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Caliban and the Witch

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Jay Brafeha Post number 25112 Posted: 31st October 2018     Subject: Caliban and the Witch
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WARNING: The following book deals with topics of feminism and Marxism; it also touches on sensitive topics like rape and genocide. Therefore, it may not be everyone's cup of tea.

A local book club I belong to recently finished a book called "Caliban and the Witch". For people who are interested in history related to the "Burning Times", I thought it was an excellent and interesting read, and I wanted to share it here.

"Caliban and the Witch" is a book by Silvia Federici, which is a re-analysis of the witch burnings that occurred in Europe and in the Americas in the context of the transition from feudalism to early capitalism. While feudalism had many gender equality issues, in general it allowed women to participate much more freely in the economic system of the time, in part due to conventions like land commons. Federici gives historical evidence that women owned businesses and were even recognized as doctors in major cities of the time; even when they lived as a serf, they often had joint legal responsibility with their husbands for the land. And surprisingly, even under the medieval church, women had a lot of ability to control their reproductive rights.

After the Black Death (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death) that occurred in the mid 14th century, the population of Europe was so decimated by disease that it opened up a lot of opportunities previously unavailable to the peasant classes. Lords died, leaving vacant land that was snatched up by less affluent groups of people; the shortage of able-bodied workers meant that wages were ridiculously high -- while Frederici doesn't explicitly bring it up in her own book, 15th century Europe passed a lot of sumtuary laws (https://en.wikipedia.or ... sance_Europe), because it became increasingly difficult to distinguish the gentry from the merchant and peasant classes.

Both the landed gentry and the church at the time took measures to recapture the wealth that was being redistributed in a variety of ways -- e.g., changes to tax laws and enclosure of the commons. Additionally, they put in place measures to force people to work directly for lords, such as vagrancy laws. They needed to force women to have more children to rebuild the population, so the church and landowners passed laws decriminalizing rape and criminalizing birth control, as well as prohibiting women to be doctors and midwives who might assist women in controlling their reproduction. Women were barred from trade guilds that they had previously been a part of; they were prohibited from owning property or getting paid, except through their husbands or fathers, who were in turn required to be members of a guild or employed under a lord.

People of the time began rebelling, taking up armed resistance, and many of the leaders of these rebellions were women -- the ones who were most displaced by the changes. In response, the church began a series of witch hunts. The victims were largely women who had participated in the rebellions, who assisted other women in getting reproductive or other powers outside the new system, and/or those who did not have husbands or fathers and became burdens on the economic system because they could no longer legally support themselves. Frederici posits that, rather than just being the product of a superstitious time, the witch trials were used as a way to silence resistance to the new economic system.

Additionally, Frederici explores the conquest and colonization of indigenous lands in the Americas. She shows how similar witch burning tactics were used in the Americas to silence matrifocal religions and women's resistance to the Europeans. The stories brought back from the Americas then influenced, and fed back into, the accusations that were being used in Europe for the witch trials at home.

A great read, with a lot of food for thought! If anyone has already read it, feel free to post here. [Smile]

Reading notes:

This is a very academic text, so not light reading before you get into bed! [Laughing]

The introduction is a bit philosophically dense, and might be a bit daunting for people without a background in either Marxism or certain postmodern philosophers. If you struggle with this chapter, don't feel bad about skipping ahead -- the history lessons that follow in subsequent chapters are much more accessible to a general audience.
ChristopherBlackwell Post number 25119 Posted: 2nd November 2018     Subject: Jay,Thank you for reminding me
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Jay,
I agree, that while I do not agree with everything from the Marxist and Anarchists groups, they are very good at giving us more background on how we got to Capitalism and what we as a people lost along the way. Another part of history not usually told was how many of the revolts, and revolutions used aspects of Paganism to build a movement around, as they clearly recognized that the wealthy, the government, and the church worked together against them which is still true and more noticeable today and we notice even more so now, where we have extremist Christian ministers telling Americans that if you vote against the ruling party, and our president here in the United States, that you are voting against God.

So even for those who think the Marxists, and the Anarchists are sort of crazy, will still find useful information to help them understand what is happening now, and how we got here. Just another reason we must sometimes check out groups that we are not comfortable with to see if there are ideas we have not gotten though the usual sources. Just like in Paganism, use what information that you find useful and discard the rest.

So your post reminded me to add another post on the subject. Thank you!

Christopher

Wisdom is what is left after you have done all the dumb stuff
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