Witch hunts raged for almost 300 years across Europe and its colonies, claiming the lives of some 50,000 women, men, and children. At their height, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, magistrates and inquisitors tortured those suspected of witchcraft in desperate attempts to uncover their confederates and prove their fealty to the Devil himself. Many people believed that their friends and neighbors had made wicked pacts with Satan and practiced harmful magic that destroyed crops, sickened livestock, and murdered the innocent. Lurid tales of secret gatherings, where witches worshipped the Devil and ate the flesh of unbaptized infants, combined with widespread economic hardship, famine, and war to produce unprecedented levels of paranoia and anxiety that lasted for generations. Theologians and philosophers accused witches of engaging in sexual intercourse with demons, the ruling classes led brutal purges of rebels and heretics, and practitioners of folk magic — healers, midwives, soothsayers — went from respected members of their communities to suspected witches.