally accused of being a “witch” or who did any kind of witchcraft usually ended up getting executed, “Witchcraft in particular was not merely a matter for speculation, but it was a dangerous charge constantly brought at assizes, an offence which, although yet argued and disputed, carried in generality they penalty of death” (xxvii).

Scot was a man of his word, and saw through the crazed ruse of the people surrounding him, eeing that witchcraft doesn’t exist, that it is a mere fantasy or illusion, “He argued, it is true, that many of the feats ascribed to witches were pure fantasy; that the miserable were inveigled and deluded by the archfiend” (xxxi). Just because the mass populace is crazy doesn’t mean that what they all believe to be true is really the truth at all. The people got so caught up in their fright that they ended up ruining and ending the lives of countless others for some odd reason or another.

Scot did not Just end it with the validation of witchcraft, he also wrote down the rules of how to find a witch as well. At around 1562, Queen Elizabeth passed the Elizabethan Witchcraft Act proclaiming that the “witches” were not to be tortured (or forced to confess) and that there crime was not one of heresy and their punishment would be a hanging instead of being burned at the stake. However, before the act could come into place most women were forced to confess to crimes of witchcraft, “Item, if she confesse manie things that are false, and one thing that may be true; she is to be taken and executed upon that confession” (14).

This is basically a trap, the people forcing the woman to confess don’t even truly know if she is telling the truth r lying in the first place. If she is being tortured to confess, she might say anything just to end the pain. Considering that during this time women were a lesser force to be reckoned with, they could get into serious trouble for talking back or misbehaving in any way “unlike a woman”, “Item, the behaviour, looks, becks, and countenance of a woman, are sufficient signes, whereby to presume she is a witch: for alwais they looke downe to the ground, and dare not look a man fool in the face” (15).

It was considered a sign of disrespect in some cases if a woman were to look a man in the eye. Maybe the woman who would look down on the ground knew it would be pointless to argue or stand up for herself against the supreme accusation of being a “witch”. Perhaps one of the most angering laws is one where it states, “Item, their lawe saith, that an uncerteine presumption is sufficient, when a certeine or guilty. It basically says better wrong than right, or better to know you were innocent and dead then guilty and let free.

Many women (and some men) were put to death because there was something wrong (physically or mentally) with them or perhaps Just due to someone’s suspicion. A second opinion belongs to only a slightly well known man named Lambert Daneau who wrote the book (with an extremely long title) A Dialogue of Witches, in foretime named Lot-tellers, and now commonly called Sorcerers. Lambert Daneau is not a very well known man but he was born in 1530 and died in 1595 and was considered one of the most influential people in the Genevan Academy.

In his book on witchcraft, Daneau discusses the idea of witches and such through the point of view of two of the characters, “Lambert Daneau, a French Calvinist theologian and minister, published a treatise on witches in 1574. The book took the form of a dialogue in which one speaker, Theophilus, responded to occasionally skeptical questions presented by the other speaker, Anthony’ (71). Basically, he has the characters discourse the idea of his book, which will hopefully get people to pay attention.

Like many people before and after him, he was a skeptic of the witch-hunting craze that was sweeping across Europe especially during the English Renaissance, “Daneau was led to write an explanation for the high number of witches. He declared the increase of witch activity directly paralleled the increasing wickedness of humanity. This increase in wickedness increases Satan’s power to win souls from God. ” In other words, it wasn’t the witches that were bad or evil, it was everyone, all of the people all added up.

Then, due to the fact that evil was winning the souls of the innocent, the Devil was winning over God on who got the souls. This, in religious prospect, was terrible event. Daneau’s ideas and opinion of witchcraft was so well put that some began to see his views as being important, “The treatise establishes some of the main themes of late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant demonology’ (71). Not many a teacher, preacher, or intellectual can say that their ideas created much of any foothold of thought.

Even Daneau, somewhat similar to the thinking of Queen Elizabeth, saw witchcraft not as heresy, but more of a lack of gratefulness toward God, “Daneau makes this point in his treatise, and he also presents the argument, made by many other protestant writers, that the Devil, despite his great power, could only work within the laws of nature. One of the effects of this line of thought was to make the crime of witchcraft primarily a spiritual offense, consisting in the pact with the Devil” (71). The “witches” of the English Renaissance didn’t have to be burned, they were not going against the will of God but merely made a pact with the Devil.

Just because you made a pact with the Devil does not make it heresy, it is Just a way for God to survive. Without the Devil there would be no God so the “witches” were helping people believe in God again and therefore it is not heresy. Even a faithful member of the Church believes that the “witches and witchcraft” crises is an unnecessary event, Daneau went so far as to write a book on it and taught it to his students when he became a professor. Perhaps the greatest opinion could come from no other than William Shakespeare himself, the bard who wrote many a play near the end of the English Renaissance but during the witch- hunting craze

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