Allegations Of Both Male And Female Witches In Early Modern Europe

2264 words - 10 pages

The witch hunts in early modern Europe were extensive and far reaching. Christina Larner, a sociology professor at the University of Glasgow and an influential witchcraft historian provides valuable insight into the witch trials in early modern Europe in her article 'Was Witch-Hunting Woman-Hunting?'. Larner writes that witchcraft was not sex-specific, although it was sex-related (Larner, 2002). It cannot be denied that gender plays a tremendous role in the witch hunts in early modern Europe, with females accounting for an estimated 80 percent of those accused (Larner, 2002). However, it would be negligent to pay no heed to the remaining 20 percent, representing alleged male witches (Larner, 2002). The legal definition of a witch in this time, encompassed both females and males (Levack, 1987). This essay will explore the various fundamental reasons for this gender discrepancy and highlight particular cases of witchcraft allegations against both women and men. These reasons arise from several fundamental pieces of literature that depict the stereotypical witch as female. These works are misogynistic and display women as morally inferior to men and highly vulnerable to temptations from demons (Levack, 1987). This idea is blatantly outlined in the text of the 'Malleus Maleficarum' written by James Sprenger and Henry Kramer in the late fifteenth century. This book is used as the basis for many of the witch trials in early modern Europe (Levack, 1987). The text describes women as sexually submissive creatures and while remarking that all witchcraft is derived from intense sexual lust, a women is thus a prime candidate for witchcraft (Sprenger & Kramer, 1487). In this time period, men are seen as powerful and in control and thus rarely fall victim to such allegations. In addition, according to the 'Malleus Maleficarum', birthmarks, mental illness, sowing herbs, and living on one's own are all plausible reasons to believe someone is, in fact, a witch (Sprenger & Kramer, 1487).
Both women and men fall victim to allegations of witchcraft in Europe in the early modern era (Larner, 2002). It is often the case that those accused of practising witchcraft are individuals who have failed to adhere to society's distinct gender roles. In many instances of witchcraft allegations the man or woman being accused is viewed as acting in a manner contrary to the way in which their patriarchal society has deemed acceptable (Larner, 2002. In the case of allegations against females, this often means that the accused has neglected to partake in feminine activities such as being an adequate caregiver or keeping an orderly homestead (Larner, 2002). Larner describes the stereotypical female witch as “an independent adult woman who does not conform to the male idea of proper female behaviour (Larner, 2002).” Females in early modern Europe are acquainted with subordination to males, and consequently a powerful woman, in this era, is deemed as something out of the ordinary...

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