THE WITCH (2015): DIRECTOR ROBERT EGGERS

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©2019, by M. Keith Booker

The subject of witchcraft has a long and troubled history in the United States. The notorious Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693 are typically figured as one of the dark moments in American history, as a moment when ignorance and superstition reigned supreme, setting aside the rational can-do practicality that many associate with the American spirit. Yet others have seen the trials as indicative of a nasty stretch of vengeful prejudice that is, in fact, quite central to that spirit. Thus, in his 1953 play The Crucible, Arthur Miller used the witch trials to comment upon the anticommunist hysteria that raged in America at the time the play was written. Ever since, the notion of a “witch hunt” has been widely popular in American political discourse to suggest any sort of unfair, persecutorial campaign, especially when it is informed by an irrational, paranoid fear. Witchcraft (as a manifestation of Satanic evil) has, of course, figured prominently in American horror films as well—though witches have also come to be featured in American popular culture as sometimes benevolent (and often comic) figures.

Robert Eggers’ impressive debut film The Witch shows an intense awareness of the historical legacy of witchcraft in America—and especially of the Puritanical notion of witches as minions of Satan, the notion that drove the Salem Witch Trials. Those trials and the ideology behind them are, of course, well-known elements of American cultural history. In his review of the film, for example, David Fear describes The Witch (meaning it as a compliment) as having seemingly been constructed of spare parts stripped from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s well-known 1835 story “Young Goodman Brown.” And, of course, the witch trials have served as the basis of a number of horror films.[1] The film is also a very authentic-feeling period piece, both visually and verbally—the actors’ antique north-of-England accents (speaking dialogue that was carefully researched to sound authentic for the period) sound not quaint and mannered but absolutely appropriate.

As A. A. Dowd puts it,

“The Witch, like The Exorcist before it, invites serious engagement; to question its implications—historical and religious—is to acknowledge that this is not just some run-of-the-mill exploitation of superstitious fears. As straight horror, The Witch is something special, transporting audiences to a bygone era that would look plenty frightening even without the paranormal activity that engulfs it.”

Indeed, the historicism of this film is what sets it apart from other films about witchcraft and the occult. The film, which describes itself in its opening sequence as “a New England folktale” is set in the 1630s; the film’s greatest achievement is its ability to create a picture of this world as fundamentally different from our own. The world of the film is permeated with magic; the people of the film believe in this magic with all their hearts and without a flicker of a doubt. God and Satan and variously associated magical entities are not, for the people of the film, abstract concepts. They are very real entities, able to exert a palpable force in our world, for good or evil. Importantly, though, the Puritans of the film do not have their lives enriched by this sense of magic and wonder. Instead, they live in constant fear, convinced that their own fallen natures are apt to give an upper hand to the forces of evil in their lives. They are surrounded by both good magic and bad, but it is the bad that dominates their sense of what human beings and the world in which they live are really like.

Fredric Jameson has famously complained that most works of our contemporary culture—which he groups under the rubric of “postmodernism”—have such a weak sense of history that they are unable to imagine either a past or a future that is fundamentally different from the present, unless those differences are imposed by some sort of sudden, cataclysmic event, rather than the normal flow of history. The Witch, however, would seem to be an exception to Jameson’s observation—and a crucial one that tells us important things about American history and society. The governing narrative here would be the process of capitalist modernization, and especially of the way in which (as first described by Max Weber more than a century ago), this modernization has led to a rationalized world devoted to logic, efficiency, and the generation of profit. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism—originally composed in 1904 and 1905, just as the modern, consumerist phase of American capitalism was kicking into high gear—Weber describes how capitalism (with Protestantism as its accessory and ideological handmaiden) has produced a world bereft of magic, in which everything makes sense, everything has a price, and nothing has real value.

Weber’s focus is on Europe, but his work has special relevance to American culture and history because both capitalism and Protestantism have been particularly powerful in the United States, a society founded on a rejection of the Catholic, aristocratic past of medieval Europe, a past that continued to exercise significantly more power in Europe than in America well into the twentieth century. The capitalist/Protestant worldview that Weber describes has thus long existed in a purer form in America than anywhere else. From this point of view, the world depicted in The Witch differs so fundamentally from our own because it occurs very early in the process of capitalist rationalization described by Weber, while we ourselves live in a world in which that process is nearly complete. Further, The Witch presents seventeenth-century New England as a crucial turning point, when it was still possible for this historical process to go in directions other than the one it eventually took. Indeed, the most important thing about the film, in my view, is the way it delineates these options, with special focus on the road not taken.

The Witch begins as a man named William (Ralph Ineson) stands before a Puritan tribunal, accused of some unspecified violation of the community’s standards. All we know is that the violation is religious in nature—it will soon become clear that everything is religious in nature in this community. There are implications, though, that William is even more extreme in his piety than is typical of this community, and that he has fallen afoul of the authorities because of his criticisms of the laxity of the community’s standards. In any case, William and his family are clearly banished from the community because their interpretation of Christianity differs from that which prevails there. The dispute, in short, is not one between belief and disbelief; it is more of a contest between two different styles of belief, each claiming to be more authentic than the other, each claiming to have the correct interpretation of the “pure and faithful dispensation of the gospels.” But this is a harsh, intolerant community, completely convinced of the righteousness of its prevailing views, so no such disagreements can be allowed: they might give an opening to the Satanic forces by which the community feels itself to be surrounded.

As William and his family leave the community, its gates closing behind them, they pass by some Native Americans and a musket-bearing soldier. It’s a subtle moment that passes quickly, without comment, but the moment itself is a pageant-like comment, given that we already know the violent and genocidal future of this community in relation to Native Americans. That suggestion will not be revisited within the film, but it hovers in the margins, nevertheless, especially if one recognizes the crucial role played by race and racism in the history of the United States. After all, as Ronald Takaki has effectively argued, the notion of modern racism has important roots in the Puritan encounter with Native Americans in the early seventeenth century. By this time, the British had a long history of regarding themselves as superior to their colonial subjects (principally the Irish), though they regarded this superiority as largely cultural in nature. With the Puritan settlement of North America, however, the English came to believe that the inferiority of Native Americans was innate and could not be overcome by enculturation. For Takaki, this development was mostly religious in nature and had to do with the tendency of the New England Puritans to view the native inhabitants of the regions they settled in as unredeemably evil minions of Satan: “To the colonists, the Indians were not merely a wayward people: They personified something fearful within Puritan society itself. Like Caliban, a ‘born devil’” (908).[2]

This extreme view of race might seem absurd to modern eyes, and it is certainly a mark of the prevalence of “magical thinking” in the seventeenth century that it would even occur to anyone to think of race in this way. At the same time, a tendency to demonize racial others in less overtly religious ways has continued to haunt the American mind until this day. Whether the filmmakers were aware of this particular turn in the history of racism is not entirely important; the brief glimpse they provide of Native Americans make it clear that the fate of America’s native inhabitants is an important part of American history, even if it is not the particular topic of this film. Indeed, William and his family depart the community only three minutes into the film (accompanied by ominous music that does not seem to bode well), and the rest of The Witch depicts them in exile, essentially in isolation from both Puritans and Native Americans. Racism is not really an issue, then, in the remainder of the film, which concentrates instead on the combined forces of religion and patriarchy that bring this particular family to its doom.

William packs up his meager belongings and heads into the wilderness, which he is determined to conquer, with God’s help, in good pioneer fashion, accompanied by his worn wife, Katherine (Kate Dickey), his pubescent daughter Thomasin (the radiant Anya Taylor-Joy), his pre-pubescent son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the younger fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). They soon locate a large clearing on the edge of a dark forest and decide to settle there. After all, the clearing seems ideal for farming, though the building sense of menace incorporated into the soundtrack as the camera slowly zooms in on that forest suggests that sinister things might lurk within.

The prologue then ends and the film cuts to a point a year or so in the future. William has now built a farmhouse and some other farm buildings and is struggling (without much success) to make the land productive. Katherine has now given birth to a new baby boy, Samuel. The family might not be thriving, but they are thus far surviving. Then, only six minutes into the film, the sense of doom that we already feel lurks over this family strikes in the first of what will be a series of tragedies. Thomasin is playing peek-a-boo with the infant on the edge of the forest; after she covers her eyes for the merest of moments as part of the game, she finds that the baby has inexplicably disappeared. Frantic, she runs toward the edge of the forest to search for the child, but seems afraid to go within. We, meanwhile, see a shadowy figure running through the woods carrying the infant back to her lair, where she apparently dismembers it, ritually bathing her naked body in a magical unguent made from the baby’s ground-up entrails, apparently intended to increase her own magical powers.

It’s a scene as shocking as any ever put on film—so shocking, in fact, that the scene is shot in such a way that we can barely see what is going on. But the point has been made: we are dealing with extreme forces here, capable of great horrors, no matter how mysterious they remain. The film then slacks off a bit from the breakneck pace of its first ten minutes in order to take time to build a bit more atmosphere. We see, for example, young Caleb sneaking a peak at Thomasin’s chest while she sleeps, hoping for a look at her breasts, something that, within the sex-averse world depicted in the film, suggests more dangers. Later, she catches him sneaking another peek, though she seems amused, rather than offended. Through the rest of the film, Thomasin’s budding sexuality (through no fault of her own) will be a disruptive force in this highly patriarchal family, not only leading Caleb into impure thoughts but also destabilizing the patriarchal power structure through the presence of a sexually attractive female who must not be possessed by the patriarchal father. Though mentioned directly only once late in the film (this Puritan family would not deign to speak of such things under normal circumstances), the threat posed by Thomasin’s sexuality is ever-present—as in one scene in which Thomasin slowly undresses her father so that she can wash his clothes after he has fallen in a puddle of mud and dung. There’s a clear reason, beyond the loss of Samuel, why Katherine seems to resent Thomasin so greatly—and why the family, in one of its few concessions to dealing with the community they left behind, eventually plans (at Katherine’s suggestion) to send Thomasin back to that community to live with another family as a servant, thus removing her from their own family circle altogether.

In the meantime, one ominous sign after another alerts us that the family is in trouble. Almost every move they make goes wrong in ways that suggest impending doom. When Thomasin goes to collect an egg from the henhouse, she drops and breaks it—and finds that it has a dead chick inside. Later, when she milks a goat, she gets blood instead of milk. As for the rest of the family, Katherine spends most of her time praying and crying, mourning the loss of her baby—and its soul. The twins, meanwhile, spend their time happily playing, oblivious to the tragedy of their lost brother. But they are portrayed weirdly, dressed in layers of clothing that make them not only look like miniature adults but move stiffly, like puppets; they seem almost inhuman, possibly possessed. Indeed, there are numerous hints of something sinister in their relationship with the family’s black goat, Black Phillip, with whom they hold conversations and who, it is eventually revealed, is no ordinary animal but a minion of supernatural forces, possibly Satanic in nature. When Mercy at one point pretends to be “the witch of the wood,” the sense of something evil inhabiting the twins is clearly enhanced.

In a key moment, William admits that, with their corn crop failing, he is going to be forced to hunt animals in the woods, which have hitherto been regarded as off limits. Surprised at this relaxation of rules (something he has seldom experienced in his young life), Caleb accompanies William into the forbidden forest, which we already know contains sinister forces. On the way, William rehearses William on the religious doctrine of original sin that has obviously been drummed into him his entire life:

William: Art thou then born a sinner?

Caleb: “Aye, I was conceived in sin and born in iniquity.”

William: “And what is thy birth sin?”

Caleb: “Adam’s sin imputed to me, and a corrupt nature dwelling within me.”

William: “And canst thou tell me what they corrupt nature is?”

William: “My corrupt nature is empty of grace, bent unto sin, only unto sin, and that continually.”

Though able to recite his lines faithfully, Caleb is clearly bothered by the implications of this lesson, both for himself and (especially) for his infant brother, who is now assumed to be dead. Caleb asks his father if Samuel had been born a sinner and William answers in the affirmative. When Caleb obviously sees the unfairness in this unwavering doctrine that would potentially damn an innocent infant to eternal suffering in hell, William cuts him off and warns him to “place faith in God,” telling him that God alone can know whether Samuel is now in hell.

This look at Caleb’s religious training gives us an insight into the kind of world in which these people live, but it also contributes to the growing sense of doom—to the sense that something else very bad is about to happen. William, by taking Caleb into the forest, is already violating his own rule that the forest must not be entered because it isn’t safe. But William himself, as it turns out, has already been secretly entering the forest to set animal traps, which he has acquired by stealing Katherine’s treasured silver cup (one of her few meager possessions) and trading it for the traps. He tells Caleb about the cup but insists that the boy not tell his mother. As William and Caleb reset one of the traps, one almost expects the dangerous-looking trap to snap shut on one of them, but it doesn’t. But a mishap does occur when they spot a hare and William attempts to shoot it. Even the hare seems sinister (and it again looks sinister when it reappears in later scenes) as it looks at William; one wonders if it is some sort of witchery on the part of the animal that causes the musket to misfire, injuring William (though not as badly as one might expect, given the atmosphere of the film). Later, when Katherine wonders at the recent absence of William and Caleb, Caleb covers for his father by telling his mother that they had been away searching for apples. And William is perfectly happy to have his son lie in this way, while seemingly remaining oblivious to the way in which this apple links back to the original sin of Adam that he and his son had been discussing in the forest.

“What is amiss on this farm?” Katherine asks at one point. “It’s not natural.” Indeed, with all the signs and portents that occur in the film (reinforced by the soundtrack, which constantly adds tension), it comes as little surprise that things eventually unravel altogether. But the structure of the film, which constantly provides hints of supernatural forces at work, also enhances its ability to make us feel that we are experiencing the world of 1630s Puritan New England. This is a world of people who believe in omens, people whose world is infused with magic, and the film is quite effective at giving viewers at least some sense of what it might feel like to live in a world where everything you see is possibly endowed by supernatural forces with special meaning.

In the case of this film, of course, the suspicion that supernatural forces lurk behind every rock turns out to be well-founded. Or possibly not: most of the supernatural events in the film can easily be recuperated as fantasies/hallucinations on the part of the suggestive characters—or even as representations of the fantasies of the collective society from which they have been expelled but whose worldview they still largely share. It matters very little, of course—the film is best read allegorically, however we interpret specific events. Whether or not God “really” exists, whether or not Satan and witchcraft “really” exist—they all definitely exist for these people, a fact that has been important to the evolution of American culture and society ever since. This fact, of course, also means that all of the “supernatural” events depicted in the film can potentially be interpreted as existing in the imaginations of these characters, who have been so conditioned to see the supernatural everywhere.

When Caleb goes back into the woods hoping to find food for the family, he comes upon the witch’s hut—and the witch herself, now looking young, voluptuous and seductive (and played, as it turns out, by former Victoria’s Secret model Sarah Stephens). As Caleb slowly walks toward the witch, as if hypnotized, it seems clear that he is walking to his doom. He reappears soon afterward on the farm, staggering and naked, but collapses into unconsciousness. Later, he experiences visions and fits, at one point vomiting up an apple—again with connotations of the sin of Adam. Then he dies. Beside him, Jonas and Mercy collapse as well, while the other members of the family argue and scream in hysterics.

One might interpret Caleb’s seduction by the witch as a verification of the conviction in this world that feminine sexuality is evil and leads men to their doom. But it is in fact probably best read as just the opposite—verification that this conviction itself leads to evil consequences. Meanwhile, given the resonances of Thomasin’s sexuality that have run throughout the film, it comes as no surprise that Caleb’s death-by-sex is blamed on Thomasin, who is now accused of being a witch by her own father. At this point, Thomasin has about had enough. She berates her father for his hypocrisy and declares him a loser who is good for nothing but cutting wood (which is, in fact, about the only thing he accomplishes in the film—and then to what might be seen as sinful excess). Then Thomasin declares (as we have long suspected) that Jonas and Mercy are the source of the farm’s bewitchment, that “they make covenant with the Devil in the shape of Black Phillip.”

A shocked William locks Thomasin away in the goat shed, vowing to take her back to the Puritan community the next day so that she can stand trial as a witch. Just to make sure, though, he locks the twins and Black Phillip up with her. That night, Caleb and Samuel reappear to Katherine, as does her lost silver cup. A strange raven (maybe the hare in another form?) pecks at her bloody breast. Satanic manifestations, possibly, or maybe she’s just as mad as a hatter. Or perhaps there is no difference between the two for the purposes of the film. In any case, everything spirals out of control at this point. Black Phillip gores William to death, while something kills all the other goats—and apparently the twins as well. Katherine, accusing Thomasin of attempting to seduce Caleb and William and of being the source of all the family’s troubles, attacks her daughter but is killed by her as she defends herself. Patriarchy, the film implies, turns women against each other if they buy into its ideology.

Katherine is clearly a victim of patriarchal ideology (and, of course, of the traumas that are occurring to her children), no matter how unsympathetic she might sometimes seem. Similarly, William is not a bad man, or even a particularly weak man. He is just a man. But the patriarchal society in which he lives demands that he be more than a man, that he show superhuman virtue and strength, essentially occupying a godlike role in relation to his family. William’s failures (and almost everything he attempts in the film results in failure) are largely failures of imagination caused by his inability to see the flaws in the patriarchal system that has given him so much authority over his family. But these failures can also be seen in a broader sense as a commentary not only on the fact that patriarchy puts too much pressure on men but that it also puts women and children at risk because men are given more power than they can effectively wield.

With nowhere left to turn, Thomasin goes to Black Phillip. A seductive voice, apparently that of Black Phillip (though the goat is not seen on screen), replies, offering Thomasin the following consolations in return for giving up her religion:

“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter?”

“A pretty dress?”

“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

“Wouldst thou like to see the world?”

She can have all these things, it is implied, if she will only sign the book she finds before her (a conventional way of making a pact with Satan).

She seems about to sign the book, but the film then cuts to a scene of her walking, naked, into the woods. A shadowy figure (presumably Black Phillip) is seen running past her in the darkness. We begin to hear voices in a whispery chant that then becomes louder as she approaches a group of women (presumably witches) bowing and writhing around a fire in a clearing. Thomasin and Black Phillip look on as the witches suddenly ascend into the air. Overcome by emotion, Thomasin also ascends—except that a sudden cut shows her now to be the only figure in the scene as she hovers high above the ground. Cut to black.

The last moments of The Witch are richly packed with meaning—so much so, in fact, that it is probably impossible to come up with a final definitive interpretation. One could certainly see Thomasin’s final trip into the woods as a feminist declaration of independence as she leaves behind the legacy of her patriarchal family and joins instead her new sisterhood of witches. One could also see this trip as her descent into fantasy. What is really important, though, is that this final scene in the woods suggests a female-oriented celebration of the sensuous that represents a clear turning away from the values of Thomasin’s Puritan community. However, we know, from our position in the twenty-first century, that American history did not proceed in this direction but instead proceeded in the direction of consumer capitalist materialism—another form of pursuit of sensuous pleasure that is less feminine and less celebratory. What is interesting, however, is that the pleasures that Black Phillip seemingly offers to Thomasin, from butter, to dresses, to travel, to just generally living “deliciously,” are at least as easily achieved via consumerism as through witchcraft, a fact that essentially posits capitalism and witchcraft as the two historical directions that American history might have taken to get beyond the impasse of Puritan asceticism. America chose the former, of course, and (as Weber’s narrative of the complicity between Puritanism and capitalism would suggest) it was the easier choice to make, one that only required an adjustment to Puritan values rather than a wholesale reversal of them.

All of these weighty historical implications are ultimately what makes The Witch such an important film. However, it should also be noted that, in addition to its intelligent treatment of historical themes, The Witch is an extremely interesting work of visual art. In his review of the film, Simon Abrams notes how “Eggers’ hyper-mannered camerawork draws you in by evoking Johannes Vermeer’s portraits and the landscape paintings of Andrew Wyeth.” Indeed, not only does The Witch present a visually convincing picture of life in 1630s New England (despite a rather modest budget), but many scenes are brilliantly composed—almost like paintings. Abrams also mentions the film’s overt allusion to a painting by the important Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746–1828), though the film in fact evokes two different Goya paintings. For example, the presentation of Black Phillip evokes a long tradition of representing Satan’s minions as goatlike figures, as in the case of the pagan god Baphomet, who would play a minor role in the 2017 horror film Get Out. But the most direct inspiration for Black Phillip would seem to be Goya’s 1798 painting The Witches’ Sabbath. This painting shows a black goat as a commanding, Satanic figure, surrounded by servile worshippers, including an old witch who is apparently offering an infant to the goat, presumably as a sacrifice. Indeed, Goya featured similar images of witchcraft and the occult in several of his paintings.

Francisco Goya’s 1798 painting “The Witches.”

The Witches’ Sabbath, in fact, was part of a series of paintings featuring witches and witchcraft that Goya painted around the same time, including Witches’ Flight, which anticipates the closing scene of The Witch by showing a group of three semi-nude witches ascending magically and ecstatically into the air, carrying the nude body of a man who is apparently some sort of sacrifice. Two peasants on the ground below attempt to shield themselves from the sight. A donkey (traditionally a symbol of ignorance or stupidity) hovers on the edge of the painting, seemingly uninvolved in the action. This painting, of course, links to the film’s last scene, in which Thomasin joins a group of witches who similarly levitate.

Goya’s “Witches’ Flight” and the levitation scene from The Witch.

Goya’s enigmatic painting serves as a particularly important gloss on The Witch when we realize that conventional interpretations of the painting have seen it not as an expression of a belief in witchcraft, but just the opposite—as an Enlightenment critique of the superstitious folly of the Spanish Inquisition, which was instituted in 1478 and not finally abolished until 1834. The painting, in short, shows the fantasies of those involved in the Inquisition, who are perhaps themselves represented by the donkey. Nominally a campaign to protect the Catholic faith from the potential of heresy (especially among new converts from Islam and Judaism), the Inquisition in fact became notorious as a bloody reign of terror used for all sorts of political purposes. Witches were among the targets of the Inquisition, for example, though charges of witchcraft throughout Europe were largely pursued by secular authorities. In any case, the Inquisition has come to stand in Western culture as an image of religious intolerance and persecution, both of which have often been aimed at witches. Indeed, while only 20 witches were executed in the notorious Salem Witch Trials, historians estimate that a total of tens of thousands of people (mostly women) were executed for the practice of witchcraft in Europe and the Americas between roughly 1300 and 1700.[3]

Goya’s painting can thus be taken a satirical thrust not only at religious superstitions and at the lurid things religious zealots typically imagine but also at the way in which these superstitions have typically worked to the disadvantage of women. The Witch can be taken in very much the same way—and most reviewers have read the film as a feminist statement. That the film leaves most elements of its meaning open to interpretation does not undermine its political clout but, in fact, reinforces it. The film grants viewers the kind of freedom of thought that its Puritan characters would never be able to comprehend.

WORKS CITED

Abrams, Simon. “The Witch.” RogerEbert.com (February 18, 2016). https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-witch-2016. Accessed November 14, 2018.

Dowd, A. A. “The 17th-Century Horror of The Witch Is Troubling on Multiple Levels.” AV/Film (February 18, 2016). https://film.avclub.com/the-17th-century-horror-of-the-witch-is-troubling-on-mu-1798186614. Accessed November 15, 2018.

Fear, David. “Review: The Witch.” Film Comment (January/February 2016). https://www.filmcomment.com/article/review-the-witch-robert-eggers/. Accessed November 14, 2018.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

Takaki, Ronald. “The Tempest in the Wilderness: The Racialization of Savagery.” Journal of American History 79.3 (1992): 892–912.

Thurston, Robert W. Witch, Wicce, Mother Goose: The Rise and Fall of the Witch Hunts in Europe and North America. Edinburgh: Longman, 2001. 

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1904–1905. Trans. Talcott Parsons. 1930. London: Routledge, 1995.

NOTES


[1] Perhaps the most extensive treatment of the witch trials on film occurs in the 2002 CBS television mini-series Salem Witch Trials. There are hints (never really clarified) that the haunting of the house in The Amityville Horror (1979) is related to Salem withcraft. Among recent films that reflect the legacy of the trials are the 2013 film The Conjuring (which owes more than just a bit to The Amityville Horror), in which a family is haunted by witchcraft that descends from the Salem witches, and The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), in which the Puritan attempts to expurgate (nonexistent) witchcraft have themselves produced supernatural evil.

[2] Takaki is describing specific historical phenomena that occurred in an American context in the seventeenth century. However, one might also compare Michel Foucault’s description, in The Care of the Self (translated from Le Souci de soi, 1984), of the ways in which the early Christian focus on Satan leads to a new conception of moral purity as defeat of an external enemy.  For Foucault, this focus leads to an oppressive code-oriented morality based on strict rules of prohibition of certain activities. And, in Western society in general, this focus on the Other as threat clearly contributes to the kinds of ideologies of othering that underlie later practices like colonialism.

[3] On the witch-hunts that marked this period in history, see Thurston.