Witch hunting was also instrumental to the construction of a new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.This means that the witch hunters were less interested in the punishment of any specific transgressions than in the elimination of generalized forms of female behavior which they no longer tolerated and had to be made abominable in the eyes of the population. That the charges in the trials often referred to events that had occurred decades earlier, that witchcraft was made a crimen exceptum, that is, a crime to be investigated by special means, torture included, and it was punishable even in the absence of any proven damage to persons and things -all these factors indicate that the target of the witch-hunt – (as it is often true with political repression in times of intense social change and conflict) -were not socially recognized crimes, but previously accepted practices and groups of individuals that had to be eradicated from the community, through terror and criminalization. In this sense, the charge of witchcraft performed a function similar to that performed by “high trea­son” (which, significantly, was introduced into the English legal code in the same years), and the charge of “terrorism” in our times. The very vagueness of the charge – the fact that it was impossible to prove it, while at the same time it evoked the maximum of hor­ror – meant that it could be used to punish any form of protest and to generate suspi­cion even towards the most ordinary aspects of daily life.

Silvia FEDERICI, Caliban and the Witch, p. 170
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