PODCAST: Max Dashu reveals the suppressed truth behind the witch hunts (and the implications for women today)

Image/Suppressed Histories: "Dragging a woman condemned as a witch to a burning pyre. 11th century London, Cotton Claudius MS. B iv f57r."
Image/Suppressed Histories: “Dragging a woman condemned as a witch to a burning pyre. 11th century London, Cotton Claudius MS. B iv f57r.”

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.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • cocopop133

    Painful but necessary information. Thank you for your diligence.

    • wulf

      It all started when they wrote the story of the Garden of Eden. It was the woman’s fault “The woman tempted me” whimper, whine, cringe, please don’t punish me. Woman brought sin into the world, therefore they must be punished.

  • damonleff

    FYI – Witch hunts in South Africa…

  • rosearan

    I must say I hadn’t made the connection between the physical torture of accused witches in times past with the tortures on women portrayed in pornography today. There is a sick patriarchal mindset that assumes women want to be degraded, tortured and mutilated for their own good. What’s really upsetting is that many women subscribe to this internalised torture-porn sexism. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is just the latest popular cultural instalment of women writing books or making films that celebrate extremist female masochism (The Story of O, Emmanuelle, Boxing Helena). Also, the practice of FGM, the ultimate patriarchal torture porn, is mostly left to women to perform.

    • wulf

      I doubt very much if any real witches were caught. The victims were probable innocent old ladies who had a wart in the wrong place or else attractive youg girls who refused to cooperate with the priest or magistrate

  • Dear Prudence

    In pretty much every video/article of Hillary Clinton there will be conservative or liberal man calling her a witch and talking about how they wish they could inflict physical violence on her..

    Strangely I don’t see Hillary supporters referring to Saint Bernard as a satanic servant of evil or threatening his life even though we don’t want to vote for him.

  • will

    Thanks for this trailer. I was not aware of this film. I’ll definitely find it and watch.

  • will

    The HBC system also forced bands to name chiefs to represent the group and negotiate on their behalf.

    • lagattamontral

      Yep, MALE chiefs. Neglecting the key role of elder women in many of these societies.

      I’m not trying to claim that Pre-Columbian societies of the Americas were some kind of feminist paradise, and they varied greatly. But settlers imposed there own patriarchal models, with utter disregard for the existing societies.

      • will

        Totally. I meant to write that HBC forced bands to place a single man in a position of authority, whether there was a pre-existing sexual hierarchy or not.

  • northernTNT

    Patriarchy existed in the Americas before Europeans got here. Patriarchy existed on all continents, not just Europe. Colonialism is a horrible thing. It was not INVENTED by Europeans. Patriarchy originated in Egypt 6-10000 years ago. The minute Homo sapiens moved North of the Sahara, everything is colonialism.

  • Max Dashu

    That comes later, though; the Papal Inquisition set the model for repression. The Spanish Inquisition was far more concerned with crushing Jews and Muslims (and heretics) than witches. It did conduct witch hunts, but was much more likely to assign non-fatal punishments (assuming you survived the torture, of course). Flogging, public humiliation, banishment, and terms of servitude were more common punishments for Spanish “witches.”

  • Michael Noel Erickson

    Looking forward to it.

    I also like your use of the term “Diabolism”. it’s quite fitting.

  • sweetbyrd

    Is there a transcript of this podcast that is available? If so, can you direct me to it, please? I am hard of hearing, and have difficulties with podcasts, so a transcript is really important for me to have.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Unfortunately we don’t have the resources to produce transcripts of all our interviews at this time. I’m terribly sorry! I do hope we might be able to offer this some day.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I do, yes! The song at the end is this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4rXEKtC8iY

  • Zoë Lafantaisie

    Thanks Meghan!!!!!!! You’re doing such a great job and a musical ear too! <3