March 2nd, 2020
By the 20th century, witchcraft and witches were engrained in popular culture nationally. Specifically, the violence, fear, and anxiety that came with mentioning the topic. Not only were people scared of witches, but they were intrigued. They viewed them as a “separate creature” or something other than human. It’s almost as if witches were fetishized for the ambiguity that existed in their craft, and it’s the ability to instill fear in nonbelievers. Because of this fear, violence was not far behind. The 20th century was popular for its strong reinforcement of patriarchal gender roles. Women were viewed as property, specifically being delicate, fragile, and needed to be handled with care. Yet, this all went down the drain when women began getting accused of witchcraft. It was a common practice to force suspected witches in a body of water while restrained and drowned to test if they were guilty. Not surprisingly, many of these women died or suffered extreme health conditions for simply being “suspected” of witchcraft. What exactly made a woman seem like a witch? This is an age-old question, that will probably never get answered without the effect of gender roles and societal norms.
Women with marginalized identities were the first to be suspected and convicted of witchcraft. It’s as if once you added witch to the equation, it canceled out the “womanhood” that was so highly valued during this time. Women were beaten, murdered, and dissected all in the name of “justice” or the “law.” Specifically, these women were often poor, women of color, or who were usually not married. To start, it was extremely punishing to be a woman in these eras without a husband. It was as if you were a homeless animal, who no one cared to help because of your age, or appearance. Many of these women practiced witchcraft for religious reasons, but more importantly to try to rid themselves of the situations they were in. Witchcraft was their outlet, or even their last source to become independent and happy. Because these women were poor, the spells and ceremonies that were practiced were with free or very cheap, easily attainable materials. One specific spell was one that consisted of putting urine, iron nails, brass pins, hair, fingernails, a pierced leather heart, and unusual, but body involved ingredients into a stone bottle. This bottle was suspected to be intended for a love spell, or even an anti-love spell due to the sticking pin. Many spells and rituals were similar to this, the ingredients usually consisted of elements that could be found in anyone’s home. It was easy, low cost, and not a very risky thing for women, especially those who did not have access to other resources.
Even though, many of these spells either did not directly hurt or affect someone, in reality, fear consumed the mind of the public so easily with the thought that it could POSSIBLY be real. I also believe that due to the norms and expectations of society, mainstream groups saw poor women of color actually trying to make their lives better for themselves and panicked. Witchcraft gave women the hope that they could “pull themselves u from the bootstraps,” and enhance their life. This would have been an epidemic in the era because power imbalances and structure were extremely rigid and reluctant to equality. The thought of a poor woman of color being happy, was a dangerous and threatening though to the patriarchal and classist society that existed. Due to this marginalized, poor, women were disproportionally affected by the violence and hatred that resisted the practice of witchcraft. The hunt for witches became a way to punish women who chose to live alternatively than that of society, rather than actually malice or harm caused by witchcraft.