This is not my work, my writing, but I think it is a valuable chunk of research to document and keep at my fingertips. As Virginia Woolf said,
Inevitably we look upon society, so kind to you, so harsh to us, as an ill-fitting form that distorts the truth; deforms the mind; fetters the will.
This history is very rarely discussed or given the attention it should have. Since this blog post is not an academic paper, I have left out the citations to give the information better flow. Please look at the source article for these citations and the extensive bibliography.
This literature review investigates the relationship between a woman's communicative behaviors and the likelihood of her being accused as a witch in various regions of Europe from 1350 to 1650 a.d. This paper uncovers how women were expected to communicate during this period and what sort of deviation from this normative communicative behavior was present in those ultimately accused of witchcraft. The environmental and socioeconomic changes in Europe, as well as religious factors and the history of witchcraft that influenced the communicative behaviors of women in this period are reviewed.
Throughout Europe, between 1350 and 1650 a.d., as many as 500,000 people, primarily women, were executed as witches as part of the inquisitional process, and many more were accused of witchcraft and tortured to elicit confessions (Ben-Yehuda, 1980). Undoubtedly there were reasons why women in general and specific women in particular, were more readily accused of being witches during this period in Western history. While it is certain there were multiple factors involved, this paper will investigate the relationship between communicative behaviors and the likelihood of being accused as a witch in the European witch hunts.
[. . . ] Environmental Weather Changes
The importance of weather may be easy to overlook, but climate change has played a critical role in our history. It is speculated that a sharp drop in temperatures, referred to as the "little ice age" in Europe, contributed to the record number of deaths during the plague because people's immune systems were compromised by lack of nutrition . The temperatures in Europe varied significantly between 1520 and 1770 a.d., and particularly cold periods led to serious and widespread crop failure. Using empirical data to support a correlation between extreme cold and the number and frequency of witchcraft trials between 1520 and 1770 a.d., Oster explains that witches were blamed for magically controlling the weather. She suggests that a particularly cold period in 1560 a.d. coincided with increased numbers of trials after nearly 70 years of relative inactivity. Oster's view of the witch as scapegoat remains a recurring theme throughout this literature review.
Weather was more intrinsically tied to agriculture and the economic system in this pre-industrial era, where crops were the primary means of economic exchange . Empirical evidence supports the positive correlation between temperatures and economic growth, where economic growth was negative when temperatures were colder than normal and crops failed . A new urbanization and reduction in rural population, due in part to the plague, likely contributed to the reduction of crop production in this period of great change.
In the 1500’s 40-60% of women between 15-44 were unmarried. The trend was also to marry later. In part this was due to post-plague need for workers.
These demographics contributed significantly to why those accused of witchcraft were often widows, spinsters, and midwives, as their lifestyles and practices represented a direct threat to the Church, traditional family structure, and the patriarchal status quo. Patriarchy was solidified or reinforced with the development of complex economies because they impacted women and men differently. [. . . ]
During this period, men didn't want women to read scripture because women were meant to be perpetually subordinate to their husband. According to Haliczer, a home was a woman's prison, and interestingly, religion itself became a means of freedom for women in Spain. Women were able to express their spirituality through piousness, which not only got them out of the home, but evolved into a strong ascetic movement where women were called on by royalty to act as advisors or intercessors. Ana de Jesus was considered to be prophetic, and became an advisor to archdukes on matters of state under the Hapsburg dynasty.
This passage made me think of our contemporary haters like Phyllis Schlafly. Being a rabid anti-feminist and anti-abortion spokesperson or activist might be the only acceptable female voice in an authoritarian, fundamentalist movement. Just ask yourself, in a patriarchal household with a punishing view of religion, what chance does an articulate woman have of expressing herself? First and foremost, pity the captive children of a woman who needs (but isn’t allowed) interactions with adults.
In Spain, women were judged pious if they engaged often in prayer, were abstinent, austere, and if they practiced physical penance and even scourging and fasting. Gossip was ubiquitous in the early modern world. Gossip was viewed as feminine (although it was performed equally by men as well), and was viewed as a mechanism for female solidarity, and as something to be silenced. Legal writers in Venice claimed testimony from two women was equal to testimony from one man, since women's voices were unreliable. [. . . ]
Means of acculturation
The witchcraft trials may have been part of a campaign to Christianize the populace and expand the church's authority along with propping up patriarchy in general. Bever views witchcraft trials as a method of acculturation, where over generations repression reshapes society. Women were very aggressive at the outset of these witchcraft trials, but generations of persecution served to diminish woman's power and strengthen men's. Women learned to be ashamed of their sexuality and to avoid interpersonal conflict. Some scholars propose that the medical profession used these trials to marginalize or gradually eliminate the practice of herbology and midwifery, but Bever is not convinced of this argument.
Power over women
Whitney attributes the witch hunts to a greater emergence of the modern state and individualism, with conflict between male dominated "official" and female "domestic" spheres being played out with the witchcraft trials. She suggests the catalyst may have been economic change, and focuses on how it was mainly women that accused other women of witchcraft, which merely reinforced patriarchal norms of femininity. She reminds us that patriarchy intentionally divides women by rewarding those who maintain the status quo with more power, as they systematically disenfranchise other women by enforcing patriarchal norms. In New England witch trials, women charged of witchcraft were described as malcontents who refused to accept their place in the social hierarchy, and were guilty of anger, envy, pride, maliciousness, lying and seductiveness"
Violence against women
Whitney sees witchcraft trials as a form of violence against women because of the ways in which torture was used to elicit confessions. She thinks being female was a marker for deviance, and that with the reformation came an intensified need to control nature [nature being traditionally identified with the female]. [. . .]
Barstow is the first scholar to point out the regular practice of sending the executed witch's assets to the Bishop's treasury, implicating a more mercenary cause for accusing women who had no male relative to inherit her estate.
Women who express "excessive" assertiveness, sexuality, aggressiveness, or autonomy, through verbal and nonverbal communicative behaviors, would be more likely to be accused of witchcraft than those who abide by their society's prescriptive norms for female behavior.A proud reclaiming of the label witch was a leading voice in the pagan movement, Starhawk. When she was asked in an interview if she regretted using the word witch she responded,
If these specific sorts of communicative behaviors are in fact more likely to result in a witchcraft accusation in these cultures today, this cross-cultural comparison would support the idea that patriarchy and control of women's autonomy and/or sexuality, was behind the witchcraft accusations in Europe.
I think it's important that we use it and I still do. Whenever people take a word [like "Witch"] and use it to say "here are these areas that you are not allowed to think about and not allowed to identify with," then, to me, that says [that] it's important to USE that word, because if you use that word, you take away their power to control you with it. With the word "Witch" what they are saying is "don't identify with this whole constellation: everything from magic and the power of the mind and the power of intention, to the whole idea of women being strong and being empowered in our own right." They are saying, "stay in your place, don't be uppity!" By using the word "Witch" for the last twenty or thirty years, we have helped to take away some of its power to control us."
I believe that a woman blogging, a woman in politics, a woman asserting is herself just as frightening to the status quo as the women who were labeled witches in the middle ages and ever since. She who challenges place is uppity. Hilary Clinton knows this all too well.