Early Modern Witchcraft

Witchcraft Teaching Pack

Age Group: 14+

Length: 1hr-1hr 30 minutes

Developed by Gabriela Leddy (University of York)

Learning Outcomes

  • Explore  the threats facing villagers in sixteenth and seventeenth century
  • Analyse a witchcraft pamphlet and identify issues within the text
  • Conceptualize how pamphlets helped spread stereotypes about witches

Context

The witchcraft trials that are discussed here are from what historians deem the early modern period. This period is usually described as occurring in Europe between 1500-1750

England during the early modern period was an era of great change. Separated from the Catholic Church, the English crown, held by Elizabeth and then by James I, was concerned with protecting the Protestant Church within England and re-educating the people in what was deemed the ‘true religion’. This need brought concerned about wider threats to Christianity, which later in the period focused on the lurking sense of the threat of Satan. While the concept of witchcraft was not new, the perception of it changed from a general sense of folklore to witchcraft being the primary sin against the First Commandment, also known as idolatry.

Throughout early modern England, thousands of people were accused of witchcraft. Although estimates are hard because of lost records and the accusations often being settled out of court, most historians have estimated around 10,000 people being tried for witchcraft in England throughout the period. It has also been estimated that about 90% of these were women.

Women were considered more likely to be witches because of their assumed weakness of spirit and body. Historians such as Alan Macfarlane and Keith Thomas (see related reading) have traced this predisposition to women being accused of witchcraft to both ideas about gender as a whole and that witchcraft accusations were often about conflict between female neighbours. It should be kept in mind that the witch was often a local threat to which, if someone was accused, would be a daily interaction between witch and potential victim.

It should also be noted that the belief in witchcraft was a perfectly logical and wide-spread belief in this period. This society based its ideas of reality on Scripture, often quoting it in both discussions of witchcraft and science, as well as all other aspects of life. Witchcraft was believed to exist and be present in the world by both the illiterate villager and the learned scholar.

(A blog post written by Gabriela on her experience of teaching this workshop can be found here)

Teaching Pack

Early Modern Witchcraft Teaching Pack

Powerpoint

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