"All is Hay": Imaginary Witches and Their Pitchforks in Sixteenth-Century Art

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Abstract

In the emerging witchcraft iconography of early sixteenth-century Europe, pitchforks were quickly established as a tool of the witches’ craft. Lacking a suitable contemporary interpretational context, historians have argued that they simply represent weather magic or attacks on fertility more widely. This article places the pitchforks in broader contexts than witchcraft and demonology, including women’s agricultural labour, the religious and cultural iconography of hay (notably in Bosch’s Hay-wain), contemporary proverbs, traditional religious practices, and biblical exegesis. It argues that pitchforks and the hay they represent were understood by contemporaries to mark witches out as the embodiment of vanity of human action, the ultimate withered souls to be cast, as Christ said in Matthew 6, into the oven and perish.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2020

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