Witches occupy a central place in our popular culture and continue to be one of the most recognizable “monsters.” However, every monster is born at a specific historical moment. Out of the religious and political crises of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries emerged the idea of the diabolical “witch.”
The Protestant Reformation and Wars of Religion produced fears over the devil’s work in the earthly world and the desire to root out and abolish any remnants of “pagan” beliefs. Constructing and finding the “monsters” responsible for death, diseases, dying farm animals, and ruined crops became a mission for theologians, natural philosophers, jurists, and clergymen. Why were they were convinced that women, in particular, practiced maleficia, or evil spells? Why did authorities believe that women’s bodies consorted with demons and the devil to renounce Christianity, cast spells, and harm their neighbors?
Massive witch hunts began to seek out “witches” and resulted in horrific consequences for over one-hundred thousand women across Europe. The creation of monstrous women, of “witches,” was a way to place blame, enforce social norms, and create order and stability during crises.
Dr. Jen Lynn is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Center at Montana State University Billings. She is originally from Wibaux, Montana and an alumnus of MSUB. Her interest in photography and media closely inform her research related to modern Germany, women’s and gender history, and visual history. She received her PhD from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in Modern German History and Women’s and Gender History and has been at MSUB since 2011. Her current project, “Contested Femininities: Representations of Modern Women in the German Illustrated Press, 1920 – 1960,” explores images of women in the Weimar Republic, Third Reich, and post-war East and West Germany. She teaches courses on European and Women’s History, War and Film, History and Graphic Novels, and Monsters in European History: Witches, Vampires, and Zombies.