Euro­pean witch per­se­cu­tions oc­curred dur­ing the Dark Ages.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

Un­til the mid-1970s, most scholars be­lieved that the myth of the Witches’ Sab­bath — cen­tral to most witch pan­ics — first emerged in the Me­dieval pe­riod, more specif­i­cally dur­ing the early 14th cen­tury. Tran­scrip­tions of doc­u­ments that sup­pos­edly sup­ported this premise, such as those de­scrib­ing mass tri­als in Toulouse, France, from 1335 to 1350, found their way into the au­thor­i­ta­tive set of orig­i­nal sources on witch pan­ics pub­lished by Joseph Hansen in 1901. The en­dur­ing in­flu­ence of that con­vic­tion is prob­a­bly why Amnesty In­ter­na­tional still calls for coun­tries to “stop the me­dieval witch hunt” or PRI com­pares a re­cent mur­der in Cam­bo­dia of an ac­cused sorcerer to “a scene from a me­dieval witch hunt.”

Yet in 1975, scholar Nor­man Cohn demon­strated that these doc­u­ments were not orig­i­nal and would be most ap­pro­pri­ately de­scribed as early in­stances of re­search fraud. For in­stance, the de­scrip­tion of the Toulouse tri­als in­cludes sev­eral his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­ra­cies, and the orig­i­nal doc­u­ments have never been lo­cated. If one dis­re­gards such du­bi­ous records, there is no ev­i­dence that large-scale witch per­se­cu­tions oc­curred dur­ing the “Dark Ages.” In­stead, the phe­nom­e­non first seems to have ap­peared dur­ing the Re­nais­sance, which his­to­ri­ans typ­i­cally de­scribe as the be­gin­ning of the mod­ern era. In the words of his­to­rian H.R. Trevor-Roper, rather than be­ing me­dieval, witch per­se­cu­tions can be seen as the dark side of the Re­nais­sance, the Re­for­ma­tion and the sci­en­tific rev­o­lu­tion.

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