What were the causes of witch hunts during the 16th and 17th centuries?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scholars have offerred many different ideas for why witch hunts happened.  The ones that seem most credible are those that see witch hunts as reactions to social stresses.

Witch hunts sprang up mainly in times of crisis and stress.  These could be times when economic problems were common.  In such cases, supposed witches might be accused of taking actions that caused the economic problems.  The hunts could also be set off by religious conflict.  They were common in areas where there was, or had recently been, conflict between Catholics and followers of the new Protestant sects.

The idea that is most often emphasized is that times of stress lead people to look for scapegoats on whom to blame the problems.  Scholars believe that witch hunts were caused by this psychological need to find someone to blame.