In 1997, Stuart Clark published the first monograph since the time of Jules Michelet to focus on pre-modern ideas about witches. The language of belief in witchcraft studies betrays an anachronistic, modernist and dismissive approach to a mental universe quite different from our own. This book makes the male witch visible, to construct him as a historical subject, as a first step toward a deeper understanding of the functions and role of gender in pre-modern European witch-hunting and ideas about witches. The overtly political dimension to the study of witches in early modern Europe demands a high level of consciousness and reflexivity regarding language, representation, and meaning. William Monter provides a wealth of data about male witches, in an 'unremarkable province' close to 'the heart of northern and western Europe'. Here, men comprised the majority of those tried and executed for witchcraft. The book examines cases in which men were accused of witchcraft. The examples are drawn from several different regions, in order to test conventional generalisations about male witches. The agency theory posits that actors always have choices; 'agent-centred' morality proposes a novel twist on both traditional Kantian internalist categories. The problems of both male and female witches' agency and selfhood are discussed. The book also presents data compiled from ten canonical works, and a brief discussion of demonological illustrations. Finally, it addresses the question of what it means to label a man as a witch within a framework that explicitly and implicitly feminised witchcraft.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book makes the male witch visible, to construct him as a historical subject, as a first step toward a deeper understanding of the functions and role of gender in pre-modern European witch-hunting and ideas about witches. The Malleus maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, is the best-known early modern work on witchcraft, infamous for its misogynist statements about women and for its argument that most witches were women. The primary affinity between male and female individuals with witchcraft was related to their status as 'fools'. The existence of male witches, and particularly their presence in demonological treatises, raises many questions. The overtly political dimension to the study of witches in early modern Europe demands a high level of consciousness and reflexivity regarding language, representation, and meaning.
The exclusion of male witches from witchcraft historiography is the result of active processes and assumptions. More commonly, especially in surveys, male witches are mentioned once or twice and then forgotten, and witches are referred to subsequently as if they were exclusively female. E. William Monter provides a wealth of data about male witches, beginning with the fact that in this 'unremarkable province' close to 'the heart of northern and western Europe', men comprised the majority of those tried and executed for witchcraft. Monter's study of Normandy is exciting because it offers concrete evidence that early modern beliefs about witches were not necessarily sex-specific. Stuart Clark's interpretation of demonological views of gender and witchcraft offers the most striking instance of the invisibility of male witches. Demonological literature is a major source for the assumption that witch-hunting was primarily about persecuting women.
The prevailing view in witchcraft studies is that male witches were rare exceptions to the rule and are less important and interesting, as historical subjects, than female witches. This chapter examines cases in which men were accused of witchcraft. The examples are drawn from several different regions, in order to test conventional generalisations about male witches. G. R. Quaife exemplifies scholars' difficulty in coming to grips with the fact of male witches. He actually suggests that the male witches were merely 'secondary targets as husbands or associates of a female witch'. Discounting all secondary targets would alter the statistical picture significantly. Quaife, however, avoids this result by constructing a double standard, which presupposes, by implication, that early modern Europeans did not 'mean it' when they accused men of being witches but were serious when they accused women.
One of the central issues of current research, especially of feminist research into early modern witchcraft, is the question of (female) agency. Agency theory posits that actors always have choices, no matter how restricted; 'agent-centred' morality proposes a novel twist on both traditional Kantian internalist categories and a useful political starting point for taking agents' conscious moral choices seriously. This chapter addresses the problems of both male and female witches' agency and selfhood. It applies questions regarding agency and resistance to cases involving men as well as to those involving women. In her much-reviewed and highly original collection Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Sexuality and Religion in Early Modern Europe, Lyndal Roper approached the topic of witchcraft confessions and their recantation from a psychoanalytic perspective. In Regina Bartholome's case, Roper suggested, Oedipal tensions and self-destructive tendencies combined to produce a dramatic confession to witchcraft and Devil-worship.
The body of witchcraft literature is much too large to permit a complete survey; there is, however, a smaller group of works that could be considered canonical, at least from the perspective of contemporary scholarship. This chapter presents data compiled from ten of these canonical works, as well as a brief discussion of demonological illustrations. Stuart Clark's statement that demonological theory about gender and witchcraft did not conform to the patterns of prosecution appears somewhat too broad. Clark's conclusions are similar to those of Eric Wilson, whose Cambridge dissertation is the first modern study in English of the Malleus maleficarum. Both Clark and Wilson suggest that early modern demonology was sex-specific and thus different from witchcraft prosecutions, which were merely sex-related.
This chapter first argues that early modern theorists were unperturbed by male witches because they were already familiar with them in the guise of ancient and medieval heretics and sorcerers. The second argument concerns the feminisation of the witch. A man accused of being a witch was implicitly feminised. In one sense, this feminisation lends support to Stuart Clark's argument for a binary structure underlying the gendering of witchcraft. On the other hand, it cautions us against allowing that binary structure to become too rigid to accommodate flexible gender constructions. The chapter demonstrates that the lack of a conceptual barrier to the idea of male witches can be explained in part by witchcraft theorists' familiarity with various ancient and medieval prototypes. It further addresses the question of what it meant, in conceptual terms, to label a man as a witch within a framework that both explicitly and implicitly feminised witchcraft.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book first discusses why male witches are not more common subjects in witchcraft historiography. Specialists in early modern witchcraft are aware that it was not sex-specific, even among the most misogynist demonologists. The book then discusses the work of unpacking conventional wisdom about witchcraft and gender. Next, it presents data, synthesised from other scholars' archival research, that showed wide variation in the proportion of male to female witches. The book also presents a few case studies of male witches in Essex and Germany. These case studies demonstrate that many generalisations about male witches, derived from specific regional studies, are not in fact suitable for Europe-wide application. The book further introduces the male witch as found in demonological literature.