Women's Reading Group Week X - Witchcraft Sept 15, 2010 22:13:36 GMT -5
Post by Erica Chan on Sept 15, 2010 22:13:36 GMT -5
Extracts from Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology
It was clear to ‘everyone’ during the witchcraze that the witchburners were doing god’s will by slaughtering women. Even the title of the ‘authoritative’ work of demonology, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of the Witches) worked as a self-fulfilling prophecy, for of course ‘maleficarum’ is the feminine form of the word for evil-doer/witch… In order to grasp how thoroughly males justified their massacre it is necessary only to look through the Malleus Maleficarum. For example, in the ninth question of Part One, the priestly authors gravely pose the pregnant question: ‘Whether Witches may work some Prestidigitatory Illusion so that the Male Organ appears to be entirely removed and separate from the body?’ The learned response is that they can: “But when it is performed by witches it is only a matter of glamour; although it is no illusion in the opinion of the sufferer.’ The term glamour, of course, means ‘a magic spell’.
Kramer and Sprenger gave abundant reasons to justify the gynocidal maniacs who controlled society and culture. They explained that witches turn men into beasts, copulate with devils, raise and stir up hailstorms and tempests. The witch/women-killers appeared ‘perfectly’ justified, since the priest professionals had posed the question: ‘Why is it that Women are chiefly addicted to Evil Superstittions?’ The question itself set the framework for the answer. The reader was informed that women are more credulous, that they are naturally more impressionable, have slippery tongues, are feebler both in mind and body, are more carnal than men (!) to the extent of having insatiable lust, have weak memories, are liars by nature. Then – without missing a beat, after hammering home their view that women are feeble in every sense – these Sado-Sages add that ‘nearly all the kingdoms of the world have been overthrown by women’.
The phenomenon of leadership and control by ‘experts’ is familiar to inhabitants of modern western society. It is not surprising, then, that there was not only a ‘body’ of expert knowledge, but also popularized propaganda for the masses... A new genre of literature emerged in the form of Teufelsbucher, or ‘devil books’, whose general effect was to suggest that the devil was everywhere. It is obvjious who were considered to be the primary cohorts and agents of the devil in Christian society. As Caputi points out, the message to the masses was imprinted especially through the woodcuts and engravings of the period. One needs only to glance through a sampling to see that women are typically represented as dupes of the devil... Then, as today, the messages of the professional experts were professional embedded in the minds of the masses through ‘mass market’ editions. Phallotechnic society had launched its first massive campaign against dangerous women – a campaign whose escalated echoes haunt us today in the ubiquitous ‘mass media’: the films, slick magazines, television, billboards, newspapers, textbooks, and other ‘literature’ which carry overt and subliminal images of rape, dismemberment, and gynocide.
We can now approach the question of just who were the women who were so horrifying to the learned experts who created, controlled, and legitimated the witchcraze. An essential clue is to be found in the abandonment, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, of the legal distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ witch. In 1563 the Scottish witch-law dropped this distinction, and soon after, the laws on the continent and finally in England also changed. The purest expression of the ideology behind this legal change was uttered by the Cambridge preacher, William Perkins, who maintained that whoever has made a pact with the devil, even to do good, must die. Perkins declared that the ‘good witch [was] a more horrible and detestable monster than the bad.’ Thus, ‘if death be due to any… then a thousand deaths of right belong to the good witch.’ The logic here is impeccable. On an overt level it expresses the fact that of course the Christians will(ed) to destroy real female-identified goodness, that is, the independence, strength, wisdom, and learning through which Hags (healers, counselors, wise women, teachers) earned the respect of the people.
The import of the apparently convoluted thinking which saw the good witch as more evil than the bad witch should not be lost upon Hags. As Denise Connors has pointed out, since such women gained (and gain) respect for their work, their competence show up the incompetence of the legitimated professionals. The competition is intolerable, and the professionals cannot maintain their prestige. Clearly they are not willing to attribute such wisdom and healing power to the native talent and superiority of women. During the witchcraze, the solution was to attribute female power to the ‘fact’ that they were tools of the devil, the rival of the Christian god, that is, of males themselves. Thus, the combination of spiritual and medical knowledge made good witches the epitome of ‘evil’ to the Christian persecutors.
Not only were these wise women misnamed ‘evil’, but also ‘melancholic’. Midelfort describes this ‘melancholy’ as ‘a depressed state characterized occasionally by obscure or threatening statements and odd behaviour’. Any Hag can recognize something familiar in this description. These women were deviant and threatening, and we can safely assume that they did not titter and smile in self-depreciation. No doubt they considered patriarchy a Depressing State.
Hags can see the acting out and voyeurism of the torturers and judges as establishing a Christian precedent for the ‘live porn’ which men ‘enjoy’ today. Such entertainment reaches its logical conclusion when the female ‘performer’ is actually murdered – snuffed out. In a notorious underground porn movie shown in New York, an actual rape murder was done to the unsuspecting ‘actress,’ and the popular movie Snuff simulated this original, capitalizing on the voracious voyeuristic appetite of film-goers. This kind of entertainment is enjoyed by judges, physicians, policeman, and other professionals today, all in the line of ‘duty’, when women who have been victimized (rape victims, for example) come under their power. Nor is it only while ‘on duty’ that men in power require action to fit their fantasies. The use/abuse of prostitutes is a favourite outlet.
Although a variety of professional men act out the witch trial syndrome, the parallels between the witchburners and their modern psychiatric replacements are especially striking. Robbins points out that for the witch judges a voluntary confession did not suffice: ‘It had to be made under torture, for only then could it be presumed to come from the heart and be genuine.’ This kind of ‘reasoning’ prevails also in modern psychiatry, as Szasz has admirably demonstrated. Mental patients are also tortured and scapegoated, and are expected to pay the costs. Robbins points out that the estate of the accused witch and of her relations had to pay the costs of the entire trial, including the fees for torture. The same rule applies today for shock treatments, pschosurgery, and incarceration in mental hospitals.
Another form of scholarly mystification is illustrated in the work of social historian/anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja, The World of the Witches. In the last section of his book, adopting a modern ‘psychological’ approach, Baroja presumes to describe ‘the personality of the witch.’ He sagely informs us that ‘a woman usually becomes a witch after the initial failure of her life as a woman: after frustrated or illegitimate love affairs have left her with a sense of impotence or disgrace.’ Hags may successfully ‘double-double unthink’ this statement to mean that ‘a woman usually beomces a witch after the initial success of her life in overcoming the patriarchally defined role of ‘woman’ after seeing through the inherent contradiction of ‘romantic love’ – a clarifying process which enriches her sense of gynergy and grace.’ Baroja’s book concludes:
In conclusion, it seems to me, as a historian, that witchcraft makes me feel pity more than anything else. Pity for those who were persecuted, who wanted to do evil yet could not do it, and whose lives were generally frustrated and tragic. Pity, too, for the persecutors who were brutal because they believed that numberless dangers surrounded them.
This pitiful analysis reveals the pitfalls of ‘pity.’ Since there is no reason to think that good witches – Spinsters, midwives, healers – ‘wanted to do evil,’ this ‘pity’ is perverted and deceptive. Hags may well feel grief and anger for our tortured foresisters, but pity for their/our persecutors is not the appropriate response. Righteous anger is more in accord with the reality and can generate creative energy.
Feminists who identify their deep centering Selves with the term witch are not being merely metaphorical, or cute, or popularizing, or ‘trivialising’. I suggest, rather, that the reverse is true: that to limit the term to apply only to those who have esoteric knowledge of and participate formally in ‘the Craft’ is the real reductionism. This is the case particularly since the cult, as Murray demonstrated (perhaps inadvertently), has been strongly invaded by patriarchal influences.
Together with Robin Morgan, who has done so much both to elicit in women the wide and deep intuition of the meaning of Witch and to resist simplistic vulgarization, I hope that more feminists will give to the history of witches ‘the serious study that it warrants, recognizing it as part of our entombed history, a remnant of the Old Religion which pre-dated all patriarchal faiths and which was a Goddess-worshipping, matriarchal faith… [reading] the anthropological, religious, and mythographic studies on the subject.’ Hopefully, in doing so, we will not sacrifice the original vigor and integrity that inspired the ‘New York Covens’ in the late sixties to proclaim:
You are a Witch by saying aloud, ‘I am a Witch’ three times and thinking about that. You are a Witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal.