Witch Burning = Misogyny
Last October, my neighbor stretched synthetic cobwebs among the branches of her tree. Against this creepy backdrop, she hung a broomstick and a badly made female figure, clearly a witch. The sight made me wince.
How did we evolve to find this display lightly amusing? Our forbearers did hang women from trees.
Erika Mailman takes it personally, she told the Chicago Tribune.
After all, one of her ancestors had been accused of witchcraft three decades before the Salem trials. Luckily, she was freed — twice — after two different accusations, years apart. But how would the townsfolk treat someone accused of convorting with the devil, Erika wonders.
The witch hunts constituted a holocaust of women.
Cornell history professor, Steven Katz, says,
The overall evidence makes plain that the growth — the panic — in the witch craze was inseparable from the stigmatization of women.
And in fact, the Inquisition’s Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) reads,
All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman… What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours…
The earliest accusations of witchcraft were aimed at women who were simply practicing the old pre-Christain religions of Europe.
And those religions had nothing to do with devils — that was a Christian concept.
Those peoples were trying to turn the wheel of the year, ensuring fertility and a good harvest.
At Winter Solstice they filled their homes with holly and evergreen trees (whose ability to survive the winter seemed magical) and burned yule logs to help the sun return. In spring, they ensured fertility via eggs and bunnies. And in early May they decorated a phallic pole to aid fertility and welcome summer. In late October they remembered their dead.
As Christianity converted the northern peoples to their new religion, the old practices were first absorbed, translated into Christmas, Easter, May Day, Halloween… but the Church later demonized the old practitioners (along with freethinkers, generally) hoping to eradicate religious competition.
But why weren’t men who worshipped the old gods killed as often as women?
Perhaps because Christianity had become patriarchal by then (though Jesus was egalitarian).
And those old religions were the last remnant of women’s power.
In them, both priests and priestesses officiated the worship of gods and goddesses, and women also held power as diviners and healers.
Were these more gender-equal religions, and women, demonized because women and their power felt so threatening?
I’ve often wondered.