Max Dashu on the suppressed truth behind witch hunts

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You are listenning to femminist curent, I’m Megan Murphy.
These days we talk about witch hunt, most often in a metaphore contents.
We forget or perhaps we nerver learnt the very real or very greasy history of witch hunts and how they ship society today.
Max Dashu’s life’s work is focused on uncovering in women suppressed history. Which is meant [] into a long and ugly history of the withc hunts. Which have been sustained, internally glassed over by men’s history books. understanding the gender nature of the witch hunt and the ongoing impact of silencing women speach that began so long ago that resonnate infrightenningly similar parts today. If we wish to avoid repeating history in order to women to fight back against patriarchy oppression.
I spoke with Max over the phone last week. Here’s an interview :

MM : Where and when did this fear of witches and witchcraft takes origines in the firste place ?
MD : That’s a really complicated question of course. You know, but, I mean what I’m trying to track is, in my series, is what happened in Europe. That context, I mean, you have to use wich persecution as a [] to a mini part of the world, and so you know, we have been currently witch hunt in india [], in africa, new guinea. So this is one tool on a kit circle. But in European context some of this goes back so far that we can’t really track at. some example like burning at the stake, you know, was a roman punishment but it get pretty the romans and it get really murky because we don’t have a record past a certain point and we can’t go back in time, you know, so , the examples of greek and romans witch persecution of burning is being used but it’s very little documentation I had some. And so that’s why area there are references this happening in a dramatic world again and very very slim.

The iconographic representations of the witches : the engravings used to spread hatred

Since the XIIIe century, when the witch hunt extended, the medieval iconography has been used to call the masses to hate the witches. The artists, laymen or clerks, show witches as evil creatures riding with the Devil and pagan goddesses to annihilate men (women being already associated to Satan, by nature). To cast that image of horror among the peasants, the artists used several meanings but one of them more than the others : the engravings. From the XVe century, engravings were the media than was the most used when a witch was pictured. Why such an infatuation for engravings? First, it is simple and fast to produce. The engravings were fastly printed, and therefore transmitted far more quickly than paintings or other artistic medias. It also allow the artist to show many details, including the faces of the characters and in the scenery : dreadfull women were shown half naked, having sexual intercourses with demons during satanic orgies, while eating human flesh, especially children’s. Those evil scenes were spread all along the century, as well among the intellectual elites as of low classes. Witches became enemies of mankind, and men had to eliminate them before falling into chaos.

This scene shows an aspect of the Sabbath, the famous party where witches worship the Devil, insult God and the Church and have sex while eating children.

This engraving pictures naked witches to enlight their animal side (old angry women or young girls too beautiful to be human). They are making potions, surrounded by human remains. They seem to feed a baby, probably to devour him. This scene shows an aspect of the Sabbath, the famous party where witches worship the Devil, insult God and the Church and have sex while eating children. Artists show many Sabbaths, being free to render it as they wanted. Here, the artist was willing to picture the role of the Devil in the feast and how he make men eat disgusting dishes such as rats carcasses. But one of the most famous engraving is without a doubt The Witch by Albrecht Dürer. An old witch riding a goat (the ultimate pagan animal), attacking young angels. This representation includes most of the caracteristics described in this article. The best artists used those themes, extending witch hunt.

As a consequence, Middle Age women suffered a lot from those engravings which made men hate elderly ladies and young beautiful girls. Nowadays, there are still remains of these iconographic habits. Who has never thought of an old, dirty woman when being told about a witch? The western thinking took a very long time to evolve, and we had to wait until the beginning of the XIXe century to see the last woman burning for witchcraft.

Witche’s graphic representations : typology.

Witches encountered many iconographic representations throughout the Late Middle Ages (13th-15th centuries).

Artists at the service of the sermons and Greek philosophers portrayed strong aggressive images regarding women.
De facto, woman in Middle Ages is linked with the witch because of its nature (she is a sinner because she tried Adam, she is the cause of the fall of Paradise and the misfortunes of men) unill she entierely becomes « The Witch » from the thirteenth century. Therfore, this concept is embodied by a typically feminine creature, associated with seduction, sexual perversion (the sexual desires of women were seen as devilishness in the eyes of clergymen) and malice (seeking to precipitate man into Hell and making him suffer).

Iconographic representations serve these misogynist ideas developed between the thirteenth and fifteenth century.

Here are some models of « witches », according to popular beliefs between the thirteenth and fifteenth century (those pictures were made more recentely though) :

1: the hideous old woman:

This is one of the most represented images.

*The old woman is associated with death, disease (plague) and the dark side of the world *Old single women: recurring victims of the inquisition
*The old woman is frightenning by her ugliness.
*Many depictions of old women as witches in cinema, like this image from Benjamin Christiensen’s HÄXAN (1921), the witch is often portrayed as a witch preparing deadly potions or love filters.
We all have the image in the head of the old woman alone in her cottage making potions. *The loneliness of these people accentuates the strange, demonic side of the old woman *She is alone ; so she takes revenge by casting spells

HÄXAN – Benjamin Christiensen

2: the young woman all dressed up :

*Adornments and beautiful clothes are severely condemned by the Church
*The sin of lust is considered as reserved for women wanting to appear beautiful
*Lust becomes a mark of sorcery (aiming to precipitate men into the fault)
*The Sabbath Witch is often portrayed young and too beautiful to be an honest woman *Lust is against the principle of begging conveyed by the origins of Christianity
*According to clerics and popular belief, women don’t have rational intelligence close to God , so they try to fill this gap by dressing up as a pagan goddess close to the devil
*Young girls also had a limited intelligence compared to married women’s.
*The nudity of the female body is also seen as a mark of witchcraft (always attached to the desire to seduce men), women’s bodies were cursed by the clerics, female sexes representing a lack of the male phallic appendix (seen as the glory of God)
*The atractiveness of young virgins girls could also be seen as a connection with the devil.

Witche’s Sabbat – Luis Ricardo Falero 

3: Adulterous wife:

The adulterous wife see also her representation slightly turning into witche in religious and popular mentalities from the XIII century.

* The adulteress is a woman who seduces a man who is not her husband, so she is at
fault beyong men and God
*The wife must, at this time, submit to the natural authority of her husband. If she deceives him with another man, she insults the male sex by encouraging him to commit the sin of adultery.
*An adulterous husband is never punished by law, justified by the fact he can claim to have been deceived by magic, and therefore against his will.
* Only women are sentenced for adultery, because men have the right to dominate all women under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, to dominate them even becomes a duty in witchcraft trials.
* Adultery is then punishable by death.

4: the woman « with light morals »:

* Prostitutes and women wanting to be free from body and mind could be condemned for witchcraft
* there was no question of freedom of expression or sexuality of the woman because of men supremacy
* the feminine sexuality being seen as diabolical, women selling their charms or wanting to practice a position other than that of the missionary was considered as witches because outgoing their rank of submissives women
* the « intelligent » woman (who dared to respond to a man or who questioned the place of women in society by taking rights reserved to men) was considered a witch because she aspired to a domination of men, so to a renouncing the order established by God