The defining feature of the period was the rivalry between the Catholics and the Protestants. The continent was ravaged by religious wars. An eminent English historian has claimed that the witch trials were used by both denominations to persecute their rivals in each territory and in this way, they were able to strengthen their hold over a given community <ref>Trevor-Roper, Hugh. The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), p. 116</ref>. There is some evidence for this and that some groups sought to depict their rivals as witches to discredit them. However, there is also evidence that even in areas where there was no confessional conflict there were witchcraft trials. Even in religiously homogenized areas such as Northern Italy, there were burnings and hangings of witches. However, there is some credence given to the theory that the persecution of alleged witches was due to the phenomenon of ‘confessionalization’ <ref> Bailey, p. 201</ref>. In the aftermath of the Reformation, there was intense competition between the Catholic Church and the Protestants denominations. They sought to ensure that there was great religious uniformity among the general population. For the first time, the ecclesiastical elite was concerned with the faith and the observance of the general population. The clergy had instructions to make their congregations comply with the doctrines of the Churches. This occurred in both Catholic and Protestant territories and was designed to instill in them loyalty to a particular religious grouping. One of the side-effects of this process was that anything that deviated from doctrine was heretical. Many faith healers and those who practiced ‘white magic’ for fertility and good luck became suspect. They regularly were placed on trial by authorities who interpreted their beliefs and customs as sorcery and diabolical<ref> Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witch Craze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts (San Francisco: Pandora,1994), p. 119</ref>.
The Witchcraft Craze in Europe lasted from 1500-1700. The period because of religious changes became more interested in the devil and heresy. This led the elite in the Church to construct an idea of witches who were the servants of the devil and who plotted to kill and harm Christians. By 1500 sorcery was deemed to be heresy and the Church had become much more concerned about any deviant practices. Increasingly the customs and the practices of the semi-pagan rural dwellers was interpreted as witchcraft. This meant that they were extremely vulnerable as to accusations of sorcery was a capital crime. The factors that promoted the Witch Craze included the growing Catholic and Protestant rivalry and the need to ensure the religious conformity of the population. Then there were the very real social tensions because of the endemic warfare, inflation, economic changes and social change. This created a situation where there was a need to control the population and witches were used to vent popular discontent and to serve as a warning to the poor not to become rebellious. Women were the chief victims of the Witchcraft Craze and this was due to social change where single women increased in numbers and this led to tensions and these were released in widespread charge of witchcraft against unmarried females. There was no one single reason for the hysteria that cost so many their lives rather it was often the interplay of the all the above factors.==References==