Presentation Title

Hechicería and Hierarchy: Colonial Mexican Women and Subversion of Power Through “Witchcraft”

Faculty Mentor

Kristi Upson-Saia, D. Keith Naylor

Start Date

17-11-2018 3:00 PM

End Date

17-11-2018 5:00 PM

Location

CREVELING 85

Session

POSTER 3

Type of Presentation

Poster

Subject Area

humanities_letters

Abstract

My research studies women in colonial New Spain engaged in so-called “witchcraft”--a set of religious, sexual, and social behaviors deemed deviant--as a means through which to acquire status and power. I examine specifically how these behaviors empowered women within a stratified and hierarchical power system and against colonial powers, as well as examining how women weighed this empowerment against the persecution, violence, and stigma to which such behaviors exposed them. In exploring this double-bind of rebellion and risk, I seek deeper insight into these women’s creativity, negotiation, and decision-making as they pursued status and power through unconventional and forbidden means. My focus will be squarely on the experiences of women--how they employed unconventional strategies to acquire agency and power, even at the risk of their own peril--more so than on the depictions and representations of them by their persecutors.

The scope of my research focuses on colonial New Spain from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries given the robust primary sources available in this region during this time period, including official court cases and testimonies, personal accounts, treatises, and historical reports. A few scholars in the field whose framework and approach I particularly admire, and whose secondary sources I aim to directly engage with in my work, include Moriah Gonzalez-Meeks, Joan Bristol Cameron, and Laura Lewis. Additionally, I am particularly interested in the intersection of “magic” and sexuality, and thus hope to build off the work of Ruth Behar, Martha Few, and Jacqueline Holler in order to dissect the type and quality of sexual desires and actions that were considered violations of social boundaries.

Summary of research results to be presented

Accusations and denunciations of ‘witchcraft’ may have stemmed from a genuine fear of unorthodox behaviors, but were also linked to other motivations. Community members sometimes sought resolution through the Inquisitorial court for social issues that could not be easily settled. These social tensions manifested as a result of women’s violation of gendered behavioral norms and perceived threats to authority structures, such as owning their own businesses, filling important community roles as sources of knowledge and healing, or living more independently from masculine authority. Women who existed beyond the strict and vigilant control of men, including unmarried, widowed, and poor Spanish women, as well as non-Spanish ones, were the most frequent targets of witchcraft accusations.

Thus, women especially depended on witchcraft as a tool to resolve social and interpersonal issues, particularly with the men in their lives. Their lack of power in social sectors left them with few resources in response to mistreatment from their male partners such as intimate violence, domestic abuse, and infidelity. When women could not rely on social institutions to protect them, they sought out and created their own ways of responding to injustice; witchcraft, as a practice belonging squarely in the realm of women, was a powerful tool in reclaiming personhood and agency. Within the double-bind of resistance and risk, women - especially those of marginalized identity - made intentional choices to improve their lives and advocate for themselves, often violating religious, social, and sexual norms in the process. While these choices exposed them to the potential threat of being denounced as witches and facing legal repercussions, it also provided power, social status, and economic stability to women who had little to lose and much to gain.

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Nov 17th, 3:00 PM Nov 17th, 5:00 PM

Hechicería and Hierarchy: Colonial Mexican Women and Subversion of Power Through “Witchcraft”

CREVELING 85

My research studies women in colonial New Spain engaged in so-called “witchcraft”--a set of religious, sexual, and social behaviors deemed deviant--as a means through which to acquire status and power. I examine specifically how these behaviors empowered women within a stratified and hierarchical power system and against colonial powers, as well as examining how women weighed this empowerment against the persecution, violence, and stigma to which such behaviors exposed them. In exploring this double-bind of rebellion and risk, I seek deeper insight into these women’s creativity, negotiation, and decision-making as they pursued status and power through unconventional and forbidden means. My focus will be squarely on the experiences of women--how they employed unconventional strategies to acquire agency and power, even at the risk of their own peril--more so than on the depictions and representations of them by their persecutors.

The scope of my research focuses on colonial New Spain from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries given the robust primary sources available in this region during this time period, including official court cases and testimonies, personal accounts, treatises, and historical reports. A few scholars in the field whose framework and approach I particularly admire, and whose secondary sources I aim to directly engage with in my work, include Moriah Gonzalez-Meeks, Joan Bristol Cameron, and Laura Lewis. Additionally, I am particularly interested in the intersection of “magic” and sexuality, and thus hope to build off the work of Ruth Behar, Martha Few, and Jacqueline Holler in order to dissect the type and quality of sexual desires and actions that were considered violations of social boundaries.