A Cultural History of Witches

“The Printing Press, the Reformation, Cauldrons, and Broomsticks”
While Western concepts of magic and witchcraft had roots in Classical, Hebrew, Christian, and Persian sources, educated people in the early Middle Ages were not overly concerned with quaint beliefs in “faerie,” magical “tricks,” or the practice of natural medicine by “misguided” female practitioners. But once Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) had posited a necessary connection between magic and demons (agreeing in this with the opinion of St. Augustine in the fifth century), the stage was set—first for heresy trials and later for an explosion of fear and panic. Ignited by the zeal of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, local religious leaders and jurists in the late 1400s through the early 1600s, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, competed in their efforts to discover and punish witches, while the new technology of the printing press fed the fires with the images and stereotypes we still respond to today.

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