Acknowledge witchcraft as a crime

The Reformation and Counter Reformation also contributed towards the variation that existed in the judicial prosecution in Europe. Keith Thomas believed that in areas where the Reformation had taken hold, such as Germany, people no longer had rituals and superstitions to believe in as Protestantism had condemned them. As there was no scientific explanation for events to replace these superstitions, people turned to a belief in witchcraft17. Furthermore, Protestantism defined Christianity for the individual, making them more involved and informed.

As a result, the Reformation created 'a specific image of the witch as a servant of Satan, as an enemy of God'18 that had not existed before. This allowed people to identify those who were not living by the new moral codes, as witches that needed expelling from society. The Reformation therefore helped to establish the belief in diabolism that led to some regions seeing high levels of judicial prosecution. In countries and areas where 'Christian militancy and religious intolerance'19 existed, witchcraft trials were greater in number.

Not only were people accused of witchcraft in these areas for practicing maleficium, they were also accused if they were 'white witches' supposedly doing good. This is because Christianity that followed the Reformation and Counter Reformation was opposed to all superstition, and therefore believed that the white witches had also received their powers from the devil, and deserved punishing. In Spain and Italy for example, people were tried for witchcraft as a result of heresy, as the Inquisitors were trying to outlaw superstition and correct immoral behaviour.

They relied heavily on the bible for justification of this however, using passages such as 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'20 to encourage accusations. Although these factors made witch-hunts more likely in some regions, there were exceptions. Essex for example experienced a witch-hunt in 1645 despite England as a whole not having the preconditions that would usually make it possible. It was a result of circumstances particular to the time however that allowed it to happen.

Matthew Hopkins, a professional witch-hunter began work accusing people of witchcraft, sometimes based on a demonological pact and finding evidence to prove their guilt. The Civil War also caused disruption to the assizes, which resulted in trials being held in secular courts, where torture was illegally used as it was not being centrally controlled. This led to 900 people being executed in nine months. Overall therefore, it can be seen that there was great variation in judicial prosecution of witchcraft within Early Modern Europe as a result of different circumstances existing in different areas.

It can be seen that in general, high prosecution levels occurred if the elite in an area had a belief in demonological witchcraft, combined with an autonomous judicial system that allowed torture to be practiced, and where the Reformation and Counter Reformation had had a large impact. Although witch-hunts could occur when not all of the factors were present, in France for example, the hunts were often localised and sporadic, rather than continual and widespread. When the three factors all existed in one place, such as in the Holy Roman Empire, they complemented one another, intensifying the witch-hunts.

This is because torture can only occur in an area of a decentralised judicial system, and torture is what created confessions. These confessions would only then be effective in creating a witch-hunt within areas where the elite held a demonological view of witchcraft. It can therefore be seen that prosecutions in countries such as England were limited, as there was a central judicial system and not a common belief in demonology. It was the Inquisition in Spain and Italy that prevented high judicial prosecution, as they did not even acknowledge witchcraft as a crime – it was considered heresy.