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Were Pre-Modern European Witchhunts Mysogynistic?

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Were the witch-hunts in pre-modern Europe misogynistic? Anne Llewellyn Barstow seems to think so in her article, “On Studying Witchcraft as Women’s History: A Historiography of the European Witch Persecutions”. On the contrary, Robin Briggs disagrees that witch-hunts were not solely based on hatred for women as stated in his article, “Women as Victims? Witches, Judges and the Community”. The witch craze that once rapidly swept through Europe may have been because of misconstrued circumstances. The evaluation of European witch-hunts serves as an opportunity to delve deeper into the issue of misogyny.

The rise in witch hunts was a way to take control over women. Women typically played vital roles as caretaker, healers, and nurturers using combinations of experience gained from practices and new techniques to heal the ill. These skills which were once respected as sacred were now being sought out as works of malevolence. Priests and educated doctors viewed women as threats to their practices. Women were blamed and used as scapegoats for birth defects, male impotency and lack of control of their sexual desires.

Witchcraft was relentlessly thought as the work of the devil with only sinful and immoral intentions. Julio Caro Baroja explains in his book on Basque witchcraft that women who were out casted from society and unable to fulfill their womanly duties became witches as a way to compensate for her failed life. They were thought to be a threat to society as they dwindled in evil magic. This misunderstanding may have originated from the literary works of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, in their published book, “Malleus Maleficarum”. Accusations of being adulterous, liars and dealing with the devil materialized because of the...

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...they don’t understand. Reactions of witch-hunts were based on misconceived panic and anxiety of anything outside of the common religious beliefs. Because of poor record keeping, the exact numbers of men and women persecuted on the account of being witches may never be accurate enough to decide if it was an issue of misogyny.

Citation

Anne Llewellyn Barstow, “On Studying Witchcraft as Women History,” pp. 279-288 in J. Mitchell, Helen Buss Mitchell (2010) Taking Sides. Clashing Views in World History. Volume I: The Ancient World to the Pre-Modern World. 3rd ed. Dubuque, IA: MeGraw-Hill

Robin Briggs. “Women as Victims? Witches, Judges and the Community,” pp. 288-296 J. Mitchell, Helen Buss Mitchell (2010) Taking Sides. Clashing Views in World History. Volume I: The Ancient World to the Pre-Modern World. 3rd ed. Dubuque, IA: MeGraw-Hill
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