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Constructing the Witch in Early Modern Denmark: Emotions, Gender and Crime

Speaker: Louise Nyholm Kallestrup (The University of Southern Denmark)
Date: Thursday 9 March 2017
Time: 1pm
Venue: Room 353, Interactive Cinema Space, Arts West Building, North Wing, The University of Melbourne
RSVP: Not required.
Enquiries: Alessandro Antonello (aantonello@unimelb.edu.au)

Part of History Brown Bag Seminars Series

This project explores how witchcraft was constructed as a crime in the Denmark prior to the law of 1617. It argues that witchcraft developed into a criminal offence due to an intersection between reformers’ condemnations of Catholicism as 'the Devil’s cult' and popular ideas and narratives of evil people, especially evil women. It rests on the idea that witchcraft was a gendered crime, and the process of construction took place through various media in which emotions, especially anti-social ones as envy, pride, vengeance and anger but also fear, played key roles. Inspired the emotional turn in history, especially by the works of William Reddy (2001) on emotives and emotional regimes and Monique Scheer on emotional practices (2012), emotions had the power to affect, transform and change conceptions in a private as well as collective sphere. In contemporary writings emotions were used to establish a certain image of the witch as anti-social and to warn against the consequences of interacting with witches – as well as warn against practising witchcraft. In trials, the emotions expressed and attributed to the witch became decisive for the further developments of the case and the view on the suspect. In Denmark, 90 per cent of the individuals tried for witchcraft were women, and the discourse of witchcraft is characterised by highly gendered emotions. Court records prove how these women were presented as socially transgressive by referring to their expression of anti-social emotions such as envy and anger. Women were known to have less control of their feelings, thus their expression of anger or rage was equally feared. The intention is to study such gendered emotions within the frame of the Lutheran household, which came to penetrate every institutional level of society following the Reformation and grew remarkably strong during the 17th century.

My work is based on a wide range of sources, such as laws, court records, theological treatises, sermons, as well as visual sources including church murals and illustrations in books and frontispieces. Each of these groups of sources provides us with insights into the traditions, movements and events, which contributed to develop and establish witchcraft as a crime.

Louise Nyholm Kallestrup, b. 1975, PhD in History 2007 from Aalborg University; Assistant Professor 2010-2013, Department of History, University of Southern Denmark (Odense); since 2013 Associate Professor in Early Modern Cultural History, Department of History, University of Southern Denmark.

Most recent publications in English: Agents of Witchcraft in Early Modern Italy and Denmark (Palgrave-MacMillan 2015); with Raisa Maria Toivo, 'Approaches to Heresy, Magic and Witchcraft in Time, Space and Faith' in Contesting Orthodoxy in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Heresy, Magic, Witchcraft (co-edited with Raisa Maria Toivo, Palgrave Macillan, February 2017) as well as contributing with an article 'The Infected and the Guilty: On Heresy and Witchcraft in Post-Reformation Denmark';'Women, Witches, and the Town Courts of Ribe: Ideas of the Gendered Witch in Early Modern Denmark', in Marianna Murayeva & Raisa Toivo (eds.), Why and how gender matters in medieval and early modern Europe, (Routledge, 2013); 'Knowing Satan from God. Demonic possession, Witchcraft, and the Lutheran Orthodox Church in Early Modern Denmark', Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 6.2 (2011): 163‒82.