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Reign of the Demonologists

The Diabolist Logic of Torture Trials in Early Modern Europe

By Max Dashu

After 1560 the witch-hunters’ reign of terror escalated precipitously all over Europe. [Larner, 22] Even in the far reaches of Russia, the sorcery-obsessed tsar Ivan IV was mounting witch trials under repressive new laws. From 1560 to 1700 the persecution would ravage most of the continent. It flamed and burned, sank to embers, flared again, and again; climaxing, it sagged, then sharply reasserted itself, and slowly, at long last, waned. The climax of torture-trials and burnings varied from country to country, even region to region. Throughout, the church-generated doctrine of satanism governed the witch-hunters’ war on women.

The conflict between Protestant and Catholic occasioned a brief lull in the persecution. Then came “a massive resumption of trials,” beginning in the newly Protestant regions. [Monter, c 91]

Lutherans and Calvinists incited witch burnings in Germany and Switzerland from the 1540s on. In the same period, a big upsurge of witch trials swept England and Scotland in the wake of royal witch Acts. The Catholic reformation stepped up its own persecutions, affecting Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain. In the Spanish-ruled Low Countries, emperor Philippe II made inquisitorial methods official in 1570, defining sorcery as lèse majesté divine: “treason against god.” [Muchembled, 22]

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