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Women and the Witch-Hunt in Scotland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-308
Number of pages21
JournalSocial History
Volume23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1998

Abstract

This article looks at the links between women and witch-hunting in Scotland. Connections are suggested between witchcraft accusations and women's social and economic position. More emphasis, however, is placed on the role of the godly state at the time of the Reformation. The witch-hunt is set in the context of the Scottish state's broader assault on moral nonconformity. Through this, women were criminalized in large numbers for the first time, with particular emphasis on sexual misdeeds. Gendered aspects of the experience of witch-hunting are examined -- both the experience of the witches themselves, and the effect of witch-hunting on the community as a whole. Witchcraft accusations were linked with women's quarrels and rivalries. The 15 per cent of witches who were men appear to have been a rare and secondary target. The conclusion is that the link between women and witch-hunting was multi-stranded and bidirectional: it is significant both that women were witches, and that witches were women. The relationship between women and witchcraft was indirect but real. Although patriarchy did not need witch-hunting, witch-hunting did help to reinforce patriarchy.

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