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Superstitions of the Elizabethan Era - Essay Example

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The Elizabethan era was the beginning of a new age in England. The Renaissance saw great advancements in science, literature, and art and along with these insights into the human condition came new progressive religious beliefs. Exploration around the globe coupled with scientific discoveries began to shape new ideas about the world…
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Superstitions of the Elizabethan Era
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Superstitions of the Elizabethan Era

Download file to see previous pages... Fear of the supernatural and man's anxiety about the nature of God during this period promoted the belief in superstition. A central figure in the superstitions of the Elizabethan era was the witch. The belief that witches were largely responsible for bringing bad events to a community brought out the superstition that they were able to fly and had magical powers. Though superstition was officially discounted by the royalty as a belief of the commoners, in 1562 Queen Elizabeth I passed a severe law against witches that led to widespread witch hunts and the persecution of anyone believed to be involved with witchcraft (Elizabethan Superstitions). These harsh actions may have been the result of the severe weather beginning in 1562 in Europe (Behringer). The public was looking for someone to blame for the hailstorms and frigid weather and during this period, weather making was "the most important charge against suspected witches" (Behringer). This superstition is carried over today with the fear of anyone who has 'a dark cloud hanging over them'.
Superstition was often thought to be the property of the more ignorant classes, and most of the fear was directed at that class. However, Holliday notes that, "[...] even though the upper class discount the stories of the commoners, they themselves were taught the same stories. Most upper class families hired lower class nurses for the early rearing of their children". The stories were the primary method of education and were rich with superstition and witchcraft. Often passed along by the old wives to the children, this became the origin of the often-used phrase 'old wives tale' that is still in use today. Though the subject of superstition may be viewed as rather innocuous, during the time of Elizabeth it was a serious subject. During that period almost 250 witches were executed, mostly poor single women who lived alone (Elizabethan Superstition).
Many superstitions that are harbored today have been carried over from the Elizabethan period and many were founded in some realm of truth. Spilling salt was considered bad luck during the Elizabethan period and this attitude was passed on to children. This belief had a practical use as the cost of salt was high and the desire for it was great (Elizabethan Superstitions). It was also believed that witches could brew magic potions. In fact, many elixirs, potions, and cures were brewed from herbs then and still are today. Usually herbs would have a particular lore that went with their possession. Mandrake, often used in rituals, was known to grow under gallows and was said to have, "shrieked so horribly that uprooted anyone hearing it would go mad" (Simpson and Roud, 224). The present day superstition that makes walking under a ladder unlucky is also traced to the Elizabethan era. Ladders were associated with hangings and executions and were naturally seen as a bad omen (Elizabethan Superstitions).
Often times, superstition would involve objects found in nature. According to Simpson and Roud, "The cuckoo's habit of laying eggs in the nests of other birds explains why its cry was regarded, in medieval and Elizabethan times, as mocking cuckold ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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