Lewd Women and Wicked Witches: A Study of the Dynamics of Male Domination

By Marianne Hester | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

The early modern witch-hunts I

INTRODUCTION

The central feature of male supremacy as it exists today is the eroticised inequality between men and women. Taking the early modern witch-hunts as the focus, I will examine how this understanding of inequality between men and women may also be relevant to analysis of historical phenomena. 1 I have chosen to focus on the period of the early modern witch-hunts (during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), not only because this has been identified as an important outcome of changes taking place in the early modern and immediately pre-capitalist period, but also for the important reason that the witch-hunts appear to have been directed primarily, and almost exclusively, at women.

The witch-hunt period was a time of major social change where existing social structures, beliefs and relationships were undergoing transformations including, potentially, also men’s and women’s roles. At that particular time a number of economic, political, legal, ideological and religious factors combined, which allowed and also prompted persecution for witchcraft. I shall argue here that the witch-hunts were an attempt at maintaining and restoring male supremacy within this context.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, primarily in Continental Europe and Scotland, but also in England and Scandinavia, thousands of people were condemned to imprisonment and death accused of the crime of ‘witchcraft’. To make obvious the intensity of persecution at this time, the period has been called the ‘witch-craze’. 2 The term ‘craze’ is in some ways problematic because it implies that the witch-hunts were carried out by crazed individuals in an exhibition of momentary madness

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