Historic Women in Weed — Part 2
Hildegard von Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess, philosopher and all-around badass Renaissance woman. Born sometime in September of 1098, she experienced visions since early childhood that she would later record (after she received a blessing to do so from Pope Eugenius III). She also wrote and composed her own original work, one of her most famous being the Ordo Virtutum, which is now the oldest morality play ever discovered. Ms. von Bingen challenged gender norms as well, by becoming the first female hymnodist in a time where only men could do such holy work. Because of her influence and work during the 12th century, she is considered the founder of science of natural history in Germany.
Like many women in history, the public has picked her most important contributions and willingly ignored her other vast writings about medicine and science (including cannabis, of course). Unlike her more theological work, these writings were based on firsthand experience, when she worked intensively at her monastery’s garden and infirmary. In Physica, a nine book series, she wrote short descriptions about fish, stones, plants and animals. In this body of work, she dedicated a whole chapter to hemp, detailing how it grows, and it’s medical value. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 11.
However, let whoever has a cold stomach cook hemp in water, squeeze out the water, wrap it in a cloth, and then place the hot cloth often over the stomach. This comforts the person and restores that place. Also, whoever has a vacant mind, if the person will have eaten hemp, it causes pain somewhat in the head; but it does not cause pain in a sound head and full brain. Also, the cloth made from the hemp heals ulcers and weeping wounds because the heat in the hemp has been tempered.
With practice she became well known as a healer, and used precious stones, tinctures and herbs in what she called her “spiritual healing.” Again, cannabis being one of those herbs. She used her own writings to teach this art to her fellow nuns — which are still extremely vital to history.
Wise Women, Midwives and Witches
It’s pretty important to keep in mind that during this time, most people couldn’t read or write. It also didn’t help that most important documents were written in Latin to make literacy more inaccessible. In fact, the earliest recording of hemp in Britain wasn’t until 1640, in a medical book written by Nicholas Culper. Each plant depicted in the book came with a detailed description, but the use of hemp was so common during this time, that his description of the herb was almost a passive mention:
This is so well known to every good housewife in the country, that I shall not need to write a description ofit.
So yeah, most medieval medicinal knowledge was passed mouth-to-mouth, woman-to-woman. It wasn’t until around the 12th century that men decided to make the gendered distinction of well-educated male physicians versus crazy-lady-carrying-herbs. And when laws were passed that officially barred women from attaining a formal education in medicine (even though for the past x amount of centuries, women’s healing had kept civilization alive, but okay), it was clear that men had made the clear decision to block women from this new money-making field.
In October of 1347, the Black Death docked in the ports of Europe. For the next five years, no doctor or member of the Church could give an explanation or a helping hand to the more than 20 million deaths that plagued the continent. Once the wealthy (i.e. higher ranking Church members and well-educated physicians) realized that this disease was turning into a plague, they quickly left for less populated areas — leaving the sick and poor to government-paid “plague doctors” that weren’t actually doctors ~ just scammers. It’s really no surprise that people turned to their local wise woman for help. Soon, herbal healers were in high demand to make Unguentum Populeum, which helped ease intense internal pain. These holistic healers were typically midwives who as well, in a time where childbirth was considered a “sin” by the Church.
Soon after the plague had passed, the Church and physicians had to have answers for the public’s fear. They latched onto the popularized/typical Christian ideology that the plague was the doing of a higher evil power. They quickly realized witchcraft and paganism were going to be their way out. Even though it was pretty common for convents (in many ways the heart of the Church during that time), to grow their own herbs for public holistic healing. A great example of this was found in Soutra, Scotland; cannabis was amongst the herbs and ointments discovered at a medieval Catholic monastery.
Now this is kind of where everything ties in together — you had these midwives (who were often pagan), that for generations had been the only people with medicinal knowledge that actually helped (especially the poor). And after women were banned from studying medicine, a new predominantly-female medical profession was born: apothecary. This gave women the power to further their knowledge of holistic healing outside of the restrictive male-dominated medical fields. By the 15th century, this was, once more, becoming a problem for men. During this time, male physicians only had the ability to half-assedly diagnose and treat with blood-letting. Anything beyond that and they would have to send their clients off to a local apothecary, who could diagnose and treat for less. *Note how not much has changed in the current medical fields now. Nurses do everything but diagnose.*
Even though women healers had been charged for practicing medicine without authority before, and even persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition during the mid 1200s, the tension from women thriving in medicine, combined with the lingering embarrassment from the Black Death, would leave a horrific mark on women’s history.
The Fad of Misogyny
It wasn’t until the 11th century that medicine began to be regulated. And even through the 14th century, places like Germany had no hospitals and relied solely on women caretakers. The women would use cannabis in childbirth by placing sprigs of hemp on a woman’s stomach and ankles in hopes of a safe birth. Even major Italian cities like Florence, Rome and Naples had incredible high regard for their Renaissance Age holistic nuns (one of them being Santa Caterina de Siena). But as male-dominated ideology spread across Europe, so did a violent misogynistic campaign against history’s caretakers.
[At this point, I had to keep reminding myself that, during the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods, Europe was a complete shitshow that revolved around bad luck and ignorance.]
On December 5, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII kicked off the inquisition of witches when he issued a papal bull (on the request of two German inquisitors), which basically said that witchcraft was un-holy and forbidden — and to use whatever means necessary to trial and persecute the accused in Germany.
Now, there are many reasons why this decree was created, but to boil it down, Europe was going through it. France and England had just ended a 100 Years’ War between themselves that started in 1337 and ended in 1453. Ten years after that war started, there was an outbreak of the Black Death that killed off 1/3 of Europe’s population. And to top it all off, they were going through a Little Ice Age that plagued the continent with famine, hypothermia, floods and droughts for over 400 years. So yes, a mess. It also didn’t help that the Protestant Reformation was beginning in Germany, which preached against worshipping anything but God, and took shots not only at pagan healers, but also at the Catholic Church (which will later result in the Thirty Years War — AKA the first modern war).
In the midst of suffering a weather phenom that science still can’t explain and countries being ripped apart with religious civil wars, the people began turning on their wise women, herbal healers and midwives, fearing that they were the cause for their grief. The Church (aka Pope Innocent VIII) had no issues with furthering the stereotype by disproportionally blaming the mainly poor and outcast women that were innocently burned alive, hung or drowned for the Black Death, the cold weather, impotence, bad harvests or really anything that made someone mad.
As countries began to pass legislation that allowed the persecution of witches, hatred began to spread across Europe. The witch trials reached their peak sometime between 1580 to 1630, which partially coincided with the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1638). These religiously turbulent time resulted in the largest witch trials in Europe’s history. Many took place in Germany. One example is the Trier witch trials, which resulted in the death of approximately a thousand people. As the century went on, the witch trials rose and fell in activity, like any other twisted fad. Despite its decline in popularity, the last documented murder of an alleged witch didn’t happen until 1782 in Switzerland, nearly 300 years after this whole mess began.
Since the end of the witch trials, an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 women, men and children were persecuted. Women made up about 80% of that number. And although the percentage changes place to place, about 20-30% of people persecuted were healers or used some form of magic. Women who were widowed, elderly and unwed became primary suspects throughout this massacre (because, let’s be honest, what’s more dangerous than a woman minding her own damn business?). They were often hunted down by townspeople, who acted like captains-killa-hoe. They believed the Reformation’s and the Church’s rants — that these pagan witches were the cause of all of their troubles. These women were put to death because they lived in a misogynistic society plagued with religious intolerance. Sounds familiar, huh?
But I digress… From common goddess worship that encouraged women to derive their healing from the earth and to share it with others — and to pass that knowledge down for centuries, to having to stop because, well, let’s be honest (as I’ve already mentioned, but it’s important, damn it!), there is nothing scarier than a woman minding her own business.
The fear that continuously fueled angry mobs against these women all stemmed from one place: deep-seeded misogyny. To see women have such power within their communities was unacceptable to them. Once more, and with much sadness, this is a common theme in our history. After the hunts, the magic of witches still lingered but in a much less relevant way. Townsfolk were no longer going to see their local wise woman, but instead to the more “formally” educated physicians — who got their degrees from the Church. The role of caretaker gradually was gradually snatched from women, along with the respect that came with it. Women were once again placed in the role of wife, mother and homemaker.
Fast forward a few centuries. It’s 2018 now, and honestly, it was pretty horrific to see the endless similarities between then and now in the treatment of professional women (especially within the cannabis industry). The industry as it exists right now loves to flash the statistics of women in high-ranking positions, which I think is great, but does that actually impact the overall inclusion (and dare I say, intersectionality) of the industry? Or is it just a box they checked off, like any other big industry? The fact is, cannabis is big money and it’s turning into another “big tobacco” type industry. How is it possible that medical marijuana is projected to be a 20 billion dollar industry by 2020, yet women make up less than half of the overall jobs within the cannabis industry? In fact, since 2015 the number of women holding executive positions has fallen by nearly 10%. I need answers!
We can’t applaud brands in the industry for doing the least, or literally less than nothin. We shouldn’t be celebrating brands simply because they no longer make their models work naked in order to represent their products. Are they serious? Especially when they refuse to hire women(OC) and allow them to thrive in a safe environment. It’s time that all women reclaim their transcontinental history as wise women, midwives and witches.