The witch hunts are viewed as a thing of the distant past, assumed to have happened over a century or two in Europe. But the truth is that the witch hunts lasted much longer than that — for much of the 20th century, in fact — and were widespread across the globe. Racism and misogyny were central themes. Many of the practices and instruments of torture are replicated today in BDSM and pornography. The fact that so many of us are unaware of the long and grisly history of the witch trials has left us vulnerable as women today. We’ve forgotten (or perhaps never learned in the first place) how deeply this aspect of history has shaped society today and how easily history repeats itself.
Max Dashu has focused her life’s work on uncovering women’s suppressed histories, which has meant delving into the gendered history of the witch hunts.
Max is a feminist historian, founder of the Suppressed Histories Archives, and the author of a forthcoming book, Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, part of a multi volume series about women in European folk religion and the witch hunts.
I spoke with her over the phone last week about that history and the way in which the witch hunts still resonate today.