Church leaders of the time were struggling with dualism (the ongoing struggle between Good and Evil, personified in God and the Devil) and were becoming fearful that the Devil might be winning. (du Barry). And according to the scholar, Max Dashu, the medieval concept of the witch had already begun to develop in pre-Christian times and its elements could be found in the Roman cult of Bacchanalias.
Over the centuries, extensive efforts have been made to root out the supposed influence of Satan by various measures aimed at people who have been accused of serving him. In early, modern Europe people who were suspected of being possessed by Satan were put on trial. These trials were biased against the witch and most often ended in her execution. The most common types of execution were by burning, hanging or drowning. ("Witch Hunt").
Most of the suspects were women who lived in the local towns, villages or rural areas and who practiced herbalism, natural healing or midwifery. Often, however, they were simply poor, uneducated women who did not have influential friends. The early modern Christian authorities in Europe responded to them with intense paranoia and hatred. An account of this behavior can even be found in the Old Testament, which contains fierce attacks against the polytheism (or belief in multiple Gods) of non-Hebrew peoples.
"If our ancestors had thought in the same mode as do today's masters, they would never have put an end to the witch trials." Rene Girard1
In her article, Chapter 7: The Devils are Come Down Upon Us: Myth, History and the Witch as Scapegoat, Martha J. Reineke asks why the witch hunters, in utilizing their new legal system, find their victims almost exclusively among women. One explanation offered is that women were believed to be prone to the devil's seduction. They were viewed as being both more lustful and weaker than men. In addition, an excess of women of marriageable age, plus a high number of spinsters and widows, increased women's vulnerability in a society overcome with social agitation.
For Carol Karlsen, historian of the witch hunts in New England, the fact that the women who were most being accused of witchcraft were the ones who threatened the economic order was of critical significance. Daughters of families without sons, mothers of only female children, and women with no children were predominantly among the women who were charged with witchcraft. Women in these categories "were aberrations in an inheritance system designed to keep property in the hands of men." In New England alone, women without male heirs comprised sixty-four percent of the females prosecuted for witchcraft, seventy-six percent of those found guilty, and eighty-nine percent of those