What were the causes of the Witch Craze in Europe, 1550-1700?

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==Social Tensions==
There have been very many attempts to explain the causes of the witchcraft trials and craze. Anthropologists have argued that these witchcraft trials served an important function in early modern society. This era was one that was plagued by a series of disasters. Many societies were unstable, and they were regularly devastated by famine, war and pestilence. This was also a time when the old certainties were challenged. Many agricultural communities were destabilized by the growth of capitalism and the ‘price revolution’ caused by the massive inflows of gold and silver from the Americas led to high inflation<ref> Thomas, p. 111</ref>. To compound the economic problems, beginning from the later sixteenth century Europe experienced climatic changes, a so-called mini-Age age which led to great hardship and poor harvests. It is widely believed that the standard of living in many countries fell and famines became more common. Some studies have suggested that Germany experienced many outbreaks of witchcraft trials because it suffered greatly from war and famine. There is evidence of a direct link between those societies who were most impacted by war and the number of witches put on trial. This would help to explain that rise in the number of accusations brought against those who were called the ‘consorts of the devil’ <ref> Thomas, p. 114</ref>. However, there were also large-scale witchcraft trials in areas that had escaped the ravages of war. Some have argued that the trials were a form of scapegoating and that it was a deliberate policy by the elite to divert attention away from their, own failings. Given the instability of the times, many have argued that the trials became a form of social control. It was a way for the rich and aristocracy to control the poor who during periods of war and famine could become restive.  
In the middle ages the age at which people married and had children was quite low. This had gradually increased in the decades prior to the 1500. There was less land available because of population pressures and this in turn led to the average age of marriage for women rising to 27. women from poor backgrounds could not afford a dowry and therefore were forced to remain single and live a life of celibacy. This became particularly pronounced in Protestant lands where many former nuns were simply expelled from their convents and left destitute. It is believed that the number of unmarried women in many areas was as high as one in four. They were often seen as a disruptive element in society because women who were not under the control of men were seen as threatening. The growth in a literature that purported to describe witches and sorcery tended to present witches as single females. This during the moral panics about sorcery and black magic often led to innocent women on the margins on society to be accused of witchcraft. Many have interpreted the accusations of witchcraft against women as effort to control this group and to maintain the hegemony of males<ref> Cohn, p. 117</ref>. The existing patriarchy according to feminists was threatened by the growth in the number of unmarried women and the witchcraft craze was a systematic attempt to control and intimidate them.