The Inquisition started back in the 12th century for the purposes of finding those who held the wrong ideas about the religion. These people were called Heretics. Heretics were a threat to the Church, and anyone who criticized the Church or did not follow their belief were considered a Heretic. In the beginning, it started out as purely a political move. If you were found to be a Heretic, the Church took all your worldly possessions and most particularly your land. This gave great wealth to the Church, but also des-empowered the Heretic. Needless to say, your offspring's would also be poor and without their land right.
After years of the Inquisition, Heretics began to run out, and the Church was uncertain of their future. The Inquisition assumed new tactics by creating a new form of heresy. It centered on women who were always suspected of less than total commitment to their God, who had declared them accursed.
In the 14th century, there were still many women practicing at least some portions of the religion of their pagan ancestors. Though no longer allowed to be priestesses of their Goddess, women carried on the rites of the people still considered necessary by many to keep natural cycles in working order.
European pagans were still in the habit of seeking help from the female elders for social, psychological, or physical problems. Medicine was almost exclusively in the hands of old women for countless thousands of years, because of their supposedly innate communion with the Goddess of life and death, until churchmen claimed that disease could be cured only by holy water, exorcisms, and prayers to their God, and by the laying on of priestly hands. But defying the church, people still took their illnesses and injuries to the village wise woman/midwives. The wise woman was especially important to women's mysteries, sexuality and reproduction, which male doctors generally avoided. However, the church claimed that a midwife harmed the faith by easing women's pain in birth giving, against the will of their God who imposed it on women as punishment of Eve's original sin. So these women were labeled a Witch and was put to death. If these elderly women helped women from getting pregnant, they were burned as a Witch.
The church was against female healers, stating that women who cured sickness without having studied medicine at a university, was a witch and must die. The catch here was that women were not allowed to go to a university. Restrictions of medical training did not apply to men. Even without formal education, male wizards or "conjurers" were allowed to cure sickness by magical arts at the same time females were executed for it for being a witch.
Laws of the Church took away most of women's traditional roles one by one: priestess, midwife, healer, landowner, lawmaker, judge, historian, craftswoman, merchant, record keeper, spiritual adviser, etc. The only female role men could not take was that of mother. But even they tried to take away from women both through conception and symbolically. The Church claimed that the new human soul dwelt only in its father's semen. The mother's body was mere "soil" where the divine seed could grow into a baby. Saint Thomas Aquinas proclaimed this, adding that every girl child was a defective male, conceived only because her father was ill, weak or in a state of sin at the time.
Witchcraft, as a profession, remained embedded in medieval village life. It was almost the only respectable profession still open to women. A Dominican father declared that "most women" copied the occult ways of their mother Eve, the first witch, and that any woman "by herself" knew more magic than a hundred men.
Women became universal scapegoats. When anything went wrong, the weather turned bad, failed crops, houses burned, sudden illness, sexual impotence, frigidity or barreness, crippling and painful illnesses, loss of friends the cry of witchcraft was raised and they looked to the women. All the common troubles of the human conditions were attributed to women who were considered Witches. The witch killers were brutal and without limit. There was no point where they would voluntarily stop torturing. Records show that the agony could go on for days, weeks or months, long past the time when victims were wholly broken down, desperate to confess, and pleading to be told what to say, so that they would stop inflicting pain on them and still they continued to torture. Thousands upon thousands of women were unmercifully tortured by these righteous children of the Christian God, yet they are so eager to point fingers at the horror of those that suffered under the hands of Hitler and the Germans.
Inquisitors asserted that in punishment of witches, "eternal damnation should begin in this life, that it might be in some way shown what will be suffered in hell. The vision of hell was invented by men who needed to contemplate victims who could never die, torture that would never end. It was their idea of a suitable reward for their own righteousness.
One of the cruelest aspects of the witchcraft persecution was its punishment of women for doing things that men were free to do such as practicing medicine, reading philosophy, training animals, giving spiritual advice, studying the lore of nature, alchemy, or the stars. Such an injustice.
And why did the Church torture and kill more women than men? The Church considered women more feebler both in mind and body, and it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of Witchcraft. For it is true that in the Old Testament, the Scriptures have much that is evil to say about women and this is because of the first temptress.....Eve! The Church felt that she was more carnal than man, as was clear from her many carnal abominations. The Church felt that since woman was formed by a bent rib it is bent in a contrary direction to man. And since through this defect, she is an imperfect animal and she will always deceive and be weak and succumb to the work of the Devil. They felt most women were wicked and by her nature quicker to waiver in her faith and consequently quicker to abjure the faith which is the root to Witchcraft. They felt that women were naturally more impressionable and weak and ready to receive the influences of the Devil and to have sex with him. The iorny is if woman were so weak, Adam surely took the forbidden fruit so readily. Who is weak now!
The Inquisition's campaign to cut women off from their own direct experience of spiritual vision, or their Goddess-given moral codes, occupied nearly five centuries of European history. About nine million persons were executed after 1484, and uncounted numbers before that date, and mostly women. The executions were carried out with a brutality exceeding that of any other organized persecution ever known, not excepting the Nazi's 20th century holocaust.
It would be a strange revolution indeed if women as a group ever became as cold, brutal, and arrogant toward the male sex as the male sex has been toward women in historical times and even now. Somehow, women managed to forgive and forgive again, excusing male misbehavior on the ground that men were little boys and could not be expected to assume truly mature responsibility for their actions,. However, accused witches, while screaming on the rack, probably did not think so kindly of their torturers as mere grown-up little boys who did not know any better.
It is for this reason, for all the suffering that women went through in being called a Witch and died for it that we women be proud to call oneself a Witch in honor of all those that died in the name of a Witch.
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