Thursday, May 12, 2011

Witches, Wise Women and Midwives

I have always been interested in the history of midwifery, what happened to the midwife or wise woman as she was known, the hedgerow healer whose knowledge of herbs and healing was profound. She tended to administer to the poor and treated everyone from cradle to grave.

Her knowledge was handed down to her apprenctice by word of mouth, rather than the written word because she was usually illiterate.  Many of my sister's were persecuted, tortured and accused of witchcraft.  They, along with many other innocent men, women and children were drowned or burned at the stake, simply because they had knowledge of effective herbal remedies. 

These valuable herbal remedies were lost forever if she was unable to pass her information on to her apprentice.  Those centuries became known as the "Burning Times."   

The Malleus Maleficarum was a treatise first published in 1487 in Germany, the authors of this 'guide' belonged to the Inquisitors who worked for the Catholic Church accused midwives of infanticide, cannabolism, making men impotent and, as women were weak in faith they were susceptible to the devils temptations.  They ordained that only "men could heal" and, that the worst of all was the "midwife."

These were times of great hysteria and fear, people would accuse their neighbour, relative, some elderly lady who owned a cat to get the witchfinders or inquisitors off their back.  Those wise women who escaped the inquisitors had to either stop practising herbal lore for fear of being found out, they left to go to another part of the country where there were no iinquisitors or, at great risk to themselves, they continued their practice underground.  

     "By changing men into beasts by their magic, procuring abortions, offering children to the devils, besides other animals and fruits of the earth with which they work much harm." 
                                                                                                          (Malleus Malificarum, 1487)

The male doctor entered the domain of the female.  


Ehrenreich, B., English, D.  (2010).  Witches, Midwives and Nurses (2nd ed).  New York:Feminist Press

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