[music bridge] the purple chair amanda shoemaker: in the book, anne of green gables, lm montgomery wrote, "i'm so glad i live in a world, were there are october's." every fall when october rolls around we expect to see the changing of the leaves. we enjoy football games and bonfires. and we often aren't surprised when we see ghost and witches crisscrossing the streets, asking for candy. halloween is a favorite holiday among all ages.
it's a time when children can dress up in fun, or scary costumes hoping to fill their jack-o-lantern's with candy. in today's world, we don't flinch if we see a girl dressed in all black carrying a broom, and cackling like a witch. but centuries ago, the thought of witchcraft was real, and women were taken to trial for such accusations. associate professor, dr. jen mcnabb, has spent years researching and teaching early modern europe and england history, and knows very well, what women who are accused of being a witch went through.
and that's why we asked her to take a seat... in the purple chair. dr. jennifer mcnabb: well, i think, my entry, into the study of witchcraft was based on my teaching interest. it's a topic, that student's, are sort of parentally fascinated by. i've actually taught witchcraft here at wiu, a number of different times. i've taught it as a graduate seminar, i've taught, honors courses in witchcraft. i've taught some undergraduate seminars in witchcraft, and then i teach a sequence in british history. and i include witchcraft in that coverage as well. so, my own research, deals with legal cases, prosecution for varies
misdemeanor offenses in the church courts. and witchcraft, a lot of the records generated on the topic come from legal records. so, i was already sort of close, in terms of my sources. and one of the things that was really important to witchcraft in the period that i studied, sixteenth and seventh centuries. is... a set of ideas about the power of language. that words had power to actually be acted upon. they could cause harm, they could cause good things to take place, but usually harm, and so i was already looking at court records
to study language, and what are known as, defamation cases. when people insulted one another the injured party would go to court and try to recoup his or her reputation, and reputation was really important to witchcraft as well. so, that's how my own research kind of dovetailed with the study of witchcraft. the focus on language and legal processes. witchcraft, on the surface looks like a very easily accessible topic, it seems people in the past were prejudiced,
or stupid uh... just kind of uh.. begets, and that's why witchcraft prosecution happened in the period between sort of fourteen--fifty and seventeen-fifty. but, when you begin to study the topic, you notice, that it's very complex and instead witchcraft is not about sheer bigotry and ignorance, it's about social tensions. it's about contestation of gender roles. it's about religious concerns. it's about the law.
you can't prosecute someone on a charge of witchcraft unless witchcraft is illegal under the law. so, we saw in early modern europe, this sort of process of criminalizing witchcraft. and so, once you start teasing out all the details i think, people are often surprised that how complex, and sophisticated a topic it is. the idea of assigning witchcraft with women is something that is historically accurate. my own focus is on the state of england, and the sixteenth and seventh centuries and although the records
are not perfect from that time period. somewhere around ninety percent of all of those accused of witchcraft were women. so, there's a very strong gender bias in terms of those accused. i think, that's sort of comes down to us in the legacy of the older women, with the, sort of deformities, facial deformities, and the broom stick and the cat. there is some historical bases for that more stereotypical image. and i actually came prepared with a little search on this point. one of the early demonologist, someone who wrote about witchcraft,
in the sixteenth century in england, was a writer, named reginald scott, and scott, unlike most of his contemporaries, was not convinced that witchcraft was real. he's often identified as an early skeptic. so, he looked at the society around him, and tried to distinguish what it was that accused witches had in common and this is what he said. "one sort of such as are said to be witch are women. which be commonly, old, lame, blurry-eyed, pale, fowl, and full of wrinkles. poor, solen, superstitious and pap pus, or such as no known religion."
so, that's a very sort of stereotypical idea about witchcraft. the old women who is sort of a blight on her community, she's maybe a beggar, she doesn't have enough money to take care of herself. so, i think, a number of those ideas have come down to us in the legacy, of witchcraft. another thing that's kind of interesting about the common perception of witchcraft that persist into our period, is the idea of pet familiars. the old women with the cat, for example. that was true in early modern england.
this believe that witches could use animals to work their malevolent will upon others. so, in other words, cats, frogs, other sorts of small animals. were seen to be imbued with a kind of demonic power, and they were under the witches control. in a sort of uh bizarre, parallel of uh mothering. the witches, feed their familiars, blood. they aloud their pet familiars to suck blood from them, and that cemented the bond between witch and animal as a sort of uh... alternate of the mother cementing her bond
with the child through breastfeeding. so, there was a lot of anxiety about motherhood, in the early modern period that's also, indicative, of uh material that comes from these trial testimonies. a number of scholars have looked at commonalities between the american version of witchcraft and the english version of witchcraft. there is some rather interesting and distinct characteristics to each. in england, ninety percent of those accused were women. most of the men who were accused, were sons, of witches, or husband's of witches, but they had some kind of kinship tie to a purported witch.
witches in england, tended to be poorer they tended to be from a lower socioeconomic spectrum, and they were accused, by people who were of a slightly elevated social spectrum. so, accusations trended downward, from the middling sort, to the less well off. salem was different in that the gender balance was not as pronounced as in england, the century or so before. and in salem, the socioeconomic trends were different as well. it tended to be uh... sometimes those of more elevated status being targeted for accusations. that happened a little bit in england,
in a number of continental countries, as well. and again, this is part of the reason that i find witchcraft so fascinating. is that there there is no single formula. witchcraft, was different things, in different places, at different times. there are some common themes and patterns. but, each locality sort of had it's own brand of witchcraft. well, scholars suggest, that there's something about this time of the year, were we come to the end of the living season, and or approaching the dying season.
and that is a moment in which the natural world is sort of most primed for supernatural occurrences. that the membrane between the two worlds is thinnest at this time of the year. the festival of halloween is, in fact, from an older keltic celebration of that shift from one season to another. so, i think, that notion of time giving way to something that is more desolate. lends it's self to a consideration of magic, and witchcraft. which was often thought to be used by those in desperate circumstances. those who were in need, and this is a needy season or it used to be
in the early modern period. in modern popular culture probably the most famous example of witchcraft, these days, is harry potter. and those witches, at hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. are supposed to be learning how to harness supernatural power for good. and there were, in fact, good witches, in the early modern period. they were often referred to in england, by the term "cunning folk," and cunning doesn't necessarily mean scheming or tricky. it means, wise, and so, in the late mid evil period, and early modern period, in england.
there were wise men and women who were thought to provide useful assistance to their neighbors. so, if you lost something valuable you might contact a cunning man or women, and that person would divine the whereabouts of your valuables, and then would take perhaps a nominal fee for that. so, the idea of good witches, and i guess we could maybe even trace that back to the "wizard of oz." the conflict between the good witches and the bad witches. there is historical uh... there is an historical authenticity, about that. so, pop culture has some things correct, but many others, not so correct. early modern witchcraft was very much about people needing answers
to phenomena they could not explained. this was a time period, my students, talk about this all the time once they've reviewed the evidence. that's it's a time of tension and hardship. there was a number of economic troubles in the early modern period. civil war, religious upheaval, that sort of coincides with this rise in witchcraft prosecutions. and so, the big question then becomes why? why did people naturally sort of gravitate to this notion that there was someone to blame. a number of students, identify what's happening with witchcraft is a form of scapegoating.
people are dealing with crisis and misfortune, and want to put their anxieties, their fears, their concerns onto a physical manifestation that they can understand. if they don't know disease then their suffering child seems like a punishment from god. that's language that they would have used. and there was uh... a real reticence about excepting responsibility for that. if you didn't want to feel that you were punished by god, it had to be someone else's fault. so, who might that be. well it might be that old women who lives at the edge of the village
who always seems very cantankerous, and who is frequently begging, for her sustenance. and in fact, there's a a theme in witchcraft scholarship, called the "charity-refused" model. it's the product of the work of two scholars, keith thomas and allen macfarlane. they wrote their seminal pieces in the early nineteen seventies. and basically, what they said, is that the reason for the rise in prosecutions of witches in the early modern period, beginning in the fifteen hundreds, and into the sixteen hundreds. had to do with changing notions of charity. in the late middle ages there were people who lived in communities who needed assistance.
the elderly, orphaned children, wounded solders, and there was a sort of ideological imperative that said, it was the communities responsibility to take care of these people. part of that ideology was linked to religion. the mid evil church encouraged the idea that people needed to do good works, and that would help them attain heaven in the after life. so, they were supposed to perform charitable task. whether that was giving their tithe to the church their ten percent. whether that was giving charitable alms to people who deserved it. there was a real sense, that there was a rightness, about those kind of actions.
in the early sixteenth century, however, there's religious cataclysm with the coming, of what's known as, "the reformation." the reformation initiates a reconceptualization of ideas about salvation, and one of the most important strands of reformation thought challenged the idea of good works, as necessary, to be saved. and instead, the focus was on faith. you had faith, first, that was that was the primary item necessary for salvation. and so, what thomas and macfarlene, pause it in their works is that there's a connection between this new thought about salvation and charity.
that people were less charitable then before. so, the classic trope here, is that an older women, who's hungry and thirsty knocks on the door of a neighbors house, and said, i, i need some charity i need eat, i haven't had anything today, i need bread and ale. and the people of the household, do something different then they might have done two hundred years before, and say, no, you know, we worked hard for this lot's of hard work and energy went into our household success, and were not willing to share. the old women, in this scenario, would walk away rather put out,
and according to records from the time period, often cursing, and mumbling under her breathe. in the coming weeks, perhaps some misfortune occurs. a child falls sick, or there's a death of live-stalk, or this is kind of interesting because we tend to associate witchcraft, harmful magic with actions only against people. that it's harmful for individuals or for animals. but, there were charges were individuals said, i know that she was cursing me because i couldn't churn my butter. or because my beer spoiled.
so, witches were thought to be able to take what was pure and good, and ruin them, as revenge, so to to come back to the scenario then. the old women mumbles and walks away cursing, and then something bad happens, and the householders remember, those words, and think, she was really ticked off. this has got to be her vengages. some scholars have pause it that's what's happening there is a rather significant dose of guilt. that the householders, on one hand, feel good about taking what is theirs and keeping it theirs. but, on the other feel an intense guilt, in that they did not live up to older ideas about neighborliness, and taking care of the less fortunate, in the community.
so, it's a very complex relationship, but that's what the charity refused model which dominated a lot of historiographical investigation, in the nineteen seventies and eighties, really focused on, was this changing notion of how people should take care of one another, in this post reformation age or in the age of reformation. i think, witchcraft served a need. and my students, often caught on to this, in their papers once they've read through this material they say, it's interesting that witchcraft seemed to address
some kind of societal problem. people experienced every ordinary, everyday ordinary kind of difficulties, and were looking for explanations, and when they couldn't find them by alternate means they focused on what seemed accessible. which was, the cranky, old women. now, there are some interesting... there's some interesting divergents between elite ideas about witchcraft, and more popular views. belief in witchcraft was fairly universal, in the early modern period. reginald scott, the writer, that i quoted, was relatively unique
in the sixteenth century, and saying, this witchcraft thing isn't real. it's about people imagining that they can find someone to blame for their troubles. he also refers to the women themselves as diluted. that they might believe that they had the power to cause harm. but that was a product of their own fevered minds. most people in the sixteenth and seventh centuries, did not hold to scott's skeptic value. instead, they believed, that witchcraft was a powerful force in the world. witchcraft was criminalized in early modern england, by a parliamentary statue, in fifteen-sixty three.
they said, this is a problem, in our realm, it's despoiling her majesty's subjects, and we've got to take action, because this is a problem that is not being properly addressed. and then, the set out, very clear criteria, for what constituted acts of harmful magic, and what kind of punishments, should be accorded to those found guilty. the most severe acts of harmful magic, were punished by death. it was a felony offense, they had then, gradations they would say, if you caused harm, but stopped short of causing death... imprisonment would follow. and at four times during the year you would be trotted out to the central point of the village, and put on display, to be sort of mocked and chastised by your neighbors,
and also, to serve as an example to others, of the dangers of pretending a power that you should not posses. early modern witchcraft, was thought very much to be linked to the power of the devil.. so, witches were servants of the devil. they had created some kind of compact. this was often described not so much in trail testimony not so much average folk talking about the devil. instead, in more scholarly writings from the period. these so called demonologies, that were usually authored by theologians.
so, minister's of the church waxing eloquent, and sort of alarmist on the powers of the devil, and their human agents in the form of witches. and so, those more elite beliefs were very much focused on this covenant, with the devil. their very scripture heavy when you read these demonologies. the elite authors are trying to justify their position on the bases of scriptural evidence. i mean, there's a very famous line from the old testament. "thall shall not suffer a witch to live." that seem to suggest, it was the duty of the godly, to go out and identify witches,
and make sure they were properly punished. and most of the sixteenth century demonologies make great use of that particular line as an indicator that witchcraft was real. the demonologist wrote, in this very, with a great deal of hyperbole. you could feel the panic in their writings. they were thinking, this is a social, and religious ill that people aren't paying enough attention too, and so, we've got to raise the hue and cry with our scholarship,
and our understanding of theology to make sure people understand what a problem witchcraft posses. because the witch is just not causing harm of his or her own volition. but because that individual is in league with the devil. and so, interestingly, some of the domonoligists even said that about good witches. they said, good witches, are in fact, even more dangerous because people think that their helping. a good witch who can find your lost coin. or, maybe create a love spell, is someone who is is performing
a useful task in the community, or at least for your own benefit. one theologian, a very uh... a very popular writer, named william perkins. really tried to shed a light on the dangers of theses cunning folk, and he said, they are more insidious then the bad witches because people think their helping, but their powers still come from the same source... the devil. and so, in that way, the devil is able to subvert, the true covenant that exist between the godly and the divine, and replace it with the covenant between the witch and the devil. so you see a lot of interesting parallels, that witches
have their pet familiars as a sort of model of bad motherhood. that the devil had his covenant with witches as a means of sort of bringing low, the relationship between god and the community of the faithful. the decline of witchcraft in early modern england, is often identified with the later seventeenth century. so, there were witchcraft persecutions beginning essentially, when the law made it illegal, starting in the early fifteen sixties. and then, persecutions, continued through the end of the fifteen hundreds,
and into the early sixteen hundreds, and most scholars begin to identify a bit of a low. england, was actually a rather interesting place in terms of it's legal structures. in that, most witchcraft cases come before what were known as " a size justices." these were central court judges from london who rode on circuit throughout the country. and a lot of continental states witchcraft trails were held in local communities, with local juries. so, you had a lot of potential for personal grudges,
and grievances being worked out. if you were an accused witch, and twelve people were sitting in judgement on you, and you've been arguing with them for two decades, chances are your ability to be acquitted is going to be pretty low. the central court justices in england, were trained judges, they had legal background, they usually had university education, and they made different circuits throughout the country. some of those legal records still survive. a lot of them or lost.
there are records from what's known as "the home circuit" the counties around london, and then, from the northern a side circuit. so, we have rather imperfect records, but the records that do exists suggest that the a size justices were rather discerning, in their evaluation of testimony. they weren't just voting to convict, all the time, or with great vigor. in fact, england's conviction rate was pretty low. it was in the twenties in terms of percentage. so, again, that's a common misperception
that everyone who is accused of witchcraft would end up burned at the stake, or hanged by the neck until dead, or pressed between heavy objects. in england, seventy-five percent of those accused were not convicted. so we know that the elite's had always been a little bit more reserved in the way that they treated testimony. what happens in the sixteen forties though, in england, was civil war. for the decade of the sixteen forties and fifties there's tremendous upheaval in the english state, and in the english church.
so, there's a rise, in prosecutions, and it's in the sixteen forties that we have one of the most interesting episodes from the history of early modern english witchcraft. it's associated with a figure, named matthew hopkins. matthew hopkins, and a partner of his, john stern, sort of targeted the county of essex, and hopkins billed himself as "the witch finder general." and he essentially promoted his abilities to identify witches. and what happened as a result, is what scholars sort of refer to as england's,
one real witch craze, in a small period, in the middle of the sixteen forties. essex, experienced a pretty intense witch hunt. in large part, led by the efforts of hopkins. that witch hunt died out pretty quickly. there was sort of momentary hysteria, and then, a calm followed. and hopkins, found himself, on the hot seat. he was questioned pretty extensively about his activities and had to defend them. for example, under english law, torture was illegal in these kinds of criminal investigations.
and there were rumors that hopkins had committed torture and that's how he got confessions from witches. that people did say, yes it's true i did all, i was in league with the devil, and i sent out my pet imp jack, to work, evil in the world. well, why would someone say that. hopkins, apparently, was someone who used sleep deprivation, and he was also charged with asking very leading questions. so, keeping people up to the point of exhaustion, and then hammering away with very leading questions that would result in confessions.
but, he was asked about it, and he wrote kind of an apology not saying he was sorry, but an attempt to defense of his work. another thing that he took flake for was making money. he billed himself as having certain skills as the witch finder general. but, they were skills that could be acquired for a cost. and there was criticism that he used this whole process to enrich himself, and so, in his defense of his activities, he essentially claimed traveling expenses. i took know more than i needed for food, and drink and lodging. i wasn't getting rich on this exercise, but the way that he defends himself
you can see the nature of the criticism, and the suspicion that this was not about malefic magic or this harmful magic, it was more about the uh... desire of an individual to tap into the chaos and disorder of this period of the civil wars. some of the court systems in england had been suspended, during the civil war. so, if we go back to this earlier notion that people were using witchcraft as a means of exercising some of their own demons. trying to explain things that were unexplainable. trying to get revenge on someone with whom they had a long standing grudge.
a court case could provide some... uh relief..right! but, if the courts are suspended, if there is know legal means for bringing people to justice. then there's a real sense of frustration and fear that someone like matthew hopkins could play upon. after the civil wars period in the sixteen forties, we get the restoration of the monarchy in the early sixteen sixties. and then, there's another period of decline, that scholars identify. so, sort of from the sixteen sixties onward there's a real drop off
in the number of accusations coming to trial. the last witch accused who was convicted, was jane wenham, in seventeen-twelve, and in fact, her conviction was then over turned, by a judge, who found the evidence against her to be imperfect and flawed. the law criminalizing witchcraft was not repelled until seventeen-thirty six. but, then, think about that gap that exist. seventeen twelve to seventeen thirty six, know convictions. so, scholars point to what's happening in the early eighteenth century
as a change in the intellectual landscape, of the early modern english elite. that judges and justices were not going to vote to convict any longer. what get's more interesting is trying to suss out what "the people" believed. they might have continued to try to make accusations, but then been frustrated by uh... non conviction, and so we don't know the degree to which popular witchcraft believeth declined along the same trajectory as elites. and so, their are reports, through the eighteenth century and beyond
into the nineteenth century, even into the early twentieth century. in varies parts of europe, accounts of witchcraft, and women who were able to will certain supernatural powers. if you read time magazine, if you watch the news broadcast of today you know, that there are accusations of witchcraft in our contemporary world. there are a number of uh... hopefully, what well not turn into full blown witch crazies in varies african nations. and so, the ideas of witchcraft, seemed to be fairly universal. despite differences in time and place.
despite pre-modern verses modernity. there is something that's fundamentally... necessary about witchcraft as meeting the needs of those who are looking for entertainment, or who are looking for explanations. witchcraft is fascinating because it represents the jucks of position of humanity, and the supernatural. right... the witch is able to will supernatural power, but in a package that's just like... us! and so, that's the ultimate uh... sort of fear,
is that there are people walking amongst us, who look like us, but who have contracted themselves to the devil. i mean, that's what comes through the records of my time period is this real sense of alarm, that there are people who have power that shouldn't. i just read a paper from my honors class this semester, were a student essentially made that argument. it's really when you try to decode witchcraft, it's about power, and trying to restore balance and stability in a time when those things were in relatively short supply.
so again, were back to this notion of witchcraft as satisfying certain socioeconomic, political, legal needs. and that's why, i find, witchcraft to be such a really interesting topic because it's the nexus of almost every major pattern that we identify with the coming of modernity. it's about state building. witchcraft isn't illegal until someone says it's illegal, and then provides the legal mechanism to make sure that justice can be done. witchcraft is about changing ideas concerning religion.
it's about changing ideas about gender. a number of scholars who've looked at witchcraft in gender note that the early modern period was experiencing what we might call a crisis of patriarchy. this was a time in history, in which, men had roles of public power. and more broadly, definitions of masculinity were usually associated with the ability to manage a household and to make a living. that's what manhood was about. the ability to be an adult man was very much predicated on ones socioeconomic successes.
well, in the sixteenth and seventh centuries, some men, were not able to establish households. there were economic crisis enough or crisis with land tenure, or with their various occupational opportunities that meant some men never did those things that their society identified with manhood. to make that even more troubling, some women, in that time period, were doing things that were associated with what it meant to be a man, in the early modern period. we could point for example to the idea that we had ruling queens, in the british isles, during the early modern period.
mary, queen of scots, elizabeth tudor, and her sister mary tudor. when witchcraft was criminalized, in england, that statue from fifteen sixty three. that was the beginning of queen elizabeth's reign. and so, some people have suggested, that there was an intense concern about the ability of men to continue to rule. and so, that's why this particular set of explanations that witchcraft targeted women because of that anxiety, and uneasiness, as far as gender, was concerned.
were things get even more messy is when we start looking at who was accusing whom. because if we follow the scenario i've just put forward to it's logical conclusion, we would expect men to be accusing women. that's how this pattern would work. in fact, it was often women accusing other women. when you look at low level records it's usually one mother accusing an older widow. or a wife accusing another wife. so, what scholars have pause it there is not only concerns about patriarchy,
but concerns about femininity as well. if female ideas were very much attached to this notion of being a good mother, and being a good wife, and helping to run an orderly household. who then would it come back on when a child got sick? the mother has one job here... right! it's to take care of the children, if the child is sick, then that suggest perhaps that mother wasn't doing her job properly. in her fear and concern and anxieties, easier to than to point [hand gesture] the finger at someone else. i'm not a bad mother [hand gesture] that old women
is to blame, she is the one, and i've seen her with her pet familiars, and then you get these what seemed to be almost fantastical tales. but... make a lot of sense, once you start decoding the context behind them. other scholars have focused in on economic motivations. that some people were very concerned about resources. and so, what we get is jealousy over people who seemed to be doing... well. people who are taking advantage of certain uh... certain changes in the economy. and so yeah... there's a socioeconomic strand there as well that's pretty powerful. jealousy, revenge, when you look at these accusations you might imagine
that this is a very heat if the moment kind of thing. that someone might tag the label witch on an individual, in a moment of great anger and sometimes that happened. but what the records also indicate is that often there was a very long history of animosity, between the accuser, and the accused. that just happened to boil over in a particular fashion in the incident that is at the heart of the trial. but, you find witnesses saying things like, she has been despoiling my livestock for these thirteen years [facial gesture] you know,
so there's a long period, in which, these parties have falling out. and so, you get a lot of interpersonal histories in this testimony. and again, that's part of what makes witchcraft such an interesting entry point into the past, because on the surface, you think, okay i'm going to read these trial documents, and i guess i'm going to find out a lot about what people thought of witches and magic. but what you find is people talking about their lived experiences. they talked about their memories of accused witches by associating them with particular times of the year, or particular tasks that they were responsible for.
i remember when such and such-es child fall ill, because that's when i took in certain cloth work from my neighbor, and it was around mickle miss cause i remember making the contract dateline on this particular date. so, you get all kinds of information that's fascinating to the modern historian, that might have seen somewhat peripheral, at first glance, but then gives you a real sense of of the past world. it really does gives us a lens through which to look at the the real lived experience of people four or five hundred years ago. i think, there's a pronounced difference between belief in witchcraft and witchcraft prosecution.
so, belief in witchcraft, belief in supernatural powers seems to have remarkable resilience. even in the face of science and in the face of all kinds of new information, and new education. there is a continued, attachment, to the idea that individuals can will supernatural power. that's one of the reasons, i think, make such a provocative theme for popular culture entertainment. people want to explore that idea. they want to sort of belief that there are strong people
who can do fascinating things, can perform all these amazing feats, and it makes good entertainment. so, i think, belief in witchcraft, persist regardless of science and education. when we talk about the decline in prosecution, a number of scholars have suggested that there's a relationship between the coming of scientific revolution, in the early modern period, and the uh... the the fall in accusations. it's a messy relationship, thought, because scientific revolution when you look at at some of the early text...
there not a appreciatively scientific. there there's a sort of continuum, or a spectrum of beliefs that today might appear to us to be rather... unscientific that in that time period would have been concerned, a high form of intellectual endeavor. in other words, science itself was ill defined, in the late middle ages, and the early modern period, at least, according to our definitions. we would have a tough time looking back at the individual actual endeavors of that time period and saying, all that's appreciably recognizable as science. and so, it's not a case that science killed witchcraft.
it seems that elite's became more skeptical, in part, because of the search for natural laws, and the kinds of scientific explanations that were being pause it for various natural phenomena. but, then we also have to account for changes in popular points of view. and as i say, it's difficult to ascertain a time line for the non-elite's [this is such a terrible pun] giving up the ghost, as far as, witches were concerned. we don't know when their understandings of witchcraft is a viable force in the world really began to decline. a lot of the scholarship, does suggest, that it's about education. another theory that is often put forward
is the idea of the emergence of polite society. that witchcraft became identified with the belief system of the vulgar masses. those people who were ignorant were the ones who sort of attached themselves to these older superstitions. if you wanted to be a figure of cultivated intellectualism, then you rejected such old fashion notions. well, if you are then, sort of in the middling sort of society you certainly don't want to be labeled part of the vulgar masses, and so you say, well i guess, witchcraft really isn't real.
and so, we begin to see people kind of mimicking those elite's who are putting witchcraft beliefs aside, and that may have helped to turn the tide, this coming of polite society, were belief in the reality of witchcraft was something that was identified as inferior. the same time period that england was ramping up it's witchcraft persecutions. it was also, creating a very impressive platform of social legislation known as the elizabethan poor laws, passed right at the end of the sixteenth century. the english state, tried to devise an institutional fashion
for taking care of people who needed assistance. and what they did was to, sort of shuffle, english people's needing assistance, into different groups. they recognized that some people were deserving of aide. and the called them "the deserving poor." i mean, that was the nomenclature of the day, "the deserving poor." mimed solders, guys who had been wounded in the service of their country everyone agreed that they should be taken care of, exactly how, there was some debate. orphans, the elderly uh... who had lived past their period of being able to provide for themselves.
and it was general consensuses that uh... people with certain physical challenges, or mental challenges would fit in that same group. the laws also, however, identified the unworthy poor, they called them "the idol poor." and they often referred to individuals as sturdy beggars. so, that would have been a jucks of position that shouldn't have worked. if you're sturdy, if you were able bodied. if you were able to work you should be doing so and not going around for a hand out. and so , what the laws did was suggest that english subjects, were all entitled to having a roof over their head,
and having food. so in other words, their basic necessities should be met. and if they weren't being met by individual they should be met by this state sort of institutionalized charitable structure. but, "the deserving poor" tended to have fewer strings attached to the assistance they received. now, there was a potential issue for reputation problems that it might show you as diminished in your community, if you had to ask for assistance. some people felt that that was damaging to their pride or sense of self worth. those who were considered "the unworthy poor."
they got assistance, but it was usually through punishment. they went to work in workhouses, they might be given thread to spin. so, they were gonna have to work, they were not going to be given a free handout. and what you did with the unworthy poor, what the english state did with the unworthy poor was something that continued to evolve over time. did these people need job training? if you gave them material to work were they just going to continue to sponge of the state. in other words, how do you get individuals to return to
or perhaps become, for the first time, a productive member of society. so, i suppose, this discussion of poverty is actually very much related to our conversation about witchcraft. because there was a powerful link in early modern england, between poverty and accusations of harmful magic. england, had a problem with poverty in the late sixteenth century. the sixteenth century was a really problematic one in terms of economic issues. inflation was ramped in the sixteenth century. the general figure given is that real wages,
or the value of wages for labor performed doubled across the sixteenth century, but prices rose six times. so, people found it very difficult to make ends meet. certain portions of the population were doing quite well. others, were really struggling, and in fact, in the elizabethan period, we get the emergence of a new category of poor people. not just the "deserving poor," or the "unworthy poor," but the laboring poor, people who tried really hard, and got seasonal employment when they could,
but it was never enough to last the whole year around. so, when you understand that poverty was a particular social ill, in the same time period as the witchcraft persecutions. you can see that there's a pretty powerful connection between economic need, this uh... sense of competition and rivalry for resources, and witchcraft as a means of satisfying some of these anxieties and fears, and and unhapp.... sort of incidences of unhappiness concerning people's material circumstances. shoemaker: as the witching hour draws near
it's scholars like dr. mcnabb, who help us understand, and conceptualize witchcraft in early modern europe. in well you don't have to believe in witches. you can learn a lot about witchcraft persecution from dr. mcnabb, a topic she covers, in her early modern europe history class, here at western illinois university. so, the next time you see a little witch, knocking at your door, potentially asking for treats. remember, that today's fun, play-like perception of witches,
is much different from the women who were actually thought to be witches, centuries ago, in europe. for the purple chair, i'm amanda shoemaker. the purple chair credits: