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Heresy and Witchcraft Course
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This study day will tell you everything you want to know about heresy and witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Periods. We begin with an examination of the rise of heresy, heretics and heresiarchs in the central Middle Ages in Western Europe and take a closer look at two well-known heresies, the Cathars of the Languedoc in Southern France and the Lollards of England. We will learn about their lifestyles, their beliefs and also the inquisitors who hunted them down and put them on trial. Next we turn to the witchcraft trials of the 15th to the 17th centuries in Europe, comparing the different ways that witches and witchcraft were determined by the Church, and the various and horrendous ways they were detected, tried and punished. We will finish with a look at the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 and the ways in which they relate to earlier witchcraft hunts in England.


The Cathars of Languedoc

Introduction to the course, background to the rise of heresy and the Church’s response, the Cathars and what they believed, the first medieval inquisition, the last Cathars

The Lollards

John Wycliffe, the accidental heresiarch, the Church’s response, the Lollards, regional variations, heresy trials and death by hanging, what became of the Lollards.

The European Witchcraze

A brief history of witchcraft in the Ancient World, witches in Europe take flight (700-900), Alice Kyteller and the Ecclesiastical courts, the Malleus Mallificarum ( the Hammer of Witches), the rise of Protestantism and the rise of Witchcraft 1450-1650.


Background to the Salem Witchcraft trials, the individuals involved, petitions and procedures, mass hysteria and executions.

Course Outcomes

By the end of this course, it is thought that participants should be able to:

  1. Understand the ways in which heretics were determined by the Catholic Church and some of the literature that was circulated.
  2. Recognise that different heretics in different countries had varying belief structures and hierarchies but that all were modelled on the Catholic Church.
  3. Develop an understanding of the inquisitional processes and methods that were used to detect heretics and witches (both male and female)
  4. Perceive that the detection of witches and witchcraft was often dependent on religious fanatics who hunted them down and not on due legal process.

Course Reading


  • Medieval Heresy, Malcolm Lambert
  • The Cathars, Malcolm Lambert
  • Lollards and Their Influence in Late Medieval England
  • Gender and Heresy, Shannon McSheffrey

Novels about heresy

  • The Notary, Catherine Jinks
  • The Inquisitor, Catherine Jinks
  • The Secret Familiar, Catherine Jinks
  • Treasure of Montsegur, Sophie Burnham


  • Malleus Mallificarum
  • Witches and Neighbours: the Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft, Robin Briggs
  • A New History of Witchcraft: Sorcerors, Heretics and Pagans, J.B Russell