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‘Poison and Enchantment Rule Ruthenia.’ Witchcraft, Superstition, and Ethnicity in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

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How shall one understand the evidence adduced before the Kraków court against an alleged witch in 1713: that “she has lived in Ruthenia”? This article unpacks the context and effects of the early modern Polish stereotype of Ruthenian magic. Both superstition and ethnicity could be used as resources for what David Chidester calls “sub-classification,” the categorization of others as less than fully human. Both humanist poetry and ribald satire made use of such sub-classification to construct German Lutheran “heretics” as learned practitioners of literate black magic, in contrast to simple Ruthenians who, in their comic country-bumptiousness, made poor candidates for a thorough-going demonization. The Witch Denounced, a (likely Jesuit) anti-witch-trial polemic of the 17th century, deploys such ethnic stereotype to defend merely superstitious Polish and Ruthenian “witches,” redirecting attention toward the threat of heretical Reform. Thus the accused Kraków witch was both victim and beneficiary of an ethnic slur – a stereotypical image that helped place her under suspicion but classified that suspicion in terms of ignorant superstition not diabolical witchcraft.

Affiliations: 1: University of Queensland,


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