During the early modern period Europe experienced a phase of vicious prosecution of the people accused of the crime of ‘Witchcraft.’ There has been an estimated death toll of up to 50,000 people during these Witch-hunt crazes, although the exact figures are unknown. What is known is that overall 75-80% of those accused were woman although this varies in different states. In this essay I will discuss the role of gender in witchcraft and why the majority of people executed as Witches were women.
There have been various explanations by different historians for why the majority of Witches accused were woman. One of the first models concerning Witchcraft and gender to be produced was the ‘Witch-cult‘ idea. This theory was devised by Margaret Murray in the early 20th century and revolved around the idea of Witchcraft being an actual pre-Christian religion. This pagan woman-based religion centred around ‘The Horned God’ who from the Christian point of view was Satan. Murray writes that the ‘God of the old religion becomes the Devil of the new.’ This religion concerned woman in that it was being supressed by the Christian Church which was a male dominated organisation with an exclusively male hierarchy. In effect the whole Witch-hunt affair was a persecution of woman by men, both being polar opposites even in religion. Murray’s thesis proved very popular with radical feminists from the 1960s onwards, providing the feminist movement with a sort of rallying point, further exaggerating the sex specific elements in the Murray model. Murray’s thesis however, was attacked from day one and continues to be discredited to this day due to the lack of evidence in support of it and th...
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McAuliffe, Mary. ‘Gender, history and witchcraft in early modern Ireland: a re-reading of the Florence Newton trial’ IN: Mary Ann Gialenella Valiulis ed. Gender and power in Irish history. Dublin, 2009. Pp 39-58.
Murray, Margaret A. ‘The God of the Witches’ Blackmask Online, 2001.
Ram, Arnon. ‘The ‘Other’ Witches: The Male Witch of Early Modern Europe’ Beersheba: Ben Gurion University, 2006.
Roberts, Keith A. ‘The Conflict Perspective: Witch-Hunts and Women’s Roles’ Cengage Learning, 1994.
Roper, Lyndal. ‘Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany’ UK: MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall, 2004.
Toivo, Raisa M. ‘Women at Stake. Interpretations of Women’s Role in Witchcraft and Witch-Hunts since the early 20th century to the present’ Australia: University of New South Wales, 2005.
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