Witch Burnings

2021

17" x 13.5"

 

During the Trump years, an increasing anxiety grew as freedoms were erased. Most disturbing for me, was that women’s right to choose was in the crosshairs of the administration.  I felt an imperative to search for other historical eras when women’s freedoms were curtailed. 

 

My research uncovered that in the 1400’s, women had greater economic freedom than the 1500 or 1600’s. In fact, the poorest members of the society i.e., orphans and widows were likely to be economically self-sufficient as herbalist healers and brewers (other professions were illegal for women). Just as these professions were taking hold, the Reformation Era began to restrict women and condemn them as witches.

 

By the mid-1400’s laws began to ban women from brewing. This occurred as men saw how women’s domination of brewing was profitable and accused those female brewers of witchcraft to drive away their business.  As medical knowledge became institutionalized in the universities, laws banned women from higher education and from healing. In this way, men got a monopoly on legal medical practice, as well as the brewing profession. Simultaneously, bad weather throughout the European countries caused an infestation of rodents, crop failure and as a result disease outbreaks and economic devastation. This too, was blamed on the witches of society.  Another key shift was the rise of the Protestant movement as a competition to the Catholic Church. Witch trials and the hunt to cleanse the world of Satan became all-consuming for many villages by both civil and clerical authorities. Between the 15th and early 18th centuries 40,000-60,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Europe, of which 75% were poor peasant women. 

 

Because the past informs the present, I hope this narrative serves as a bellwether for today. Although women now successfully contribute to the economy and are no longer burned at the stake, legal restrictions imposed on women remain. Women do not have free access to abortions in 31 states. The tide has been slowly turning for the anti-abortion advocates in this country. Children put undue economic constraints on women preventing them from gaining economic parity. Further disparity is the widening gender wage gap where women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. The slow erosion of women’s rights must stop and be reversed so women are free to act as equal members of society.     

1 Herbalist©2021ss.jpg

The Herbalist Concocts
Her Cures: Artemisia

The herbalist is creating her potions in a small cottage, she is framed by artemisia which is used to relieve menstrual cramping or in high doses may cause abortion

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The Alewife Sells Her Brew: Hops

In the village plaza, the alewife (brewer) wears a tall hat on market days to be found by her clientele, she is framed by hops used to preserve the ale and give an added bitter flavor.

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Institutionalized Doctrine: Teasels

The Church and University sermons on the evil of women as healers or brewers become normalized and wide-spread. The lecturer is framed by teasel which was traditionally used to treat warts and skin disease

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Trial By Fire: Devil's Bit

The unquestioned power of the Church to create public “trials” where grotesque torture was used to extract the admission of consorting with the Devil is framed by Devil’s Bit. This plant was used to treat menstrual issues and improve fertility.

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Burning Them Alive: Stinging Nettles

The outcome of these rigged trials was the public burning of the women, often with bags of gunpowder affixed to their chest, to create a dramatic (and painful) ending for their death. This woman is framed by stinging nettles which burns on skin contact but can be used to lessen bleeding and speed wound healing.