Witch trials in the early modern period
The period of witch trials in Early Modern Europe were a widespread moral panic suggesting that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom during the 15th to 18th centuries.The trials were sparked by the belief that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christianity. Those accused of witchcraft were portrayed as being worshippers of the Devil, who engaged in such acts as malevolent sorcery at meetings known as Witches' Sabbaths. Many people were subsequently accused of being witches, and were put on trial for the crime, with varying punishments being applicable in different regions and at different times.While early trials fall still within the Late Medieval period, the peak of the witch hunt was during the period of the European wars of religion, peaking between about 1580 and 1630.The witch hunts declined in the early 18th century. In Great Britain, their end is marked by the Witchcraft Act of 1735. But sporadic witch-trials continued to be held during the second half of the 18th century, the last known dating to 1782, though a prosecution was commenced in Tennessee as recently as 1833.Over the entire duration of the phenomenon of some three centuries, an estimated total of between 40,000 and 60,000 people were executed. Among the best known of these trials were the Scottish North Berwick witch trials, Swedish Torsåker witch trials and the American Salem witch trials. Among the largest and most notable were the Trier witch trials (1581–1593), the Fulda witch trials (1603–1606), the Würzburg witch trial (1626–1631) and the Bamberg witch trials (1626–1631).The sociological causes of the witch-hunts have long been debated in scholarship. Mainstream historiography sees the reason for the witch craze in a complex interplay of various factors that mark the early modern period, including the religious sectarianism in the wake of the Reformation, besides other religious, societal, economic and climatic factors.