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The Devil’s Mark

Rooting out evil in earlier centuries could be a troublesome matter. The medieval farmer whose crops didn’t fare well or whose family and livestock sickened and died naturally wanted an explanation, and something or someone to blame. Lacking better explanations, the unfortunate peasant generally blamed Satan and his imps, demons, and particularly his human followers—witches. Relief, or at least punishment was sought from the church, the final arbiter in matters of evil and morality. On the subject of witchcraft, the church was adamant: Witchcraft was a sin that clearly needed to be stopped! With parishioners in fear of losing their livelihoods, health, friends, family, or having their genitals shrivel up and drop off (the usual witch threats), priests had every reason to learn how to recognize witches, try them, convict them, and dispatch them back to their Master in Hell as quickly as possible. Imps and demons were harder to bring to trial.

Those accused of witchcraft tended to be single, poor, and unattractive women on the fringes of the community. However, with just about everyone being poor and unattractive from the 13th to the 18th centuries—the heyday of the Inquisition—the more damning attributes of witches were their sex and their social status as “other.” But just being female and unsocial usually were not enough; the local magistrates demanded some sort of proof.

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