Witch Hunt In Modern Europe
The Witch-Hunt in Modern Europe by Brian Levack proved to be an interesting as
well as insightful look at the intriguing world of the European practice of
witchcraft and witch-hunts. The book offers a solid, reasonable interpretation
of the accusation, prosecution, and execution for witchcraft in Europe between

1450 and 1750. Levack focuses mainly on the circumstances from which the
witch-hunts emerged, as this report will examine. The causes of witch-hunting
have been sometimes in publications portrayed differently from reality. The
hunts were not prisoner escapee type hunts but rather a hunt that involved the
identification of individuals who were believed to be engaged in a secret
activity. Sometimes professional witch-hunters carried on the task, but judicial
authorities performed most. The cause of most of these hunts is the multi-causal
approach, which sees the emergence of new ideas about the witches and changes in
the criminal law statutes. Both point to major religious changes and a lot of
social tension among society. The intellectual foundations of the hunts were
attributed to the witchís face-to-face pact with the devil and the periodic
meetings of witches to engage in practices considered to be barbaric and
heinous. The cumulative concept of witchcraft pointed immediately to the devil,
the source of the magic and the one most witches adored. There was strong belief
then that witches made pacts with the devil. Some would barter their soul to the
devil in exchange for a gift or a taste of well being. Many believed that these
witches observed a nocturnal Sabbath where they worshipped the devil and paid
their homage to him. They were also accused of being an organization known for
its cannibalistic practices of infanticide incest. Another component of this
cumulative concept was the belief of the flight of witches. The belief for this
was contributed to by the assumption that witches took flight from their homes
to goto nocturnal meetings without their absence from home being detected. The
belief in "flying night witches" was shared by many cultures in the modern
world. These women were referred to as strigae, which was one of the many Latin
terms for witches. As the reader first opens the legal foundations of
witch-hunting, one finds that historically it was a judicial process from
discovery to elimination. Levack states that before the thirteenth century

European courts used a system of criminal procedure that made all crimes
difficult to prosecute. This system was known as the accusatorial system and
existed predominantly in northwestern Europe. When the thirteenth century came
into being, a new technique, which gave more human judgement in the criminal
process, was adopted in Western Europe secular courts. This new court was known
as inquisitorial courts. The only difference between the new system and the old
when suits were begun by accusation was that the accuser was no longer
responsible for the actual prosecution of the case (pg. 72). The new procedures
were not in reality an improvement due to the fact that the standards of proof
according to inquisitorial procedure were very demanding. Since the adoption of
inquisitorial procedure represented a shift from reliance upon manís rational
judgement, jurists agreed that it was absolutely necessary for judges to have
conclusive proof of guilt before passing sentence (pg. 79). They relied on Roman
law and based their conclusions on two eyewitnesses and the confession of the
accused. The development of full judicial power given to the state in the
prosecution of a crime was a major event. From the early times, the secular
courts in Europe had taken part in the witch-hunts, and now as the hunt
developed further along, the secular courts grew an even greater role in the
process. This caused a decline in ecclesiastical court participation due to the
fact that governments defined witchcraft as a secular crime, and the temporal
courts of some countries had a monopoly on the prosecution. The prosecution of
magic was a "mixed jurisdiction" taken on by both courts but when convicted
the guilty were executed under secular law. Since secular courts had
jurisdiction over magic and maleficium they primarily assumed the significant
role in prosecuting witches. As the hunt gathered steam in the sixteenth
century, the developments resulted in a reduction of clerical jurisdiction and
an increase in the amount of secular concern with it. The main reason was the
defining of witchcraft as a secular crime. All of these factors led to a
large-scale witch-hunts in Scotland but in some countries the retention of
ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the crime led to a decline in the number of
prosecutions. Local court decisions during this time also