Witchcraft Paper Outline, 1974

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Witchcraft Persecution: A Means of Social Control of Women

. In 17th Century America

I. A Feminist Approach

The paper opens with quotations from John Winthrop's Journal

where he referred to outspoken Massachusetts women as "instruments

of the devil.” A feminist approach to the study of witchcraft is defined and discussed. How does it differ from traditional ones?

To focus on the accused women and their alleged crimes without sexist bias, is to realize that witchcraft charges were used to punish othere wise unpunishable violations of unwritten social codes. This was

not the only basis for 17th century colonial witchcraft prosecutions but is important and has been largely overlooked.

II. The European Background

English colonists brought belief in witchcraft to the New World with them. Cases of witches hung on the high seas en route to Virginia and Maryland. witchcraft in medieval Europe and the misogyny of the Ealleus haleficarum is briefly discussed. Theories of anthropologist Margaret Murray connecting witchcraft trials with efforts to suppress an Old Religion in which women predominated. The early 17th century witch craze in England was experienced by immigrants to America. The effect of the Civil War and the activities of the female sectaries (including Ranters, Seekers, Quakers) in stirring anti—feminist senti- ment among Englishmen. . .

III. Witchcraft in the New World

_ A prevalent misconception.is that "New England‘s.record in regard

to witchcraft is surprisingly good." (Chadwick Hansen, flitehcraft

at Salem, N.Y., 1969.) Witchcraft prosecutions in the sougthern colonies usually are barely mentioned. However, a survey of admittedly incomplete records indicates formal witchcraft charges were brought ‘against women in all the most populous English colonies (Virginia, Maryland, Connecticuit and Massachusetts). The statistics of knoa. executions for witchcraft and of formal court actions against women accused of practicing witchcract. Comnarison with English records, including consideration of approximate total female pooulations. In addition, lingering suspicions of witchcraft which never were formalizei by court actions will be discussed. The prevalence of such informal notoriety can only be guessed at through examples of slander action brought by some victims and through evidence revealed at the Salem witch trials. A reputation as a witch as a means of controlling the behavior of women is an discussed.

Miriam Schneir - 2

IV. The Crimes of the Witches

A. Sharp—tongued, argumentative and litigous women charged with being witches. Examples: Goodwife Wright; Grace Sherwood; Sarah Good; Elizabeth Garlick; etc.

B. Women who were (or seemed to be) sexually seductive rumored to be witches. Sexual fantasies in testimony against accused witches. and in witchcraft confessions.

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C. Women who were not appropriately ?$$§3$6]to their husbands or who openly defied their husbands‘ wishes were eccused of being witches. Example of Ann Hibbens and others. .

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D. Midwives and other female healers heavily represented sgstrmrv

among accused witches.


E. Women who dared to rebel politically or in the churches4fre— quentl? found themselves labelled as witches. Example of Mary Oliver and otxers. Conclusions.