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    Cherchez la Femme

    Tatyana Ryabova,
    Ph. D. in history, Russia

One of principle indictments medieval Christianity used to charge women for was that Eve (read "women") stood responsible for the original sin and consequent human sufferings. The theme of Eve as "misfortune causer" to humankind is among the most popular ones in both European and Russian medieval literature; whenever an author might want to draw a live example of wile female nature, Eva was always at hand to help debase women either individually or in general. Well, what is Eve’s guilt after all? She trespassed God’s instruction, yielded to Serpent’s eloquence and, finally, lured Adam to do the same... Consequences were terrible: falling apart from God’s glory; Eden lost forever; now we are mortal and rotten, and sinful ... Getting back to Eve, why was she found guilty in all these troubles? What were her inner reasons to out-pour all these calamities onto our heads? The most widespread theory is that Eve (a generic woman) was too weak (i. e. not strong, endurable, integral, constant, etc. enough) to stand temptation by what Satan had to offer.
Another commonly named reason is Eve’s stupidity: women lack brains and analytic capacities. Finally, the third reason is sensual indulgence: women are too sensual and eager for pleasures. Combination of these feminine qualities resulted in the fatal incident: Eve transgressed the God’s Law.
This conceivable transgression was largely inspired by traditional concept of women as vehicles of sorcery and heresy. It was St. Nestor who first said, "It is wives wherethrough devils make their sorcery, for, truly, the Satan tempted a woman, and she tempted a man. Likewise, in our days many wonders do women elaborate with their enchantment, poison and other devilish devices."
At this point we must stop and draw a clear line between Western and Russian traditions. In Western Europe, 80% of persecuted witches were women. The following grounds were drawn to explain why women are more subjected to heresy and witch-craft:
· Women lack sound faith. As soon as Satan has approached a woman, it does not take long to make her doubt and finally yield to him.
· Being naturally wet, women are most subjected to spiritual influences.
· Women are intrinsically irrational.
· Women lack natural physical strength; so they have to compensate for it through supernatural tricks.
· Women are characterized by insatiable carnal desire; therefore, they turn to Satan as the only source of radical satisfaction.
Therefore, western authors conclude that as whereas sorcery is associated with heresy, then it is witches (and not warlocks) who must be brought responsible.
In medieval Russian literature, we also find notions of women as intrinsic witches. Moreover, along with royalties (Vasily Shumsky, Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godunov) who are historically registered clients of witch practitioners, evidence exists that many orthodox patriarchs of the past also turned to them for assistance. Nonethe-less, it was sorceresses who were usually blamed for national-scale failures (for in-stance, Kurbsky imputed Russia’s pitiful international standing to magic spells pro-duced by foreign-made wives of Ivan III and Vasily III; Anna Glinskaya was de-nounced as a witch). Ancient belief in women’s specific susceptibility to sorcery found its reflection in medieval Russian repentance-questionnaires to facilitate formal con-fession procedures. Women-specific questions included: "Hast thou spelled evil or spoiled unto any one?"
At the same time, share of men and women in the total number of persons sentenced for witchcraft was surprisingly different from European standards. For example, in 17th century male/female ratio among persecuted witches was 7:3. According to 19th century historians, this unusual (from Western viewpoint) proportion resulted from the fact that while male witches in Russia traditionally were "theoreticians" (i. e., dis-cussed divine affairs, preached, etc.), female witches were "practitioners" (i. e., said love spells, made winds change, etc.). As long as in Russia words and theories had always been thought to be the main source of danger to national well-being, it was mostly men-witches who were punished for their ruinous ideas, while women practic-ing their magic stayed clear of public charges.
Nevertheless, the paradigm of a woman as an "evil vessel of God-repulsing witch-craft" was safely placed in public mind due to prevalent concept of feminine nature as essentially carnal, mammal and devilish. This perception of womanhood is a common feature of Western and Russian traditions richly intermingled with men’s failure to ac-knowledge their fear of either female physiologic oddity or sexual appeal. Female sexuality is perceived as something disgusting, dangerous, alien, non-standard ... Why?.. Because what we try to analyze from historical standpoint is what we find in bull documents produced by the only social group that was concerned with producing any documents then — monks. Now, who were monks? Yes, we try to perceive middle ages with eyes of those who used to idealize virginity, abstention and non-marriage. Sexuality, therefore, is a rude violation of their ideal. Any monk, according to Gurevich, is determined antifeminist. Ives Levine, in his study of medieval Russians attitude to sex, stresses that orthodox tradition has always disproved sexual inter-course as affronting human dignity. For example, Maxim of Greece designates it as "beastward, shameful, animal-like disgrace".
Western tradition, however, is equally hostile to sensual indulgence. Finally, sensuality is evaluated as a danger for its carrier (a woman). Therefore, women’s feelings need be put under strict control. Control over wives’ sexuality is placed onto their husbands, for women are unmanageable otherwise. Here we observe close relation to authoritative values of a generic patriarchal society.
Therefore, we come to conclusion that middle ages were characterized by dominat-ing perspective of women as potential trouble-makers. To prove this point, the most useful arguments included women’s tendency to witchcraft, heresy, and excess sensuality (fatal for both men and women); and, finally, Eve’s responsibility for original sin and consequent inflictions. All the opinions described above are based on deeply rooted traditional estimates of what female nature is. Nevertheless, they still produce massive impact on how mod-ern women are looked upon. So, the most invariable cultural value is still the same old thesis: "Cherchez la femme!"

Witch-hunting Today: A Professor Running for Regional Legislature Denounced by Archbishop

Elections to Perm regional legislature took place on December 14 and resulted in a minor sensation, or rather major infringement of civic code. For the first time in post-soviet democratic Russian history, Russian Orthodox Church, represented by Atha-nasy, Archbishop of Perm and Solikamsk, openly assumed the role of public judge in election campaign. It was done in violation of the Church’s own statute, 1997 Arch-bishops’ Convent Determination "On Relations with the State and Secular Society", wherein it is clearly provided that "the Consecrated and Ministers of Church by no means may be involved in political election campaigns, neither may they become members of political parties and associations with statutory goals including possibility of participation in public elections at any level of secular authority."
Nevertheless, Archbishop Athanasy forwarded to the Election Commission a report wherein he accused Irina Cherepanova, one of candidates on the ballot, in Satanism. In other words, Church denounced her as witch. Permskiye Novosty (regional daily) promptly informed its readers about Archbishop’s verdict in publication amply titled "Church against Satan".
Meanwhile, 38 years old Irina Cherepanova has never been a member of any satanic sect, as Perm citizens might deem on having read Archbishop’s "news" release. Dr. Cherepanova is professor of linguistics at Perm University. Authoritative and nation-ally renowned expert in the field of psychological study, active member of Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Alexei Leontyev straightforwardly names professor Cherepanova among "the most gifted" scientists of our time, and believes her studies of myth employment in psychotherapy and political language to be highly promising and absolutely new field of academic knowledge. Apparently, Archbishop’s indignation resulted from the fact that Dr. Cherepanova in her studies fails to make clear-cut distinction between Christian myths and all others, thus placing Church alongside with pagans. On the other hand, professor’s opponents in political campaign also had sound reason to be irritated with her, because Dr. Cherepanova repeatedly criticized filthy methods of aggressive influence on electorate’s subconscious level of comprehension.
Since Archbishop’s "deliverable" was published, Irina Cherepanova’s chances to win the campaign annihilated, because godly old ladies are known to constitute "qualified majority" of active electorate. Not waiting for votes results, Dr. Cherepanova filed a suit against Archbishop Athanasy and the newspaper. As for public communications, she was not given any opportunity to openly response to false charges. All local newspapers refused to publish professor Cherepanova’s letter for the reason that prepaid column space limit allotted for this campaign had expired. Head of RTR news-program "Vesty" Perm office Mr. Kalekh privately explained that Church’s intru-sion into political scene was a minor and highly irrelevant problem. It might seem, that my colleagues were simply afraid of Church’s anathema.

Anna Tkacheva

(reprint) "Obshaya gazeta" 50

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