One) Prologue: Roper states that "witchcraft was a fantasy" (p. 10). What does she mean by that?
By stating that “witchcraft was a fantasy,” Roper addresses two things. The first (and most obvious) is that this conspiratorial sect of demon-worshiping baby-eaters was pure fiction. The second meaning Roper addresses, more to the point, sociopolitical origin of these fantasies and how they stem from the abstraction of era-specific anxieties that coalesced into the aforementioned fantasies of demon-worshipping baby-eaters. Accusation of witchcraft centered on beliefs that formed a fantasy that gave structure to these abstract fears, (Roper, 2004, p. 10).
The era-specific anxieties of this time period all manifest, in one variation or another, as paranoia about the inherent fragility of infants, motherhood, and child-mortality. Witches (at least the idea thereof), in the fantasy that Roper describes, embodied these fears. The social milieu, consisting of political upheaval, war (lots of war!), religious uncertainty, and famine created a perfect storm of events that brewed up this fantasy. Succinctly summarized, Roper writes:
“The fantasies of witchcraft were formed in a particular period of European culture, but they drew their force from their relationship to the primary material of infantile experience, feelings about feeding and eating, about where the body of the child begins and the mother 's ends, about emptiness and death." (2004, p.10)
These fantasies were not one-sided. So ingrained into popular culture (of this era) was the myth of the witch and her diabolical practices, the accused confessed to these crimes with all the sinisterly lewd details her interrogators desired. With each new accusation, the accused would recit...
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... standing of the employed examiners. Often, they were executioners, a group considered dishonorable. Being “examined” by such a person would, by extension, cause the accused to become dishonorable, (Roper, 2004, p. 54).
The process of interrogation was emotionally convoluted for the accused. The interrogators directed the course of the inquiry and the appropriate level of force to be applied. It was, however, the executioner’s job to tighten the (not-so) proverbial screws, (Roper, 2004, p. 54). This contrast between inquirer and inflictor (despite their collusions) elicited sympathy from the accused. Roper points out that this could lead the accused to draw distinctions between the officials and their brutes, (2004, p. 54). The above factors taken as a whole and unpleasant torrent created a cauldron of emotional unpredictability that Roper describes as “extreme.”
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