Witchcraft And The Malevolance Of The Susect: Targetting Midwives And Others In Early Modern England University Of Regina Hi St 225 Essay

1305 words - 6 pages

Witchcraft in England gave rise to the most oppressive and sexist accusations in the seventeenth century. It was a fact that people sighted and witnessed unruly conduct, and sometimes immediately or after a while, exploit suspicious ‘maleficium’ practitioners to authorities in an English society deeply rooted with patriarchal hierarchies. This is the genesis of the ‘uneven distribution of witchcraft accusations bearing on the lives of women’[endnoteRef:1] and why it came to fruition from a male dominated society is central to knowing why females were more often indicted than men. Witches were often accused of being engaged in Satan worshipping or sorcery, and were flagrantly marked as social pariahs partaking in abominable practices ultimately undermining male dominance in ‘both symbolic and practical terms’[endnoteRef:2]. Women were charted a subordinate gender, and as a result, were always under scrutiny to dress right, behave accordingly and be steadfast in the roles they played on a domestic level, and place in the social hierarchy. [1: John Putnam Demos, Entertaining Satan. Oxford University Press: NY, 1982. 63.] [2: Ibid.]
At one level, the witchcraft trails were devised to expose spiritual and religious impurities, and on another, drew a community together purging ‘themselves of the evil within, and used the idea of pollution to reinforce threatened boundaries ’[endnoteRef:3]. These elements of motivation of the state and the church imposed tighter social and moral regulations by propagating the witch cases attracting the very ends of the ruling class who are powerful decision makers.[endnoteRef:4] [3: Deborah Willis Malevolent Nurture: Witch-hunting and maternal power in early modern England. Cornell University Press: London, England, 1995. 165.] [4: Ibid.]
The women in question were contradictory to English common moral virtue; accusations ostensibly rose from women who were resistant to change ‘reflecting tensions between an ideal of neighborliness and the necessities of economic and social change’[footnoteRef:1]. Economic and social stations that were poor were dependent on a women’s ranking in the immediate society, and if under suspicion, were usually explained by ‘economic and social considerations, for it was the women who were the most dependent members of the community and thus the most vulnerable to accusation’[footnoteRef:2]. [1: Deborah Willis Malevolent Nurture: Witch-hunting and maternal power in early modern England. Cornell University Press: London, England, 1995. 11.] [2: Ibid, 11.]
Women were often placed in domestic housekeeping and health roles for a regional society. Whether it be a village, or a city, midwifery was the most prevalent role of choice for many housewives in England. On a contrary note, midwifes were the most targeted women for witchcraft not only for superstitious reasons, but reasons relating to odd or unusual practices as a housewife as well.
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