Tolls of the Craft

A Look into 16th Century Witchcraft and On

Artwork from the Salem Trials. 

Milan, Italy, 1608. Francesco Maria Guazzo sat in concentration with intent of enlightenment, quill in hand, prepared to compose precisely 345 pages. A man before, approximately 121 years earlier, sat in the same position, by the name of Heinrich Kramer, to birth Malleus Maleficarum. Little did Heinrich or Francesco know in that moment that their workings would set to inspire men and women alike in a widely controversial topic: witch hunting. Specifically, witch hunting, witchcraft, pacts with Satan himself, and a classification of demons.

It was never a safe year for those with alternative beliefs or practices in old magick or dark arts, though 1428-1890 were especially precarious. From Southern and Western Europe grew the machinations of biblical townsfolk and dwellers alike to rid the world of any source of supposed evil. Evil comes in many forms and, through hype, rumour or hysteria, it was found in nearly every off-putting attribute displayed by any inhabitant. Via common natural illness, attire choice, sexual prowess or a slight criminal act of petty thievery; this truly was assumed to be work of darker forces. And what of when the word around town holds significant credibility?

Francesco Maria Guazzo was a member of one of the most notorious and oldest Catholic orders. His many years of service, along with his respected name and firsthand written spiritual accounts, was a supporting piece in the public's belief of his witch hunting guide. Between personally articulated exorcisms on famed bishops and a natural inclination for study in Demonology, he was a contributing factor in future endeavors to uncover and diminish demonic interference on earth.

1620 seemed to be the thrice wave of interest, as inspiration was plucked from Malleus Maleficarum and Compendium Maleficarum and, from the ashes, rose Instructio por formandis processibus in causis strigum. Not only was this a handbook in hunting but, additionally, it was a key factor used in debunking possible haunts within individuals themselves. Roman Inquisitors believed strongly in a combined team of spiritual healers, men of God, and medical practitioners to out rule any tomfoolery or mistaken diagnosis. They were the first band of notable Witch hunters to go about their means in ways that did not spiral out of control, such as previous instances. From 1620-1650, not a single defendant was sent to burn. This term of relative peace, however, was short-lived.

As the renaissance took an uproar, so did the glorification and emphasis of practising Witchcraft and sorts of occult magick to support supernatural abilities. Though temporarily these practices were seen as a sign of positivity and increase of the right to Free Will, those who were unaccustomed, grew more paranoid, afraid, and violent. Women and sisterhoods of olde practice became the sole target of attack and accusation, resulting in nearly 270 witch trials by the end of the 17th century. Through rigorous torture, being set aflame, drownings, and death by stake, the lives of healers, non-believers, common day nurses and women of vast profession had lost their lives. These were known as The Burning Times, where wiccaphobia (fear of witches) held its place in the homes of most God-fearing people. The countless litigations, from The Chelmsford Witch Trial to The Pendle Witch Trial, from The Paisley Witches to the cases in Salem, in estimate, by the closing of the 18th century, saw a total of 9 million women executed.

Though here and there rumours of witchcraft persisted in different American and European regions, the hordes of hysteria and mass execution died down. It slowly transgressed as those with unorthodox belief systems kept their ideology private and safely so. It was not until the mid 19th century extending into the 21st century that openness with such matters became apparent and comfort levels rose with publicity. In modern North America, dark arts and even white magic are widespread through a younger generation. Slowly it seems traditional biblical beliefs are subsiding as more philosophical questions are asked and more curiosities for the unknown are peaked. Though repose can be seen in forthright convictions, there are still and will most likely always be dangers faced when it comes to an individual's spiritual and religious self. A significant example, belonging to reports as early as 2009, taking place in West Africa and Latin America, is the numerous claims of natural practice Wiccans being beaten and even a few murders taking place in the streets. Specifically, a young mother by the name of Kepari Leniata, age 20, New Guinea, was burned alive for accusations of communication with Satan and black sorcery.

The fact of the matter is harsh: any sentimentalism of self-freedom will be seen as a challenge by those disagreeing. A grand fear of those unaware, ruled by contumacy and strict convention, more often than not is free will and the ability to carry it out however it's pleased. And though there have been fewer incident reports in acts of violence against individuals with a passion for alternative or clandestine forms of creed, the knowledge of history can never be washed away. Lives stolen for the right to believe or to not believe can never be replaced. The answer to previous and current abhorrence towards personal freedom lies in universal tolerance of personal variety and autonomy. In total conclusion, the key is inconsequentiality. 

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Tolls of the Craft