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Witchcraft In U.S. History

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The religion of Witchcraft dates back about 25,000 years, to the Paleolithic Age, where the God of Hunting and the Goddess of Fertility first appeared. Out of respect for the overwhelming power of Nature grew a belief in beings, gods, who controlled the winds, the seas, the earth and the fires (Rinehart). People have been slaughtered for ages because they had different belief systems or they simply were not liked. Whether they were witches or not, hundreds of thousands of people have been burned at the stake, dunked in freezing rivers, or otherwise tortured because people accused them of being witches.

People have been moving over to get a better life Shortly after Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic trying to get to India and unknowingly bumped into South America. People started moving over very quickly after finding that gold was present in South America. Several countries moved into various parts of South America, Central America, what is now Mexico, North America, and Canada. This new place was ripe for the taking there was gold, plenty of game and a lot of farmland. In 1620, a group of Separatist Puritans called Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in the Mayflower seeking religious freedom.

Once the pilgrims got settled down in various villages people started accusing each other of practicing witchcraft. Whether it was new people from another separatist group or just jealousy the accusations flew.

The people who were often thought to be the accusers of witches were commonly believed to be men wishing to suppress unruly women. This may be true, but is far more indirect and subtle than popularly believed.

The responsibilities held by a housewife had immense importance in her role in society. Women were responsible for preserving the boundaries of social and cultural life. When this process was disrupted, the authority and identity of the housewife were put into question, she could no longer control the processes needed to fulfill her role. Instead of admitting this loss of control, it may have been easier for the housewife to blame a witch, usually someone who had wronged her. (Starkey 24)

Female accusers may have felt the need to prove their own "normality" and their willingness to accept the restrictions and assumptions of a religious society. Accusing another may also have been a way of diverting attention away from themselves.

It may also have been that men manipulated such fears in order to dominate women.

Due to the anxiety surrounding pregnancy, when a woman was nearing birth, she chose four or five close friends. One of them would be the midwife, and they saw her through the labor. They provided her with a mother's caudle, which was warmed ale or wine with sugar and spices. They also blocked the keyholes in the room and hung heavy drapes over the windows. This served to separate the mother from normal household affairs. No men were allowed in the house during the birth period.

(Marshal 53)


Problems arose when a baby was stillborn, malformed or died soon after birth. On these occasions the mother sought to blame outside influences. Often, a woman who had not been chosen to be one of the people involved may feel she had been unfairly treated, and if she voiced these beliefs and the baby was harmed in some way, then the woman who was not included was often blamed. (Marshal 53)

It has been believed those accused of witchcraft were lonely old women who lived alone on the outskirts of the village and possibly had knowledge of the healing properties of herbs. (Marshal 54)

It is true to say that women were the healers who gathered the herbs and made up the medicines. It was a strong fear that these women could use their knowledge of herbs to harm as well as well as heal. It would also be true to say that "old" women (around 40 or 50) were believed to be "useless" to the community. Such marginal women were feared dangerous, due to a desire seen in them to affect the community in a craving for importance and respect.

Many of the accused probably did conform to this stereotype, although the high proportion of younger women accused also begs an explanation.

The social and legal inferiority of women seemed to trigger fear in men that women would use diabolical means to gain desired recognition. If women were, in general, less trusted and more feared, intimidation and torture would be more likely directed at them. (Marshal 53)


It was also very common, for a man to excuse a love affair by claiming he had been bewitched, this would seem a logical explanation for the high proportion of attractive young women being accused of witchcraft.

Whatever power women were denied, they still possessed the power over life itself. This power lead to some beliefs that women may also have had power over death. The miracle of birth held such importance (due to high infant mortality) that fears escalated during pregnancy, birth and the first years of life. The many precautions taken before, during, and after the birth lead to superstition based upon the anxieties experienced. (Site 5)

It could also be that midwives were accused due to the complex rituals that were performed during the birth period Ð'- such as using blessed cradles. These could cause suspicion among those present if the rituals were not performed satisfactorily and

the baby was stillborn or malformed. (Site 5)

A woman's role as housewife also endowed her with power, it was the housewife's responsibility to keep the house orderly and clean, and feed and clothe the inhabitants. A woman's domestic responsibilities were filled with symbolic significance. A housewife's responsibilities involved transforming "natural" items into culturally useful and acceptable objects: she must create thread from wool, cream, butter, and whey from milk. In cooking, churning, spinning, skimming and washing, the housewife became a mediator between nature and culture. (Site 5)


The witch was often represented as the "anti-housewife." The presence of witchcraft and sorcery is often claimed when milk goes sour or cows won't produce milk. It is in this way that the witch was seen to rebel, creating chaos, pollution and disorder where she should maintain order, cleanliness, and tradition. (Site 3)

The demand for female submission was growing, as early modern society



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