What was the Witch Craze in Europe?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The European Witch Craze began in the mid-1400s and lasted for two centuries. During this time, Europeans executed between 200,000 to 500,000 "witches," of whom 85% were women. The impetus for this craze was a papal inquisition into Catharism, a movement within Christianity which the Pope had labelled as heresy. During the inquisition, thousands of Cathars admitted to flying on poles and casting spells--thus the crime of witchcraft became clearly defined. Over the next two centuries, witches were actively hunted across Europe, especially in England, Scotland and France. From the 1640s on, the number of witchcraft trials began to sharply decline, a move which historians believe was spurred by the beginning of the Enlightenment, a movement which emphasized reason, logic and humanitarianism.