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The reign of Elizabeth I, Queen of England during the late 1500s, marked an intellectual era of the Renaissance. Sadly, it also marked an era of intensified persecution of Witches, a persecution supported by the Queen who is said to have been a pious creature - always lending an ear to the clergy and heading their ill-advice. Perhaps she too was concerned about her own safety.
Her mother, Anne Boleyn was accused of being a Witch. Being the daughter of a Witch in those days could very easily be misconstrued by rivals as hereditary, which would undoubtedly result in the loss of the throne and even the loss of life.
Witchcraft practiced during the reign of this Queen is referred to as Elizabethan Witchcraft, ironically appearing to offer her the credit for its existence whereas in truth she was partly responsible for its near demise.
As indicated before, the Elizabethan era saw a revival in terms of belief in the supernatural. One would imagine that the intellectually enlightened minds of the late 1500's would view the world very differently to the views held by the likes of Pope Innocent VIII in the 1000's. Whilst, at first glance a contradiction in terms, the dynamics of the sudden availability of information (or misinformation if you like) caused by the commissioning of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press around 1456, explains this phenomenon.
Copious amounts of books were printed - mostly Bibles or Books containing religious themes. Sadly these themes reinforced belief in the supernatural and the authors were mostly Christian protagonists - proponents of the theory that Witchcraft (and by definition Witches) was evil and that they were consorts of the Devil himself. Most of these so-called experts agreed that British Isles were overrun by Witches and that the scourge had to be dealt with without delay.
This led to an increase in Witch hunts and concomitantly to an increase in executions. The fact that the printing press also enabled the publishing of books on Astrology, Alchemy and Magic, merely exacerbated an already burning issue. In 1562, Elizabeth I passed the Elizabethan Witchcraft Act "against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts". The Act was certainly more lenient than those in Italy and Spain. It did not combine acts of heresy with acts of Witchcraft. It also offered punishment by hanging, not burning and disallowed the torture of suspects.
But who were the Witches so hated and feared? This is their summarized tale. Once upon a time, before the burnings started, Witches were considered "Wise Ones" by all. They were the mid-wives, the healers, the advisers and the ones who worked magick when magick was needed in someone's life. They enabled discussions with departed loved ones and looked into the future for those who needed a light on their paths.
They were honored and highly regarded. Traditionally an oral tradition, Witchcraft was passed on from Mother to Daughter or Witch to Apprentice - generation upon generation. The Burning Times all but destroyed this tradition. The Craft of the Wise had to resort to stealth to survive and after nearly 500 years of Burning Times, Elizabethan Witches were well underground.
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