A midwife/healer/witch was often the go-to person for a mother in labour, a broken limb, an amputation, an illness or pandemic, and a counselor. They were educated in the way of nursing through experience and generations of knowledge that was passed down. Their herbal remedies are still used today in modern pharmacology.
Why did they burn at the stake for being a witch if they helped so many? Most witches were lay healers and therefore professed that some of their other remedies were purely ‘magical’. This in turn lead to their own demise.
In my research it is said that the witch-hunts were conceived from two notions, one being that the new male medical profession, under the protection and patronage of the ruling classes. This new medical profession played a key role in the witch-hunts, and maintaining that they were of medical reasoning.
.... Because the Medieval Church, with the support of kings, princes and secular authorities, controlled medical education and practice, the Inquisition [witch-hunts ] constitutes, among other things, an early instance of the "professional" repudiating the skills and interfering with the rights of the "nonprofessional" to minister to the poor. (Thomas Szasz, The Manufacture of Madness)
The second reason was religion. The witches were generally not of faith and practiced based on the knowledge they had acquired over the years as well as trial and error. The Catholics along with the Protestants professed that these women were born of devious nature and sexual conduct. They were spawns of the devil.
Their crimes became a multitude of transgressions from political subversion to blasphemy. A list of the three most prominent crimes mentioned periodically throughout history are:
1. Every sexual crime against men. Infecting them during intercourse, lust in men was blamed upon the women, accused of making men impotent, of giving contraceptives, and performing abortions.
2. being organized.
3. having magical powers affecting health, harming but also of healing.
According to the church all witches powers were derived from their sexuality, which was a sin.
Now there are, as it is said in the Papal Bull, seven methods by which they infect with witchcraft the venereal act and the conception of the womb: First, by inclining the minds of men to inordinate passion; second, by obstructing their generative force; third, by removing the members accommodated to that act; fourth, by changing men into beasts by their magic act; fifth, by destroying the generative force in women; sixth, by procuring abortion; seventh, by offering children to the devils, besides other animals and fruits of the earth with which they work much charm... (Malleus Maleficarum)
Witch-healers/midwives were the only practitioners available to small villages and towns without medical doctors or hospitals. They were needed to help their fellow villagers placing themselves in harms way.
According to witch-hunters Kramer and Springer, “No one does more harm to the Catholic church than the mid-wife.” So whether you practiced as a witch or midwife you were doomed.
Witch-hunts lasted for hundreds of years being the most prominent during the 14th- 17th centuries.
Witches represented a political, religious, and sexual threat toward the church and
government alike. Thousands and thousands of women were burned at the stake in one account it states that there were two burnings a day for certain German cities. In the Bishopric of Trier, in 1585, two villages were left with only one female inhabitant each. Old women, young women and children were hunted and killed. Anyone harboring a witch or failing to report one faced excommunication and other punishments.
There are many accounts of how these women were crazy, how they were a part of the peasant’s rebellions of that time. But why wouldn’t they be? Their own government and church were prosecuting them. Some may have been crazy, thought to possess magical powers but it didn’t mean they deserved death punishable by horrid torture of imaginable means. They were unjustly hung, burned, and drowned because they were women taking from men a method of survival. They were a threat to society because they were different.
Witches, Midwives and Nurses by Deirdre English and Barbara Ehrenreich
The Crucible by Arthur Miller