Witchcraft prosecutions in Europe rose dramatically during the late sixteenth century, peaked in the middle third of the seventeenth century, and declined rapidly thereafter, gradually ceasing altogether by the end of the eighteenth century. The rise was driven by the dissemination of the late-medieval demonology and the “scissors effect” of rising population and constricting resources; the peak reflected the governing elite's “crisis of confidence” in the prosecutions and the demonology. The trials ended because the elite's skepticism about the magnitude of the threat posed by witchcraft gave way to disbelief in the power of magic altogether. The “crisis of confidence” manifested not only the victory of a long-standing tradition of skepticism and contemporary experience with the cruelty and injustices of the trials but also changes in popular behaviors and practices that the trials brought about. The growing acceptance of the new mechanical philosophy was less a cause than a consequence of the decline of witchcraft.

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