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Brewing Up Questionable History

Started by Recusant, March 29, 2021, 08:26:05 PM

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I came across an article which makes the claim that the common iconography of women witches in pop culture is in fact the result of a smear campaign against alewives (women who brewed beer in the medieval era).

The article was a rehashing of similar articles that appeared a couple of years ago, which in turn may have been inspired by a show on the History cable channel in the US. The articles seem to crop up during Women's History Month (March, in some Anglophone countries) and around Halloween.

A fairly potent mix, I thought--history, beer and brewing, witchcraft, feminism, and popular culture. It's not too surprising that people wrote the articles. I was intrigued enough to carry on looking at the references, and eventually came across a blog post that I think does a good job of debunking the claims made in the articles. I'll give a link to the article that I began with, and a quote. I'll also provide links to other articles making the same claim.

"Women used to dominate the beer industry – until the witch accusations started pouring in" | The Conversation

QuoteWhat do witches have to do with your favorite beer?

When I pose this question to students in my American literature and culture classes, I receive stunned silence or nervous laughs. The Sanderson sisters didn't chug down bottles of Sam Adams in "Hocus Pocus." But the history of beer points to a not-so-magical legacy of transatlantic slander and gender roles.

Up until the 1500s, brewing was primarily women's work – that is, until a smear campaign accused women brewers of being witches. Much of the iconography we associate with witches today, from the pointy hat to the broom, may have emerged from their connection to female brewers.

[. . .]

Just as women were establishing their foothold in the beer markets of England, Ireland and the rest of Europe, the Reformation began. The religious movement, which originated in the early 16th century, preached stricter gender norms and condemned witchcraft.

Male brewers saw an opportunity. To reduce their competition in the beer trade, some accused female brewers of being witches and using their cauldrons to brew up magic potions instead of booze.

Unfortunately, the rumors took hold.

Over time, it became more dangerous for women to practice brewing and sell beer because they could be misidentified as witches. At the time, being accused of witchcraft wasn't just a social faux pas; it could result in prosecution or a death sentence. Women accused of witchcraft were often ostracized in their communities, imprisoned or even killed.

Some men didn't really believe that the women brewers were witches. However, many did believe that women shouldn't be spending their time making beer. The process took time and dedication: hours to prepare the ale, sweep the floors clean and lift heavy bundles of rye and grain. If women couldn't brew ale, they would have significantly more time at home to raise their children. In the 1500s some towns, such as Chester, England, actually made it illegal for most women to sell beer, worried that young alewives would grow up into old spinsters.

[Continues . . .]

"The Ale-Soaked Medieval Origins of the Witch's Hat" | Vice

"The dark history of women, witches, and beer" | Big Think

"Witches Brew: How the Patriarchy Ruins Everything for Women, Even Beer" | Dig

The blog post that examines the claims made above with a critical eye:

"Nope, Medieval Alewives Aren't The Archetype For The Modern Pop Culture Witch." | braciatrix

QuoteRecently the History Channel launched a video that appeared to claim that our modern pop culture depictions of witches were rooted in the garb and tools of alewives, and that this creation came about in the 16th century. From the pointed hat to the black feline companion, its brewsters, they claim, that are the cause of this portrayal.

There's also a whole host of blog posts and news articles arguing that our modern pop culture depictions of witches come from medieval (so pre-16th century) alewives. I'm not going to link them, but they are easily found with a quick Google search

There is only one problem. These arguments aren't historically accurate. At all.

[Continues . . .]
"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration — courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth."
— H. L. Mencken


Subjugation of women has a long and inglorious history.  We men have gotten that wrong in egregiously many ways.


That made very interesting reading!
If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
"Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt." ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett
Remember, your inability to grasp science is not a valid argument against it.