The fifth essay in our book club on Silvia Federici's brilliant opus.
Thanks very much for doing this book club. I had heard of this book, but never came close to adding it to my reading pile, but, due to your posts, I did just that and in fact finished reading the last chapter earlier today. I'll be digesting it for some time I think.
One thing I find fascinating about this view of history is the way in which true medical science was replaced by superstition in the switch from midwives to doctors. From the modern perspective, it’s easy to compare the efficacy of various herbal tonics to synthetic antibiotics and see that modern medicine has some serious advantages. But, when a comparison is made between the medical sciences of that time period, it is obvious that the midwives were more practical. I’ve forgotten her name, but there was the French midwife who invented a dummy woman with a cloth uterus with dolls inside so midwives could be trained in repositioning malpresentations, for example. Many modern medicines are based on old herbal remedies- both aspirin and aconite are synthetic copies of herbal remedies. And at that time, the male doctors were performing “medicine” that involved the most ludicrous rituals. My brother humorously describes early male medicine by pointing out “Just think about where the phrase ‘Blow smoke up your ass’ comes from.”
My wife’s about to start reading after hearing me harp on about it over the last few weeks.
I also wondered when the witches were going to make an appearance in the book and now see how it was necessary to provide so much background into the social and economic struggles that were going on due to the enclosure of the commons.
It’s horrifying to even imagine what went on in these times, just that example of an old poor woman grumbling under her breath when refused alms, then accused of making curses! And children often being many of the accusers.
And very interesting, I’m not sure that it was this chapter or the next, there were still magicians working for the elites that didn’t have to worry about any of this!
Thank you for the essay again Rhyd!
"...the belief in the existence of powers available only to particular individuals, and thus not easily generalized and exploitable."
I can dig it up if you want to look into it more, but this reminds me a lot of a book I read a couple years ago on MK Ultra and the US DoD's experiments with extrasensory perception. The Army leadership refused to believe that some people might be more psychically gifted then others - they wanted remote sensing to be something you could print up a manual about, deliver to 10,000 soldiers, and they'd all be functioning identically after a few months of training. This is part of the reason they got so much variation in their results - they were combining data from a few really good psychics with a hundred other random volunteers. And then of course there was a great deal of personal symbolism in the results people got and how they interpreted them - it wasn't that remote sensing didn't work so much as it didn't standardize at all.
Thanks once again. I burn with rage thinking of what has been done, ripping the heart from the world.
I think that this was/is a magical war. Just look at how money works: it gets created from imagination, only has worth through agreement, and is used to manipulate actual real things. The early capitalists were black sorcerers, bent on turning spirit into substance to be used for their own ends. Or maybe they were posessed. Native "americans" thought so and had a name for it: Wetiko.
To rewild the human heart is so important.
Those centuries must have been simply horrifying to live through, particularly as a woman, but also for poorer men. The co-opting of medical practice from mostly women to almost exclusively men is also chilling. This is the type of history that isn't taught in schools but really should be. It was a state sponsored terror campaign, and most people just don't even know about it. Without the history of the preceding centuries it has been easy to pass the witch hunts off as some kind of craziness among the peasant population when it clearly wasn't; it was an orchestrated terror campaign carefully organised by the ruling classes. Some of them didn't even believe that witches or magic existed but were happy to allow the witch hunts to be used as a means of 'social control'! It was a 'divide and rule' tactic that worked so well alongside a 'conform or be destroyed' threat. The 'divide and rule' tactic and 'conform or be destroyed' threats are still being used today, it's just different divisions being used and different attitudes we're being expected to conform to.
This is on the fly as am going out the door to work. Thanks Rhyd for pointing out it was not largely or solely the Catholic Church behind the witch trials. It's a bit shocking if you think about it that protestant capitalists, materialistic philosophers and burgeoning scientists (all body haters too), were the real baddies. So many today are lazy historians, swayed only by news cycle after news cycle, with no desire to investigate root causes.
On another note, am wondering if capitalism is in any way a root cause of the radical right's rejection of racial equality, LGBT rights and abortion. They seem to pit religion against science--the reverse of the witch burners--or is it more of the same wearing a different disguise? Must run...