Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Exodus 22:18 and the Women's Holocaust

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
- Exodus 22:18

Jesus himself said that we 'should know them for their fruits'. I have at times turned this rhetoric around on Christians in my arguments with them and studied the fruits of their own scriptures and the people who wrote them. In addition to the order to commit genocide against gays in Leviticus, I believe that Exodus 22:18 is one of the thorniest verses in the whole Bible, in terms of its fruits.

The month of october always conjures up (for me, at least) Western society's collective memories of the dark ages and the inquisition, particularly the burning of witches, which is a very unpopular subject even today, and many people like to dismiss it saying that those were remote times. I believe it's important to keep it alive in our memory. Should our descendants dismiss the Jewish holocaust when the II World War seems remote enough?

More to the point: Why do we use the word holocaust when we refer to the Jewish tragedy during the II WW, but not when we refer to the inquisition? Clearly we do not want another mass extinction of a whole people, be they Jews or Gentiles. It's no less obscene to think of what the church did to women during the feudal age, yet the rhetoric in the history books is absolutely dishonest when it comes to the genocide of women.

According to some estimates, up to 9 million people, 80% of whom were women, died during the inquisition. This may seem exagerated, but we should keep in mind that this happened over around 300 years, so many generations saw these events, many generations of children had to watch their mothers, aunts and grandmothers being burnt, and there were entire villages in France that were wiped out by the Christian church, including Trière where it is said that no one was left alive, and an adjacent village where only about two people survived, apparently due to the fact that they celebrated festivals that were considered Pagan.

The genocide of women should also be compared to the burning of the Library of Alexandria, except that their cultural treasures were intangible and oral knowledge. With those women, died an entire culture, customs died, traditional songs and fairy tales died, even kitchen recipes died, and the knowledge of how to use certain herbs and medicines. The same herbs that are today used by the pharmaceutical industry, were known by many of these women. A paranoid, murderous, neurotic clergy burnt all of this, and the momentum of thousands of years of European cultural history and infrastructure was halted when they mass murdered all those women. The cultural soul of Europe died, literally, to be replaced by something that was dictated by Christian priests.

The church was particularly worried about the midwives, who challenged their god's will when they tried to relieve the pain of giving birth, which was their god's particular curse upon the women in retaliation for Eve's transgression. They were also accused of propagating abortion and family planning practices ... some things never change.

What's worse, the burning of women was very lucrative for the church. Lawyers made money, people who worked for the legal machine of the inquisition had to be paid, and greed was often the main reason behind the accusation of witchcraft: all of the property of women who were massacred by the church became church property. This is why it so happens that many of the victims were widows: they had no one to protect them and many of them had inherited some property that the church wanted.

We're living in a post-colonial era and history should be told from a more honest perspective. October is the month when we're invaded by imagery of witches: it's plain wrong to forget the voices and the memory of the women who were categorized as witches in feudal Europe, and what those events mean. People were cooked alive due to greed, stupidity, intolerance and superstition. A huge lesson of History (or HERstory, in any case).

We shouldn't want the Jewish holocaust to be forgotten, but also we shouldn't want the holocaust of the women to be forgotten. It should be treated with the same level of solemnity as the Jewish holocaust. Hallowe'en should be reclaimed as an occassion to remember the ghosts of the female ancestors of Europe and their trials and tribulations. This should be a time to tell their story.

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