Unruly Wombs: Modern Implications of Baconian Science

by Sarahann Moser, UNC Charlotte

In the United States, women are giving birth while shackled to the bed. This happens in 27 out of 50 states, and it is appalling. Mistreatment of women and their wombs can be traced back hundreds of years to Francis Bacon and his “champion” of Science. In terms of the Baconian and patriarchal approach to Science, incarcerated women are the epitome of the disorder that Francis Bacon and his advocates pin on women and nature. They are examples of nature gone wild; subjects that must be punished for their unruliness. In the modern world, controlling a woman’s womb finds its origins in the early modern world where the womb was believed to have occult properties. Bacon believed that, if not controlled, nature engendered as female could be dangerous. The notion that modern incarcerated women have broken a law or laws-ones put in place to maintain a stable justice system-is appalling to men and women who push patriarchal doctrines. To atone for this, their wombs must be punished and controlled.

Basis for the mistreatment of women in the judicial system can be traced to witch trials, as Carolyn Merchant observes in her article, “Dominion Over Nature.” Merchant connects the mechanical devices used to punish and torture women who were accused of witchcraft to the introduction of Baconian mechanical contraptions to sequester and interrogate nature (69). Similar contraptions- chains and handcuffs–are used today to punish women. Not only are imprisoned women forced to endure the pains of labor alone, without family, shackled by chains to the bed, but there are reports of women’s pregnant bellies being chained. This is an ultimate portrayal of control, chaining both the woman and the innocent life inside her. Mary Floyd-Wilson acknowledges early modern English perspectives of the womb in her book with the chapter titled “Women’s Secrets and the Status of Evidence in All’s Well That Ends Well.” Floyd-Wilson points out that the womb was believed to have occult properties (30). That premise of placing women in “belly chains” and handcuffs for their doctor’s appointments can be connected to the fear of the power which the womb commands. In early modern England, the womb was a highly fantasized feature of the female body which men would depict in problematic scientific diagrams.

The unknown woman and her ability to grow another life in her body intimidated Bacon and his contemporaries. As with feminized Nature, it was necessary for scientists to dissect, manipulate, and dominate the study of the womb. The interpretation of the womb and mother as dangerous and intimidating continues today in that pregnant mother’s bellies are chained. Profoundly, if this is done to protect the child from his or her mother, it is highly hypocritical. Once said woman’s child is born, she will only be allotted twenty-four hours to spend with her baby, forced to care for and breastfeed her child while in shackles and handcuffed. This greatly hinders the formation of a bond between mother and child at a severely critical developmental period in the child’s life. The connection between Baconian scientific practices and modern practices associated with ‘disorderly’ women, that is, incarcerated women, is clear. Had it not been for a fear and intimidation of the female’s ability to grow life, negative associations that the womb needed to be controlled would have never cultured. Today’s mistreatment of pregnant women is an explicit example of modern implications of Baconian Science. Men controlling women and their wombs is an age-old concept.


Floyd-Wilson, Mary. Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Merchant, Carolyn. “Dominion over Nature.” The Gender and Science Reader, edited by Mauriel Lederman and Ingrid Bartsch, Routledge, 2001, pp. 68-81.


Health Care for All

By Kassidy Imerman, UNC Charlotte

The current struggle to secure healthcare access for all is a multifaceted issue, one that is particularly high-stakes for women. The justifications for denying such access can be traced back to the founding of the scientific profession and the origination of modern scientific practice and theory. In particular, Francis Bacon’s aggressive and sexually violent metaphors contributed to the construction of a scientific institution that excludes, degrades, and denigrates women. Some might read this interpretation as overdramatic, and claim that Bacon’s metaphors are only metaphors. But are they?

Bacon’s work constructs a large base of the modern scientific field, and his rhetorical alignment of masculinity/science and femininity/nature is not unique. This alignment pervades early scientific writings, and it pervaded early scientific practice as well. And in looking at the current state of the healthcare system, which was professionalized and institutionalized as a result of the scientific “revolution,” it does not seem wholly unlikely that these problematic gendered notions might continue to pervade the system. Access to health services remains a gendered problem in that lack of adequate healthcare is particularly perilous for women, who are often in constant battle to control their own sexual and reproductive health. The justifications for control over women’s bodies are complex and myriad, but easily traced back to the work of Bacon and other early scientific thinkers who posited that nature, that life, needs to be removed from its natural environment and brought into a sterile space and under the control of the (masculine) scientist so that can be properly understood and managed. It is not unlikely, then, that the desire to control women’s health is inherited from this idea. After all, a woman’s body is essential to the support of human life creation, and controlling it means controlling life itself. By reinforcing the man/science vs. woman/nature binary, the patriarchy has a justification for maintaining such strict control over women’s bodies, since, by this logic, men/science possess the rationality, the preferred knowledge, that makes man/science qualified to control woman/nature and therefore life. By this logic, women and nature left to their own devices are dangerous, wanton, threatening. Left to roam free, to grow free, women and nature possess the potential to overpower men. Men, without much life giving or sustaining abilities in and of themselves, cannot survive without nature or women. Conquering nature and conquering women is about acquiring resources for patriarchal and capitalist gain, and squashing any potential threat to the existing system. It is imperialist and exploitative, and doubly detrimental in places where western colonization has made its ugly mark.

Examining contemporary healthcare issues from this lens, tracing back these inequalities to the formation of the modern field of science, is useful in linking systems of oppression to understand how the system of patriarchy functions on the whole, as well as how it promotes its preferred forms of knowledge to justify its exploitation. Perhaps Bacon’s metaphors were intended to be nothing more than metaphors, but they are the metaphors on which an entire system of oppression has been built and sustained.

Relevant links:



“To Preserve Rasberries”

This semester, our Dynamic Traditions in Literature class at the University of Texas, Arlington  is examining the use of, importance of, and writing about Food. To this end, one of our group projects is to transcribe a 18th century recipe from a Folger manuscript known as Cookbook Wa87 and to then attempt to make it. Kicking things off, our group decided to make the above recipe for raspberry preserves, found on page 16. Here’s the transcription, as best we could read it:

Take a pound and Quarter off loaf sugar finely beaten

and putt itt in a skellett wetting itt with 2 or 3 spoonfuls of

water, lett itt be as thick as you can stir itt then boil

itt to sugar again then putt in 6 spoonfulls off rasberies that

have been boild and straind then sett itt on the ffire and let

the sugar melt with that liquor, then putt in a pound

off great rasberries and lett em stand warming in the li

quor may rise all ofver them after they have boild softly

and the sugar be meltet boile em with a quick ffire

which will be in less than a quarter off an hour and which

is when the seeds boile owt into the liquor if you boile em

too much they will be hard pour em into a bason till cold

and putt em into glasses a pound off sugar is Enough

for this quantity

On the whole, this recipe is actually pretty simple – there are only three ingredients, and it’s not very complicated. That said, we were a bit surprised to see that the first ingredient listed was not raspberries, but sugar. In fact, the recipe calls for more sugar than raspberries! We had to do a little bit of research and digging to see why exactly this might have been the case.

The recipe calls for “loaf sugar,” which we had never heard of before. We looked it up, and it turns out that this was common in the days before sugar cubes and then granulated sugar were more easily manufactured and made available. Loaf sugar is made by taking refined sugar (where the molasses has been extracted), boiling it, and then pouring it into molds that look similar to cones. There the sugar would settle, and whatever syrup and other substances still remained would drain out of the bottom of the cone molds. Besides taste, obviously, it should be noted that the whiteness of the sugar was important, as well as the shape of the cone when it was pulled from the mold. Today, you can still buy sugar loaves from some stores or online, though this is no longer a popular way to utilize sugar and we decided to forgo this step in our version.

Of course, if we can’t rely on sugar to be what we expected, we knew we had to look into the raspberries as well. Though we usually think of raspberries as red, there are actually many different kinds: red, blue, purple/black, and even yellow. Found in mythology, and dating many centuries ago, both the fruit and its leaves have had different purposes over the years. Our recipe does not specify which type of raspberry, but a little research finds that the two most common types in the world are the American and European red raspberries, each native to their respective continent. Considering that we are working from an English manuscript, they most likely used European red raspberries. That said, we used whatever we could find in the store, which were probably American red raspberries, though it’s hard to determine what the taste difference is now, or even how different it may have been back then. And incidentally, if you wanted to make these yourself but try one of the other varieties, there are some flavors to note: red raspberries are the most common and have a sweeter feel to them, though they vary in tartness depending on the variety you choose; purple/black raspberries are hollow and rich in flavor; yellow raspberries are even sweeter than red and have no tartness to them.

When cooking, we scaled down the proportions a little, and used only one pound of sugar and ¾ of a pound of red raspberries. Some of the recipe’s measurements were antiquated and vague, such “6 spoonfuls off raspberries,” which does not specify the size or type of spoon to use. We decided to use a regular-sized dinner spoon. The first thing we did was fill a pot with water and bring it up to a boil.

Next we used our spoon to put in 6 spoonfuls of the raspberries. We waited until the raspberries started to simmer and we put another pot next to the previous one and put into it one pound of sugar along with 3 spoonfuls of tap water.

We stirred the mixture as the raspberries came to a boil. Then we added 6 spoonfuls of the liquefied raspberries to the sugar mixture and allowed the sugar to come to a nice boil. When the sugar mixture was of a thick consistency, we added the raspberries that were in the boiling water into the sugar, stirring as we mixed the two.

We then added the remaining raspberries, at the same level of heat. We let the mixture boil, gently stirring so as not to disrupt the shape of the raspberries. However, as they warmed up, the raspberries began to crumble apart. Maintaining the heat for approximately 15 minutes liquefied the remaining raspberries.  

Here is a video of the cooking

Finally, we moved the mixture into a 9”x7” cooling dish for about two hours. At this time, the preserves were ready to serve. However, the origin of this recipe is not just to make a tasty jam to serve up immediately – recipes like these were made at a time when fresh fruit was truly seasonal, and you couldn’t just pop down to the grocery store to get canned whatever. In fact, it’s all in the name – these recipes were made to preserve the fruit – to stretch it out further than using it fresh and to save the fruit to use later. That way, people had a much better chance of having these fruits and flavors when they were not in season, or even just keeping them from spoiling for a longer period of time. All things being equal though, we didn’t have the patience to wait that long. To taste our final product, each group member had a piece of toast the preserves and they were delicious.

-Arely Rivera, Hannah Monger, Jason Amaloo, Shyla Hatch, and Zack Delaney, Dynamic Traditions in Literature: Food, University of Texas at Arlington, taught by Dr. Amy Tigner.


How Can We Explain Possession?


Possession was the act of the Devil or one of his demons inhabiting and controlling the actions and thoughts of a human. People who were possessed showed symptoms such as aggressive convulsions and fits, rigid limbs, inhuman strength, previously unattained ability to speak in old languages such as Latin, distain towards religious or holy symbols, blasphemy and certain people would foretell the future. In the case of Sarah Bower (1693), the possessed 14-year-old suffered symptoms such as ‘strange and unaccountable fits’(3), making a ‘most hedious noise’(6) and the ability to have ‘great force and violence, that scarce six men could hold her in’(6), among other symptoms.

Looking back on this phenomenon with a modern viewpoint the concept of possession is an unlikely. One might immediately conclude that the majority of these cases were the result of mental or medical illnesses that contemporary people were unaware of. Others might argue that a number of occurrences  would have been the due to fraudulence. The possessed, unlike witches, often received sympathy, as it was commonly believed that getting possessed was not a choice. As an outcome of this sympathy, people would often receive alms of money, food and other forms of charity. Furthermore, they would be given a voice in the community, as although possession was fairly common at the time, it was still a curiosity that the majority of people were interested in.

Despite the fact that these are both plausible explanations, and undoubtedly both are true, are they the only two explanations for possession in early-modern Europe? Sure, we can attribute the physical symptoms, such as the fits, to illness, but if we take note of people experiencing mental illness today it is not common behaviour to be averted towards religious symbols or unholily blaspheming. So what then, must be the cause of these symptoms?

It is argued by Brian Levak in his book, The Devil Within, that the symptoms could be a result of an unconscious script that was ingrained in the minds of religious people as they would have been exposed to possession through their community or communities near them, pamphlets and sermons. An example of something similar to this that we can understand today would be pseudocyesis, also known as false pregnancy, in which a woman would believe herself to be pregnant so firmly that she might experience all the symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant.

Levak discusses a selection of examples of possessions in a podcast about his book that could support this claim, including ‘epidemic’ (7:25)  like scenarios where whole towns, convents or orphanages would become possessed. Further more he points out that the symptoms of possession vary depending on which form of Christianity the possessed follows (8:30 – 12:30). For example, a catholic would react very strongly towards things that symbolised the body of Christ, however, a protestant would react strongly towards the Bible, the most significant thing in the Protestantism. Secondly, Catholics were more likely to have symptoms that were of a sexual nature due to the fact that sexual sin was considered a major sin in Catholicism. Protestants however, did not distinguish between major and minor sins and so the possessed would commit sins such as dancing or playing cards, and this would be considered equally as unholy. Thirdly, due to the nature of Protestantism, Protestant exorcisms would rely on praying to god to cure the inflicted person. Catholic exorcisms however, were considerably more dramatic, and so they tended to be more successful, as the possessed person would believe the demon to be cast out given the dramatic display. He also suggests the rise in possessions during this time was due to the upheaval in the church, and the common belief that the apocalypse was coming, resulting in higher awareness of the devil (15:50).

Wellcome Images – Scene of a Catholic possession

Going back to the case of Sarah Bower, the symptoms started after she was struck on the back and taken for dead. However, the only symptom she displayed for several months were fits. The source explains how several doctors came to examine the girl (3), and no one could figure out what ailed her. This could explain how the issue developed into what was believed to be a possession. After months of occasional fits and no seemingly obvious explanation as to why these fits were occurring, the girl could have come to some subconscious conclusion that she was possessed. Perhaps it was discussed around her as a possible cause of the fits, and thus she could have been subconsciously fulfilling these expectations, however that is speculation, as the source does not mention any such conversations, but it is not hard to imagine this scenario. If this was the case, then the other symptoms that followed the fits were a result of the girl believing she was possessed, rather than possession itself or the original illness that caused the fits. There are other symptoms in the source that are still a mystery, such as ‘the spirit [throwing] her from one end of the bed to the other’ (6), however, it is probable that some signs recorded are a consequence of exaggeration of the person recording the details.

In conclusion, non-fraudulent cases of possession can not be rationally explained by just illness alone, as many of the symptoms are too specific to religion and contemporary life, and have nothing related to how we understand mental and physical illness today. However, the concept that several symptoms of possession were due to a belief in possession could plausibly explain the symptoms that we do not understand. The example of Sarah Bower’s case shows clear delay in the initial onset of symptoms and the sudden change to symptoms of possession, making it very possible that this was a result of desperately trying to understand and explain the fits Bower was suffering from.

Fleeing the crime: Bestiality in Early Modern Europe.


Bestiality is something that today you are unlikely to hear occurring, in Early Modern Europe however it seems an act as disgusting as that took place far more regularly. People in Early Modern Europe lived far more intimately with animals than we do today as farming was a far more common job and peasants lived in very rural areas, this may account for its regular occurrence. Despite intercourse with an animal, or “buggery” as it was often called, being a crime punishable by death there are still numerous documents from Early Modern Europe that state it taking place, whether it be eye witness accounts or trial reports. In a statute in 1533 it was declared that bestiality was a crime punishable by death and beyond this it was seen as an ‘Abominable sin’ amongst Christians[1], how then did those accused of such a crime react?


It is easy to overlook the reactions of those who stand accuse of bestiality when looking at cases of it occurring, it is easy to assume that anyone who is guilty of the crime would be punished this was not however always the case. Erica Fudge wrote an article for ‘History Today’ entitled “MONSTROUS ACTS: BESTIALITY IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND”,  this piece looked at the case of one William Clarke who stood accused of buggery with a mare in 1656 after being witnessed by John Sweedale of Easby [20]. Despite Sweedale claiming to have seen the incident of bestiality Clarke unsurprisingly, with death the punishment if he was to be found guilty, claimed to be innocent. Clarke stated he was checking the mare for an injury he believed it may have suffered. In Sweedale’s account he says that Clarke told him that he would leave England within two days, although he did not and later stood trial. It seems that leaving the area in which the incident took place was a common theme for those accused of bestiality, it would have been better for the accused to disappear rather than face potential death in a trial. In the town of Birdham in the 1670s a young man fled the country following accusations that he, like Clarke, had also committed buggery with a mare[2]. This desire to flee falls in line with the Early Modern European belief that to commit bestiality was to remove oneself from society and God, they were in essence lost[3]. People fleeing after committing the acts could lead to accusations surfacing years after the actual crime is committed. A man named Thomas MacHaffie was first accused in 1647 and then again later in 1655 after he returned from Ireland[4]. It is clear then that the most common reaction of people accused of bestiality in Early Modern Europe was to flee. To be caught committing bestiality meant that the accused would not only face criminal trial but would also face exile from society and from religion, it is unsurprising then that they would choose to leave. It would be very easy for someone in this period to simply disappear, without the aid of modern technology and policing a person could leave a town and never be seen again allowing them to live peacefully elsewhere despite their crimes.

The image below taken from the Welcome library depicts a man fornicating with a goat

L0033076 A man copulating with a goat or deer. Gouache painting by

These accusations would not be made lightly either, a statute passed in 1548 stated that no person who could benefit from the death of the accused were permitted to act as a witness in the case [21]. Those giving witness statements are likely then to be telling the truth as there is nothing for them to gain by doing so. Was fleeing then an admission of guilt? Or simply a reaction brought about by fear of death and exile? Whether guilty or not it is unsurprising that people would run from such a threat and so it was a very common feature of cases of bestiality in Early Modern Europe.

[1] E. Fudge, MONSTROUS ACTS: BESTIALITY IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND History Today; Aug 1, 2000; 50, 8; Periodicals Archive Online, Page 21

[2] E. Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Springer, 30 Apr 2016) Pages 136 and 137

[3] E. Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Springer, 30 Apr 2016) Page 137

[4] T. Betteridge, Sodomy in Early Modern Europe (Manchester University Press, 2002) Page 85


E. Fudge, MONSTROUS ACTS: BESTIALITY IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND History Today; Aug 1, 2000; 50, 8; Periodicals Archive Online

E. Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (Springer, 30 Apr 2016)

T. Betteridge, Sodomy in Early Modern Europe (Manchester University Press, 2002)

The Infamous Physician

Early modern society in Europe was composed of many superstitions and beliefs formed around religious and magical views. There was strong faith in the medical society that magical and astrological powers were significant to treating the population. A man who can be seen as ‘striking from his grave’, the physician Simon Foreman (1552-1611) was an example of how the beliefs and principles lived by in the early modern period were very strange and calamitous at the same time.

Simon Foreman was a self-taught physician who believed in the powers of astrology, alchemy and the occult arts; he held the view that the natural world around him could be controlled and manipulated through astrology and cosmic medicine. In the medical community he was considered uneducated and uninformed, looked down upon by his peers and was never given a voice, albeit he formed around him a cult of followers who believed and practised his methods and medicine.

His grounded astrological beliefs derived from the Swiss German Paracelsus who was a radical thinker and again wanted certain understanding of the natural world around him through unorthodox methods. Like Paracelsus he shunned the College of Physicians, who believed in the Galenic model identifying the world to be divided into four separate humor’s composed of air, water, fire and earth; from this stemmed early modern medical belief and practise.  Simon Foreman believed his own lunacy in regards to reading the stars and providing health treatments like no other physician in Elizabethan England.

The current research on Foreman is incomparable to other physicians at the time, his casebooks record more than 8000 patients in which he consulted in great detail, he had data including the exact time, date of birth of patient, address’s, this further backed up by strong descriptions of astrological figures and therapies.  This unprecedented account of information, in many cases, would have legitimised his work on astrology and the occult arts. However up to 60% of his patients were understood to be women,  uncommon in many cases throughout medical history due to women believing their reproductive systems to relate to how astrology works.

As his followers gathered he created a greater understanding of how astrology works and condemned those at the College of Physicians for not allowing his view and title as practitioner. He was arrested and imprisoned many times while he worked at the college due to his unrelenting persistence in learning and attributing the dark arts to medical practise. His intrigue in the dark arts were very problematic, this is due to early modern society having grounded religious beliefs and ideologies that specifically argued and nullified any basis for argument regarding witchcraft or the dark arts as it was axiomatically related to the devil. Self admittedly Foreman quoted that he had created effigies of his patients for the purpose of medical research to consider their ailments and infirmity.  His over reliance on the dark arts made him a notorious character in the medical world.

Those at the College were all university educated, humanist medical practitioners who had all been awarded the title of physician through years of practise, learning and training; the idea that these occult practises could ever be understood and practised in the medical world was unquestionable. They argued that an unlicensed physician should not be prescribing medicine, usually jobs done by a licensed physician and apothecaries. The arguments and convictions put against him by the courts and college were such: ‘asking the name and place of habitation of clients, declaring himself a prophet stating when deaths and plagues will occur. A statement from a client read that he asked personal questions, created an effigy giving his own personal opinion regarding illness hence demanding money for the medication a total of nine shillings and ten pence’ . Forman was making a living by being a self-proclaimed physician. He backed up his methods by arguing his knowledge of medical practises came from God and believed those that did not support this view were committing a sin. In a society that was socially and educationally inept it would be down to those who individuals who believed him or went against his role as an astrological physician. Furthermore he believed that those who understood astrological medical theory must have total compliance from the patient. This can be divided into two arguments, one that he wants to obtain the necessary information to determine his opinion on the disease or ailment, or two to create a sense of trust between himself and the patient insofar that he can convince or alter the perception of the patient’s view of him and his work, this is so he builds up a group of trust worth clients that can spread the news of his medicine and his methods.

As mentioned early as ‘striking from the grave’ Simon Forman was embroiled in a murder case four years after his own death in 1611. His casebooks had recorded evidence of a mistress and recipe’s of love potions and poison’s, which had led to the untimely death of the poet Thomas Overbury, his credibility and status was tarnished by county lawyers from then on.

Simon Foreman was using arguably some of the most technical and fascinating remedies on his clients equally equipped with some of the best medical record keeping at the time, however his uneducated character and ignorance of those in positions above him strayed him upon a path of false hope and lies that he gave to many of his patients. One last interesting aspect to Simon Forman’s life was his prediction about his death which he accurately predicted four days prior.

Bestiality – Its impact on Social and religious order

Sexual deviance is crucial if one wants to understand how early modern Europe defined the boundries between human and animal interactions, and the sort of relationship both species could have with each other. Bestiality is a form of sexual taboo and deviance and does not only refer to having sex with animals, it is also a metaphor to sodomy, homosexuality and a whole host of other sexual deviances that were condemned religiously and socially. In todays society engaging in bestiality would be a huge taboo, and it has never once been deemed standard, like other sexual acts that were once condemned such as masturbation. However these attitudes were not always seen as such a big taboo. For example in the second century A.D, records show a significant amount of human- animal relationships. However as time progressed, so did attitudes and opinions, and by the 16th and 17th century it had become a much more monstrous crime, that could pollute the population. In the 17th century Priests of the Irish penitential of Columban, “if anyone practices masturbation or sins with a beast he shall do penance for 2 years”[1]. However we must note that it was less sinful for a single man than a married man. This barbaric behaviour may have been due to a range of reasons. One religious factor being that a married man, by performing bestiality in effect is committing adultery on his wife. But also during this period we must consider that masturbation was seen as a sin,  so a couple during would only have intercourse for the purpose of pro- creation, and for a man to have enjoyed sex would have been considered sinful. Thus bestiality was condemned as a major sin and was depicted as a religious taboo because in many works and illustrations it was portrayed as supernatural and that these creatures being created were a warning from god, to warn us about our evilness, human’s foolishness and recklessness.

Bestiality was not only a religious taboo, but it was also a social taboo. Earlier we mentioned that bestiality, did not only refer to having sex with animals but it also referred to homosexuality. However as much as homosexuality was seen as sinful and disgusting, bestiality on the other hand was seen as a particular threat to the natural order and the natural hierarchy, “Bestiality broke the law of the land, they also broke the law of god and the natural order”[2]. One reason why bestiality broke the law of the natural order is because many people thought that humans and animals could reproduce with each other. One could not blame people for thinking in such a manner, as animals could be cross breed with other animals, “a mule, a cross between a donkey and a horse”[3], thus this led to tales and beliefs of human and animal interactions, “Aelian recorded the strange union of a human groom and a mare that produced a foal”[4]. A strange prodigy like a foal could have threatened the natural order because such creatures were not intended to be created, and these creatures where extremely unfamiliar and alien to humans. This emphasised that in the early modern period, what humans could not comprehend was perceived as terrifying and as a threat to the unknown world. But these creatures also highlighted the anxieties of the natural world that were particularly prevalent during the early modern period.

L0033076 A man copulating with a goat or deer. Gouache painting by
wellcome Library London, A man copulating with a goat or a deer. Iconographic collection.

The reformation and the scientific revolution, which occurred during the 16th and 17th century, (which coincidently is when attitudes towards bestiality began to shift and it as a result was looked upon as a more heinous crime) Began to inspect the human status and what differentiated a human from an animal. One of the main differences apart from the obvious physical features such as, standing on two legs, communicating in a complex manner, etc. A Human had a conscience, but during the early modern period it was still unknown as to how the conscience operated. Thus this embodies the fact that if animals and humans crossbreed, a monstrous creature with no conscience or self-awareness would be created thus undermining the natural and social order, which links back to bestiality being a social taboo, because wanting to have sex with a creature that has no conscience is extremely dangerous and threatening to the natural order.

Bestiality also evoked an emotional response among people that being, disgust, disbelief, ridicule and it had a powerful cultural resonance. Tales of bestiality were especially evident in the bible, “and you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean” [5] and literary texts. Bestiality was closely linked to profanity and ungodly like behaviours such as prostitution, adultery, drunkenness, sodomy, all of these disobedient acts threatened the social order. This is because during the early modern period there were very clear set rules on what was acceptable in society. For example men needed to be macho but also at the same time graceful, thus to apprehend such qualities men were expected to spend time with women to learn theses characteristics as well as spend time with other men. Thus bestiality could potentially cause social and natural in balances and undermine the human race through species pollution. And these species could potentially undermine the human race through their erratic behaviour threatening social order and civilization.

[1] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric Fudge

[2] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric fudge

[3] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric fudge

[4] Fudge monstrous acts, Bestiality in early modern England, Eric Fudge

[5] Bible, Leviticus 18:23

The curious case of demonic infants

By Shaikor Paul

Throughout literature and films which have a supernatural theme to it, there is nothing far worse than a spirit infant, in this case demonic babies. The idea of a spirit baby is a disturbing thought, babies or children are pure and innocent, however, when linked in with demonic behaviour it portrays a very horrifying image. The narrative of these demon babies differs from each folklore throughout the world from Scandinavia to Asia. Although they share similar narrative they are quite inconsistent, but still share the same premise.


The most famous narrative of spirit infants is from Scandinavia and there are various similar narratives in Scandinavia, but have a slight twist to them. A Myling [1] is a repulsive restless demon spirit, which takes form of a fetus or a young toddler. Moreover, a Myling is the incarnation of the soul of a child that has been born out of wedlock however, it can also be a child that is unbaptised. These spectral infants have been either killed by their own parents or someone who has been hired by their parents. The most common method of killing these children born out of wedlock has been usually through drowning and discarded away in the forest. Children born out of wedlock were frowned upon as they are seen unholy and especially if the child was a female. This form of infanticide is prevalent amongst many cultures throughout the world as illegitimate children were seen as a burden and the community would look down upon them. However, in some cases, infants were still killed if they were born into a married couple. This is due to families having too many children and they are unable to stay alive, which lead to them simply killing the infant, however, this was not as prevalent amongst children born out of wedlock.


The narrative of Myling does reflect the real-world practices of infanticide, the infants that were not buried they were not given a proper burial which resulted a spirit taking over and having one aim, to get buried. The appearance of a Myling is a malnourished and decomposing body of the infant, obviously, an unpleasant sight, a Myling is a resurrected dead body. Due to no proper burial, a Myling is set to wander the earth until it can get buried by the help of a human. These infants are enraged because they were abandoned and rejected, therefore, it preys upon wondering humans around the site where the infant was buried. Once the infant has latched onto a human it demands it to be taken to a graveyard and buried, if the human fails to do so the Myling kills the human. While the human is carrying the Myling it becomes heavier and heavier with each step the human becomes weaker. If the task is completed, there are narratives where the Myling returns to peace and leaves the earth


Myling. Carrion House


Not just in Scandinavia these spirit infants have appeared in places like the Philippines, Japan, Bangladesh and in some Slavic regions. In Slavic mythology, it is called a Poroeniec[2] however, in this case a malevolent demon takes over and demands to be buried or it will wreak havoc. Once the Poroeniec is buried, it becomes a protective house spirit. Another example is in the Philippines, where they are quite like the Myling however, they are demonic creatures. They are described as a vampire like creature and takes the form of a newborn baby, they are a malevolent being and have an evil agenda. Tiyanak[3] is the name given to them and they have the ability to imitate a baby or an infant to lure humans and even abducting infants.  Although they may not be as similar as a Myling or Poroeniec the origin story of a Tiyanak is very similar, it is believed that the Tiyanak is the soul of an infant that has died before being baptised. In Japanese folklore, it is called a Konaki-jiji  and again very similar to the Myling. The Konaki-jiji lures humans and takes a form of either a child or an Old man and asks to be picked up. Upon picking up the Konaki-jiji becomes heavy and crushes the human. In some parts of Bangladesh, very similar to a Myling however, much more demonic and aggressive. These demonic creatures called foonga a literal translation meaning bastard in some dialects of Bengali, are infants who are born out of wedlock. Once they are killed, they seek out revenge by possessing pregnant women.


[1] Klintberg, af, Bengt. Death and the Dead. The types of swedish Folk Legend. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2010

[2] Zych, Paul. Vargas, Witold. Slavic Bestiary: The thing about gnomes, wodnikach and rusalkach. Bosh, 2014 

[3] Eugenio, Damiana. Philippine Folk Literature: An Anthology. University of the Philippines Press, 2008

Witches and their affiliation with the devil

Witches and their affiliations with the Devil was a widely-spread belief amongst many in Early Modern Europe. There was an increasing fascination with the concept of the devil and his presence amongst the Earth. The hysteria of the power of evil was heightened by the coming of the Reformation in the early Sixteenth Century. This sense of fascination enabled many of the educated elites to develop their own science of demons and this later become known as Demonology. However, it’s not just the concept of the devil that created intrigue but also the association that witches had with the devil that caused even more fear for concern. In this blog post I will explore and analyse the obsession of the devil and the affiliation witches had to him, which led to a wide-spread witch hunt hysteria in the early modern period.

The fascination with the devil amongst elites enabled its literary move amongst literature and art. An example could be found in the book Malleus Maleficarum (1486) written by Heinrich Kramer  who argued that the devil existed amongst us and that any entity  who were inclined to evil could actively ally with him. The association with witches and the devil was therefore a belief that was created amongst society as being sinful and perverse, and even disbelief in the idea itself was considered heretical, as it could permit witches to escape the punishments they deserved. The partnership with the devil and witches was first developed through promises, which the devil invoked himself and the witches were typically expected to sign contracts with him in their own blood. It was believed that the witches association with the devil enabled them to have power and as a result had the ability to invoke evil deeds such as, killing babies, to cause strange and lingering illnesses and to ruin crops and live-stock. Witches are also perceived to gather together in rituals and Sabbaths in order to pay homage to their satanic master and within these ceremonies they were expected by their master to proclaim the evil they had done for him and promise to do more. Richard Bernard believed in this sinful contract and preparation of sin by explaining, Before the Divell can come to solicitte for witchcraft, hee findeth some preparedness in such parties, to give him hope to prevaile.”[1]


Ulrich Molitor( Constance 1489) Woodcut depicts a women seducing the devil



Women were also perceived during the period of Early Modern Europe as being a “demon seducer” and were typically portrayed as adoring the devil and offering them sexual services. In Early modern treatises, engaging in intercourse with the devil was framed with a perverse understanding of the reproductive body and conception. Many writers asserted the notion that sex was never procreative and this raised the issue that if witches weren’t having sex with the desire to have children, then their actions were driven by their rampant sexual desire and sexual hedonism. The illustration above drawn by Ulrich demonstrates the perception of witches craving a lustful seduction for the devil. It was generally perceived by most in the early modern period that witches were responsible for sinful acts with the devil and it was claimed that it was “for her pleasure”[1] that the devil copulated with a witch and not his. Such witches were condemned further for their sexual lust for the devil, as not only did it involve an evil entity but their commitment to the devil was also motivated by sexual pleasure and their own gratification.

One may wonder what triggered such fear of the devil and his servants and why the accused witches were affiliated with him. One may argue that the Reformation in the 16th century enabled a strict and Protestant life that viewed the devil with fear. This consequently led to a New England society that made women an easy target for the witchcraft hysteria. Another reason for this hysteria was the widespread rise of literature that featured works about the theology of witchcraft and it’s association with the devil. The tensions and religious wars between the Protestants and the Catholics only drove forward social anxieties terror, consequently causing further fear of witchcraft during the period. One may also that women during the early modern period were already considered as inferior and prone to sinful actions and affiliating them with the devil as witches enabled men to condemn them for their own safety.



[1] Karlsen, Carol F.  The Devil in the Shape of a Women.  New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.

[2]  Reginald Scot, Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft, p. 59

The “Werewolf of Dole” and the Religious persecution of Lycanthropy in Early Modern Europe

Of all the most titillating tales of beasts and magic, perhaps none has permeated our culture in such a prominent and permanent manner as Lycanthropy. During the fifteenth century, the locals of the small, quiet French Town of Dole would experience such a horror at the hands, or more appropriately paws, of a hideous ‘beast’ colloquially known as a Werewolf. While many such cases existed albeit with differing circumstances and explanations of what had happened, an overshadowing concept that suffuses almost every recorded tale of Lycanthropy is the diversion from Christian values and the subjugation of all that is holy. The persecution of Werewolves and witches can be traced back to early Roman law which outlawed the practices of “harmful ritual magic”[1] and sorcery under a pretence of the harm it causes, but also due to the threat it poses to “political stability and the Judeo-Christian tradition” which considered any magical practices as a “moral lapse”[2]. The question is, just how far does this concept of the diversion of religious purity affect the tales told and the justice the accused received?

The Execution of the ‘Werewolf of Ansbach’

A Lycanthrope is a human being with the ability to transform by either spell, curse, or natural ability, to shape shift and change their physical characteristics into that of a large half-man, half-wolf like creature. The legend appeared to emerge in what is now Switzerland in the 1500s and subsequently spread to almost every corner of the globe, with many of the recorded cases and sightings coming from Eastern and Western Europe. Many incidents were recorded of people being attacked and killed by abnormally large wolves, many such victims and witnesses would testify to having witnessed a Lycanthrope and consequently, the fear of the terrifying beast became all too real. While hundreds of recorded cases have been collected, many from Germany [3], the primary issue with analysing the history of Lycanthropy is accuracy. It was never certain in many cases as to who or what had carried out the attacks. Whether wolves or simply wild or rabid dogs or serial killers or cannibals. All humans who were caught with sufficient evidence of Lycanthropic practices were interrogated, tortured and put on trial, all on the pretence of Maleficium and crimes against the natural order and society. In this sense, the persecution of Werewolves shared many similarities to that of Witchcraft with a similar history of hunts, trials, and executions. Both practices were certainly linked to an individual being considered as “failed as members of a divinely ordained natural world and Christian community”[4]

Portrait of Gilles Garnier

One of the more infamous recorded incidents of Lycanthropy is that of Gilles Garnier, “The werewolf of Dole”. Known to be a recluse or social ‘hermit’, Garnier lived in the out-skirts of the Forest of the French town of Dole in isolation with his wife. Isolation during that era would often represent a diversion from ordered society and therefore God, naturally arousing suspicion among locals of the man’s mental and spiritual state. During this time, Garnier began to find it increasingly difficult to provide food for him and his wife. As he would later tell during his trial, he was visited during the night by an apparition who presented him an ointment that would transform him into a wolf and allow him to hunt as one. The concept of an ‘apparition’ prompting such a dark transformation fuelled the already ingrained fear of malevolent spirits and the workings of the Devil. This of course differs to the popular Northern German legend wherein a lone labourer would leave his camp to hunt by placing a belt around his waist which was believed would trigger the transformation [5]. This of course is the method by which the infamous Peter Stump became a werewolf. Despite the dissimilarities between these two cases, the same notion of “an inversion of Christian family values” and the “subversion of the preservation of progeny”[6] is still undeniably present.

Illustration of Gilles Garnier in his ‘Lycanthropic’ form, surrounded by bodies and feasting on a child

Following the night of Garnier’s spectral visit, several children between the ages of 9 and 12 went missing. At first little was assumed of the disappearances but several reports began to surface of sightings of a large wolf-like creature spotted roaming the forest and outer roads of the town, indicating the extent of the pre-existing superstitions of such a creature. Upon the discovery of Garnier’s first victim, a 10-year-old girl whom had been strangled and had pieces of her body mutilated and removed, the local authorities ruled on the matter by permitting a hunt of the werewolf they believed to be behind the crimes, showing the relative haste to conclude it to be the work of a Lycanthrope. Following another murder, Garnier was said to have been witnessed strangling a young boy and locals identified the ‘creature’ as having similarities to the ‘Hermit of St. Bonnot’ and shortly after, both Garnier and his wife were arrested. Garnier was tortured, gave a full confession of his crimes, and was found guilty of crimes of Lycanthropy and witchcraft, indicating the act of Lycanthropy fell under the same notion of malicious magical practices as Witchcraft and demonstrating the level of religious persecution against these perceived practices. On January 18, 1573, Garnier was burned at the stake.

Michel de Montaigne

 The fate of Garnier and Peter Stump links to an interesting statement made by Michel de Montaigne, describing the ceremonies of the cannibalistic Tupinambá people in Brazil. He argues that the act of torture “under the pretence of pietie and religion”[7] is considerably worse than cannibalism, hence raising the question of which is more determinedly barbaric –  the crimes or the execution where under the pretence of religious justice. W. Williams recognises that Montaigne is referencing a “mediated form of cannibalism” which while still being an atrocity, is far worse than torture and especially torture committed “in the name of religion”.[8] An example of this would be Peter Stump’s daughter, whom despite sharing no responsibility in the crimes, was also executed, simply for the fact she was raped by her father which condemned her as a deviant of the natural order.

It would appear that the preservation of Judeo-Christian tradition was enough to justify the barbaric condemnation and punishment of accused werewolves and their associates in light of their equally atrocious crimes.

[1] Edward Bever, The Realities of Witchcraft and Popular Magic in Early Modern Europe, Culture, Cognition and Everyday Life, Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2008, p.5
[2] Ibid
[3] Willem de Blécourt,“I Would Have Eaten You Too”: Werewolf Legends in the Flemish, Dutch and German Area, Taylor & Francis, p.24
[4] Alison Rowlands, Witchcraft and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe, Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2009, p.178
[5] Willem de Blécourt,“I Would Have Eaten You Too”: Werewolf Legends in the Flemish, Dutch and German Area, Taylor & Francis, p.30
[6] Alison Rowlands, Witchcraft and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe, Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2009, p.198
[7] De Montaigne, Michel, Oeuvres complètes, ed. A. Thibaudet & M. Rat, Gallimard, Paris, 1962, pp.207-208
[8] W. Williams, “L’Humanité du tout perdue?”: Early Modern Monsters, Cannibals and Human Souls, 2012, p.250