Witch trials in the early modern period
During the European witch panic, which occurred for nearly three centuries, around 100,000 people were put on trial for heresy. Witches emerged as an issue of public concern at the time of the trials of the Knights Templar in 1307 to 1310. Pope John XXII issued Super illius specula, the first bull against witchcraft, in 1326:
|“||With grief we discover, and the very thought of it wrings our soul with anguish, that there are many Christians only in name; many who turn away from the light which once was theirs, and allow their minds to be so clouded with the darkness of error as to enter into a league with death and a compact with hell. They sacrifice to demons and adore them, they make or cause to be made images, rings, mirrors, phials or some such things in which by the art of magic evil spirits are to be enclosed. From them they seek and receive replies, and ask aid in satisfying their evil desires. For a foul purpose they submit to the foulest slavery. Alas! this deadly malady is increasing more than usual in the world and inflicting greater and greater ravages on the flock of Christ.||”|
Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull against witchcraft in 1484 called Summis desiderantes affectibus ("desiring with supreme ardor"):
|“||Many persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, both internal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving.||”|
Due to the development of printing, this bull had a greater impact on public opinion than bulls issued earlier. It was distributed as part of the book Hammer of Witches (Malleus Maleficarum, 1487). The reprinting of the bull gave readers the misleading impression that the pope had endorsed the book itself. This book advocates the treatment of witchcraft as a criminal offense and the use of torture to extract confessions.
From 1450 to 1750 between 30,000 to 40,000 were executed. The largest amount were concentrated between the years 1580 to 1630.