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Medieval Europe was torn by cultural, religious and political strife. Communities were plagued with epidemics and famine, and life was generally bleak for many. Most Europeans found solace in the mainstream religious authority of the Catholic Church, but others sought religious ecstasy through less popular means. Throughout Europe, groups of Jews and Christians formed secret societies that incorporated unique rituals and dogmas. In France and Spain, Jews formed an esoteric school of thought called Kabbalah. In northern Europe, some returned to Druid and Wiccan practices despite the threat persecution. Though many of these religious communities eventually disbanded, they expanded the scope of what was considered religiously acceptable behavior. Mystics introduced new ways of understanding mainstream religions. In addition, many mystical communities offered save havens to women, the poor, and social outcasts.
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