# 39 Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English

Summary:
This text is a short summary of the history of women as healers.

The text starts out explaining the often jumped to connection between healers and witches. This has a lot to do with the Catholic church and the government at the time. The whole thing started in Europe, it’s a place where a lot of stuff gets started.

Generally when I think of witches I think of three categories of witches: women who are deemed witches because of some reason, women who pretend to be witches, and women who actually practice some sort of dark art. I can’t say much about the dark art part, but I do know that there are some people who are pretty serious about that stuff. Anyways, then you have the group that pretends to be witches. They dress up, browse new age texts, and play with Ouija boards. It’s all pretty harmless stuff. Then we have the group of people who are labeled as witches by other people.

Why are people labeled as witches? Because they stand out. A woman does math? She’s a witch. A woman knows what tea to give you for a stomach ache? She’s a witch. A woman walked by your cow and it died the next day? She’s a witch. There was kind of this frenzy going on in Europe. Thousands upon thousands of women were executed because someone claimed they were witches.

People are generally scared of what they don’t understand. In Salem we have the scenario that there were a lot of people from all over the place moving in and people were wary of the different women and claimed they were witches, but also it could have been the whole Ergot thing. Ergot is a fungus which grows on wheat and it’s what druggies, or actually originally the CIA, made LSD out of. It causes hallucinations. So some people could have eaten some “magic bread” and thought they saw Mrs. Smith flying outside their window on a broom. This isn’t what happened in Europe.

Many of the women tried as witches in Europe were midwives, herbalists, and generally considered “wise women.” Basically they knew what plants had what effect on people. This isn’t a bad thing. This is actually one of my ambitions. Some day I hope to have an extensive herb garden I use both for cooking and healing. It’s a very good thing, very useful, but if you’re threatening someone else by doing it, then people don’t like you.

Around this time the book Malleus Maleficarum was published. Yes, I realize most people will know the name of this book from the movie The DaVinci Code, where Tom Hanks and Ian Mckellan get all wrapped up about discussing Mary Magdalene. Anyways, the Malleus Maleficarum was a witch hunting guide. It wasn’t based on any scientific fact, just conjecture and hearsay. It advised officials to torture suspects until the gave up other names. Those people were then tortured as well. Why though, why?

The church was intimidated and the government was intimidated. The text goes to a great length to discuss how women are associated with sexuality and lay claim to all of mens’ sexual sins. What a load of crap! There was this idea that women were¬† always doing something bad. If they were thinking to themselves they were dancing with Satan. The whole claim was women were sexual because they slept with Satan. I don’t think anybody would want to sleep with Satan. Anyways, this gave rise to superstitions. The church and officials really started eying women to see what they were up to. This was also around the time in which the church decided it really wanted to have its hand in everybody’s cookie jars.

Many women acted as healers, but by this time doctors were coming on the scene. They weren’t officially trained or anything, they just wanted to practice medicine and they saw the women who were midwives as such a threat. This reminds me of a previous book I read on here The Apothecary’s Daughter. The girl in question was barred officially from dispensing herbs, but she did it on the sly. This was something that did happen. Once a man decided that he wanted to take over a profession the women were ousted.

This of course gave rise to ridiculous claims of witchcraft. We’ve all seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail right? Ok, the scene with the witch. They dressed her up like a witch, gave her a false nose, came up with some screwy logic and rigged the scales. They determined she was a witch., but nothing she did provoked the accusation other than she was a woman. She wasn’t even old and wrinkly. She was just a young woman. The great thing about Monty Python is that it likes to make fun of things in society and this was definitely one of the more absurd and sad things that went on in history.

Another book I read last year called The Heretic’s Daughter creates a fictional tale about a young girl whose mother is accused of being a witch because she failed to heal somebody. Her mother did practice healing, but because the patient died she was accused of witchcraft. One of the things they did to her was examine her all over, and I mean all over, even her lady parts. They called her clitoris a “witch’s teat” and that is what they condemned her by. I guess they never thought to look for themselves, but all women kind of have one of those.

Midwives dwindled and dwindled. One of the main reasons midwives were pushed out was because the doctors wanted their patients. This had nothing to do with cleanliness or health safety, it was just a matter of money. Midwives were villanized. I have actually read a couple of other books on this subject. Midwives are still villanized. Some states even ban them.

The book then goes on to talk about how women mainly serve in a nursing capacity in the health care industry now rather than the healer capacity they started in. I have actually worked in health care. Yes, most nurses are women, although I have encountered some wonderful male nurses. The hierarchy of the medical field is this, Nurse aide(garbage, trash, worse than dirt), LPN(glorified nurse aide), RN(more responsibility but still no where as important as a doctor), then Doctor( the head honcho). I am not saying this is how I view it, this is pretty much the way it works. There are some situations where it is better, but most of the time it’s going to be like this. The nurse aides, who do most of the work, get treated like idiots by the LPNs and RNs. The RNs might treat the LPNs like idiots, but definitely don’t trust them as much as they would another RN. Doctors many times pretty much ignore everyone below them.

I used to work in a nursing home. It involved mostly nurse aides, LPNs and a few RNs. The RNs were generally in supervisory positions. Some were great to work with and others thought they were too good to put someone on a bed pan. An RN was the director of Nursing for the facility. A doctor came a couple of hours a couple days of the week and that was it. There was not a doctor on staff, and yes, he was a he. Medical professionals that think they are above you like to treat you like you’re ignorant and try to “talk above your head.” One of the tasks a nurse aide has to do, ALL THE TIME, is wipe butts. That is pretty much the main duty of being a nurse aide, wiping butts. So you can understand the nurse aides know how to wipe a butt. If there was a butt wiping contest and a baker, a lawyer, the president, and a nurse aide were the contenders, the nurse aide would win. Nurse aide=butt wiping expert. Why am I explaining all of this you ask? Well, at the particular nursing home I worked at for some stupid and idiotic reason almost every week the nurse aides would have to prove their butt wiping abilities by wiping a butt, not their own butt, but someone else’s, and by someone else I mean a patient, in front of a higher up nurse and then getting signed off on a sheet of paper. Every single week almost. So you can understand the lower down the medical “food chain” you are the more stupid the people with more education think you are. This isn’t an isolated opinion.

I know some capable nurses both male and female that can run circles around the attending doctor. Yes, the medical field was taken over by men. One of the saddest things about this is that men generally don’t have as much patience as women, I’m not saying it’s true in every circumstances, but more men I know prove this than disprove this. I recently watched two great documentaries called The Business of Being Born and also Pregnant in America. One of the themes mentioned in both documentaries is the C-section rate. If a doctor is about to get off shift what happens? The doctor says, “Oh it looks like it’s taking too long to do this vaginally let’s go ahead and do a C-section.” The C-section is done thirty minutes later and the doctor doesn’t have to stay at work late. What about that cruise to the Bahamas that Dr. is taking. No problem, “Receptionist call Mrs. so and so and then Mrs. What’s her face and tell them we should go ahead and induce this week.” What happens when those women get induced? Most likely a C-section. The rate for C-sections in the united states is 33%. That means if you go to a hospital to have a baby you have a one in three chance of having major surgery that could have been prevented with a little patience. Women don’t get to choose their birthing experience at a hospital. The doctors want it to be easy for them, not for you. Sure you’re going to have to recuperate from that major surgery and yeah having that epidural is going to make you feel weird for a while, but you know what? The doctor made his flight, isn’t that great?

So, if you want a short version of the problem check this text out. It can be found online.

What I liked: The text was short and concise about the history and problems associated with women, healing, and witchcraft. It was informative.


What I didn’t like: This was an online book, no kindle here, well I read it on the browser on my kindle. The text could have been formatted better. It’s formatted in rough HTML with no ability to skip to sections or pages. The page numbers are in odd places and break up text. This would be solved by turning this document into a PDF and adding bookmarks. The text also varied in size, sometimes for no apparent reason. Some of the words were not correctly capitalized. Nonetheless, it was still informative and quite the interesting view.

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