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Probing women and penetrating witchcraft in early modern Europe

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Chapter Summary

Throughout western history knowledge has been conceived of as a commodity controlled and rationed by those in authority. When it came to knowledge in general, however, there was more at stake for women than curiosity and the dangers of impiety. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the reasons why these ancient, widespread, and gendered associations between knowledge, sex, and violence became intensified to such a point in early modern Europe and America that a wholly new stereotype emerged of a witch as a sexually insatiable, castrating, phallic female. Throughout history women have always been vulnerable scapegoats during periods of social and political unrest. For men, chaste, silent, and obedient women are synonymous with a strong, well-ordered state. Hence the Anabaptists at Munster proclaimed the death penalty for wives who were insubordinate to their husbands.

Keywords: America; Anabaptists; Europe; Munster; Penetrating Witchcraft; phallic female; Probing



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