Although the frequency and severity of witch hunts varied across Europe, widespread misogynistic attitudes and the influence of the Catholic Church caused a general increase in witch hunting; by 1650 however, the Scientific Revolution and the end of religious conflict brought about a large decline in such events.
Misogyny in Europe was extremely common at the time. Women were believed to be inferior, and this effected witch hunts in a couple ways. First, it meant that women were believed to be easily tempted by the devil, making them more likely to be witches acting under his control. Secondly, this meant that women were easy targets when it came to witch hunts. They did not have as much power or influence as men and therefore were more susceptible to accusations and subsequent conviction. Women were also often thought of as a sort of healer or midwife for the communities, jobs that were both associated with some sort of magic. This meant again that they were easy and obvious targets when things went wrong in their communities. Attitudes towards women made them likely to be accused of witchcraft and contributed to the rise in witch hunting.
Additionally, Medieval Christianity played a large part in the rise in witch hunts during the time. As previously mentioned, women were thought of as easily tempted by the devil. Medieval Christianity played up the power of the devil and linked the devil to witchcraft. This created a huge fear of the devil and, by transitive property, of witchcraft too. People were already on edge about the devil, so when unexplainable events occurred in a community, witchcraft was often the first explanation. In 1517, Luther’s 95 Theses marked the start of the Protestant Reformation, which probably caused even more fear and uncertainty in many parts of Europe. This again may have set people on edge, making them feel a need to regain control, and led to a rise in witch hunts.
While witch hunting was on the rise for a long time, like all trends it began to slow down. A large reason for this was the Scientific Revolution. Descartes placed a huge emphasis on reason,…