Cherchez la Femme
- Tatyana Ryabova,
- Ph. D. in history, Russia
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
· 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
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
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!"
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.
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
(reprint) "Obshaya gazeta" 50