European witch persecutions occurred during the Dark Ages.
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.