chapter  12
19 Pages

Motivation and the Village Community: II. Victims and Accusers

Ordinary villagers throughout Europe believed that some of their neighbours were witches. This belief was a manifestation of a specific concept of misfortune. Misfortune could be attributed to God, the Devil, a neighbour or oneself. Christianity accommodated all four: Reformation and Counter-Reformation theologians emphasised God and self, popular religion preferred Devil and neighbour. To the reformers, God initiated misfortune to test his servants or to warn or punish sinners. This view was not a comfortable explanation in the social matrix of the early-modern village. Although God alone knew the real reasons for such affliction neighbours were very inquisitive. They looked on misfortune not with sympathy but with dangerous speculation as to the underlying causes of God's visitation. Rumours concerning the nature of this guilty secret destroyed the self-esteem of the victim of misfortune and pushed him to the margins of acceptability. This dangerous position could be avoided if misfortune was interpreted as diabolic malice. As Reginald Scot observed of Elizabethan England, 'None can with patience endure the hand and correction of God. For if any adversity . . . happen . . . they exclaim upon witches' .'