Millar pointed out an ironic dichotomy in early-modern witchcraft imagery: Witches were either young and seductive or old and haggard. The former group could supposedly join with the devil to make men lose control of their senses, while the latter, post-menopausal group offered no financial or reproductive benefit to the men who controlled society. In 1487, German clergyman Heinrich Kramer produced the best-known treatise on witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum, which spurred the prosecution of witches and the persecution of women at large.
To protect themselves from witches, Europeans created “witch bottles” full of human hair, urine, and nail clippings, then placed them around their homes. Such objects went on view at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford last year in its “Spellbound” exhibition, turning these fetish objects into aesthetic relics in their own right.
Throughout the 17th century, witch depictions ranged from classical allusions to satanic scenes. Italian artist
etched the sorceress Circe turning Odysseus’s companions into beasts. Belgian artist Frans Francken the Younger
imagined a witches’ sabbath with a group of women huddled around a book. While the tome is ostensibly full of spells, the message is clear: Beware a group of literate, independent women.