Magic and Medicine in a Man’s World: The Medieval Woman as both Healer and Witch

Abigail I Casey


Medieval women live in the shadows of literary remembrance.   Primary literature, much of it written by men, does little to give us an intimate knowledge of women’s work and lives.  Nonetheless, they were an integral part of medieval life, particularly in the delivery of health care.  Operating within the sphere of the home or the nunnery, women were largely responsible for tending to common ailments, treating childhood diseases, and attending to women in labor.  With no formal education, they based their medical care in the practical application of botanical compounds, and religious and secular superstition.  Towards the end of the Middle Ages, universities began offering medical educations to male students, and formally-trained male physicians began practicing alongside nurses and midwives with informal training.  This paper intends to show that a new combination of competition and deeply rooted antagonism towards the female sex tilted the public perception of women healers from well-respected necessities to witches and charlatans.  This project explores the conflicting images of women as healers and women as charlatans, in reference to medieval gender conflicts, through a collective analysis of primary literature, including texts by Trotula, Hildegard of Bingen, and Jacqueline Felicie, as well as art from the Middle Ages.


Medieval medicine; witches; gender-conflict

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