The readings for this week focused around the different approaches to the historical study of witchcraft and witchcraft trials: rationalism versus romanticism. Rationalism focuses more on historical and archeological studies in its attempt to discover a cohesive historical narrative, while romanticism leans more strongly on anthropological theories and studies of magic in pre-literate communities. As I came to see in the selected readings, the interaction between these divergent approaches to the study of European witchcraft leads to a good deal of emotionalism and polarization, to an extent of which I had not anticipated. M.J Kephart's article Rationalists vs. Romantics among Scholars of Witchcraft lays out the Rationalist argument by focusing on the history of Romantic scholarship and how such scholarship has been inadequate.
[...] Much of anthropology's field research involves living in cultures so as to better understand the point of view of the individuals being interviewed. Kephart posits that such subjectivism is impossible with regards to those accused of satanic-witchcraft, since their “interviews” were not good-faith testimonies having been obtained under duress. However obvious the limitations of a strictly subjectivist approach may be, it is an approach which integrated functionalism into the Romantic narrative. “Anthropologic functionalism” Kephart explains, this context is the doctrine that beliefs in magic and sorcery serve a useful function in the preliterate cultures that hold them” (330). [...]
[...] Kephart acknowledges on pages 335-8 that Romantic historians often confuse ethnographic and satanic witchcraft in their discussions of the functional role of witchcraft and the trials. It is impossible to compare African witchcraft accusations with post-Elizabethan English witchcraft accusations because one is ethnographic (using magic to control nature and heal) and one is satanic/religious (forming a pact with the devil, engaging in highly organized anti-christian rites and rituals). P Kieckhefer, Richard. Magic in the Middle Ages. P Kieckhefer, P.3. Kephart, p quoting Midelfort, Kephart illustrates her point: [...]
[...] The Witch-cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology. New York: Kessinger Publishing Joslyn Gage, Matilda. Woman, Church, and State: A Historical Account of the Status of Woman Through the Christian Ages: with Reminiscences of Matriarchate. Pitttsburgh: Persephone Press Daly, Mary. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press Starhawk's Burning Times,” Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics. Boston, Beacon Press M.J. Kephart, “Rationalists vs. Romantics among Scholars of Witchcraft” p Alan Macfarlane characterized these flaws in his article “Murray's Theory: Exposition and Comment”: extracting and quoting out of context from the whole of European folklore she created a totally false picture. [...]
[...] And since functionalists have reduced the study of witchcraft to the village level, any widespread study of witchcraft is inherently dysfunctional. I agree with Kephart that the Romantics cannot analyze satanic-witchcraft trials through the lens of functionalism to prove the existence of satanic- witchcraft, as satanic-witchcraft does not have the appropriate series of social counter-institutions. Where I disagree with Kephart is her argument that functionalism cannot describe the phenomenon of the satanic-witch trials. Kephart attacks this point by focusing on all the ways in which the English satanic-witch craze was a national phenomena influenced by the politics and writings of the Continental persecutors rather than being a socially dissipating and functional process. [...]
[...] This pattern is repeated both in terms of education as well as religion: the introduction proper grammar and degree-based education made the former wise women—the auto-didactic witches and midwives—seem backwater and foolish. It was this educated class which helped lead the assault on witchcraft, no doubt for economic reasons of competition, an assault which was supported, strangely enough, by the Church. Such was accepted by the general populace because of increasing alienation from these women: without a proper degree, women healers were considered and dangerous, even though their form of medicine was often more effective. The Church's persecution of radical sects, similarly, was an attempt to consolidate power during the early Reformation when it felt the greatest amount of apprehension. [...]
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