chapter  4
28 Pages

The house, the body, the child

Despite feminism’s fascination with the figure of the witch, there have been surprisingly few attempts to read women witnesses’ depositions at witch-trials as texts authored by early modern women, texts that illustrate women’s ideas about witches and witchcraft. There are several reasons for this neglect. Depositions by women witnesses are often seen as unreadable, offering a tangle of signs which point only into a disorderly mass of ‘primitive’ superstition.1 For example, Clive Holmes compares the depositions of the possessed and midwives to ‘those who testified simply to their experience of the witch’s maleficium’. He writes dismissively that ‘this kind of testimony [i.e. to maleftcium] is more inchoate than the other two categories; it lacks their conceptual clarity and sophistication’.2 However, there is nothing ‘simple’ or ‘inchoate’ about such testimonies. Careful reading of them shows that they depend on a set of assumptions and tropes which make sense on their own terms, reflecting and managing the fears and desires of women.