As well, the elimination of paganism in favor of the Christian religion was also a goal of accusations of witchcraft. The use of accusations of witchcraft was used to control ideologies and this can be seen in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible in which the history of the Salem Witch Trials…
An accusation of witchcraft is predicated on the assumption in a belief of witchcraft. Codes and laws against the use of witchery have been seen as far back as the Code of Hammurapi from Ancient Mesopotamia where the use of drowning was one of the proofs of whether or a not someone was a witch. If the accused lived, they were a witch, if they died, they were not. This impossible thinking is the foundation of the accusation of witchcraft. Laws that were similar could be seen within the ancient Assyrian laws, as well as in the laws of ancient Jewish origin in which Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, and Deuteronomy 13:5 all discuss the death penalty for anyone practicing witchcraft (Behringer 57).
The persecution of witches was often focused on the female gender. Ancient Rome had severe laws against witchcraft that could prove fatal to the accused. According to Behringer, “Harmful magic was a punishable crime in Ancient Rome…In the context of an epidemic illness with high mortality, 170 women were executed as witches in 331 BC” (48). This was a small amount in comparison to other rounds of persecution. Three different incidents that occurred in the second century produced thousands of executions. Because of magistrates who had power that had no boundaries, the use of magic was a tool where undesirable individuals who challenged something within the political or social construct were effectively removed. The focus on women can be explained by the mystery that surrounds the feminine as the vessel for childbirth and the masculine need to gain dominance over that power. Formations of patriarchal societies are represented by witchcraft laws that are not exclusive to women, but still have mostly female victims. Behringer writes that the use of this accusation and execution provided “the fatal conjuncture popular pollution anxieties and state power” (48). This can be interpreted for the anxiety of the populace as it becomes in an accusation without foundation or provability that could be satisfied by putting the accused to death. One focus that is defined within the persecution of witches is that of ideological control. Ideological control is defined by the imposition of impossibly harsh consequences for having the audacity to have an idea about life and the world that comes into conflict with the belief systems of a culture. According to Davies and Blecourt, “Witchcraft and witch beliefs were closely connected to questions of power hierarchy in local as well as national contexts” (9). They go on to say that “Trials about benevolent magic can thus be seen as an attempt by the authorities to educate the populace in the direction that they wanted, for economic, political, religious and cultural reasons” ...
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