Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Society Finland and the Wider European Experience
How could a woman be three times accused of witchcraft and go on running a successful farmstead? Why would men use a frying pan for cattle magic? Why did witches keep talking about the children? What kind of a relation did Finnish witches have with authority and power? These are among the questions Raisa Maria Toivo addresses in this study, as she explores the gender implications of the complex system of household management and public representation in which seventeenth-century Finnish women and men negotiated their positions. From specific case studies, Toivo broadens her narrative to include historiographical discussion on the history of witchcraft, on women's and gender history and on early modern social history, shedding new light on each theme. Toivo contributes to the on-going discussion in the European historiography about whether the early modern period witnessed an improvement, decline, or simply alteration in the conditions of oppression of women within patriarchal households by using a multidimensional set of roles that could be adopted by women. Finally, she demonstrates convincingly that members of the solid peasant class were not only subject of the newly forming states, but also avid users of the court system, which they manipulated and put to work in the interests of their own individual, household, and collective affairs.
'In this unusual study, Raisa Toivo takes us into the little-known world of Finnish peasant farmers in the seventeenth century. With a sharp eye for detail and a broad sense of the major currents in the literature on women and gender in early modern Europe, Toivo explores the gender implications of the complex system of household management and public representation in which Finnish women and men negotiated their positions. Pushing against standard assumptions about women and witchcraft, Toivo unsettles the idea that witchcraft accusations were necessarily catastrophic turning points in women’s lives. On the basis of an extraordinary trove of sources documenting the life of a single substantial peasant woman, Toivo suggests that witchcraft and magic could form just one thread of a complex tapestry of life and survival, and that our picture of women’s roles, lives, and risks has been distorted by a fascination with the rare, sensational moments documented in trials of witches.' Valerie Kivelson, University of Michigan, USA