It’s all just speculation

How is anyone supposed to know what enlightenment truly is?  It’s a term that we throw around quite a bit, but no one has a real definition for it.  I think that’s because there is no one definition of enlightenment.    I suppose it means different things for each individual, depending on what each of us values.  Personally, I think that enlightenment is more of a spiritual idea than anything else.  La Mettrie argues that the body is simply a machine, that we have no soul; however, since I believe that the definition of enlightenment depends on the individual, I think that the idea of the uniqueness of individuals implies an existence of a soul.

Defining enlightenment as thinking for oneself, as Kant does, does not make much sense to me now that I have had time to really ponder it.  I don’t think there is any way we can do that because I don’t think that anyone at this point in time has had a truly original thought.  We build our thoughts off of things we’ve seen, heard, or experienced—theoretically, to have a “unique” thought, one would have to live in a vacuum, completely devoid of outside stimulus.  Even Descartes’ experiment of stripping away everything he thinks he knows and building his world based on the principle of “I think, therefore I am” is somewhat tainted by the simple fact that he is still being influenced by the world in which he is not sure exists.  It is like that psychological concept where if you tell someone not to think about a polar bear, the first thing that pops into their head is a polar bear.

As for defining enlightenment as being educated or knowing the truth, I think both of those definitions are subjective.  How much education warrants enlightenment?  Is it how we use that education?  How do we know when we know the truth?  How do we really know anything?  These are the kinds of questions Descartes and Mettrie were asking.  It seems to me that the argument that enlightenment is dependent on education and the knowledge of truth depends on an audience.  Once one reaches that enlightened state, it’s their duty to share it with the public.  Milton writes in Areopagitica, “When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches, meditiats, is industrious, and likely consults and conferrs with his judicious friends; afterall which done he takes himself to be inform’d in what he writes, as well as any that writ before him.”  What that implies to me is that one cannot be satisfied with their enlightenment unless others know they are enlightened.  I disagree.

Most of the authors we’ve read thus far have been concerned with the constructs in our society and how that hinders our enlightenment.  For example, Omi and Winant explored how racial stereotypes perpetuate the colonial mindset and prevent us from opening our minds.  Kant argued that we are socialized to want to retain our nonage and let others think for us.  I think that, like Milton, many of these ideas rely on others recognizing your enlightened state.  Because what is the point of being enlightened if no one else knows or cares?

I suppose I agree with la Mettrie in the face that I am not entirely sure if enlightenment is possible to reach.  Or, if it is, I don’t know that it is possible to recognize it for what it is.  And even if it is possible to reach enlightenment, what then? Is that the highest state of being we can achieve? In his meditations, Descartes says, “If I always saw clearly what was true and good, I should never have to spend time thinking about what to believe or do; and then I would be wholly free although I was never in a state of indifference.”  I think it is much more interesting to be constantly striving toward an ideal of enlightenment than to be stuck in an unchanging state of higher understanding.


Suzy, Do You Know Anything About Witches?


The case i chose involved a woman named Jane Kent who was accused of witchcraft and the Diabolical arts, supposedly by the family of those she apparently harmed.  The evidence levies against her included the bewitching of his daughter and his wife, causing the ultimate death of his daughter, the bewitching of his swine after a failed exchange, and other witchlike occurrences like the testimony of her physical state (holes in ears and a teat on her back, very witchy stuff) as well as the recollection of a failed carriage ride that was the result of witchcraft.  She was able to provide accounts of her piety and her churchgoing activities that ended up being sufficient enough for the jury to find her not guilty, which means the original accusation was probably levied as a result of a personal dispute or disagreement (i’m willing to bet it was those pigs).

This trial happened in 1682, so the diffusion of the type of mindset that would cause these kind of accusations was becoming a widespread phenomenon at this point.  The paper by Ankarloo, Bengt, and  Clark carefully outlines the methods through which this state of mind was achieved. “This making of the mind-set of the human sciences – the basic expectation that social action is to be understood by impersonal, universal, natural and social law – went with a multitude of day-to-day indications that polite and propertied society, when confronting adversity, was less disposed than before to look to the Hand of God, and certainly not to the meddlings of Satan” (Ankarloo 205).  Even though there were deep religious sentiments around at the time (of course there would be in 17th century England), most of the time these religious sentiments were more of less the paths through which disputes of a more mundane flavor were brought to fruition.  The hyper-spiritual and religiously fundamentalist viewpoints of the time did less to stoke the fires of witch hunting that it did to provide an avenue of exploitation through which disputes, usually with little real legal ground, could be decided through the power of the church rather than law, an avenue that is extremely conducive of hearsay and other forms of questionable evidence and testimony, as i imagine happened with poor old Jane Kent.


Yet, in retrospect, we look back on these events with condescending disdain because we’re so advanced now.  Oh we have science, we know ghosts and ghoulies and witches aren’t real, these people are just superstitious idiots right?  Right guys?   Then why are we still so fascinated by the macabre and the unholy?  Sure we don’t call anyone witches anymore (we’ve replaced the exploitation of superstition with new methods, most of them having to do with sex), but we’re still fascinated by them.  And demons and zombies and vampires and aliens and serial killers and crazy madmen and all sorts of things.  Why?  Well it’s pretty simple really.

We know so little about everything.  Granted we know a lot more that we used to, but we still don’t know anything at all.  Sure, people like to hide behind the facade of scientific understanding to justify their own ignorance and fear, but while science has helped us understand many things it hasn’t explained everything.  It might be able to, who knows, but science gets stuck in the same ideological loops as religion does when it comes to progress.  Thinking about things in new ways is difficult if impossible within rigid and long standing traditions.  Statements like this further reinforce the adamant preoccupation with understanding things the way we are comfortable with understanding them. “Modern superstition, surrounded by every influence to dispel it, can offer no excuse for existing at all.  It has centered, more of less, around hypnotism and beliefs concerning coincidences, dreams, presentiments, apparitions, table rappings, and above all, spiritualism and clairvoyance” (Scaife 47).  But i bet that guy would still be scared as shit trapped in an abandoned asylum for a night.


There’s still all this stuff we don’t understand, and we manifest it in things we can form images of but still cant quite decide what they are.  That’s why all the ghouls and zombies and stuff.  Hell, even those things are products of other fears.  Zombies were the result of a deep fear of nuclear technology after the cold war.  Slasher villains and serial killers were the result of fear of the suburban, modern family life being invaded by unwanted ideological influence after the Reagan era.  All the things we know and imagine are synthesized from things we’ve experienced.  There is no such thing as a unique thought.

So are these things simply the manifestation of mundane fears or are they expressions of strange phenomena that modern science and human logic can’t understand (as of humans were capable of objective logic in the first place)? I’m not saying that these things exist, but i’m not saying they don’t exist.  All i’m saying is that we manifest our fears into substantial realities, whether they be influenced by real life or hyperreal life.  We create the world we live in through the filtering of experience through perception, and sometimes that filtering happens at the source, or beyond it.  Maybe ghosts are simply the result of the conservation of mass and energy failing to be 100% efficient and leaving behind trace samples of untamed energy that manifests itself in the form of strange phenomena that modern science refuses to explain.  Maybe schizophrenics all have enlarged pineal glands and are evoking extra senses that we aren’t accustomed to using and are able to see far past the veil of reality we live behind into some indescribable and unknowable dimension that has no tangible substantiation under current  physical models and only catch glimpses of this otherworldly realm.  Maybe the only thing we have to fear is each other, and we refuse to face that fear and create barriers of fiction to resolve these conflicts.  Who knows, but superstition still exists, and will probably always exist, whether we like it or not.  Or maybe it won’t.  Who cares.

Witches will always be cool though.

Ankarloo, Bengt, and Stuart Clark. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Vol. 5. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999. (read p. 197 to the bottom of p. 206.)

Scaife, Hazel Lewis. A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition. Louisville, KY: Press of R. H. Carothers, 1895. (p. 42-52).

Three Teats to the Wind: A Total Recall

Jane Kent was a 60-year-old woman tried for witchcraft on June 1st, 1682.  She was accused of making a young girl sick, an oldwife feel a little bloated, and some horses turn over a carriage after being caught in a bad deal involving some pigs.  In other words, she had plans for world domination.

Fortunately, she was brought to trial just in time to stop this merciless heathen from completely conquering our souls with her diabolical dabbling of the dark arts.

Oh yes, there was plenty of evidence. Somebody heard some yelling when she was near. As if this were not enough, the woman had “…teat on her back!”  Yes my friend, a teat, a nipple, a bosom with which to milk her demon children and blackest cats!


(this is the total recall pun if you aren’t familiar)

But what’s this? Not guilty? How can this be? The woman has a back-boob!

Oh, I see. She goes to church.  Yes, a solid defense indeed.  This woman and her three-cupped bra go on to live another day because she was and honest woman who “…went to church…” She was saved by the church bell.  Not guilty. How could she be? She was a Christian.

This ridiculous trial is just one drop from the pool of anecdotal evidence that proves how quickly witch accusation would get thrown around for personal gain, grievances or passing suspicion.  Luckily, for Jane Kent, this trial did not contribute to the senseless and brutal deaths that plagued this dark era of the “enlightenment.”

A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition by Hazel Lewis Scaife, dismisses this kind of superstition and all the negative results of believing in such magic.  However, there is a problem here. This also removes any positive result that superstition may have.

Citing poems and personal opinions as proof, Scaiffe accuses superstition of being the poison ivy that wraps around the tree of knowledge.  Nobody can get near the truth until they uproot the ‘poison’ that corrupts it.  She argues that superstition must be completely eradicated in order for any real knowledge to thrive.  I argue just the opposite.

Superstition does not restrain science; it inspires it.  Man believes in cures that science has not yet proven to exist.  We search for impossible cures because we believe we will find one, not because we have scientifically proven that it exists.  Nearly all of us spend our lives looking for ways to become figuratively, if not literally, immortal.  We try to heal every disease and secure our place in history and lives around us before we die.  If we did not dream of this or any other kind of immortality, (which Scaiffe scoffs at) we never could imagine a God.

Scaiffe begins her essay by explaining that superstition, “dominates the life of the savage to whom nature presents, as he thinks, one continual display of supernatural effects.” (42) What she fails to recognize is the fact that many Christians (and perhaps herself included) look toward everyday natural events as proof of God.  There is an irony at play here that is hard to ignore.  She has the right to believe in God but nobody else has the right to believe in bad luck.

Thomas Hobbes would have none of this.  He placates to the Christians in interest of his own career but denounces all superstition that will not automatically label him as a heretic. Or so he thought.

He attributed, “The opinion that rude people have of fairies, ghosts and goblins and the power of witches’…to ignorance of how to distinguish dreams from sense” (197) and suffered an immediate backlash from peer and politician.

The message of the enlightenment was simple.  Doubt everything. Just not witches.

A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition

Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries


As the prompt says, Butler believed that gender roles are a social construct. She points out the unfortunate fact that we feel forced to follow these social constructs, always acting, never truly being ourselves: “Gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation.” She criticizes the way that these gender roles have permeated throughout the centuries and dominated our identities and how we feel pressured to act, both individually and in relationships.

In my opinion, Swift thought along much of the same lines as Butler, in terms of criticizing these gender roles and expectations of women. His poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room” is a bit humorous in the horrific realizations the male character stumbles upon in the dressing room. This woman is not just unattractive, she is truly disgusting: “But oh! it turn’d poor Strephon‘s Bowels/When he beheld and smelt the Towels/Begumm’d, bematter’d, and beslim’d/With Dirt, and Sweat, and Ear-Wax grim’d.” I really enjoyed the poem because I felt it criticized the role and image that women are supposed to follow while also satirizing men’s expectations of women (because really, without one we wouldn’t have the other). In this sense, I think that Swift agrees with Butler – that our sex in fact is not always the true determinant of our gender, because gender is sexually constructed, while sex is biological. A gender role can be more of a choice and is more influenced by society – for example, how women feel pressured to look perfect and beautiful all of the time. In my opinion, this is not a feeling that they are born with because they are biologically women; rather, this idea is thrust upon them by society.

I think it is unfair to say that heterosexuality is the original of homosexuality. In a way, this makes homosexuality sound like a lesser form or a copy of heterosexuality, implying that heterosexuality was first/the best. Instead, I think all couples relate to one other based on both personalities, not the idea that every couple needs to have a “woman” and a “man” counterpart. Love is love, and while homosexuality is a concept that is only just now in time coming to be accepted legally and as an accepted relationship, it has been around for a long time, probably for even as long as heterosexuality. I think rather than wondering if homosexuality stems from heterosexuality, we should just accept that all relationships (and friendships, for that matter) stem from love and compatibility between two personalities, and call it a day.

I’ll Get You Elizabeth, and Your Little Pig Too!

I chose the trial of Jane Kent for study. Tried June 1, 1682, she was charged with practicing witchcraft and using it to murder Elizabeth Chamblet. Elizabeth’s father is the complainant in the case. He states that the problem started when a transaction fell through between him and Kent. Afterward, he believed that she cursed his pig, causing it to become ill. Soon, Elizabeth fell ill as well and died. Worried about his wife, he took various clippings from her to be “tested” for bewitchment. As he boiled the clippings, he claimed to have heard Kent scream outside his door. Chamblet also presented “eyewitnesses” also claiming to be victims of Kent’s witchery.

Kent denied all Chamblet’s testimony. She presented herself as a churchgoing woman who “lived honestly.” In the end, the jury ruled that Kent was not guilty.

I was actually amazed by the outcome of this trial. Despite the overwhelming “evidence” against Kent, the jury found her not guilty. This led me to dwell more upon the views of witchcraft accusations in this era. I concluded that though the court acknowledged these cases, accusations of witchcraft possessed a diminishing weight among the people. A common contemporary perception would be that, as Ankarloo and Clarke say, “denial of witchcraft is the devil’s work.” However, the jury’s verdict shows that these accusations may not have been taken as seriously from a legal standpoint. Though the government had to act, the people saw through the accusations. What would have in earlier times been deemed concrete evidence of witchcraft has less power in the late 17th century. This is not to say that witchcraft was not taken seriously—Ankarloo and Clarke certainly prove there was plenty of ostracizing done on the account of witchery in the era. I simply believe that religion forced society to acknowledge potential witchcraft cases, but society was not so easily compelled to punish for it. I would posit that this may have been a transitional period for social perceptions about witchcraft.

The sad truth is that this is likely the contrivance of an emotionally distraught man. After losing a deal and his daughter, he sought an object of blame, using witchcraft to exact vengeance on Kent. He wouldn’t find material gain in the endeavor; the emotional reward would be enough. Witchcraft accusations historically have required relatively little solid evidence for conviction—eyewitnesses would do.

H. Lewis Scaife asserts that “[s]uperstition generally decreases in proportion to mental development” (42). He associates superstition with a savage, undeveloped mentality, presenting various inferior cultures worldwide as proof of this claim. Countless Enlightenment commentators would agree. David Hume stated superstition developed from “ignorance of natural causes” (Ankarloo and Clarke 202). Lack of knowledge births superstition. The common perception is that, as understanding increases, superstition will die. To philosophers like Hume, Hobbes, and others, rampant superstition indicated a collective lack of knowledge. Understandably, this societal intelligence deficit, coupled with the terror superstition wrought, created much animosity toward superstition among the philosophical community.

Works Cited:

Scaife, Hazel Lewis. A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition. Louisville, KY: Press of R. H. Carothers, 1895.

Ankarloo, Bengt, and Stuart Clark. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Vol. 5. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999.

Jane Kent Trial|witch|witchcraft|sorcery|enchantment|spell#highlight

Witchcraft, I think.

For this week’s topic of Witchcraft and the enlightenment I chose a case of an elderly woman by the name of Jane Dodson.  She was tried as a witch for what they said to have been using her “divers Hellish arts and Incantations to destroy divers persons” they said that she had “lamed and distorted” a woman named Mary Palmer.  I found this interesting because they had no evidence brought up against this woman, all that they had said was that she was the one who did it.  However one of the diver’s persons showed up at her trial which was evidence and defense for her that she did not kill them and she was acquitted.

What I had found so interesting was the fact that this woman’s life was on the line simply because of someone else’s hysteria that she was a witch.  There was no evidence she killed anyone the person who she was said to have killed could have been just napping or something as mild as that.  In the reading for Ankarloo it was said, “There was of course nothing new about scepticism: witchcraft was inherently implausible, critics had long argued; it depended on cozening and credulity, and had no cast-iron Biblical Warrant” (Ankarloo, 1), which is something we can recognize as to the reasoning people of this time period used to put people on trial.

The reading that we did for this week that made me think of this as something to correlate to was the ghost story reading.  The book was about superstition and how it does crazy things to people if you read it the opening line is, “few things have influenced and controlled the destiny of men so largely as superstition.”  This is one of the truest things to think about when dealing with this case.  The superstitions and fears of this area where the case happened is what caused this woman to almost meet death.  The title of the article I looked up started out “Jane Dodson royal offenses>religious offenses” which says a lot about the article in the first place.  In class especially if we look back we see that religion, some would argue, had nothing to do with the overall witch trials that were so famous in this time period but some kind of way in which to be rid of people who pissed you off in a way.  This hysteria was mob mentality driven in the sense that it scared people in to being part of the greater picture and idea of the witch trials but something that started out possibly as one person being angry with another and getting that group of people all worked up in order to have someone killed by the hysteria itself.



Bailey’s article:|sorcery#highlight



Witchcraft or Insanity

Witchcraft and notions of sorcery were very prevalent themes back in the 16th and 17th centuries. Witchcraft was a vessel used by priests and authority figures to control and scare the people of the country. In Elizabeth Gulliver’s case, she fortunately was not brought up on trials of witchcraft and heresy fortunately, but she very well could have been. A man by the name of William Clark aimed and fired at Elizabeth Gulliver believing her to be a witch and harboring other witches. Clark had been complaining about loud noises prior to this and noises of sorcery and witchcraft and so confronted miss Gulliver first but she had told him she had been making no noises and she only lives with her daughter. A week after Clark attempted to kill miss Gulliver for being a supposed witch, luckily, there were eye witness accounts to come to miss Gulliver’s defense. Mr. Clark had apparently been suffering from spirits since his parents passed away, and so from the evidence and is incoherent testaments and ramblings was declared legally insane,  and no one was found guilty.

This story I felt relates well to how people felt about witchcraft and the like. A man was able to shoot at a woman he believed to be a witch but then is found not guilty because of the very notion of witches is a viable excuse for getting out of attempted murder. In Ankaroo’s analysis he says “Witchcraft delusions were, in short, the malady of weak minds. Those believing themselves bewitched or possessed were victim of their own naivete.” This was one of the good points made as the man Mr. Clark had a weak mind, and had indulged in the notion of sorcery after his parents died to cope with the loss and took it out on an innocent woman. So witchcraft was ultimately a magnificent vessel in which for people to use to manipulate their circumstance to work in their favor, and also a clever scapegoat.

Scaife also perfectly wraps up this time period when he says “superstition generally decreases in proportion to mental development.” In Clark’s case, he used superstition as a means to deal with his parents passing instead of facing the apparent reality. When superstition is involved it generally diminishes the mental health of a person, especially when someone is so lost and obsessed with the concept. It sort of detracts one from seeing the sort of concrete facts and evidence that would be necessary for rational thought and leaves a person with baseless opinions and, Clark’s case, downright insanity. So in short, superstition was merely a means to control people who were not perceptive enough or logically minded enough to understand the world around them.