Publication Date



witch persecution in Europe, healers, women's studies


The idea that most women condemned as witches during the classic periods of witch persecution in Europe (between 1500 and 1700) were in actuality unlicensed healers who were suppressed by the male medical establishment arose among feminist writers, historians, and religious leaders. This idea has been around for more than twenty years now and has become a familiar strain in women's studies. It has been presented often as historically valid by scholars of both genders. The theory is that the midwife, the 'cunning woman', and the female folk herbalist were condemned as witches by male physicians in order to keep these women in their places — that is, out of organized medicine. Consequently, according to these claims witchcraft persecutions were not just a religious phenomenon, but in reality often a misogynist conspiracy with both societal and economic overtones. In 1971 Thomas Szasz, in The Manufacture of Madness, wrote:

Because the Medieval Church...controlled medical education and practice, the Inquisition [witch-hunts] constitutes, among other things, an early instance of the 'professional' repudiating the skills and interfering with the rights of the 'nonprofessional' to minister to the poor.