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Witchcraft is defined as the practice of magic, use of spells, and the invocation of spirits. Throughout church history, witchcraft has become a prevalent topic dating back to as early as 560 B.C. when it is first mentioned in the Old Testament. During these earlier times persecution of witchcraft was rare because many people had been practicing it and it was just seen as another one of the multitude of religions in the ancient world.Then, in the 1400s, when the church had become dominant, people began to refer back to Old Testament in seek of guidance and morals.
Many of these bible passages were misinterpreted and people twisted their true meanings. They believed what they were doing was right and beneficial to their society. Religion was taken very seriously at this time and rumors of witchcraft began to spread. An eruption of persecutions had been exploited by many who used the fear of others to their own benefit. Witchcraft was no longer just a rumor it was a way of manipulation of society to put someone to death. Innocent people were put on trial for witchcraft and were brutally tortured until the point where they would make up stories about their magical powers and falsely admit to the practice of it.
Going into the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries the church had split into the Protestants and Catholics. They launched many campaigns which led to the death of thousands of innocent people persecuted for witchcraft. In the chaos, there were many people who began rumors of witchcraft about people they didn’t like or political competition. Witchcraft became a way for these evil people to eliminate their opponents through fake claims against them. Witchcraft has always been a great problem in church history and although overlooked is of great importance. The “witches” people persecuted were no more than scapegoats. The witches were blamed for others failures and miseries. For, example a person may be executed for witchcraft because they were blamed for cursing a couple that could not bear a child. Witches may also be blamed for other negatives such as poor harvest and bad weather conditions.
Many forms of execution had been used for the persecuted but the most common form was burning them at the stake. The people accused were easily single women as a result of how witches are depicted in tales and myths. More than just misunderstanding, society was in major confusion because fear of witches was so highly promoted. In 1692 a mass hysteria occurred in Salem, Massachusetts well known as the Salem Witch Trials. During this event 20 innocent people were accused of witchcraft tried and hung. After this event a majority of the world began to realize that there great fear was all in their head and the accusation of witches started to die down. Although persecutions of people practicing witchcraft and dark arts continue in some countries today.
We should care about the accusations of witchcraft in church history because it was a massacre of the innocence. Society had been misled through confusion and following Old Testament passages to the extreme. In a passage from Leviticus it states, “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:27). This passage as part of the law of moses was followed strictly and was reason people thought mindless killing of people they believed to be practicing witchcraft was good.
Another bible passage from Deuteronomy clearly states, “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). These ideas allowed for many religions and cultures to be persecuted as witchcraft due to a vast amount of aspects that may allow people to deem you a witch.
Johannes Junius, a catholic layman, was one of an estimated 300-600 people executed in a particularly vicious wave of witch trials known as the Bamberg witch trials, which took place between 1626 and 1631 in Germany. It was one of the most intense in Europe and no one was safe from being accused. Johannes was born in 1573 and was executed on August 6, 1628. He had been the mayor of Bamberg for twenty years when he was arrested. While there is not much information on Johannes himself, his trial and torture was recorded in great detail. He is a striking example of the rich and powerful falling victim to witch accusations, as he was a highly influential public figure due to his roles as mayor, counsellor and landlord.
Johannes is one of the most interesting victims of witch trials in 17th century, as he left a fascinating and touching letter to his daughter Veronica in which he detailed and condemned the torture he had endured. “Many hundred thousand times good night, my daughter Veronica so dear to my heart. Innocent I came to jail, innocent I was tortured, innocent I must die. For whoever comes to the house [where witches are examined] either must become a witch or be tortured for so long that he claims something pulled from his imagination, and, God have mercy, figures out something to say. I want to tell you how things have gone for me…” He eventually, like many others accused of witchcraft, created a story about how he was a witch. In another one of his letters to Veronica he states, “Now, my dear child, see in what hazard I stood and still stand. I must say that I am a witch, though I am not. Must now renounce God, though I have never done it before. Day and night I was deeply troubled, but at last there came to me a new idea… I would myself think of something and say it. It were surely better that I just say it with mouth and words, even though I had not really done it; and afterwards I would confess it to the priest, and let those answer for it who compel me to do it… And so I made my confession, as follows; but it was all a lie…” He was then later burned at the stake knowing their was no way to get out of his condemnation.
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