April 29, 2020
For as long as history can account for, women have been oppressed and belittled by society. Most of this oppression, like most things, has been supported and upheld my religious, legal, and social systems. When we consider witchcraft, we see the same treatment of women that is reflected in society, maybe even worse. From the Bible to the government, witchcraft shows us what happens when a powerful woman has control of her life. This leads to genocide and violence in numbers that are extremely unusual, but why do we sit around and allow these women to be ostracized? Maybe it is because we do not realize it’s close ties to the role of women in society, or maybe we do realize, and want to uphold the status quo. Through witchcraft, we can see the worsts of society's sexism against women. We see this through themes of violence, male supremacy, and more importantly, the “evil women” hypothesis.
Dating back to the 11th century, religious followers have been threatened by the existent of another source of power, simply because this power came from women. The history and practice of witchcraft emphasize the power of women. It is a practice that gives them hope in an unequal society and leverage over those who subject them. Witchcraft started as a discovery of the “mystical sciences,” including alchemy, astrology, and ritual. It was and still is a form of art and interpretation of these different sciences. Gaskill addresses how the Christian church reacted to the emergence of “witchcraft” with skepticism and manipulation. Leaders of the Christian church argued that there is no way this power was “Godly” and resorted to the conclusion that witchcraft was supported by the devil. Now there are many accounts in history that prove that witchcraft was not built off of devil worship, and some of the most powerful practitioners of witchcraft even belonged to powerful religious groups, such as the Catholic church. As the 16th emerged the smear campaign against women and witchcraft had blown up. All over the world, religious followers believed that witchcraft was synonymous with worshipping the devil and cast them out. This is exactly what led to the genocide and brutalization of powerful women around the world.
Because most of the religious leads especially during this time, were men, the women who practiced witchcraft instilled fear in them. Not fear of the devil or fear of losing their religion, but fear of women surpassing them in power and gaining their freedom. This posed a threat to patriarchal structures around the world and this is what sparked the “war on witches.” Violence became extremely popular and justified against witches. We saw it with drowning women and Salem and executing them in France. It was not uncommon to treat witchcraft “suspects” this way through history. The “evil women” hypothesis is one that states that society treats women who defy the status quo and “act out” in a way that differs from what is socially expected harsher than anyone. Usually, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, women were seen as prized possessions. They were thought to be fragile and delicate and handled with sure care by men. Yet, the moment a woman was liberated from this patriarchy, whether it be through witchcraft or not, they lost all senses of “delicacy” and were treated as the worst in society.
The violence has been justified by religion, culture, and laws, while men sit back and perpetrate schemes against powerful, liberated women in order to prove their supremacy within society. Witchcraft as a whole represents the way that women are treated within society. Complicit, “good” women are treated with grace, honor, and love. Liberated, independent, powerful women pose a threat to our patriarchal society, and there need to be diminished in mass numbers, just like witches.