I am a amateur historian. I've probably covered well over 2,000 books in my life over history and get into various elements of both US and European history. One of my favorite areas of research is the Salem Witch Trial period of American history (1692).
When you stand back and examine the episode....several episodes come into play. This is roughly 150 years after the Bible had been translated from the Catholic Church held copy of Latin, into English, and published widely. The English of the era had progressed to the point where reading was a demanded skill, and the Bible was chiefly used as the instrument of instruction.
Adding to the event.....the Bible was taken and interpreted by various religious groups, and viewed against personal beliefs in different ways. They utilized the Bible to prove their point, and the interpretation could go from one far angle to another.
Toss in the fact that there weren't any "adults" around to challenge fraudulent usage of law and punishment. Then toss in immature teens using bogus statement as entertainment. And in the end, you had people suffering and being tortured to death.
Germany had the same element going on, except it came earlier. The biggest and best example is the Bamberg Witch Trial period (1626-1631).
It was a rural area for the most part, run by Prince-Bishop von Dornheim. What we can generally say is that the Thirty-Years-War had been going on for a couple of years, and lending itself to be mostly a civil war, with no real enemy except themselves or their neighbors.
A bad harvest season had led onto discontent, and the Prince-Bishop had probably more frustrated and aggravated people on his hands than he could handle.
A Germanic language copy of the Bible had begun to get passed around, but it probably had minimal effect on this crowd. So, some accusations got passed around. A witch here, a evil spirit there.
Over the six year period, around three-hundred people were executed in some fashion. Some figures will push it as high as six-hundred. Some were children....one was noted as an infant. A number of them were simply adults caught in a word game and not sophisticated to argue their way out of an accusation.
The Prince-Bishop would devise a torture chamber and it was used to a fair degree.
At some point, realizing the maximum benefit of death....the Prince-Bishop got around to true property owners and people of "title". Using the accusation game....individuals were taken into custody, asked questions, and doped into admissions. Their property taken after death.
This all peaked by 1631. The various reports had reached the regional authority who came to question the Prince-Bishop over men of title being put to death. So ended the Bamberg witch episode.
The enriched fertile ground for this of activity? It takes a naive society, coupled with corrupt leadership, and the necessity to blame someone for some fault.
In my local area here in Hessen where I live....there is the town of Idstein.....not more than ten miles away. They went through their witch period in 1676/1677.....executing thirty-nine men and women for crimes of witchcraft.
What is generally said is that the whole witch-hunting thing started as early as 1630. The routine was yearly brought up, and continued on for decades. The hunt business was generally run by Count John (the regional authority) and appeared to be a personal vendetta of sorts. For some reason, around 1676....it hit a peak with various individuals brought in and questioned by the Count.
Local history says that thirty-one women and eight men were executed over this two-year period. No numbers are given for those tortured and spared death. The end of the hunt? Well....it's curious. Count John dies in May of 1677, and his son (twelve years old) took up the post of Count. The son, via his regent....disbands the hunt business, and life settled back to normal after that.
A nutcase running simply an entertainment episode. Well....yeah, that is the simple part of the whole story, and relates to most all of these episodes in the same way. It's sad in a way.....all done for terrible reasons.