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The repression of memory in witchcraft study

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  1. Introduction.
  2. M.J Kephart's article 'Rationalists vs. Romantics among Scholars of Witchcraft'.
  3. The beginnings of anthropology's influence over historical witch-hunt.
  4. Kephart's succeess - application of the functionalist principles to accusations of satanic-witchcraft.
  5. Daly's success - Presentation of facts.
  6. Starhawk's 'The Burning Times'.
  7. Conclusion.

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[3] 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: [...]


[...] In her study of the expropriation of the land, Starhawk hints?somewhat naively?that feudalism was a more female- and witch-friendly environment because it stressed use rather than gain.[23] Peasants had a good deal of common rights, communally farming the land, gathering wood, fish, and herbs from the nearby manor forests.[24] Women were natural transformers and craftsmen?they received raw materials (wheat, leather, wool) and transformed (bread, gloves, cloth).[25] However, this golden age was terminated by the combination of declining quality of land (greedy landowners demanding ever escalating taxes so there were decreasing levels of investment in fertilization, etc) and increase in a market-based economy (due to exploration and colonization).[26] Land began to be seen in terms of profit and gain, which led to increased productivity through the introduction of cash crops such as wool, which in turn led to enclosure.[27] It is the introduction of enclosure which devastated the former serfs, many of whom wandered from town to town in search of work. [...]

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