How Demographics Led To the Persecution of Women
For about two hundred years beginning in the fourteenth century, Europe was swept by natural and man-made disasters. Long bloody wars killed millions of men, several times during that period, the Black plague swept through the new city states of Europe. Interestingly men seemed more susceptible to plague and other pestilence, and represented a higher number of the dead. There were huge die-offs of males in the city-states; the peasants in the country and small villages had a high survival rate. These folks had turned to the wise women of their villages for prevention and healing. By the beginning of the sixteenth century the church and their city-states had a big problem and it was directly related to demographics.
After two hundred years of war and pandemic pestilence, there were more women than men in many areas. Worse, these women, through their tenuous survival, had inherited wealth. Healthy, independent, wealthy women, do not bode well for a hierarchical, patriarchy. Women who were successfully running businesses, engaging in trade, freed from the risk of childbirth and the burdensome demands of a family threaten the very infrastructure of the Church. The Church has never tolerated dissention or threat. These women, who had survived war and pestilence, the loss of fathers, brother and husbands would not survive the fiery embrace of an avaricious clergy.
Prosperous widows and spinsters were the most vulnerable. Such women were easily persecuted and exploited. With no male family member to protect them, they were some of the first targets of the “Grand Inquisitors. It was a turbulent, deadly dark time in Europe. At the dawn of the Renaissance, the Church/state propaganda campaign against wise women had started to yield its bitter and deadly fruit. In 1326 Pope John XXII “accepted the Dominican demand for a crusade against witches.” Everything natural and feminine was perverted, reviled and rejected. As the self-stated, scientific revelation of the day spread through- out Western Europe, thousands of years of natural knowledge and respect for the cycles of the earth was supplanted by superstition and fear.
The church found a way to blame all the turmoil and failures on the women. It didn’t take long. In 1390, forty years after the Black Death swept through Europe, the first witch trial was held. The witch burnings became an orgy of hate and blame and innocent women and even their children, died on the pyre of envy, greed, hate and fear. Soon the full power of the inquisition would expand to torture and maim those men who honored the Goddess and walked reverently on Mother Earth.
Wise women found them selves at the edge of social change, often in opposition to the powerful church hierarchy. The Church State branded them as heretics and witches — a crime that was punishable by a gruesome death. The patriarchal Church State frequently used the judgment of heresy to kill those who disagreed with them. Religious persecution was a standard and oft used tool to rid the Church of even benign opposition. Over 85% of those killed for witchcraft were women. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth century was a female holocaust. Over nine million women were killed in a five hundred year Church-State sponsored reign of terror. That dark time was known as The Inquisition. These women took their pagan tradition and beliefs to the flames that destroyed them.
He instructed his Chief Inquisitors, Kramer, and Sprenger to write a manual, Malleus Maleficarum — Hammer of Witches. Thus the greatest invention of the middle ages, the printing press, became the tool of doom for millions of innocent women. Though out Europe, the Dominican Inquisitors printed and distributed the Malleus Maleficarum. This fetid text sprang from the sexually repressed sub-conscience of the Catholic clergy. It served as a handbook of persecution. It detailed the types and degrees of torture to be used to “encourage” confession from their helpless victims. It declared unequivocally that any woman who served as a healer was a witch and would be burned. Fourteen editions of the Hammer of Witches were published between 1487-1520 and at least sixteen editions were published and distributed between 1574-1669.
The Reformation brought women no relief from of the Catholic reign of terror. Calvinist founder John Knox, wrote, First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, and continued the witch burning as a tool of the new religion. Women who were successful village elders, or who defied the local religious authority were sexually violated and tortured until they would confess anything the Inquisitors demanded.
Excerpted with permission:
Goddess of Wonder, Goddess of Light, by Leslie C. Botha and H. Sandra Chevalier-Batik, 2004 Pleiades Publishing, ISBN 0-9716968-1-0