It’s been a minute, but it’s time for another Spellbook Saturday! This week continues the witch in western history theme, with the feminist classic Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English (c. 1973). While some of this info may feel dated or repetitive to some, I found it to be a great quick read (108 pages including the second edition’s introduction and bibliography).
I don’t think anyone who will take the time to read this would argue against the symbiotic relationship between capitalism and the patriarchy, but one of the most striking parts of this book was just how blatantly these forces demonized female healers. In using pseudo-science and church dogma to legitimize and monetize the development of the upper-class, exclusively male medical field, female healers (often serving the poorest populations) were labeled as witches, and largely excluded from the medical profession for centuries to come.
Perhaps most illuminating, though, was an excerpt from The Malleus Maleficarum, the 1484 text detailing how best to identify and punish witches that was used to justify the mass executions of the early European witch craze. While women’s sexuality is often demonized in Judeo-Christian society, in a passage highlighting the alleged sins of these women healers, The Malleus makes explicit the perceived connections between contraception/abortion services and witches:
“Now there are… methods by which they infect with witchcraft the venereal act and the conception of the womb: …by obstructing their [men’s] generative force; …by destroying the generative force in women; [and] …by procuring abortion….”
To see that the fight for bodily and reproductive autonomy has played out against this same backdrop of superstition and a misogyny for so long was both disheartening and completely unsurprising. It also called to mind the heinous Pat Robertson’s eye-roll-inducing quote about feminism being a call for women to “to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
What can I say? I’m all about advocating for bodily autonomy, practicing witchcraft, and destroying capitalism! And if those things interest you too, you should definitely check out this book!