The accusation of being a witch comes at the end of a long hideous trail of judgment upon women starting with the pronouncements against them by the Apostle Paul and carried out first by the Catholic church and then, not to be outdone, by various Protestant denominations. Consider the following quotes:
"Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman."- St. Clement of Alexandria, 2nd Century CE
"And do you not know that you are an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert that is, death even the Son of God had to die." Tertullian 160-225 CE
"Woman is a temple built upon a sewer." Boethius, Catholic martyr, 6th Century CE
"To embrace a woman is to embrace a sack of manure." Odo, Abbott of Cluny, 878-942 CE
"Nothing deficient or defective should have been produced in the first establishment of things; so woman ought not to have been produced then." St. Thomas Aquinas. 1225-1274 CE
Lutherans at Wittenberg debated whether women were really human beings at all.
"Of woman came the beginning of sin
And thanks to her, we all must die" - The Bible, Apocrypha
"Because the female sex is more concerned with things of the flesh than men; because being formed from a man's rib, they are only 'imperfect animals' and 'crooked' whereas man belongs to a privileged sex from whose midst Christ emerged." Malleus Maleficarum, (Hammer of the Witches) by Heinrich Kramer, 1487 CE
This perception of women in the early church led to a three century witch hunt, from 1450 CE to 1750 CE, called "The Burning Years." One finds it odd that the trials of witches in Europe began at the time inquisition trials for other heresies ended. Helen Ellerbe writes in "The Dark Side of Christian History:"
The process of formally persecuting witches followed the harshest inquisitional procedure. Once accused of witchcraft, it was virtually impossible to escape conviction. After cross- examination, the victim's body was examined for the witch's mark. The historian Walter Nigg described the process:
...she was stripped naked and the executioner shaved off all her body hair in order to seek in the hidden places of the body the sign which the devil imprinted on his cohorts. Warts, freckles, and birthmarks were considered certain tokens of amorous relations with Satan.Should a woman show no sign of a witch's mark, guilt could still be established by methods such as sticking needles in the accused's eyes. In such a case, guilt was confirmed if the inquisitor could find an insensitive spot during the process.
Confession was then extracted by the hideous methods of torture already developed during earlier phases of the Inquisition. "Loathe they are to confess without torture," wrote King James I in his Daemonologie. A physician serving in witch prisons spoke of women driven half mad:
...by frequent torture... kept in prolonged squalor and darkness of their dungeons... and constantly dragged out to undergo atrocious torment until they would gladly exchange at any moment this most bitter existence for death, are willing to confess whatever crimes are suggested to them rather than to be thrust back into their hideous dungeon amid ever recurring torture.Unless the witch died during torture, she was taken to the stake. Since many of the burnings took place in public squares, inquisitors prevented the victims from talking to the crowds by using wooden gags or cutting their tongue out. Unlike a heretic or a Jew who would usually be burnt alive only after they had relapsed into their heresy or Judaism, a witch would be burnt upon the first conviction.
How many women accused of being a witch were tried and burned at the stake during The Burning Years. No one knows for sure. Estimates from a low of 60,000 to a high of over nine million have been claimed. The unknown count most likely falls somewhere in between.
"But this is the year 2013," you say, "Surely nothing like this takes place in our modern world." Oh if that were only true. The Huffington Post placed an article on their website labeled "Accused 'Witch' Kepari Leniata Burned Alive By Mob In Papua New Guinea."
Now the article doesn't say that Christians were at the center of this act of violence, but it does say that religion had it's bloody hand in it. The articles say the women was accused of alleged sorcery. She was stripped naked, tortured, placed on a garbage pile, doused with gasoline and ignited. Two graphic pictures are included in the story.
Perhaps when religion is exposed as being the root of second class citizenship for women and is finally done away with, then women will gain the equality with men that they so rightly deserve. Otherwise, it would seem the stupidity will continue for many more years. All religions should hang their heads in collective shame for the way women have been treated throughout history. Especially the Christian Church.