To this day, the myth of the witch has proved to be such a powerful motif, that feminist and Lgtbq movements, among others, have used it for their campaigns. However, as to the historical forms of witchcraft imaginaries, scholars have repeatedly warned against overly ideological interpretations. They have stressed, in particular, that in order to understand past imaginaries, semantic forms and intertextual connections need to be investigated in depth, and the links between bodily phenomena and socio-cultural interpretations have to be analysed in their respective historical contexts. With such caveats in mind, it is worth to take a fresh look at the gendered dimensions of historical witch imaginaries. The case-studies in this thematic issue of «Genesis» propose to re-read literary texts of the Italian Renaissance in search of traces of the witch myth, to reconsider the motif of animal-human metamorphosis and, finally, to uncover the cultural and colonial shortcomings of simplistic interpretations of witchcraft in the African context.
The essay deals with the image of the witch in Italian literature in the 16th and 17th centuries. At the beginning of this period, the combined effect of Pope Innocent VIII’s bull, Summis desiderantes affectibus (1484), and of Malleus Maleficarum by the Dominican inquisitor Heinrich Institor (1486), did not cause witches to be perceived as a real threat in Italy, and indeed in major literary works such as Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, they played a marginal role. However, from the end of the 16th century, following the Church’s stern condemnation of magic, the witch was portrayed as the offspring of Satan, as in Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata. This essay highlights the different phases of this gradual transformation, from the classical model of the witch as a deceiver to its final version as a dangerous demonic seducer, highlighting its fuelled by the elites’ growing concerns.
In late medieval western Europe sexual transgression was animalised in practice and in narrative. An adulterer was tarred and feathered and thus turned into a cuckoo, a pastor’s concubine was shod with horseshoes and a sodomite covered in a wolf’s skin. I shall argue in this article that this kind of animalisation was situated on the level of gender. Men and women perceived as deviant were not categorised as masculine or feminine but as a particular animal. Although the practice of animalisation was visible in both carnivals and charivaris, and ranged from self-definition to societal ascription, here the focus will be on narrative sources. In the course of the early modern period some of the specific shapes were lost, as in the father-daughter incest tale Peau d’âne, which indicates a blurring of the meaning of the tale. There were also differences between language groups: the association of a female wolf with a prostitute in the Romance languages, for instance, was not recognised in Germanic languages. Yet behind these differences there existed a transnational notion of an animal gender.
The article examines witch belief and witch-hunting in Ghana in the early decades of the twentieth century, when the country was under the British colonial administration. It argues that the local notions of body and person are integral to understanding African witchcraft, as well as its material dimension. The main argument is that the category of the witch was unstable and was constructed in interaction with other social characteristics such as reputation and religious affiliation. In this period witchcraft took on a prevailing female dimension because women were fully involved within the local religion system and could even hold important roles of power. Local traditional deities were undergoing a dramatic process of demonization and marginalization and, as a consequence, women were more easily identified as witches.
a cura di Ida Fazio
La resistenza civile di Anna Bravo
Le carceri italiane nell’età del positivismo
Le pagine della Sis
a cura di Vanessa Moi