Witchunts have been around for a long time now. This link provides a history of which craft persecution over the years. It seems that the which hunt starts when someone in authority starts an "inquisition" of sorts. In the mid-1400's people were fleeing the inquisition... those that were caught were tortured and forced into confessions of all sorts of acts.
It's funny what beating down a man, woman or child constantly, will do to that person. It's amazing the things they will say when attacked by authority. In the mid-1400's, in the midst of their constant torture or even under constant questioning and pressure - those accused would finally admit to almost anything just to stop the inquisition. From the previous link, here is a description of some of the things the defendants admitted too:
admitted to flying on poles and animals to attend assemblies presided
over by Satan appearing in the form of a goat or other animal.
defendants told investigators that they repeatedly kissed Satan's anus
as a display of their loyalty. Others admitted to casting spells
neighbors, having sex with animals, or causing storms.
As time went on, the "Church" decided that it had a responsibility to hunt down and kill these whiches.... Many of whom were women.. Malleus maleficarum sibility or "Hammer of the witches" told terrifying stories of witches having sex with any old daemon, killing children and stealing a mans penis.
In the 1500's the kill rate of witches started to go up even higher.Switzerland killed over 500 in one year alone, 1000 were killed in Italy.
Then it really went crazy when one witchcraft defendant told the court that he had 100,000 fellow witches running around the country. The result - Judges quickly eliminated many of the protections that were afforded to other accused. Over about 160 years some 50,000 to 80,000 suspected witches were killed in Europe. 80% of those were women.
In 1692 we had the infamous witch trials of Salem, which you can read about here. I've been to Salem and I've seen the court where they hung the 19 men and women convicted of witchcraft. In the hysteria of the moment they also crushed a man to death for refusing to admit to being a witch. Even children were accused, and in one case a child was forced to watch her mother be taken to the gallows and hung in front of her. This little girls name was Dorcas Good. Why was Dorcas accused of witchcraft? Because three other girls her age (4 years old) said the specter (or Ghost) of Dorcas bit them.
Now - why would a 4 year old lie about such a thing - much less 3 of them. I mean, why would three four year old little kids lie like that - are they not pure and innocent and incapable of lying at that age? Especially about important things, how could three four year olds make up such a story? In the trials people would present their "bad luck" as evidence that someone was a witch.
Of course, when you are stuck in jail - the gallows awaiting you - you might well be willing to tell a story or two of witchcraft if you think it might get you out of trouble. People became desperate. They didn't want to be thought of as a witch, they didn't want to be accused as one, they were scared because they believed witches were everywhere and they had people in "the know" who would continue to preach the reality of witches, daemons and the risk they pose to the community.
The admission of things like "spectral evidence" (for example, being visited by someone's ghost) was accepted as real evidence in these courts - we might laugh about that now, but it's a reality that defendants had to deal with. The accused often were not even afforded legal council, lest they put a spell on them - or they would be walked in the court room backwards for the same reason. All of this stuff we might laugh at and think that it can't happen today - but in fact, this kind of human behavior happens all the time. Even now - we are subject to the mentality of the witchhunt.
So, eventually the witch hunting disappeared from Salem - only after the death of a number of people both from the gallows, being crushed to death or dying in prison. We don't hear much about witches these days - we don't get gathered into a storm about somebody pointing his finger and causing a blister to appear on our body. We don't claim to see peoples ghosts or that we saw them out in the forest looking for frogs for their potions. If we did, we would not care because we have advanced enough that even for those who do believe in witches - in the way they did back in the past, the rest of us know better. We know that witch hunts are silly exercises and we know they make people do, say and believe silly and impossible things.
Or do we? I believe that witch hunts are still here - alive and well - or at least the spirit of them is. The hunt is in a different form, but the psychology is the same. The blindness of those who's focus is on the Witch is so single minded that they are willing to suspend all belief, no mater how impossible the accusations are once the evidence is presented, and believe that before them stands a witch.
More on that little problem later.