Diana Purkiss Part II

Essay #2: The house, the body, the child

In this essay, Purkiss argues for the inclusion of women’s depositions and statements when looking at witches even though they may not be wholly authentic as there is room for contamination. (Men would often dictate the statements as early modern women would not have been as able to write.) Her argument is that there is an overall theme of witches representing their fears and anxieties surrounding their gender roles. (Although, she also states that in reading these texts and creating this discourse, gender identity and ideology contribute to this creation, but that it is more complicated than boiling it down to men vs. women.

Purkiss asserts that the way witchcraft came to work and bed seen had its foundation in women’s social identity as the housewife and mother. Witchcraft often involved the witch overstepping her bounds in terms of the house or body. A witch invaded another women’s space to trifle with her weaving, dairy production, or child rearing. In this sense, a witch is not the opposite of the church, but the opposite of the mother herself, and she represents women’s fears about what could possibly go wrong.

What I found truly fascinating about this essay is the specific connection to boundaries. In invading one’s house or body, Purkiss asserts that it is specifically a breaking of the drawn boundaries and lines. The reason for my fascination is that one of my favorite quotes by Terry Pratchett claims that “witches look to the edges”. They are the guardians and protectors of the in-between spaces that no one else wants to tread. While there is no connection necessarily between the two, I found it interesting that in such different places a common idea arose-this connection between witches and boundaries.

Another thing that occurs in this essay is the introduction of how social issues such as food shortages and sickness came into play in the creation of witches. Purkiss begins drawing lines between real concerns people in the 16th-18th centuries faced that helped develop the fears about witches. For example, food shortages led to an increased reliance on dairy. One of the most recurring themes in witch activity was the spoiling of milk and other dairy products, such as cows producing blood rather than milk. Given the average families’ dependance on the dairy, it makes sense for the people who handled the dairy (the women) to begin to spin stories about why things go wrong and to place the blame on others. Otherwise, it is a failing of their own.

This essay is a good inclusion to the class because it introduces the idea of women creating this figure, but in a more historical sense. Purkiss begins to explore here how women were instrumental in creating the basis for the traditional stories and perceptions of witches due to their own very real fears that had foundations in social order. It also opens up questions about the true definition and identity of the witch and how she has been translated from history into modern times.

Essay #3: No limit, The body of the witch

Here, Purkiss delves deeper into explaining exactly how the fears of women created a feminized witch figure, one that ultimately deals with the boundaries and limits of the body. It should be noted that Purkiss does not rely on the discourse of women’s bodies being battlefields. Rather, she explores bodies and the way society at the time represented them in myth as more physical representations of women’s fears and the failings of early modern medicine. As in the last essay, she ties the myths about witches into very real anxieties about being a mother.

Purkiss asserts that magic is about “degrees of closeness” and “setting and controlling limits”. (120) She connects this discussion about bodies back to limits, early modern medicine’s theories on women’s bodies, and anxieties about not being able to be a good mother. In addition, the “ugly witch” is introduced as a byproduct of both men’s and women’s fears. The “ugly witch” is not an object of desire, in fact, this figure actively rejects being an object of desire as well as embodying the “bad mother” aspect for she is seen as more militant and ruthless. She is dominating and threatens more than just the women’s domestic sphere.

While perhaps not as explosively enlightening as the first two, this essay makes some very important connections between actual societal issues at the time and the stories born out of them. Additionally, there are a lot of points that can be connected back to some of the sources already read. For instance, it is the loss of a baby that sparks the plot to The VVitch, and the moment of doubt at the end of the movie allows for a brief moment of “what if”, what if this is all just a family that is too close to each other and too far isolated from everyone else? Thanks to the director’s vision, these fears about being a good mother, a good provider, and coming out from under your mother’s control are all very clear in the film. Purkiss’ essay creates an academic basis for which to talk about these very fears. In addition, part of Tansy’s need to protect Norman in Conjure Wife comes from her need to prove herself to the other wives. She has entered their domain as a newer, much younger version of themselves and so she must forcefully create space for both herself and her husband. There is much in Conjure Wife about setting boundaries within the body and the home. Finally, both graphic novels involve problematic mother/daughter relationships as well as magic that influences and oversteps the bodies of others.


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