In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of the Witch Hunts and Why Women Are Still on Trial

Author: Mona Chollet

Topics: Feminism, Sexism, Gender Equality, and Historical Mistreatment of Women


Conjure to mind the first witch you remember. Are you someone who envisions old hags with warts, green skin, and black pointy hats? Perhaps a wise woman in the woods with her beautiful garden of herbs and remedies? Or a quirky teen witch? In Defense of Witches beckons readers in with this exercise played out with fictional depictions of women. It also presents and highlights the different mind frames and prejudices throughout history, gaining traction and fervor during the witch trials. Chollet’s interest lies in the aftermath of the witch-hunts in Europe and America, believing that these historical events “translated and amped up prejudices about women, especially the stigma that attaches to some women,” and in the process “effectively suppressed certain behaviors and lifestyles.” She calls out the biases of the past and highlights why they still possess such a stronghold in modern society. Meanwhile, she encourages readers to embrace the vision of their witch, recognizing its qualities of strength, independence, and freedom.

Four main topics are explored in the book. The Chapter titled “A Life One’s Own” is about the blow dealt to all forms of women’s independence. It is a detailed exploration of historical and modern propaganda and practices implemented to tell women the best life is one involving marriage and mothering, vs. being single, unmarried, and childless. “Wanting Sterility” addresses the seemingly no-win situation modern women face of being free to have children or notion the condition that they choose to have them. The powerful takeaway is that “society should be making motherhood less difficult, but also that the expectation laid on women to become mothers is overdue for a rewrite.” Next, “The Dizzy Heights” addresses double standards and the shame society continues to place on aging women, including the concept of needing to age “gracefully.” Examples such as “anti-aging” beauty product labeling and letting hair naturally gray vs. dying it are referenced, and the psychology behind why men leave their wives for younger partners. The final chapter, “Turning the World Upside Down,” begins by exploring realms of competence between men and women, such as academia being male-dominated. Chollet additionally describes how midwives and healers were pushed from the medical world, their ideas stolen, and how this has translated into modern medical mistreatment of women.

These aspects culminate in Chollet’s powerful statement: “your world does not work for me.” It is a huge undertaking, she notes, to reconfigure the very nature of our social universe, “but there can be great joy- the joy of audacity, of insolence, of a vital affirmation, of defying faceless authority- in allowing our ideas and imaginations to follow down the paths these witches’ whisperings entice us.” She charges readers to let the strength and tenacity of the witch you envision inspire you and use it to stop the perpetuation of historical prejudices and help to make a world that works for all women.

You’ll Love This Book If

You’ll enjoy this book if you’re looking for a fierce and unapologetic delve into the treatment of women throughout history, modern society’s perpetuation of historical prejudices, and an empowering call for a more supportive world for women.

Trigger Warning

This book contains graphic descriptions of the treatment of women during the witch trials in America and Europe and of malpractice and abuse of women seeking medical attention for ailments, mental health, and childbirth.