Monday, February 27, 2012

Witchcraft IV - notes

Witchcraft -
The facts:
a) early medieval view - belief in witch craft was illegal
b) change in 15th c - lots of reasons
c) waves over next 300 years - total 40,000 - 60,000 dead
d) mostly, but not all, women
e) different patterns in different countries but some parallels - so England versus the continent (but no, it is not that simple either). Give two different examples - Mora and one from Thomas.
f) settles down in 18th c both in practice and with new legislation

a) religious or secular court
b) evil or deluded
c) if evil, pact with devil (heresy) or simply ill willed
d) kinds of evidence used - and torture or not?
e) individuals or groups
f) burned (heresy) or hanged (felony)

Historical issues
a) different sources give different stories - legislation, trial records, witch hunters' manuals, confessions, forged stories (making Catholics the bad guys), limited focus (make women exclusive victims)
b) different explanations - women got too powerful, the Catholic Church was power hungry and went after heretics and dissenters, enclosures, the protestant churches were paranoid, Christians were punishing wiccans, it was really social tension, it was a result of the Black death, or wars of religion, it was about ideas, or theology, or power, or food shortages, or fear of disease ... (so depending on what you think you check different sources)
c) the end in question - did the Enlightenment and scientific revolution end fear of magic and witchcraft or did they lead parallel lives? Bowker says in her review that "The rise of science does not explain the demise of magic of whatever kind: the two co-exist, and empiricism itself did not become a basic and permanently accepted theory of natural science even in the eighteenth century"
d) used as evidence that the church is evil - but most of the death penalties were in secular courts

Things to decide:
a) what is witchcraft?
b) what is a witch (someone who is deluded or someone who is criminally using power from the devil)?
c) when did it start and when did it end? how do we count high and low points?
d) why did it happen?
e) what were the consequences?

Different stories from different historians:
a) trevor roper
b) Thomas
c) the feminists
d) religious historians
e) current ideas

check out:

Magic - beliefs and practices regarding supernatural powers outside organized religion - helped people cope and manipulate powers to stay safe. Not a religion, not a whole, but a collection of tools and creatures and behaviors. Not initially seen as a threat to the church, because it existed WITH religion. Cunning men (and women) were thought to have special knowledge and sometimes power - medicine with rites and herbs were common, diagnosis of and protection from witchcraft, recovery of lost and stolen goods, and fortune telling. Provided REAL services. - Clashed with church ideas that misfortune was result of divine punishment, and that only God could make it good again.
Popular magic had been there for long, and remained for long [my stories]. Witchcraft was something a bit different - maleficium. Late 15th and early 17th c things got really bad - popular superstition and ecclesiastic fantasy combined to cause a perfect storm. Connected ALL witchcraft with the devil - witches were not merely dabblers in magic, but members of an organized malevolent cult, enemies of god.
Wrightson says - religious zeal basis for witch-hunts and it died down only when secular authorities, judges, stepped in. Spanish Inquisition were among the first, in 1610, and the French Parlement in 1640, abandoned prosecution of this sort of case.
The religious zeal was both protestant and Catholic .... but not in England people say. Authorities in England never fully bought into the central European notions of witchcraft and their laws reflect it. Witchcraft was never prosecuted as a heresy in England - first act in 1542 made it a felony to practice witchcraft for unlawful purposes - law only lasted five years, then disappeared with nothing else in its stead. In 1563 new Act made it a felony to invoke evil spirits and if someone died as a result, execution was the punishment. 1604 Act made it felony to bewitch someone either to death or to injure them - for lesser forms of sorcery imprisonment was the punishment. .. you can see influence of continental ideas in that it is made illegal to dig up bodies for witchcraft purposes, and it was made illegal to feed or consult with an evil spirit. The diabolical connection was still limited, and the crime was primarily seen as antisocial (Thomas). In English trials there are few references to diabolical pacts, no witches Sabbaths or flying and very little sex with the devil. They did had familiars. English trials focused on evildoing. In England trials were rarely instigated from above - no evidence that the authorities wanted a witch hunt, with one exception. Usually individual victims brought issue to trial. They were sporadic and limited. Torture was not used and so no tortured confessions and suspects did not therefor implicate others.Lots of cases in Essex ...
Big spike during last quarter of 16th century - decline after 1620, justices of the peace and assize judges had trouble with evidence (they thought it happened but how could you prove it) and people increasing wondered if it was possible, maybe it was a fantasy brought on by hysteria - and the people who thought they had powers were deluded.
But why the rise? Keith Thomas and Alan McFarland explored the evidence and said - witches were usually elderly and usually women, and they were usually accused of bewitching neighbors, not strangers, and they were usually poorer than their accusers. Scenario: quarrel that ended with witch going away cursing and muttering - victim suffers mishap - talks to friends - witch is accused as cause of mishap. It is possible that the witch used the setup to frighten neighbors.This explains the classic pattern (although there were plenty of exceptions), but it does not explain the timing?
a) loss of the protective "magic" of the medieval church
b) unusual tensions in society and economic distress - - people who had refused charity could shake the responsibility by charging the Other with witchcraft - this has been widely accepted as the sociological explanation
c) then focus on gender, most of the witches were women - Thomas says most of the needy were women ... Wrightson says that one must pause at claiming this was organized repression - certainly it was the case that the association of witchcraft with women came out of misogynist attitudes. Women were seen as morally weaker and more likely to get back at neighbors. But it was not that simple - many of the accusers were women. And conversely, many male juries acquitted suspects. So gender is there - but complicated. Or,as Christine Larner puts it,"witchcraft was not sex-specific, but it was sex-related".
Two questions arise in the English case
a) why were these statutes passed? first two at beginning of new regimes (symbolism? acts passed as part of propaganda of new regime giving legitimacy) - also perhaps political contingency, responding to plots against the monarch? First happened after a plot against Elizabeth where sorcery was supposedly involved and Cecil realized there was not legal recourse. The laws made witchcraft prosecutions possible, but there was no coordinated effort to use them.
b) why so many cases in Essex? 1566, 1582, 1589 saw three celebrity cases that made a big stink and stir - there were groups going on trial rather than individuals and there was lots of publicity.

1645 Matthew Hopkins - witchfinder general