Starhawk, Femmes, Magie et Politique, p. 276-278
Archives de Tag: Sorcières
Yet the specter of the witches continued to haunt the imagination of the ruling class. In 1871, the Parisian bourgeoisie instinctively returned to it to demonize the female Communards, accusing them of wanting to set Paris aflame. There can be Iittle doubt, in fact, that the models for the lurid tales and images used by the bourgeois
press to create the myth of the petroleuses were drawn from the repertoire of the witch-hunt. As described by Edith Thomas, the enemies of the Commune claimed that thousands of proletarian women roamed (like witches) the city, day and night, with pots full
of kerosene and stickers with the notation “B.P.B.” (“bon pour bruler,”“good for torching”), presumably following instructions given to them. as part of a great conspiracy to reduce Paris to ashes in front of the troops advancing from Versailles. Thomas writes that “petroleuses were to be found everywhere. In the areas occupied by the Versailles army it was enough that a woman be poor and ill-dressed, and that she be carrying a basket, box,
or milk-bottle” to be suspected”(Thomas 1966: 166-67). Hundreds of women were thus sumarily executed, while the press vilified them in the papers. Like the witch, the petroleuse was depicted as an older woman with a wild, savage look and uncombed hair.
In her hands was the container for the liquid she used to perpetrate her crimes.
Of particular significance is the relation the witch-hunt established between the prostitute and the witch, reflecting the process of devaluation which prostitution underwent in the capitalist reorganization of sexual work. As the saying went, “a prostitute
when young, a witch when old,” for both used sex only to deceive and corrupt men, faking a love that was only mercenary (Stiefehneir 1977: 48ff.). And both sold themselves in order to obtain money and an illicit power, the witch (who sold her soul to the Devil) being the magnified image of the prostitute (who sold her body to men). Furthermore, both the (old) witch and the prostitute were symbols of sterility. the very personification of non-procreative sexuality. Thus, while in the Middle Ages the prostitute and the witch were considered positive figures who performed a social service for the community, with the witch-hunt both acquired the most negative connotations and were rejected as possible female identities, physically by death and socially by criminalization. For the prostitute died as a legal subject only after having died a thousand times on the stake as a witch. Or better, the prostitute would be allowed to survive (she would even become useful, although in a clandestine fashion) only as long as the witch would be killed; for
the witch was the more socially dangerous subject, the one who (in the eyes of the inquisitors) was less controllable; it was she who could give pain or pleasure, heal or harm, stir up the elements and chain the will of men; she could even cause damage solely by
her look, a malocchio (“evil eye”) that presumably could kill.
But the witch was not only the midwife, the woman who avoided maternity, or the beggar who eked out a living by stealing some wood or butter from her neighbors. She was also the loose, promiscuous woman – the prostitute or adulteress, and generally, the woman who exercised her sexuality outside the bonds of marriage and procreation. Thus, in the witchcraft trials, “ill repute” was evidence of guilt. The witch was also the rebel woman who talked back, argued, swore, and did not cry under torture. “Rebel” here refers not necessarily to any specific subversive activity in which women might be involved. Rather, it describes the female personality that had developed, especially among the peasantry, in the course of the struggle against feudal power, when women had been in the forefront of the heretical movements, often organizing in female associations, posing a growing challenge to male authority and the Church.
Class revolt, together with sexual transgression, was a central element in the descriptions of the Sabbat. which was portrayed both as a monstrous sexual orgy and as a subversive political gathering, culminating wIth an account of the crimes which the participants had commited, and with the devil instructing the witches to rebel against
their masters. It is also significant that the pact between the witch and the Devil was calleded conjuratio, like the pacts often made by slaves and workers in struggle (Dockes 1982: 222; Tigar and Levy 1977: 136), and that in the eyes of the prosecutors, the Devil represented a promise of love, power, and riches for whose sake a person was willing to sell her (or his) soul, that is, to infrige every natural and social law.
The subversive, utopian dimension of the witches’ Sabbat is also stressed, from a difFerent angle, by Luciano Parinetto who. in Streghe e Potere (1998), has insisted on the need to give a modern interpretation of this gathering, reading its transgressive features
from the viewpoint of the developing capitalist discipline of work. Parinetto points out that the nocturnal dimension of the Sabbat was a violation of the contemporary capitalist regularization of work-time, and a challenge to private property and sexual orthodoxy, as the night shadows blurred the distinctions between the sexes and between “mine and thine”. Parinetto also argues that the flight, the travel, an important element in the charges against the witches, should be interpreted as an attack on the mobility of immigrant and itinerant workers, a new phenomenon, reflected in the fear of vagabonds, that much preoccupied the authorities in this period. Parinetto concludes that, viewed in its historical specificity, the nocturnal Sabbat appears as a demonization of the utopia embodied in the rebellion against the masters and the break-down of sexual roles, and it also represents a use of space and time contrary to the new capitalist work-discipline.
As Stephen Wilson points out in The Magical Universe (2000), the people who practiced these rituals were mostly poor people who struggled to survive, always trying to stave off disaster and wishing therefore “to placate, cajole, and even manipulate these controlling
forces … to keep away harm and evil, and to procure the good which consisted of fertility, well-being, health, and life” (p. xviii). But in the eyes of the new capitalist class, this anarchic, molecular conception of the diffusion of power in the world was anathema. Aiming at controlling nature, the capitalist organization of work must refuse unpredictability implicit in the practice of magic, and the possibility of establishing a privileged relation with the natural elements, as well as the belief in the existence of powers available only to particular individuals, and thus not easily generalized and exploitable. Magic was also an obstacle to the rationalization of the work process, and a threat to the establishment of the principle of individual responsibility. Above all, magic seemed a form of refusal of work, of insubordination, and an instrument of grassroots resistance to power. The world had to be “disenchanted” in order to be dominated.
Le sorcier est un titre inscrit dans l’ordre social. Au côté du chef, il est l’intercesseur privilégié entre le visible et l’invisible, le dépositaire des médecines et des rites. Il n’en va pas de même avec la sorcière. Le déplacement vertigineux que provoque ici le passage d’un genre à un autre est un phénomène qui vaudrait à lui seul une longue étude. Retenons ici que le terme “sorcière” n’est pas un titre mais bien une tentative de saisie par un pouvoir de ce qui lui échappe. Ce qui échappe à l’ordre social et sexuel – la femme qui vit seule – mais aussi à l’économie capitaliste – le retrait, l’automédication, l’autogestion, la culture de subsistance
Olivier MARBOEUF : “L’émeutier et la sorcière”, in Sorcières : Pourchassées, assumées, puissantes, queer. p. 68