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"Evil People"

"Evil People": A Comparative Study of Witch Hunts in Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier

Translated by Laura Stokes
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    "Evil People"
    Book Description:

    Inspired by recent efforts to understand the dynamics of the early modern witch hunt, Johannes Dillinger has produced a powerful synthesis based on careful comparisons. Narrowing his focus to two specific regions-Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier-he provides a nuanced explanation of how the tensions between state power and communalism determined the course of witch hunts that claimed over 1,300 lives in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Germany. Dillinger finds that, far from representing the centralizing aggression of emerging early states against local cultures, witch hunts were almost always driven by members of the middling and lower classes in cities and villages, and they were stopped only when early modern states acquired the power to control their localities.

    Situating his study in the context of a pervasive magical worldview that embraced both orthodox Christianity and folk belief, Dillinger shows that, in some cases, witch trials themselves were used as magical instruments, designed to avert threats of impending divine wrath."Evil People"describes a two-century evolution in which witch hunters who liberally bestowed the label "evil people" on others turned into modern images of evil themselves.

    In the original German,"Evil People"won the Friedrich Spee Award as an outstanding contribution to the history of witchcraft.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2838-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    Johannes Dillinger
  4. Introduction Comparing Witch Hunts
    (pp. 1-17)

    A student protest was part of it. The students demanded a thorough investigation of outrageous rumors about the university president. They knew that public protest could force the authorities into action. A group of students gathered in front of a house where they knew the president of the university was. Soon, children joined the students. Even they had heard about the scandal involving the elderly professor. After a while, the students became impatient. They started shouting slogans that reverberated through the narrow streets of the old town. When the president of the university finally mustered the courage to leave the...

  5. 1 “Authority and Liberties for the Country and the People” Administration, Legal and Social Circumstances
    (pp. 19-40)

    The term “Swabian Austria” refers to those Austrian lands in the south of the Holy Roman Empire between Vorarlberg in the east and the older Outer Austria in the west (see map 2).¹ Until its dissolution in 1806, Swabian Austria consisted of four provinces under immediate and exclusive Habsburg jurisdiction: the Margraviate of Burgau, the Swabian Landvogtei, the Landgraviate of Nellenburg, and the County of Hohenberg. Similar to Vorarlberg, Swabian Austria was under the direct control of the Tyrolean government in Innsbruck until 1752. In this it was clearly distinct from the Habsburg possessions to the west; the government of...

  6. 2 Golden Goblets and Cows’ Hooves Witchcraft and Magic
    (pp. 41-73)

    Scholars who look beyond witchcraft into the broader field of magic face the problem that sources on magic employ a multitude of terms in often ambiguous ways.¹ It is therefore necessary to begin by clarifying the definitions of the most important terms.

    In sources from both Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier, the word“Aberglauben”appears as a term used by both secular and ecclesiastical authorities. It is used as the German equivalent of the Latinsuperstitio:mistaken beliefs condemned by secular and ecclesiastical authorities. Such “superstition” included religious and quasi-religious concepts and practices that did not accord with...

  7. 3 “If She Is Not a Witch Yet, She Will Certainly Become One” Origins and Foundations of Witchcraft Suspicions
    (pp. 74-97)

    In June 1590, peasants from the villages of Obernau and Wendelsheim brought petitions to the vicegerent of Rottenburg, Christoph Wendler von Bergenroth. In the petitions, they asked him to have the noblewoman Agatha von Sontheim, who resided in the knightly territory of Nellingsheim, bordering Hohenberg, arrested for witchcraft. The peasants had held a meeting of the whole community, including the women, in which they had discussed and drafted the petition. A wide variety of circumstantial evidence supported their suspicions. Agatha von Sontheim was able to predict storms with precision. The peasants interpreted the reliability of her “weather forecasts” entirely negatively...

  8. 4 “There Goes the Werewolf. We Thought He Had Been Caught Already” Agents of Witch Hunting and the Management of Trials
    (pp. 98-148)

    The peasant population of the villages and the urban lower and lower-middle social classes constituted the greatest driving force behind the intense witch hunts in Hohenberg. Above all, winegrowers from Rottenburg and the surrounding villages demanded witch trials with increasing aggressiveness from Vicegerent Christoph Wendler and even threatened to lynch suspects. Villages acted collectively as witch hunters and accusers, and some proceeded actively against witches, driving suspects out of the area. Some villages acquired a reputation for being able to identify witches. The populace explicitly suggested that territorial officials take their advice. “At the urging of the surrounding villages,” the...

  9. 5 “Let No One Accuse Us of Negligence” The Influence of the Witch Hunts in Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier on Other Territories
    (pp. 149-165)

    On May 17, 1596, Professor Martin Crusius of the University of Tübingen in Württemberg noted in his diary that witches had been burned in Rottenburg. He commented morosely, “In my lecture today on Thucydides I had only a few auditors for they had gone there to watch.”¹ The students evidently knew perfectly well what was taking place in Württemberg’s neighboring state of Hohenberg. They appear to have endorsed the execution of witches, for we hear nothing of student protests. The students thought of the execution as a sensational spectacle. Witnessing it was worth missing the lecture.

    In the following discussion,...

  10. 6 “A Slippery and Obscure Business” The End of the Witch Hunts
    (pp. 166-192)

    The witch trials depended on popular demand for witch hunts, strong organizations of commoners, local authorities friendly or indifferent to persecutions, and very weak control by the central institutions of the state. In Hohenberg, the scandalous case of Christina Rauscher destroyed this system, and the case thus has significance for the end of the witch hunts generally in the Habsburg territories of Swabian Austria. The repeated complaints of the Gerber–Rauscher family, the clear insubordination of the Horb town council, and complaints concerning Christoph Wendler’s corruption led the Innsbruck government to plan a visitation of Hohenberg. As soon as the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-200)

    In conclusion, we will review the most important results from Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier. At the same time, we will examine the results from our comparisons to see what conclusions can be drawn for witchcraft trials more generally, in line with the goal of looking for systematic generalities.

    In Swabian Austria, at least 531 individuals were executed in witchcraft trials; in the Electorate of Trier, at least 792 were executed. Because both regions connected harmful magic and women, only about 9 percent of the trials in Swabian Austria and 12 percent of the trials in the Electorate...

  12. Appendix Chronology and Quantitative Analysis of the Persecutions
    (pp. 201-212)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 213-214)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 215-248)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-290)
  16. Index
    (pp. 291-298)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-299)