Sunday, June 20, 2010
Witchcraze by Anne Barstow
The witch hunts rocked European society during the Middle Ages. Scores of women were wiped out on the accusation that they were witches. Author Anne Barstow examine this phenomena that hit Europe and America. Numerous studies on the Witch hunts have been documented by several authors and they have yielded up great information. This author takes a new twist the witch hunts were meant to oppress women. They were based on male hatred of women.
In most countries up to 90% of those accused of witchcraft were women. Very few of those accused were men. Only in Russia was the ratio reversed. Often times women were thee more vulnerable members of society hence it was easier to target them for witchcraft. Most of those accused lived in poverty, were elderly, widowed and somewhat outspoken.
The reasons behind the accusation beside the fear and superstition were complex. Sometimes after a dispute with a women someone's family member would all of the sudden become ill. The woman would be accused of witchcraft. Women who were single found them selves most vulnerable, especially if they owned land. If they were accused of witchcraft and found guilty the accusing party often ended up taking the land. Since women were vulnerable rival families would accuse each others women of practicing witchcraft. This would besmirch the family's name and harm the family.
Most women when accused of witchcraft were found guilty . Once accused women were often tortured until thy gave a confession. This could be done by head dunking, pin pricking, the stretching wrack and hot metal. Women were subjected to a body search where in they were stopped naked and had their body parts probed by males. One of the things they found was a witches teet. An area on the female body that was very numb. Supposedly that was where thee demon would feed off of her blood.
The church hierarchy itself felt threatened by the village healers. the wisewomen often served many roles in the village. They served magical needs, psychologist and healers. The priests also wanted to play psychologist and minister to mystical need. The wisewomen posed a threat. This threat was dealt with via the witch trials.
Often times witch trials had heavy sex connotation associated with them. Many of the priests and witch hunters once they had imprisoned a women gave her a full body search and tortured her. This gave a legal cover for these men to sexually over the women and have their way with them. Women were often raped while being imprisoned and many died. The witchhunts were by and large used to control women and keep them in their place.
There are some reasons why witch hunts increased in their intensity. One reason was economics. When economic times were hard job competition increased . Working women obviously posed a problem. Another factor in the increased intensity of witch hunts. Was the adoption of a Nationalized Roman law which focused on punishment. This superseded local village law which focused more on addressing grievances and restoring peace.
One more word about geography. In Germanic areas the persecution were the most fierce. On the periphery of Europe and in the Mediterranean they were less fiecre. In Germanic areas women were burned at the stake. In Ireland there were no witch hunts. In England torture was not allowed and those found guilty of witchcraft were hung. In Italy the death penalty was less frequent.
This book is good primer for those wanting to understand the basic of the witch trials.
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