Saturday, 27 August 2016

It's complicated

Daily Draw: The Green Witch Tarot, Nine of Chalices/Cups
9chaliceIn 1566 one of the earliest witch trials in Lemgo, (now part of Northern Rhine-Westphalia) was conducted against Johan Büchsenschüz, a male sorcerer. Büchsenschüz was accused of using a crystal ball, blessing sorcery books and selling spells and talismans. Despite being tortured the accused denied that his magic was diabolical claiming it was ‘under the appearance of the Word of God’. This very Lutheran appeal to God’s Word in a Lutheran city within a Catholic county may have saved his bacon. The magistrates elected to burn his books but not his person.
Büchsenschüz was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Lyndal Roper argues that for early modern Europeans witches ‘represented an existential threat, so profound, that unless witches were eliminated, their very physical and emotional survival was at risk’. For Lyndal Roper a key question is why did witchcraft have such a hold on fantasy? Why was the idea of witchcraft so compelling and why did it drive people to send their neighbours to the stake?
There is a thesis that the grounds for accusations of witchcraft were fairly mundane rooted in everyday tensions and squabbles between fellow villagers aggravated by broader social and economic forces. In a typical scenario an elderly woman or widow might approach a neighbour for alms. Refused, she utters a few cross words. The next day the householder awakes to finds that his pig is dead and concludes that he has been cursed. It’s a short distance from there to a witchcraft trial. But is this really about the pig? Could it be about Christian shame and guilt at not providing alms to vulnerable and wanting to eradicate the person who is a reminder of one’s meanness? There’s no straightforward answer, mentalities are complicated.
Whereas being poor was not shameful in the middle ages, the early modern period, and the seventeenth century especially witnessed a hardening of attitudes and increasing animosity towards the poor. Punitive legislation passed in England in 1572 categorised people as vagabonds if they worked as pedlars, tinkers, bearwardes (bear keepers), minstrels or fortune tellers. Writers begin to refer to ‘counterfeit Egyptians’ (from which the term gypsy is derived) as vagrants and highlight their association with palm reading.
Sources for today’s post:
CASS briefings (2014) Language surrounding poverty in early modern England: constructing seventeenth century beggars and vagrants, The ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), Lancaster University, UK
Roper, L. (2012) The Witch in the western imagination, London: University of Virginia Press
Waite, G. K. (2003) Heresy, magic and witchcraft in early modern Europe, Basingtoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

No comments:

Post a Comment