The Evolution of the Medieval Witch – and Why She’s Usually a Woman

The Evolution of the Medieval Witch – and Why She’s Usually a Woman

By Jennifer Farrell, Lecturer in Medieval History, University of Exeter. First published on The Conversation.

Flying through the skies on a broomstick, the popular image of a witch is as a predominantly female figure – so much so that the costume has become the go-to Halloween outfit for women and girls alike. But where did this gendered stereotype come from? Part of the answer comes from medieval attitudes towards magic, and the particular behaviours attributed to men and women within the “crime” of witchcraft.

Taking one aspect of the witch’s characterisation in popular culture – her association with flight – we can see a transformation in attitudes between the early and later Middle Ages. In the 11th century, Bishop Burchard of Worms said of certain sinful beliefs:

Some wicked women, turning back to Satan and seduced by the illusions and phantasms of demons, believe [that] in the night hours they ride on certain animals with the pagan goddess Diana and a countless multitude of women, and they cross a great span of the world in the stillness of the dead of night.

According to Burchard, these women were actually asleep, but were held captive by the devil, who deceived their minds in dreams. He also believed that none but the very “stupid and dim-witted” could think that these flights had actually taken place.

There Is More Than One Religious View On Abortion -- Here's What Jewish Texts Say

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There Is More Than One Religious View On Abortion -- Here's What Jewish Texts Say

By Rachel Mikva, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, Chicago Theological Seminary. First published on The Conversation.

Alabama’s governor signed a bill this week that criminalizes nearly all abortions, threatening providers with a felony conviction and up to 99 years in prison.

It is one of numerous efforts across the United States to restrict access to abortion and challenge the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.

Six states have recently passed legislation that limit abortions to approximately six weeks after the end of a woman’s last period, before many know they are pregnant. Although the laws have not yet taken effect and several have been blocked on constitutional grounds, if enacted they would prohibit most abortions once a doctor can hear rhythmic electrical impulses in the developing fetus.

Big Gods Came After The Rise of Civilisations, Not Before, Finds Study Using Huge Historical Database

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Big Gods Came After The Rise of Civilisations, Not Before, Finds Study Using Huge Historical Database

When you think of religion, you probably think of a god who rewards the good and punishes the wicked. But the idea of morally concerned gods is by no means universal. Social scientists have long known that small-scale traditional societies – the kind missionaries used to dismiss as “pagan” – envisaged a spirit world that cared little about the morality of human behaviour. Their concern was less about whether humans behaved nicely towards one another and more about whether they carried out their obligations to the spirits and displayed suitable deference to them.

Nevertheless, the world religions we know today, and their myriad variants, either demand belief in all-seeing punitive deities or at least postulate some kind of broader mechanism – such as karma – for rewarding the virtuous and punishing the wicked. In recent years, researchers have debated how and why these moralising religions came into being.

Now, thanks to our massive new database of world history, known as Seshat (named after the Egyptian goddess of record keeping), we’re starting to get some answers.

Sexism Has Long Been Part of the Culture of Southern Baptists

Sexism Has Long Been Part of the Culture of Southern Baptists

Sexism Has Long Been Part of the Culture of Southern Baptists

By Susan M. Shaw, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University. First published on The Conversation

Recent media reports have revealed decades of abuse by Southern Baptist pastors.

Denominational leaders are offering apologies and calling the sexual abuse “evil,” “unjust” and a “barbarity of unrestrained sinful patterns.” Many Southern Baptist leaders are considering action.

As a scholar who has written a book on Southern Baptist women and the church, I’d argue that this scandal has its origins in how Southern Baptists have long and purposefully pushed back against women’s progress.

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Ireland Votes 2-1 To End Ban On Abortion, Expecting Full Rights To Be Extended To Women Until 12 Weeks

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Ireland Votes 2-1 To End Ban On Abortion, Expecting Full Rights To Be Extended To Women Until 12 Weeks

Voters in Ireland decisively decided to repeal one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the world, moderated only slightly after the death in 2012 of Savita Halappanavar who was mandated to die by the Catholic Church, rather than give her medical abortive treatment for the septic miscarriage that was poisoning her body and ultimately killed her. 

The referendum in Ireland was decisive, with two-thirds of voters overturning the ban on abortion. Ireland “is taking the proper steps to separate church and state and to move forward as a more progressive country,” said Conor Flynn, a 22-year-old student.

Until now thousands of Irish women had traveled to England or bought pills illegally to terminate their pregnancies, risking a 14-year jail sentence if discovered in Ireland. The Times  notes, and we confirm, that the willingness to challenge the sanctimonious demands of the Catholic patriarchy have accelerated in recent years, given the endless sex scandals that have dominated Vatican headlines in recent years. Ireland has the additional disgrace of not only their share of pedophile priests, but "thousands of unwed mothers who were placed into servitude in so-called Magdalene laundries or mental asylums as recently as the mid-1990s", writes The New York Times.  

Essentially, the law in Ireland has been so restrictive as to be a personhood law mandating that the legal rights of the mother are the same as those of the zygote or fertilized egg that she is carrying. Pro-life advocates prefer the term 'baby', but most women do not equate a fertilized egg with their own fully-developed selves and their expanded roles as mothers, wives, workers, and leaders. Historically fertilized eggs were not equated this status, not even when monotheism first planted its roots in the western world.