Church targets enemies for elimination

The increased centralization—and focusing of power— of church and state called for the elimination of all "enemies" of the church, not just pagans and healers. In the thirteenth century the Catholic Church embarked on a judicial (law-oriented) campaign known as the Inquisition, which used both government and church to wipe out or convert heretics (non-believers) in western Europe. Before the onset of the witch craze, Jews were especially vulnerable, as were Muslims (followers of Islam), homosexuals, and Gypsies (wandering people who originated in India). Members of these targeted groups were driven to resettle in eastern and southern Europe. Many of the same accusations that later fueled the hysteria against witches were initially aimed at these peoples. Charged with making pacts with the devil, eating children, and murdering Christians, they were often tortured to the point of confessing to crimes they did not commit. The word synagogue (a Jewish place of worship) was actually redefined to describe a time and place of devil worship. The word Sabbath, traditionally associated with the Jewish day of rest, came to symbolize large group meetings between witches and the devil. Even the stereotype of a witch was borrowed from the racist caricature (distorted representation of certain physical features) of Jews and Arabs as having extremely large, crooked noses. These were but a few ways in which differences were transformed into concrete fears.

Though Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, and Gypsies were not actually a political threat, they were used by church and government officials to stir up suspicion and violence during the

Witches often showed up in literature as ugly, frightening women who took pleasure in the downfall of others, such as in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Reproduced by permission of the Gamma Liaison Network.

Inquisition. Thus Christian leaders gained supremacy through growing bigotry and intolerance toward "outsiders" or anyone else who might threaten the status quo (the existing state of affairs). This campaign caused great fear among the common people, preparing the way for the persecution of witches. Witchcraft had been added to the list of official punishable heresies (beliefs that go against the teachings of the church) in 1320, but witches did not become a primary target for more than a century.

Then in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII (1432-1492) issued a Papal Bull (an edict or proclamation) that called for the eradication of witches and other heathens. Although many such edicts had previously been issued, the Papal Bull of 1484 had the advantage of a recent invention, the printing press, which spread anti-witch hysteria like wildfire throughout Europe.

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