The Role Of The Witches In The 17th Century

1469 Words6 Pages
This essay will discuss witchcraft and whether it was truly a women’s crime by looking at the role of women in society during the 15th, 16th and 17th century and at the socio-economic situation of the time to see if this influenced why people so readily hunted members of their own community. This essay will also discuss how the Reformation affected the way women were viewed and if this had an impact on why women were seemingly targeted during this period. We will then look at how witches served a social function regarding women, in the sense that women often chose the role of the witch as a means of creating a social identity. And how stories of witches were used to threaten children into good behaviour and conformity.

Women were seen as
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However, the figure of a witch did eventually shift to be exclusively female. A reason for this is that ancient and medieval art and literature often depicted witches as female, an example of this would be the Greek strix. With the earliest recorded tale of the strix being from the lost Ornithologia of the Greek author Boios which tells the story of Polyphonte and her two sons Agrios and Oreios, who were punished for their cannibalism. Polyphonte became a strix "that cries by night, without food or drink, with head below and tips of feet above, a harbinger of war and civil strife to men”…show more content…
There were occasional outbreaks of mass accusations, as in the activities of Matthew Hopkins, self-styled "Witchfinder-General", in Essex in 1645. He accused 35 women of being witches, of whom 19 were executed and 9 died in gaol. However, the full picture is nothing like so dramatic. Cases of witchcraft cropped up occasionally and most of the accused were found not guilty, or not executed even if found guilty. About 400 people were actually executed for witchcraft in England.
To be a witch was not in itself a crime; what was a crime was to use these powers of witchcraft to cause harm to other people, their families or livelihood. That is why court records list illnesses or deaths of people or animals, supposedly from a curse put on them by a witch. The courts also took great care to make sure the evidence proved the case. It was believed that once a witch had got involved with the devil, his "familiar", in the form of an animal, lived with her and sucked from her body. The accused women's bodies were therefore examined to search for the extra nipple.
In conclusion, witchcraft was not always exclusively a women’s crime in fact all the laws regarding witchcraft tended to use gender neutral language when describing a witch
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