Witches: An Ecofeminist History Lesson

Magic CircleAlison Parker writes in Bitch Magazine:

To me, witches are the quintessential ecofeminists.

“Witch” is a word that was sullied by various groups of long ago, but it’s been reclaimed by herbalists like me. Witches and the word “witch” have many meanings in many cultures, but for the purposes of this post, I will touch on just one context, one dark moment of history: The suppression of witches—or healers who were mainly women—in medieval Europe that went on for centuries, and the themes behind those witch hunts that still appear in society today.

My mind began to swim with this idea of witch-as-ecofeminist while working at a medicinal herb farm as a farmhand long ago. I had been seeding herbs in the greenhouse alongside another worker, who was semi-complaining about the job, but then finally shrugged. “This one is way better than my last job at an herb farm,” she said. “That one was way too feminist for me.”

Feeling a twinge of disappointment, I pressed her; “You don’t consider yourself a feminist?”

“No, I wouldn’t say so,” she sighed. “I guess I just see myself as more…neutral.”

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  • Anarchy Pony

    May our ancestral Priestesses and Holy Women rest in peace after falling to the savage christ worshipers and their brutal oppression.

    • Aungsan

      Witches are actually among the precursors of modern medicine, it was them the ones that first opened bodies and examine them in a time when doing so was brutally punished by the powerful church; a nice reading on the historical figure is Jules Michelet book “the Witch”.

  • Sonnenritter

    Males are to blame for all of the world’s problems. Politicians against radical feminist politics are the same as 17th century witch burners who grabbed innocent people and burned them alive. They’re a bunch of gynephobic misogynists who have secret meetings on how to ruin womens’ lives and make society more “male-centric” 

  • Ingrid White

    There are several outdated misconceptions in this article. Witch-hunting manifested in various different ways, all across Europe– not just the western areas. Secondly, the death toll was, most liberally, no more than a hundred thousand. This leaves more than enough room for error, since historians have counted less than 20,000 recorded witch trial deaths on whole.

    Also, there was also a high percentage of men persecuted as well– not just women… there were even areas of Europe like Norway where the majority of persecuted witches were men.

    And even though the infamous Malleus Maleficarum was penned by a Catholic, its ideas were widely rejected even by the Inquisition, since church theologians believed that witches actually had no power, and to claim so was heretical. The Inquisition was, in fact, the most lenient when it came to witchcraft charges– the accused were most often forgiven with confession, and did not commonly resort to torture and execution in such sentences. The worst incidences came from unstable border regions, and, ironically, in many instances when witches were accused by other cunning-folk and magical practitioners themselves, often out of jealousy or superstition.

    Also, it is highly unlikely that witches were actually organized or formed secret societies, since the majority of them were poor, illiterate, and spent almost all of their time at the home and hearth. The idea of some “secret witch conspiracy” comes mostly from paranoid witch-hunters who tortured their victims to implicate as many people as possible. Healers and folk magicians certainly did share some traditions, but this was common folklore and mythology found all over Europe. So-called “secret societies” were usually well-off and educated Christian men exchanging letters and manuscripts on esoteric topics like Alchemy and Rosicrucianism.

    Granted, folk healing and cunning-craft was a very real phenomenon that helped give the underclass (especially women) an active role in a vibrant spiritual heritage that the Church denied them. But most of this article’s ideas come from sources that are unreliable and outdated, written by those who were passionate about the subject but did not consult any first-hand historical documents themselves, merely handing down the same “Burning Time” myth that becomes more lurid and sensational with each retelling.

    Scholars have made a lot of ground since then. Those interested in the subject should consult exhaustive contemporary studies on the subject, such as “The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe”, “Man As Witch: Male Witches in Central Europe”, and “Cunning-Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic “.

    This article, written by a female neopagan scholar, is also a good level-headed take on the matter:
    http://www.tangledmoon.org/witchhunt.htm

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