Were the witch-hunts in pre-modern Europe misogynistic? Anne Llewellyn Barstow seems to think so in her article, “On Studying Witchcraft as Women’s History: A Historiography of the European Witch Persecutions”. On the contrary, Robin Briggs disagrees that witch-hunts were not solely based on hatred for women as stated in his article, “Women as Victims? Witches, Judges and the Community”. The witch craze that once rapidly swept through Europe may have been because of misconstrued circumstances. The evaluation of European witch-hunts serves as an opportunity to delve deeper into the issue of misogyny.
The rise in witch hunts was a way to take control over women. Women typically played vital roles as caretaker, healers, and nurturers using combinations of experience gained from practices and new techniques to heal the ill. These skills which were once respected as sacred were now being sought out as works of malevolence. Priests and educated doctors viewed women as threats to their practices. Women were blamed and used as scapegoats for birth defects, male impotency and lack of control of their sexual desires.
Witchcraft was relentlessly thought as the work of the devil with only sinful and immoral intentions. Julio Caro Baroja explains in his book on Basque witchcraft that women who were out casted from society and unable to fulfill their womanly duties became witches as a way to compensate for her failed life. They were thought to be a threat to society as they dwindled in evil magic. This misunderstanding may have originated from the literary works of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, in their published book, “Malleus Maleficarum”. Accusations of being adulterous, liars and dealing with the devil materialized because of the authors words. Detailed descriptions of witch’s torture methods, their evil doings and even how to get rid of these beings were all incorporated in what may have been the ultimate witch’s manual for its time. Kramer and Sprenger who were notable priests, paved the way for the persecutions to come.
Women were mostly dependent and considered a minority group in which case they were not given proper hearings and unfairly represented. H.R. Trevor-Roper confirmed that 92 percent of witches executed in the town of Essex were women alone. It is noted however that men were also persecuted on account of being witches. Looking further into this claim, the men were executed because of their affiliation with women who were accused of being witches themselves or because of completely unrelated crimes. As Barstow stated, statistically, 80 percent of European victims persecuted on the account of being a witch were women. History clearly depicts that the majority of ‘witches’ were of female gender.
Christina Larner put the issue of misogyny into perspective when she asked the question, “Was witch-hunting also woman-hunting?” History clearly exemplifies that women were specifically sort out based on their gender. It is not difficult...