However, if one really wants to see where hatred and fear of witchcraft begins, one need only look at German history. If there was a World Cup for witch-burnings, the Germans would be undisputed Weltmeister.
While those suspected of witchcraft had been persecuted across the Holy Roman Empire as early as the 12th and 13th centuries, things really didn’t kick off until the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum, or ‘Hammer of Witches’ in 1487.
This deeply misogynistic text was written by a priest called Heinrich Kramer in response to his failed attempts to persecute some ‘witches’ in the Tirol region.
In the book, he laid out an argument in favour of the existence of witches, gave a legal and Biblical grounding for their persecution and instructed the reader on the best way to detect witchcraft.
It goes without saying that this was a deeply flawed work. Even the Inquisition felt the need to publish a statement shortly after the publication of the book, condemning it and stating that it didn’t reflect Church teaching.
Unfortunately, a new publishing industry hungry for content took the work and spread it across the German lands, finding its way into the homes of every mayor and sheriff across the country.
The Malleus Maleficarum effectively gave communities a rubber stamp for acts of mass hysteria. All it took was one person with a grudge to set a spark amongst kindling, accusing someone (usually an older woman) of cursing or hexing them.
Nothing much has changed in the media world these past centuries it seems...
Global warming skeptics are the new witches