The Influence of Witchcraft on Feminism
The witch-hunt that blazed a trail across Europe (and indeed the world) over the 15th to 18th centuries stripped women of much of the power they had historically held. Not 100% of all accused Witches were female but 75% to 90% of accused witches in Europe were in fact women (Levack, 1987, p.124).
Prior to the 15th century, rural European women were highly revered and respected pillars of rural community life. Women were not only considered as mothers and wives, but also as community leaders, physicians, and sources of strength and wisdom. They worked side by side with men toward the common goal of community growth and improvement. Though they were not seen as identical to men in the roles they played, they were considered men's equals. The roles of women were different but equally important and respected as those of men.
Women had a special and imperative role in rural life. In this era, women who grew old or were unmarried were not considered marginal members of society who had outlived, or thrown away there childbearing years. Many of these old unmarried women were well respected as the village healers and wise women. The word "hag" comes from these wise and ancient women. The word "hag" in our language today implies a derogatory term directed toward older women. The original meaning of the word was "women with sacred knowledge". These old women would possess the wisdom of the ages and pass it on to others (Armstrong & Pettigrew, 1990)
One may almost say that these women lived in a naturally occurring social feminist utopia. These women were not strictly speaking feminists, because there was no bias for or against men or women within the rural community and with out repression or bias there can be no feminist movement. On the other hand one can say that these women were natural social feminists without knowing it. Small rural communities were run in a semi-socialist manner. Inhabitants all had their homes or land, and some were wealthier than others but because of the community spirit within these small enclaves the children of your neighbor may as well be your children, and one would never consider withholding food or aid from a poorer neighbor. Women in these communities could choose their path and remain single and independent or marry and have children. A woman was also virtually unlimited in the number of children she could have. More children meant more hands to contribute to chores and farm work, which in turn meant there was more food for the family to eat. Extended family was also a large part of this lifestyle and as such there were always grandparents, and perhaps even great grandparents who would help to raise the communities’ children and allow the mothers to contribute more fully to community life.
There were several events that led up to the century known as "the Burning Times". By the middle of the16th century, the which-hunt was in full swing. In brief, the...