Seduction, poison and magical theft: gender and contemporary fantasies of witchcraft

Alison Rowlands

in Witchcraft Narratives in Germany

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print March 2003 | ISBN: 9780719052590
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700167 | DOI:
Seduction, poison and magical theft: gender and contemporary fantasies of witchcraft

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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As was the case in many other places in early modern Europe, most of those who were accused of or who confessed to witchcraft or who were formally questioned as suspected witches in Rothenburg were female. This chapter provides new explanation for the gender-relatedness of witchcraft accusations through the prism of several seventeenth-century cases. The cases are analyzed in the light of ideas about how witches were conceptualized. These ideas suggest that women were more likely to be accused of and confess to being witches because witches were predominantly imagined by contemporaries as the evil inverse of the good housewife and mother; as women who poisoned and harmed others rather than nurturing and caring for them. The gender-bias which encouraged the citizens of Rothenburg and the peasants of its rural hinterland to imagine women as witches more readily than men was more marked at the elite level, where the influence of the city councilors, their legal advisors, and medical and theological experts combined to ensure that women accused of witchcraft were more likely to be formally prosecuted than their male counterparts and also to suffer more severely as a result of the rigors of the legal process.

Keywords: gender-relatedness; evil inverse; gender-bias; contemporary fantasies of witchcraft; seduction; magical theft

Chapter.  23598 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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