2015/05/05

The 'Wicked Witch' in the Sixteenth Century... and Today


The word ‘witchcraft’ brings to the mind visual images and emotional reactions for many people. So it has from the creation of the idea of magic, witchcraft, etc… but even in our civilized and enlightened society today. The origins of magic and its practitioners or ‘witches’ are unclear; there are various references to both in the King James Version of the Holy Bible, in the Jewish holy scripture book called the Torah, in laws and court hearings in both Ancient Greece and Rome as well as references and myths written by the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Early Egyptians and the Persians. Depending on the time frame and the culture in which you live, the images and emotions provoked are very different. Today as I get ready for the Halloween traditions in my culture, I expect to see costume- clad children knocking on my door and I will ‘ohh and aww’ over their choices while I pass out goodies and smiles. It was not always this way and the ideas of witchcraft and magic, or ‘unnatural acts’, have provoked much less benign and more violent reactions from those who feel threatened.

So what is witchcraft… and who are those who practice it? Again, that definition can change based on time, place and culture, but the generic definition of witchcraft can read as follows: the practice of magic, especially black magic; the use of spells and the invocation of spirits… the art or practices of a witch. Those who practice the craft are thought to be individuals with three specific qualities; use of malevolent power, a depraved heretic towards the majority religion and/or power structure, and also the acts of sexual deviancy. It was thought that both men and women could practice the art of magic and in some cases that magic could be ‘white’ (good) or ‘black’ (bad). During the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the idea of witchcraft and its practitioners changed in the minds of many and how it was dealt with became a larger and more significant issue then it had been in other times during human history. Many aspects of culture at this time can be analyzed to understand and recognize how situations like witch-hunts happen, how the targeted individuals are picked and why, and what forces are in play to cause the volatile fearful situations. I wish to look at the political, education, social, and religious constructs of early modern Germany as well as the continent of Europe as a whole to try and understand how all the violence came to be and who it was against. It is hopeful by understanding it, we can work to not perpetuate it in our own lives and cultures.

This time period was a time of great change and many of these transitions help explain some of the fear and escalation in these communities. This was the time in history that we also call the Reformation when the Christian religion was going through a significant change as the Catholic Church no longer had a complete monopoly on Christ and Christian thought. Individuals such as Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote about their ideas/ thoughts on their concerns in the Catholic Church and its teachings following with suggestions for change and needed reform. These men and others created new communities or groups that came to be known as Protestants and which vied with the Catholic Church for converts. Rulers, kings and other political elite found that the doctrinal instability in the religions and communities correlated into political instability. One side benefit - rulers who converted to a Protestant religion could stop paying the Roman church high taxes and could also seize Catholic funds and assets in their own lands providing themselves with a new source of revenue. During this time there were also times of sickness and famine as the ‘Little Ice Age’ passed through which caused a lot of hardship and death for all. Protestant thought at this time also stressed that Satan was a physical being and Luther himself described himself as having many encounters with Satan who attempted to keep him from reforming the church. So it is into this time of insecurity- both of doctrine, politics and the beginnings of the questioning of sexual relationships, power that we start our journey into sixteenth Germany.

Before the sixteenth century, the idea of witches and their ‘craft’ were fading from the public sphere across Europe and magic was thought to be a superstitious practice with very little real power. In the early Catholic church, the ideas of witchcraft were thought to consist more of idolatry and illusion- sins to be sure, but not the cause of direct harm to others and, in an anonymous text titled Canon Episcopi from the ninth century which is part of canon law, it states that ‘there was no such thing as an actual witch’. During the development of early modern Germany and other states, misogynist writings and men in power worked to change the viewpoint of the whole society towards witches, magic and its practitioners. Books such as the “Malleus Maleficarum” helped to define and spread the new image of witches; they were real, they were women, and the source of all societal degradation. Add to those ideas the concerns of Catholics at a rapidly changing religious landscape, the changing power structure, and the tensions between the differing factions began to stretch and break. Some women joined one of the differing groups of Protestants and found they had more opportunities and influence than they had when participating in the Catholic Church. The obvious threats to the power structure of the church caused the religious male hierarchy to go on the offensive. Under the belief that the female sex is more susceptible to evil influences and is the inferior of both genders, any woman who did not strongly conform to the local religious and cultural expectations was easily accused of being a witch. (Some historians show evidence that the witch hunts were strongest and encompassed the most victims in territory that was 'Protestant controlled' but that is not definitive- Sociologist Nachman ben-Yehuda states, “Only the most rapidly developing countries where the Catholic Church was weakest, experienced a virulent witch craze.”) It is quite evident that both religions and their leaders used the supposition of witchcraft as a way to try and regain their lost power and hierarchy in areas where they were at risk. In some cases, there is evidence that men who were not seen as being vigilant enough in finding and persecuting witches were disparaged as men who were weak, womanly, etc... What is clear is that the idea of witches/witchcraft was no longer a subtle idea or existed only in the realm of thought- these ideas were now useful as a confrontational and aggressive way to deal with ‘enemies’ or other undesirables in the community.

In essence, any woman who (or was thought to be) engaged in behavior that felt threatening or was unconventional in behavior or appearance was at serious risk for problems. Many women could be accused and found guilty and executed on little to no evidence of significant wrong doing. The most common way was to accuse a 'witch' and charge her with heresy. As the definition of heresy was defined by the specific religion but usually enforced not only religious orders and leaders but also enforced by the secular legal power structure. In that light, a heresy charge was a pretty significant and threatening event in someone’s life as well as a charge that didn’t depend on physical proof for convictions- circumstantial evidence, hearsay and confessions under torture were sufficient. Due to women’s influence in their homes and as the transmitter of the culture to their young children, they were in the position to spread unconventional information to their children. As this could potential force changes in the hierarchy and its power, men were encouraged to be actively engaged in keeping the women in their family / household under their control. Single women, whether due to a lack of marriage or from being widowed, were also likely to be accused and condemned for a few reasons. Due to their single status, they had no male protectors and were easier to accuse than married females. In that same sense, they had no men to ‘control’ and keep tabs on them and their behavior and if they were self-sufficient or financially independent, any woman who could be seen as too prominent in society for any reason was in a dangerous situation. Also, by being single and taking assents, these women could and did stand in the way of the orderly transmission of property from one generation of males to another.

The ways that ‘witches’ were caught and were mostly women make sense in the power structure at that time. Midwives who practiced medicine could be targeted for that by their male rivals. A midwife or healer could be accused if a birth didn’t end perfectly or a child died- even one accusation could easily multiply as other individuals looked back at past experiences and reinterpreted them with the accusation in mind. In some ways, midwives, and medical women were seen to have power over life and death. Over centuries, the Catholic Church taught that the suffering and illness of this world were only temporary and fleeting. It was thought that God was no longer involved in the physical world so anyone who was able to divine or understand natural knowledge was seen as using supernatural power… or power from the devil. As the concept of medicine and medical care developed and gained a following, the church put its backing behind the upper class men who studied and practiced it and supported medical care for the few who could afford it. To control medical knowledge, it was taught in the first universities (in which women were not allowed to study) so any woman who practiced medicine was self or informally taught – a method described as “If a women dares to cure without having studied than she is a witch and must die.” Add to those thoughts that women were thought to be more likely to be able to weld unnatural, malevolent power and even bad weather and environmental conditions were blamed on local women. Whether being accused of calling up a storm to try and drown a King in his ship at sea, a papal bull stating “…have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine….” or the entire chapter written on the subject in the Malleus Maleficarum titled “How they Raise and Stir up Hailstorms and Tempests, and Cause Lightening to Blast both Men and Beasts” ending with the sentence “Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that, just as easily as they raise hailstorms, so can they cause lightning and storms at sea; and so no doubt at all remains on these points.”

The other thing that made women more likely to be accused and punished of witch craft was if they could be suspected of sexual deviancy. Many women were prosecuted based on charges relating to their own motherhood and role in the home. Sexual orgies, having sexual relations with the devil and the normal sexual misbehavior or fornication and adultery were all reasons that could be used in accusations of witchcraft. Any kind of male sexual dysfunction- from impotence to premature ejaculation to complete disappearance of the penis and other sexual organs was also blamed on the power and perversion of witches. To counter this problem, men used trials to assert their dominance over women and their bodies with public strip searches, torture, etc… giving themselves permission to sexual assault women and remind everyone of their place.

There seems little doubt that religion and gender played a huge role in the witch-hunts in early modern Germany. Whether the ‘witch’ was burned, hanged, strangled, or beheaded, it is clear that most of the accused were female and were chosen because they were perceived to be a threat to the male hierarchy. By criminalizing women’s attempts to share power as well as the anxiety that was felt by the male hierarchy over women’s societal roles and the influence and power in them, a women’s perceived sexual prowess, and the general weakness of women to resist and therefore were more susceptible to witchcraft, those in power had a lot of leverage to control women’s behavior, place in society and to remove them if necessary. We still struggle with these same issues today. While we no longer call women we fear witch (very often) and as a civilized society unnecessary violence is abhorred, the fears, confusion and anger over women and their choices spills out into the communities in more subtle and acceptable forms in our patriarchal society- negative labels, harassment or assault both physical and sexual, as well as cultural expectations that indirectly (and directly) place limits on the behavior of women. Politicians and those individuals on all sides of the political spectrum use their beliefs, desires, value systems and power in society to 'create' and name our new 'witches'- single mothers, poor and elderly women, feminists, working women, women in power, minorities, etc... Some religions also continue to set limits and rules on women's expectations and behavior that are not applicable to men and women who speak out against injustices in their faith communities can be removed or kicked out- many by male only courts. It is important to recognize that, while the concentrated and active witch trials of the sixteenth century are in the past and we no longer 'burn' witches, the feelings, anger, and power struggles of that era have not been resolved and are still alive in us and our society today. That different methods are used to cause fear, oppression, or motivation to keep the status quo of power in the hands of the few, the rich, and the male doesn't suggest anything other than a recognition of the gender power struggle itself will not bring about peace between genders and stability in society. Only time, a willingness to share power and humility will bring the possibility of that….





pictures from: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/dominicselwood/100252072/the-dark-deep-roots-of-britains-fascination-with-witchcraft/, http://www.damnedct.com/connecticut-witchcraft-trials, http://www.biography.com/people/john-calvin-9235788, http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/shop/the-malleus-maleficarum-in-latin-pdf/, http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/shop/the-malleus-maleficarum-in-latin-pdf/, http://witchnest.blogspot.com/2010/07/killing-witches-as-best-way-to-kill.html, http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0CAMQjxw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.academic.ru%2Fdic.nsf%2Fenwiki%2F11823268&ei=cKPjVPK9L-OxsASR94DIDw&psig=AFQjCNGjAAFlzXs6eji2QEbpsIhDxcZ0Pg&ust=1424291020320634, http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/11823268,

2015/05/01

Introduction to This Month’s Topic: The History of Women in Western Civilization


This was a class I wanted to take for a few reasons. One reason is that I love history and it feels like I have studied it all my life. I grew up with a thirst for it and devoured every book I could find that I could understand. I think that this passion for learning and history has served me well in my life and has been very enjoyable for me. However, I found that I felt over time that my knowledge was really very limited and as I looked at it from an education and a religious standpoint, I realized that I pretty much can give the basics on many of the individuals that have made history, but the majority are men. The exceptions in my mind can be classified as wealthy, white, powerful women such as Catherine the Great of Russia and Queen Elizabeth I of England... which were rare. Over the last year or so, I have tried to change that and have actively tried to look at the flip side of the coin so to speak. I have found the information a lot more challenging to come by and having anyone to discuss the information I do find with is difficult because the history of anyone besides men isn't taught in most standard classes so the discussion becomes a bit of a lecture or monologue.... which is no fun at all. So I saw this particular class as a lot of fun and a great resource towards gaining more knowledge, but also more guidance towards more resources for future study. I was hopeful that I can learn more not only about women and their struggles in culture, families and in creating a human history of their own, but also that I can develop a better understanding of the struggle for gender equality that is going on in my own lifetime. I also wanted to have a better understanding of how power and entitlement work between gender, class and race and how people are working towards changing the cultural biases that affect the under-privileged majority of people.

I found myself really interested in learning about how women's history is being compiled by historians and feminists today and how, as history is complied, what forces or parts of culture tend to decide which history is most important for the average student to learn about. I recognize that politics enters that equation as well so I understand that question must needs be open ended without a full solution to be had.

I think that anyone who approaches any of this information differently on a few levels. As our gender is intertwined in our mind and our thoughts without it being consciously there, each individual will have no choice but to either ignore or recognize that you will look at in the material based on your gender. However, I think that we are each much more likely to approach the material from a just as personal and unapproachable bias.... the bias of our own life experiences as well as current life circumstances. Our experiences, culture, family and our choices over time have helped each of us develop into a unique and amazing person and we cannot help but approach any topic with those biases in place and work to try and set them aside as we study and try to look at the topics addressed. I do not think that it is possible for any of us to do that completely- part of me at least has a hard time recognizing biases in myself and I assume others may have the same difficulty in self reflection and introspection. So I suspect that even when many of us appear to see the topic in the same 'light' and have the same viewpoint, we are getting there from very different paths and thoughts.

I recognize that the topics that I will address in the next several posts may be unknown to most and may also be on topics that are sensitive or cause negative emotions in yourself and others. I am not sharing them to cause any harm or anger; rather, I am sharing because I believe that the only way to change culture is to talk about it. From my writings, you will find that some of these topics were challenging for me and my emotions will hang off of some of my sentences and paragraphs. I hope that as readers, we can share our thoughts freely and discuss our feelings and concerns on the history and the topics that are discussed… many of which are still relevant to ourselves and women around the world today.




pictures from: http://www.citelighter.com/film-media/fashion/knowledgecards/womens-fashions-of-the-medieval-era, https://oregonheritage.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/oregon-womens-history-project/, https://oregonheritage.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/oregon-womens-history-project/, http://www.ora.tv/offthegrid/article/grid-history-women-history

2015/04/23

Thoughts on the CES - Consumer Electronics Show

For the last assignment of the class, we were invited to explore the Consumer Electronics Show. It was a little nostalgic to go the CES website and look at what’s going on this year. I lived in Las Vegas for several years and I went to a few of the conventions and usually left with a hypothetical shopping wish list that was way too long and too expensive. So I looked through the site and I will admit that I giggled as my shopping list was a lot lower. I live in a small building off the grid without running water and so thinking about air conditioners, cameras, phones and video gaming as potential purchases seemed a bit out of reality. I don’t think I would want most of them even if I did have the money. So I decided to look up Blackberry as that is the phone I used to use and I really do like using their products.

I looked at a few links and then I went to this one. http://www.cnet.com/news/blackberry-ceo-we-will-survive-as-a-company/

I was pleased to see that it looks like Blackberry will survive its financial crunch and I looked at other sites afterwards and saw a new blackberry that looks wonderful- I will admit that $599 is a little out of my price range though ;) It looked a lot easier to use and still has a keyboard which I am in love with- hence why I prefer Blackberrys over so many other phones. I thought the review was helpful, but also a sales pitch so it worked as I want one of the phones, but doesn’t tell me how much better or useful than the one I have.

When I went into the Smartphone category, I saw lots of links about using fingerprint technology and eyescanners and how some companies were really interested in the technology and other companies were interested but wanted to wait until the technology was more proven and less difficult or prone to problem- that seemed like a cautious and prudent idea. I also liked reading about the bigger phones and tablets and I found myself pretty interested in them as well. AS most tablets are touch screen but big enough so I feel like I can use them, one of the ‘phablets’ seemed like a potential idea for a large phone that I would like. I tend to not like to hold my phone up to my ear and use the speakerphone feature so that is nice as well. http://www.cnet.com/news/all-hail-the-phablet-jumbo-phones-finally-going-mainstream/

On a side note, I saw the link in the category car tech for ‘Doc Brown and his Delorean’ showing up CES 2014 and that was funny. http://www.cnet.com/pictures/doc-brown-appears-in-his-delorean-at-ces-2014/

I am interested to see what other people thought was interesting on the site, especially people who use technology more than me. I’m pretty curious to see what other people find and find interesting....

2015/04/21

Thoughts on Kevin Kelly and Predictions on Technology


*For this discussion, we started by watching a youtube video that war filmed in 2007 that you can find here. I highly recommend it! It is a video by Kevin Kelly about predictions on technology and computers.

This was a really interesting video and I am really impressed with Kevin Kelly and his research. He certainly made a quite a few predictions that are true today and I am interested to see how his predictions for the future turn out… it appears he will be pretty on there as well. One thing that I thought was interesting and I have spent some time chewing on is that the more transparent we are on personal things, the more we can gain. I am still a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology- mostly because I just can’t afford it- and I do share some things that are personal on Facebook and through email but I am still really learning about all of this. And even when saying that, I really that I am codependent on my technology that I do use. So is my place of work, my school, and most places that I go to. I was thinking about it and I see benefits to being so dependent on machines and also some downsides. I think that everything in life has some benefits and not so good things… anyone who has kids knows that ;) I like being able to get personalized recommendations and to be able to research and do things that so much more easily, but I also do not like being inundated with ads and other useless things. Thinking of the web as a living breathing beast was a metaphor that really did seem to work for me and thinking about how we are teaching machines to see and think for us and eventually being able to do it much better than us collectively (I think we are there now actually) is an image I do not think I will lose soon.

One last thing that I thought about was how ‘we cannot imagine ourselves without writing or alphabets’. That is really true. I love reading and do it as much as I can. I love writing and consider it one of my best talents. I can’t imagine a life without that and it is a pleasure to hold a book in my hand and sometimes I wake up with that same book there. But I also wake up with a phone next to be to so that I can check my email, etc… So I am changing slowly but adding technology when I can. I feel sad that so many books are not being read on a computer but it also makes books more available for people to read and that’s a great thing. How can I be upset about that? So it is interesting to think about how we are embodying machines with our characteristics and anchoring our lives around them as well.

2015/04/19

Thoughts on Ted.com.... and the Intelligence of Crows


So I searched the Ted site for a bit before I found one that I really wanted to watch. I started with a video on vultures that you can find here…. Which was wonderful! It was called “Why I love vultures and the talk was given by Munir Virani and lasted 6:38 minutes. If you are feeling cynical about politicians and politics these days, watch the first few minutes of it for a great laugh. :) I didn’t know that vultures were endangered as I have thought they really sort of had a niche in the environmental. Knowing that we as human beings are poisoning them feels a little sad and weird. I felt a little motivated to do something, but I also wasn’t really sure what I could do besides maybe writing a letter. I saw a turkey vulture by the side of the road a few months ago and it was the highlight of my day. While they are not the prettiest little things, they are pretty cool.

The next one I watched for fun was given by Joshua Klein and was on the intelligence of crows. It was ten minutes long…. Joshua studied crows for years and he built a vending machine for crows. It’s really quite cool and I want one because I look watching crows. We had a pet crow for a little while when he was injured in the wild and I have a short video of it if anyone wants to see it. The video was fourth down on the same page as posted above and he talked about how a lot of the animal conversations these days tend to focus on animals that are becoming endangered and not on animals that are hyper adaptive and are doing well with us in their environments and in fact have adapted to use us in their environments. Talking about developing mutual beneficial systems and ideas on it was great and I have posted the video to my Facebook page.

Here is the page I found both of these on. I am going to watch some more of them. I think this is a site I will visit more over time...

What are your experiences with this site? I even found John Dehlin on it.... it has alot!