A Visit to the Witch by Edward Frederick Brewtnall

Bubbling Brews and Broomsticks: How Alewives Became the Stereotypical Witch

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Three witches in a cave

Three witches in a cave ( Educational Technology Clearinghouse )

Witches’ Hats

The physical appearance of witches was similarly inspired by the garb of alewives who chose to sell their products in marketplaces. Women in the early modern period often wore large conical black hats—the very same that children wear on Halloween nowadays. These hats were part of the period fashion, however, and were indicative of high-born ladies, allowing these women to be recognized for their social class from afar. Brewers adopted the habit (and some were well-off anyway) as a method by which to easily sell their product in crowded streets and public squares. Look for the black hat, and you'll find yourself an alewife with product to sell.

Witches from MacBeth by John Downman

Witches from MacBeth by John Downman ( Public domain )

Traditional Work Becomes ‘Devil Magic’

In the present, brewing is more readily considered a task of men because beer is more readily associated with the gender. However, it is important to remember that this was one of the many practices that were dominated by women until the rise of urban guilds seeking influence within the growing Church. Thus, these accusations of witchcraft were likely unexpected and insulting when they first circulated. As guild communities grew, and urban life and cities increased, screaming "witch" at the sight of a woman brewing became easier and easier, thus turning a once profitable, innocent career into a form of devil-magic.

As the oppressed are known to do, however, women did continue to contribute to the ale-making process after the procedure was taken away from them, and in spite of rumors of brewing black magic. Women's roles were highly diminished and far less respected, even if a woman inherited the brewing business of her late spouse or reputable father—there were always accusations of witchcraft whispering through the streets. And, of course, there were those few women, usually widowed or unwed, who continued to brew on their own in secret, without regard for their reputation. The alewives, therefore, are just one of many historical examples in which women persevered in a male workforce, finding a way to continue their brewing traditions and skirting the circumstances of the times.

Top image: A Visit to the Witch by Edward Frederick Brewtnall ( public domain )

By Ryan Stone

References

Bennett, Judith M. 1996. Women's Work in a Changing World 1300-1600: Ale, Beer and Brewsters in England . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Climenhaga, Lily. "Imagining the Witch: A Comparison between Fifteenth-Century Witches within Medieval Christian Thought and the Persecution of Jews and Heretics in the Middle Ages." Academia.edu. Accessed July 30, 2017.

Hanawait, Barbara A. (ed) 1986. Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe . University of Indiana Press.

Karras, Ruth Mazo. 2004. "Women's Labors: Reproduction and Sex Work in Medieval Europe." Journal of Women's History 15.4. pp. 153-158.

Pollock, Linda. 1993. With Faith and Physic: The Life of a Tudor Gentlewoman, Lady Grace Mildmay 1552-1620 . London: Collins & Brown Ltd.

Porter, Roy and Lesley Hall. 1995. The Facts of Life: the creation of sexual knowledge in Britain, 1650 1950. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Peters, Christine. 2004. Women in Early Modern Britain, 1450 – 1650 . New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Reinke-Williams, Tim. 2010. "Women, ale and company in early modern London." Journal of the Brewery History Society . 135.1. pp. 88-106. Accessed July 29, 2017.

Van Dekken, Marjolein. 2004. "Female Brewers in Holland and England." Fifth European Social Science History Conference , Berlin. Accessed July 30, 2017. http://www.medievalists.net/2013/05/female-brewers-in-holland-and-england/

Vaughan, Theresa A. 2011. "The Alewife: Changing image and bad brews." AVISTA Forum Journal. University of Central Oklahoma. 21.1/2. pp. 34-41.

Comments

It wouldn't be a very large leap of the imagination to correlate the creation of the Devils Hammer (written by monks) as a very useful tool to those (IE monks) that wanted to control the industry by removing women from the picture.

The doctors of the time did the same thing, women were always the primary 'dr's & caregivers till that became another 'industry' for men to dominate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_beer

"In Europe, beer brewing largely remained a home activity in medieval times. By the 14th and 15th centuries, beermaking was gradually changing from a family-oriented activity to an artisan one, with pubs and monasteries brewing their own beer for mass consumption."

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