Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (3/12)April 15, 2007
The Witch Hunts: A Historical Aberration
Historical facts demonstrate that the witch hunts were uncharacteristic of Christianity as a whole, though a belief in witches and witchcraft was common. The infamous ‘witch burning era’ is in fact confined to just 250 years of Christian history, and whilst large scale panics took place in many countries it was rare for local church authorities to organize and initiate actual hunts.
The overwhelming majority of witch hunts and accusations were initiated by the common people, many of whom retained pagan superstitions which local Christian teachers often did little or nothing to correct (and sometimes encouraged). But the Christian attitude and response to witchcraft was by no means uniform across Europe, and church authorities in different countries (sometimes even in different regions), treated the issue in a variety of ways.
Tests and punishments for witchcraft inherited from a previous non-Christian legal code were often left intact and used by the Christian administration (at worst), sometimes altered to be more humane or less humane, but sometimes abandoned completely (at best). Those accused of witchcraft in one country could be put to horrific tests and tortures before being executed in various unpleasant ways, whilst in another country they would be subjected to mild questioning before being fined, given a penance, or even dismissed entirely without penalty.
It would be untrue therefore to say that the Christian response to witches and witchcraft was identical to that of the non-Christian population. In some places it was the same, in other places it was worse, whilst in other places it was far better. Nor is it true to say that Christianity was always the deadly enemy of those accused of witchcraft, or even that Christians always believed in it.
The history of witchcraft and Christianity reveals the following interesting facts:
* The earliest Christian records indicate that witchcraft was treated as a superstitious delusion, and medieval Christians actually condemned the punishments inflicted on alleged witches by the pagans and their laws
* A record of Christian opposition to the superstition of witchcraft, and to the punishment of alleged witches, which is centuries long and precedes the rationalist ‘Enlightenment’ era by almost 1,000 years