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Necromancy And Folk Beliefs Revision Notes

History Notes > Witch-craft and witch-hunting in Early Modern Europe (OS8) Notes

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Possible questions

To what extent could the diabolisation of witchcraft alter belief in fairies and other folk traditions? (2017)
What benefits did individuals experience through interacting with beings from the realm of spirits? (2018)


Witchcraft gained a specific association in the Early Modern witch-craze: malefice I.e. the premeditated, malevolent use of magic to cause harm, which also involved ritualistic worship of,
and copulation with, the devil
Folk beliefs throughout Europe on magical beings who would often protect communities persisted before and after witch-trials began to grow after the 15th century
Elite demonology began to conflate some of these beliefs with ones of witchcraft, despite lacking the diabolical element as their power was believed to be designated at birth
One common aspect is the sabbath, as many supposed magical beings took part in nocturnal meetings and flight
- heretical groups were also believed to do so, perhaps increasing the malevolent associations

The sabbath
Formation of the malevolent sabbath

Sabbath = 'the nocturnal meeting of witches and sorcerers' (Carlo Ginzburg)
A concept with 'a very long history' (Robin Briggs) when reduced to its core idea of a 'nocturnal meeting', not always associated with witchcraft
European long-standing notion of the deviant or heretical group who would hold such meetings
- usually a socially marginalised 'scapegoat' similar to what witches would become
- I.e. in France in 1321 and 1347 Jews and lepers were accused of poisoning wells and rivers with the plague, and were accused of conspiring at night to do so
Concept of the sabbath thus a way of confirming a local conspiracy and the fear of 'an enemy within' (Ginzburg)
Nocturnal meetings also a means to perform beneficent magic, I.e. the Benandanti who battled against maleficent witches at night
Witchcraft beliefs involve a conflation of these two types of sabbat-like meetings: conspiracies surrounding marginalised groups and the meetings of beneficent / benign groups
- Waldensians, who held secretive meetings at night to avoid authorities, were declared heretical by the Catholic Church in 1184 and began to be depicted as witches, taking part in night-flying and sabbaths
- shows local beliefs being swept up into learned demonology and tainted as evil
Beliefs about the sabbath

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