Al Jazeera English: How Nigeria’s fear of child ‘witchcraft’ ruins young lives

16th century, existed throughout the entire span of witch-craze.

Women living without the patriarchal family support of father and husband had little influence and little legal and social redress for wrongs.  They had to do what they could.  Since they were barred from normally effective means,  they had recourse to means typically employed by powerless people.  Arson, for example, was frequently attributed to old women, since it is a crime that can be free suspicion. An angry glare would be interpreted as the evil eye, an irate epithet as a curse, muttering as invocation, and loitering as working a spell.  Old men also ran this kind of risk, but widows almost always outnumbered widowers.  Women tend to live longer, and did then, providing they survived childbirth. During the plagues women survived much more readily, in some places having a recovery rate at least 600 per cent higher than that of males.  Under the stress and fear that accompanied the plagues, it was common to suspect the women of using magic to ensure their survival or even of encompassing the deaths of the men.  This very weakness of the social position of women, particularly widows or unmarried women, made it safer to accuse them than to accuse men, whose political, financial, legal, and even physical strength rendered the accuser more liable to reprisals.  A physically weak, socially isolated, financially destitute, and legally powerless old woman could offer only the deterrent of her spells.

Childbirth, with its dangers to both mother and infant, was commonly attended by a midwife, and the death, deformity, and other calamities that might occur were often laid at her door, as we have seen, Husbands felt guilt and anger at the death of wife or child and readily projected these feelings upon the midwife, who was charged with negligence or, if no physical reason for the disaster could be found, with sorcery.

The connection of witchcraft with heresy encouraged the emphasis upon women.  Historians have long observed that women were more influential in heresy than in other aspectsof medieval society.  Women, finding themselves prevented from rising to positions of influence in the establishment, turned to heresy instead.  The Waldensians, for example, allowed women to preach, and the Catharists admitted them to the ranks of the perfecti.  The relative importance of women in heresy and in heresy trials transferred readily to witchcraft and witch trials.

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Al Jazeera English: How Nigeria’s fear of child ‘witchcraft’ ruins young lives.

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