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«chapter 27 s i xte e n t h - ce n t u ry re l i g i o u s re f o r m a n d t h e w i tc h - h u n ts gary k. waite Was there an association between ...»

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OUP UNCORRECTED PROOF – FIRST PROOF, 15/10/2012, SPi

chapter 27

s i xte e n t h - ce n t u ry

re l i g i o u s re f o r m a n d

t h e w i tc h - h u n ts

gary k. waite

Was there an association between the Protestant and Catholic Reformations and the

revival of intense witch-hunting in the late sixteenth century? While the wars of religion of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries tended to suppress witchhunting, the tensions that gave rise to the persecution of religious dissidents and the religious wars were similar if not identical to those that fuelled the witch-hunts.

There was, however, no direct causal connection between confessional conflict and the burning of witches. This chapter will therefore discuss the role of religious reform, zeal, and conflict, polemical sermonizing, demonizing rhetoric, and changing views of women in the intensification of witch-hunting. It will highlight the relationship between the prosecution of witches and that of other heretics, and discuss the relevance of both spiritualism and Biblicism to the rise and fall of prosecutions.

27.1 The Scholarly Debate

Ever since social historians exposed the inadequacy of Hugh Trevor-Roper’s 1967 argument that the Protestant and Catholic Reformations were directly responsible for the intense witch-hunting that began in the 1560s, few scholars have revisited the subject. Historical attention has turned instead to identifying local social pressures to prosecute witchcraft.1 Nevertheless, since the demonological construct that turned 1 H. R. Trevor-Roper, The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Harmondsworth, 1969); see also Alan Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional

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The Reformations inaugurated a severe crisis in religious belief that, combined with social and economic crises, created an environment favourable to scapegoating. While the Protestants’ emphasis on divine providence should have led to scepticism about the diabolical elements of the witches’ sabbath, it also escalated concern over false religion, idolatry, ‘superstition’, and apostasy. All clergy sought to reform popular religiosity by depriving ordinary folk of the preternatural weapons they had traditionally used against magical and demonic assault in favour of approved religious practices. Reformers also raised religious expectations for laypeople, since they were to be as godly as the

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52 Gary K. Waite, ‘Apocalyptical Terrorists or a Figment of Governmental Paranoia? Re-evaluating the Religious Terrorism of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptists in the Netherlands and Holy Roman Empire, 1535–1570’, in Anselm Schubert, Astrid von Schlachta, and Michael Driedger, eds., Grenzen des Täufertums/Boundaries of Anabaptism: Neue Forschungen (Gütersloh, 2009), 105–25; Penny Roberts, ‘Arson, Conspiracy and Rumour in Early Modern Europe’, Continuity and Change, 12 (1997), 9–29; and J. Dillinger, ‘Terrorists and Witches: Popular Ideas of Evil in the Early Modern Period’, History of European Ideas, 30 (2004), 167–82.

53 William G. Naphy, Plagues, Poisons and Potions: Plague-Spreading Conspiracies in the Western Alps, c. 1530–1640 (Manchester, 2002), 199.

54 Rita Voltmer, ‘ “Hört an neu schrecklich abentheuer/von den unholden ungeheuer”—Zur multimedialen Vermittlung des Fahndungsbildes “Hexerei” im Kontext konfessioneller Polemik’, in Karl Härter, Gerhard Sälter, and Eva Wiebel, eds., Sicherheitsdiskurse—Kriminalität, Sicherheit und Strafe in der Repräsentation öffentlicher Diskurse (15.-20. Jahrhundert) (Frankfurt, 2009), 89–163.

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57 See Gerald Strauss, Luther’s House of Learning: Indoctrination of the Young in the German Reformation (Baltimore, MD, 1978).

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63 Waite, ‘Naked Harlots’.

64 See Andrew C. Fix, Fallen Angels: Balthasar Bekker, Spirit Belief, and Confessionalism in the Seventeenth Century Dutch Republic (Dordrecht, 1999), and Prophecy and Reason: The Dutch Collegiants

in the Early Enlightenment (Princeton, 1991), as well as Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment:

Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford, 2001).

65 Gary K. Waite, ‘From David Joris to Balthasar Bekker? The Radical Reformation and Scepticism towards the Devil in the Early Modern Netherlands’, Fides et Histori, 28 (1996), 5–26; Hans de Waardt, ‘Religie, duivelspact en toverij’, Tijdschrift voor geschiedenis, 118 (2005), 400–15.

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