For years the stories of the witchcraft have intrigued me. Specifically the stories of colonial New England, because that’s what I’m most familiar with historically.
Why are these stories important to me?
I was accused of witchcraft when I was in Master’s Commission in Austin, TX.
Pastor Nathan asked one of his best friends and colleagues to come “fix” our Master’s Commission group. The man’s name was John Bates and he was from That Church in a very small town outside of Texas.
John Bates stood in front of our Master’s Commission group of staff and students telling us that he felt impressed that this was a really important problem–so important that he missed his son’s soccer game to be here.
Bates was asked to resolve a spiritual problem. The problem was vague–there weren’t any tangible issues I remember being pointed out. But one thing was certain, it was a problem of witchcraft and it was a problem of women rising up to emasculate the men in our group and take away their role of “leader” and “head of the ministry.”
We, the women of the group, were responsible for the problem.
We were responsible for “walking with the Devil.”
Many of us women were accused of being a Jezebel spirit, lending our ears to the Devil and listening to his commands which told us to overpower the men of the ministry.
This sounds creepy and Puritanical, but it’s all true and it all happened in the early 2000’s in South Texas.
Bates was convinced that there were certain women leaders amongst us who were practicing this rebellious witchcraft, so he admonished us to go to the front of the group and confess to Pastor Nathan our sins.
There were about 4 or 5 women who went forward. I was one of them.
I didn’t feel I was a witch or a Jezebel, but I was convinced that I was evil beyond repair from Bates’ sermon.
When I confessed to Nathan , he said I wasn’t the one that God had spoken to him. God had given him names and he was waiting for those women to listen to God and come forward. I had nothing to do with the problem and I should go sit down.
So I sat. I watched Heather and Laurie and Mary come forward and I’m not sure if they were the “ones” that Nathan ‘s God had spoken to him about. Each of these women were normal women but the problem lied in Nathan ‘s idea of rebellion. Any rebellion was arbitrarily decided, based on a revolving set of rules. For each of these women, it could’ve been something as simple as them being quiet and just not talking about things as often as he wanted. Nathan wanted us to confess our sins on a regular basis. If these women didn’t do so, they were suspect. If any woman showed a disagreeable attitude, it was assumed she was walking with the Devil. Our Master’s Commission group was like a military boot camp and most of us complained about the rules on a regular basis.
In Puritanical New England, witchcraft was an accusation that was primarily given to women. In some literature, these women were portrayed as “disagreeable women, at best aggressive and abrasive, at worst ill-tempered, quarrelsome and spiteful.” (Karlsen 118) In most cases, they had two main trespasses: “Challenges to the supremacy of God and challenges to prescribed gender arrangements.” (Karlsen 119)
Women in the mid-1600’s were demonized for their behavior, when it varied from the norm, coupled with a challenge to the religious leadership’s ideas of God and gender roles. Women were imprisoned, burned at the stake and publicly tried for these traits.
Yet, in my Christian experience, the demonization of women still goes on. It’s no surprise to anyone that gender roles are most strictly enforced in Christian society, particularly fundamentalist Christian society, which is rampant in the United States.
We’ve entered the twenty-first century, yet we can find associations in modern religious society’s treatment of women and colonial New England’s treatment of women. Isn’t this odd?
Mary Daly’s discussion of going beyond God the Father is an essential one, in order to change these violent ideals religions push onto women. Daly says that if “God is male, then male is God” presenting a patriarchal society that’s led by males, making women inferior.
If we can reconsider this idea of God, we might be able to rid the world of the religious violence toward women.