Gendered Magic and the Folk Witches

Howdy, folks! There's been a few cool discussions looking at responsible gaming w/r/t inclusivity here recently - Colleen's thread on the Transvestite Flaw, @dc444's thread on disability-friendly design, @Zaleramancer's post on faerie stereotypes, @Corteia's post on alternate directions for sagas that accommodate players, @Marko_Markoko's posting on the religion thread, and prob a ton of others that I can't name offhand. All of them have been really interesting and I felt moved to contribute by doing what historians in Current Year do best and point out that even beyond just talking about changing history in sagas or historical "outliers/rebels," the engagement of historical societies with these questions tends to be a lot more nuanced than non-experts assume. I admittedly wrote about this already on Colleen's thread but I also (reluctantly) accept that Oghuz warrior epics and trans Mamluks are a bit out there when considering where folks tend to run their sagas. Luckily, Folk Witches turn up in a lot of sagas, so maybe this will be less demonstrative and more immediately practical.

I was looking through my copy of 2019's Routledge Guide to Medieval Magic (if the title isn't enough of a neon sign, highly recommend picking it up for folks running sagas) when I got to one of the contributions written by the collection editor Catherine Rider - Magic and Gender - which served as something of an overview article providing a broad look at the past few decades of research on the topic. It (and the work it cites) has some interesting things to say about our ideas of "women's magic" and why they may be anachronistic. The Folk Witches in Hedge Magic are unquestionably rad, but the writing in that book does fall into this trap as well. While noting that male witches may exist (likely for game purposes) the inset on male witches and the rest of the chapter just takes the feminine coding of this magic as a given. The book says:

Male folk witches are uncommon, and some versions of the folk witch initiations only work on female characters. Some covens are entirely made up of male folk witches, although this is rare.

Dr. Rider's paper near the start does mention why we tend to associate things like flight, love magic, healing, etc with women in this period - a few (later than 1200s) sources that have been heavily drawn on:

The idea that women were especially likely to do magic appears in some very well-known medieval sources. One of the most notorious and most often quoted is the Malleus Maleficarum, written in 1486 by two inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer (also known as Institoris) and Jakob Sprenger, to describe the comparatively new crime of diabolical witchcraft...According to Kramer and Sprenger, this connection between magic and lust made women ´╗┐ more likely than men to do all kinds of magic, but it also made them especially likely to do ´╗┐ magic in order to control love and sex ÔÇô arousing love, causing impotence or infertility, or ´╗┐even stealing menÔÇÖs penises. The Malleus discussed these subjects in detail, and modern scholars have also done so, with the unusual stories of penis theft attracting particular attention.

Purloined genitals aside, there's more to the story here, as Dr. Rider points out:

Other scholars have sought to put the Malleus into its fifteenth-century context by arguing that its emphasis on women was part of a wider change taking place in attitudes to magic. In particular, Bailey, Boudet, Ostorero and Ch├Ęne have highlighted that many fifteenth-century clerics placed a greater emphasis on womenÔÇÖs magic than could be seen in earlier texts.

When we turn back the clock to before (to use Dr. Breuer's term) the late medieval "crafting of the witch" through the gendering of folk magic, we find a pretty different range of clerical lit:

Work by ´╗┐Michael Bailey, Kathleen Kamerick and Alain Boureau, as well as my own work, has therefore sought to explore the range of clerical views of magic and the debates that took place ´╗┐ among learned writers. These scholars have shown that although some authors stated, or ´╗┐implied, that women were especially prone to magic and the related sin of ÔÇťsuperstitionÔÇŁ, others described both male and female magical practitioners. For example, exempla (short moral stories collected for use in sermons) told stories of male magicians who invoked demons as ´╗┐well as describing ÔÇťsuperstitiousÔÇŁ women. There were also ecclesiastical writers who did not´╗┐ say much at all about the gender of magical practitioners and preferred to focus on different ´╗┐ issues, such as the exact nature of the relationship between magicians and demons, or the question of whether or not certain unofficial ritual practices were legitimate or superstitious.

Now that's all good and well, you might say, but that doesn't tell us much about whether certain kinds of magic typically associated with traditions like the Folk Witches had feminine connotations or not. Dr. Rider goes through the question in some more detail below, starting with the aspect of folk witchery that does appear to be coded female in period sources:

Magic relating to love, sex and fertility is probably the form of magic most often cited by modern scholars as a female activity. Individual medieval writers, such as the authors ´╗┐ of the Malleus, who as we have seen linked love magic to women have attracted attention, ´╗┐and Richard Kieckhefer has also pointed out that women were more likely than men to ´╗┐be accused of doing love magic in trial records. Scholars have varied in how they interpret this information. On the one hand, Kieckhefer emphasizes that although women were more likely than men to be accused, this does not mean they were necessarily more likely ´╗┐to do love magic in practice: rather, men may have found it more convenient than women ´╗┐to blame their sexual transgressions on magic, and they may also have been more able to ´╗┐make the authorities take their allegations seriously...However, as these examples show, it is extremely difficult to write´╗┐ about certain forms of magic as womenÔÇÖs magic because most of the surviving sources were ´╗┐written by men rather than by the women themselves. It is therefore almost impossible to know how far they reflect a genuine difference in practice and how far they draw on the ´╗┐ kinds of stereotypes about women, sex and magic discussed in the previous section.

So even love and sex magic as a feminine practice is a murky question at best. Even more to the point, many of the other classic practices connected to the Folk Witches as describe in Hedge Magic lack gender connotations. Flight is one that is clearly genderless. Healing and dowsing for items are two others:

...the sources that often do not present healing or divination as particularly male or female activities (in contrast to their depictions of women doing love magic or men calling up demons)...other forms of magic, such as healing or finding stolen goods, were linked to men and women in roughly equal numbers.

The author and the scholars she cites locate the feminization of folk magic in the Late Middle Ages - after Ars' conventional start date - and it still wasn't a completed process until the Early Modern and the accompanying (in)famous growth and institutionalization of witch trials:

In a study of late medieval witch trials published in 1976, Richard Kieckhefer noted that ´╗┐around two-thirds of the accused were women, and that the proportion of women accused, ´╗┐compared to men, rose during the fifteenth century. More recent work on fifteenth-century Swiss trial records has sought to bring greater nuance to this picture and has stressed that ´╗┐although a general ÔÇťfeminizationÔÇŁ of witchcraft did take place in this period, the numbers of ´╗┐ men and women brought to trial varied considerably between regions. In some areas, men ´╗┐ continued to outnumber women even at the end of the fifteenth century. These studies have ´╗┐ also shown the extent to which the gendering of trials depended on whether the witches were ´╗┐ tried by a secular or ecclesiastical tribunal, though the impact of this also varied. Susanna ´╗┐BurghartzÔÇÖs comparison of trials in Lausanne and Lucerne has found that, contrary to what´╗┐ we might assume about clerical misogyny, the proportion of women in witchcraft trials conducted by the secular authorities in Lucerne was far higher than in trials conducted by the ´╗┐ inquisitors in Lausanne. This was not always the case, however, and Kathrin Utz Tremp found the opposite pattern in late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Freiburg: in towns and before inquisitors, women appeared in greater numbers, whereas in the countryside and´╗┐ before secular tribunals, men outnumbered women. The picture is one of local diversity ´╗┐within a general trend towards ÔÇťfeminizationÔÇŁ.

While it's certainly true that magi are still likely to look down their noses at the hedgie peasant magic of Folk Witches, there's no need to tie the magic to femininity (and its inherent connections to relative status in the world of 1200s Western Eurasia.) This is a pretty harmless example, since there's been a lot of work done by folks who consider themselves to be modern day practitioners of similar historical magical traditions to reclaim so-called women's magic from the negative connotations attached to it and the entry in Hedge Magic is certainly sympathetic to the Folk Witches, but historians have already gone and done one better - those strongly gendered connections to "weaker and ruder" peasant magic simply don't seem to have existed in the 1200s!


Primarily the only area where gendered magic makes sense is in religion linked magic. It can be seen here in everything from the most ancient fertility cults to many modern religions. Here the religion places a restriction on the gender. Since users of these forms of magic are members of that faith, it is unlikely that they would break convention.

There would also be some degree in magic forms found in very segmented groups. An example of this would be the Learned Magicians. Here any gendering would be more of a side effect, since the group would primarily draw members from the very segmented group. This is not to say that there would not be female Learned Magicians, just that they do not fit into the segmented group and would thus be the exception. While not directly pertinent to gendering, the nature of their recruiting group would also remove many social classes and (depending on region) ethic groups from the recruited pool.

However folk magic is a (semi) formalized peasant magic that is widely spread throughout ME. Part of it seems to trace to the village wise one, which could just as easily have been a man as a woman. Even the write-up of Folk Witches in HMRE has "old women and men" in its second sentence when talking about them.

Maybe my group is weird or we watched the "Warlock" movies to much growing up, but the Folk Witches in our game are only slightly imbalanced towards women.


Aother aspect of magic gendering is the question of disenfranchisement. For example if learned magicians are predominantly male (which given the educational system of the time they would be) then a system of magic which admitted women would find themselves pursued by a greater number of female practitioners who cannot join the ranks of the learned magicians. Toss in your clerical based wizards who believe their holy status as a representative of the church makes base magic safe for them, but who are again predominantly male, plus a few cultural stereotypes such as were seen in ancient Norse cultures which associate magic with being unmanly and the existence of a predominantly female tradition makes a lot more sense.


Rider's article does point out, like you did here, that "learned magic" did actually seem to skew male for reasons of access:

These manuscripts demonstrate how socially restricted an activity learned magic must have been. Reading a magical text or carrying out one of the operations described in them required literacy in Latin, access to books and sometimes knowledge of the liturgy. These skills and opportunities were gendered and men were far more likely to possess them than women. Moreover, only certain men had these skills: clergy and others with some education. In 1997, an early, influential study of ritual magic by Richard Kieckhefer suggested that magical texts were owned and read by a particular social group, a ÔÇťclerical underworldÔÇŁ* consisting of men such as university students in minor orders, priests who did not have a regular, full-time position in a parish church, monks and friars. These men all had some education and knowledge of the liturgy, as well as the spare time to experiment with magical texts.

So gendering as a side effect, yeah. There are several exceptions listed as well but they prove the rule. Rider does question how much this really affected women's access to male-gendered magic, pointing out that a roughly equal amount of the hiring of these magically trained clerical types seems to have been done by noblewomen when compared to their male counterparts in Southern France.

I suppose it would be reasonable to think this could have a sort of inverse effect on folk practice, like @silveroak suggests, but the loose collection of practices that later get bound into the category of witchcraft seemed to be essentially even or even still skewed male in large parts of continental Europe.

The Nordic gendering of specific magical practice in 1220 does seem to be on an accelerated timeline (so to speak) so that's a solid point. I actually followed up on a reference to Mitchell's Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages in Rider's paper which talks a bit about how stark of a change this reversal of existing gendering was in its own context as well.

In line with the earlier work of´╗┐ Fogelklou Norlind, Jochens interprets the seeresses and sorceresses of Icelandic literature as reflecting a social reality, one in which there was a gradual´╗┐ displacement under Christianity of female practitioners by males: ÔÇśÔÇśWomen´╗┐ were the original and remained the most powerful magicians, whereas men´╗┐ gained access only later and never attained parity with women, either in numbers or power.ÔÇÖÔÇÖ Indeed, Jochens argues that the entire range of activities´╗┐ associated with wisdomÔÇöritual magic, divination, and so onÔÇöhad once been´╗┐ dominated by women.


On the topic of Nordic sorcerers, I have no source for this but "was told by a Finnish historian over drinks" but apparently no women were burned at the stake for witchcraft for a long period in Finland as they did not believe that women had the magic powers, only men. The wikipedia article on it is unsurprisingly short.

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I disagree.

Roughly speaking, in medieval (and ancient, and modern!) society, we can roughly divide practitioners of the supernatural into two main classes, that for lack of a better term I shall call "professional" and "casual".

"Professionals" are those whose social position is tied to their supernatural practice, and whose practice is restricted to those in that social position - the best example being priests. Roughly speaking, in common perception their supernatural practice requires deeper learning and is more "powerful" (I mean, it's their full-time job!).

"Casual" practitioners are those whose social position and main occupation is typically not tied to their supernatural practice, and whose practice is generally accessible to large strata of the population whom we would think of as primarily something other than magicians. This is exactly what folk witches are: every folk witch can take another social status that describes her place in society, and typically supports herself in other ways - by being a housewife, noblewoman, nun etc. Their magic is usually (but far from always) perceived, as you said, as "weaker and cruder".

Professional magic is often only accessible by a particular sex, but only insofar as its "profession" is accessible solely by that sex. The reason why women can't practice druid magic is that women can't be druids.

As for casual magic, however, there is a lot of evidence that at least in northern Europe in 1220 most casual magic is women's stuff. Rather than trusting "historians" who deal with anachronistic witch trials (a most uncommon thing in 1220), I suggest reading yourselves the sagas of the icelanders. Composed between the 1100s and the 1300s, they typically detail events having taken place a few decades to maybe 1-2 centuries earlier, in specific places and to specific people whose later-day descendants could often be readily identified. Crucially, they are not "mythic": the men and women whose stories they tell are very ... mundane, in some sense. E.g. they bring lawsuits against each other for inheritances, squabble about cattle or field markers, or bribe their way into influential positions that they then exploit through blatant nepotism. One gets a strong sense of a "realistic" picture of the world. But the supernatural is very real, and considered a normal part of life: e.g. some person might be a reputed skinchanger.

In the sagas, many (though by no means most) women of all social roles are described as "well-versed" or "accomplished" in magic. It's a trait that's attached to them even when we get only a one-line description, as "she was very beautiful, and accompllished in the ways of magic" or "he married a woman of good birth, with a strong character; ... was her name and she was well-versed in magic." Note that these are casual magicians: their magical abilities are described as one might say that a man was a capable fighter (and just as in that case you get a sense it's a combination of talent and learning) as a side note about his being a Lawspeaker, or a lowly farmhand.

But we get nothing of the sort for any man in the 10+ sagas I have read, with the exception of the ability (almost exclusive to men, and almost exclusively inborn) to take the characteristics of violent beasts such as bears or wolves - whether by shapechanging into them, being possessed by their spirit in battle, etc. (It could also be argued that both men and women sometimes have the power of prophecy, though it's not really different from that of intelligent people correctly guessing the far-reaching consequences of a situation, and it's not something that requires "ritual" as in most divinatory practices).

Summarizing: In many areas of Mythic Europe, I think it's quite reasonable to assume as HMRE does that folk witches can only be women (with some notable exceptions). Just as it's quite reasonable to assume that knights can only be men. It's a social restriction. To a very rough approximation, "casual" magic is widely considered women's business, just like disemboweling other people is considered men's business!

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The Routledge text, quoted above, actually indicates that a lot of the composition and reading of "magical texts" are done by semi-professionals or professionals without fully active positions - folks like clerks or priests in between positions - educated but with time on their hands, as it were. But yeah def.

Sure. Did get mentioned above under learned magic, I believe.

I think the scare quotes are a bit strange here - the people I've cited, Dr. Catherine Rider from the Routledge book and Dr. Stephen Mitchell from Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages are eminent scholars of their fields, a quick Google could confirm that. They're most certainly historians. Who should we trust for specific historical analysis if not leading historians of that topic? Actually, if you bother to read Dr. Mitchell's 2011 book (the man, btw, is a professor of Scandinavian History and Folklore at Harvard) - you'll find he deals extensively with saga literature in his survey of period magic. The idea that he wouldn't is...pretty absurd. Witch trials are used primarily as a way to track the process of general "feminization" in what you term casual magic, so necessarily it would be looking at a period after - it's concerned with how we got to this position. Besides even that, there are trials from the early 1200s in the Nordic context. Not as common or as systemized, but they exist.

As someone in the field (of history, that is), I find the sentiment of ignoring secondary sources to "look at the texts" to be a wrongheaded thought. Much of the work of historians today is using a wide variety of other sources and tools to engage with texts previously treated uncritically - an example from my own work is how the genre of decline literature in the Ottoman Empire, typically written by disgruntled unsuccessful bureaucrats with specific motives in mind like Mustafa Ali Efendi and Koci Beg, helped provide some of the seeds for the birth of the now discredited Ottoman Decline Thesis. Mitchell discusses a similar effect concerning his engagement with the Norse sagas, which I personally found pretty intelligent and reasonable. I think it's worth the read - deals with the "what about the sagas" questions quite well.

ScandinaviaÔÇÖs medieval literature is famously rich, and anyone looking to´╗┐ discover Nordic attitudes toward witchcraft in the Middle Ages will naturally´╗┐ want to use it as a witness. After all, it reflects considerable preoccupation´╗┐ with issues of magic and witchcraft, greater than many other Western traditions. But what sort of testimony do the narrative materials from that world´╗┐ provide? Are they to be regarded as statements about what medieval Icelanders and other ScandinaviansÔÇöor perhaps their forebearsÔÇöactually thought´╗┐ about magic and witchcraft, or are they tendentious documents written for´╗┐ the very purpose of shaping what their readers and other audience members´╗┐ should think, or yet again, are they some other sort of mediating alternative?´╗┐ How then are we to understand the considerable literary resources of the´╗┐ later Nordic Middle Ages when looking to interpret attitudes toward magic´╗┐ and witchcraft in that period? In my opinion they represent an extraordinary´╗┐ research opportunity to be neither ignored, at one extreme, nor simply accepted at face value, at the other, but are rather a tool to be used with due´╗┐ caution. Jenny Jochens wisely remarked some years ago that even though they´╗┐ are not spotless mirrors of bygone eras, the Icelandic sagas ÔÇśÔÇścan tell us what´╗┐ the thirteenth-century authors wanted their audiences to believe about past´╗┐ behavior. . . .ÔÇÖÔÇÖ. Also important to bear in mind is that although we as modern readers´╗┐ are naturally drawn to the brilliance of the Icelandic sagas, given their originality, well-told tales, and promise of shedding light on the Middle Ages´╗┐ (especially when set against the comparatively dim wattage of many other´╗┐ medieval literatures), these texts were by no means the only, or even the´╗┐ main, sort of narratives known throughout late medieval Scandinavia. Indeed, many different forms of narrative materialsÔÇösaintsÔÇÖ lives and translated´╗┐ romances, of course, but also histories, moralizing tales, even sermons and´╗┐ private prayer booksÔÇöalso represent important, if generally less original,´╗┐ sources of information. These too are taken up here in order to provide a´╗┐ more complete impression of how magic and witchcraft were presented and´╗┐ shaped in the spiritual culture of medieval Scandinavia.

In any case, Rider's work discussed histories of magic from primarily Central-Western Europe when she pointed out that current research indicates a general lack of gender association in what could be called Western European folk magic traditions - which is what the Folk Witches in Ars are based on, so the sagas are sort of pointless as examples here anyways. She instead looked at clerical literature from the 1200s in a section which is cited above, as an example. When I looked at Mitchell's book, you'll note that he actually agreed that magic was gendered - but the crucial difference in Mitchell's explanation, the sort of magic that was gendered changed significantly. What you call professional magic was actually once the province of women and increasingly shifted out of that province. This is drawn from Dr. Jenny Jochens' work Old Norse Images of Women - which comes to this conclusion specifically through its analysis of "the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, and Old Norse prose narratives and law" - again indicating that no actual scholar is somehow ignoring the textual resources, just looking at them through more complex critical lenses than we did in the past.


I was referring to the post immediately above mine:

Ah, my apologies! Hopefully my post still did address some of your concerns about the use of the sagas and the question more generally.

Not... really.

The icelandic sagas are certainly not the only source of information we have, but they are one of the most unbiased we have about the contemporary (N.B. to the authors) perception of this stuff.

It's a specious argument to say that they are not accurate because their authors wanted to present a biased view of the world of the previous century, as evinced by the fact that they are not accurate on everything. It's specious because this is a very minor "everyday" detail that authors did not really have any interest in misrepresenting: there's very good reason to assume that's how the believed the world worked - both the world of the previous century and even more so their world in 1220. In this sense, what we read about magic is an accurate representation of the authors' perceptions for the same reason that what we read about ship-building is an accurate representation of the authors' perceptions.

I would agree they can't be taken as a reliable souce of information on, say, the personality of Harald tangle-hair (because of the political bias), just as I agree that the Edda can't be taken at face value (because it's Mythical, unlike the sagas).

Obviously, we know that people did not turn into animals :slight_smile: On the other hand, christian miracles as retold by christian monks ... hmmm, that is a very specious source of information for the perceived "normal" practice of magic, in that it's exceedingly biased.

Finally, let me finish with one crucial point.

Folk witch magic as "strictly" presented in HMRE mechanics corresponds to no 1220 "folk magic practice" we know of today: it's a bunch of mystical practices never found all together, and some of them anachronistic. But if we look a little beyond the specifics, i.e. to casual (in the sense above) practice of magic, particularly through concotions, simple ritual objects, and simplle ritual formulas, illiterate (or not necessarily literate), widely available to all strata of society and not particularly powerful, then I still stand by my previous assertion: it's more historically accurate to make them mostly restricted to women than to make them equally accessible to men and women. Debating this in all the detail necessary is, however, far beyond the effort I want to put into this thread :slight_smile:
Though I do commend your efforts!

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That's an odd takeaway from the passage. They do draw on the sagas and heavily at that, Dr. Jochens is actually famous for presenting one of the most significant defenses of the sagas as historically useful sources in contemporary Norse studies (the reputability of the saga evidence for a wide variety of content took a hard beating in past decades of Norse studies research - the modern position of critical acceptance is something of a happy medium.) Actually, Mitchell directly counters the idea that even relatively mundane detail (one example used is cow breeds mentioned briefly and in passing) wasn't the site of serious alteration in the name of particular stated or unstated agendas. I feel like if you took the time to engage with the work of the experts here, you'd see the nuance they use in approaching sources to formulate these arguments.

I mean, you're welcome to stand by whatever point you like, but I think you should source your arguments if you expect them to be taken seriously. Generally, from my own experiences in this line of work, I'm going to trust scholarly interpretations of sources over untrained readings of source texts. With that in mind, I've presented the opinions of some of the most eminent scholars of medieval magic above, who (despite disagreements as to the limits of the argument and where it can be applied) consider many (if not most) of the actual magical activities grouped into the Ars Folk Witch category and peasant magics as a very broad general category to be much less female-associated in the 1200s than is conventionally believed.

That's very fair. Thank you and likewise, I'm always happy to see the depth of engagement over these questions of accuracy here on the Ars forums.


The "historian" in question was, at the time, doing his PhD in early modern Finnish history.

As of 1220, Finland was not yet part of Sweden but still independent and free from written sources. The witch burnings would indeed have been something happening later.


While there's no need, there is a certain sense to it.

While I have not studied university level history, I like to think I have a grasp of the basics. One of the continuing themes is men oppressed women. From biblical accounts such as the Benjamite war (kidnapping 400 virgins as sex slaves/wives), to the terrifying modern day statistics regarding domestic violence murders, women have consistently been oppressed by men.

In a world where magic is actually real, it is one of the rare ways a women can get an edge over a male.

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Don't get me wrong, I love the Folk Witches as presented in Hedge Magic, and I agree that there's a logic one can follow along with that underlies said presentation. Like I mentioned somewhere up-thread, the idea of more neutral or positive spins on what early modern W. Europe (handed down to us in a number of ways ofc) categorized as women's magic is one that has a lot of resonance with folks for a wide variety of reasons - turning the existing connotations on their head and portraying the longstanding connections to femininity as a source of symbolic strength can be very powerful, no doubt. I still remember how deeply the way Le Guin's execution of this concept in the Earthsea Cycle affected me when I was a young dumb boy (instead of the somewhat less young, somewhat less dumb, boy you see today), from the groundwork laid in the beginning of the very first book explicitly and implicitly through comparisons of Ged's witch aunt and his first true master Ogion, all the way to the short story The Finder which revealed just how central a role women played in the establishment of Roke after books of indication that the official school narrative may not be the whole story. Far be it from me, some internet dude, to say that the Folk Witches as a vehicle for similar experiences are "doing it wrong" or anything.

With that in mind, though, I think one of Ars Magica's strengths is that - alongside all the fun fantasy content - it treats its historical setting(s) with respect. The 1200s aren't a medieval pastiche in Ars, but are written with considerable effort put into explaining the unique features of the period concerning the given region or subject. When we backproject the gender prejudices of later centuries onto 1200s understandings of the vast array of magical traditions as practiced by peasantries in W. Europe, even with the intent to subvert that prejudice, it robs the game of one of its characteristic features by shoving the 1200s into boxes defined by other eras. The 1200s were often less racist/misogynistic/etc in certain aspects when compared to the periods that immediately follow than whiggish conceptions of history as a broadly unidirectional march of progress would lead us to think. A period accurate tradition allows us to get at other questions that arise more naturally, like class or the nature of education as defining boundaries of magical practice. The nature of Ars, if anything, sharpens this by even removing the inherent gendering of the most professional and powerful magicians on the continent - the Order is rather equal opportunity for its time - thus going even further than the historical 1200s in stripping the question of "peasant magics" of this gendered dynamic. Again, I don't think it's wrong to want to play the tradition that way, but I think the historical period has a lot to offer in the way of creative and thought-provoking story ideas for Folk Witch characters that still allow the 1200s to act as a setting with its own dynamics and not just a "vague medieval time."


This has been interesting. I'm noting one significant thing being overlooked, though: the Gift. I'm pretty sure you won't find that listed historically. That can make a big difference in numbers, though not as big a difference as it would if all the traditions required the Gift.

To see what I'm saying, let's suppose the Gift is required. Suddenly the number of possible hedge magi decreases dramatically. If you then remove from that pool any group for one tradition, those remaining with the Gift to join other traditions will skew away from that group. So, if Learned Magicians take far more Gifted males than females, there will be more Gifted females remaining for other groups to select from.

While we could argue the same thing in general while ignoring the Gift, the number removed from the whole pool (all of Europe) is too small compared to the size of the population of Europe to make a noticeable impact. So the next question that shows up is just how valuable the Gift is to certain traditions. In the case of Vitkir, for example, it is required, and they mostly train men. That would leave far more Gifted women available in that area for other traditions. Meanwhile, Gifted practitioners are quite valuable even when the Gift isn't required, as they can maintain a much greater breadth of skill and access to things than can their unGifted counterparts.

Exactly how big an impact all this will have will probably vary from saga to saga, but its very existence should be noted.

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One obvious point here- ars magica is in a world where surveys are unheard of, and some folk witches may be in hiding. Simply changing the wording to "apparently" from being an absolute can allow for all kinds of possibilities, including male folk witches hiding their magic to preserve their place in society.

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And this is one of so many examples that I've come to consider Renaissance as the true Dark Age.

For instance, Law was necessary to standardize habits and customs of peasants, but that was done through the eyes of the powerful and destroyed the common will of the people.

Also, wheat production was just as good in the 1200s as in the 1800s. It took a hard dive in between and needed a few centuries of steady improvement to regain what was lost.


If we assume The Gift is gender-neutral. Which is a necessary condition for the Mythic MA we want to have.

A lot of that had to do with the climate. Europe had an unusually warm period between c. 950-1250, followed by an unusually cold period from c. 1300-1850.


This is a good point, but one thing Ezzelino mentioned above that I do agree with is that the Folk Witches seem to be representative of a relatively casual tradition in which Gifted practitioners, as useful as they are, are not as central to their typical functions when compared to many if not most other traditions. Folk witch grogs are a great example.

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