Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that’s pretty sure you’re a witchy woman… yoo-hoo witchy woman…
It’s a written joke. About chocolate milk. Patrons will get it…
I’m your host this week, Aaron, and with me is Shea:
I’m Shea, and this week I learned that you can legally kill uninvited guests on your property in Texas but they wont let you get an abortion… This is weird because they are basically the same thing.
Single Fermented Belgian Golden Ale – Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV
Donated by Steve E
Style: Blonde Ale – Belgian
- ABV: 6.8%
- Score: 88
- Aaron- 9
- Shea- 9
Thanks to long-time listener, Steve-E!
Seriously, if you’re Steve-E this is episode like… 400…
We talked about women being, historically speaking, the brewers of our species until very recent history. And we talked about sexist assholes assholing it up assholishly in print. This week, we’re talking about medieval brewing and why it makes you a witch. A brew witch. Not the origin of “brew wench” so, sadly, no corsets in the patron section, but lots of beer fun… if you’re a guy. So sign up for that… I guess.
A few weeks ago, 57 I think, we talked about sexism in brewing and at some point we talked about how brewing used to be “women’s work” but like… in the not-degrogitory way.
That is, until the industry was stolen from them wholesale by the patriarchy.
And I’m even kidding. I talked before about the fact that it happened, today I’m going to talk about one of the tools in the sexism-brewer’s tool belt: calling ladies witches!
So, for nearly 5500 years women have been brewing along just fine. Brewsters, as they would come to be known went from being the tribal matriarch, to the village’s sole source of water that didn’t make you shit yourself to death.
In the 1300’s the women of a home considered brewing one of their key house-hold duties. It was related to food, and therefore “women’s work”, ugh. Around this time they were also called Alewives, a common term for the women who also made beer for other households like Mr. and No-one Incel down the street.
By the 16 and 1700’s what was once for domestic consumption had become a consumer industry. Brewsters were often the center of the town, certainly the market, and it was steadily becoming a profitable position if done at scale.
With that realization came competition. And with competition came… “business practices” not all terrible… yet anyway.
Some of these practices were created by the women. Such as wearing ever-taller hats to stand out in the market. Or using broomsticks above the doorway to signal that a home was also an alehouse. Signs often included the image of large boiling cauldron, an indicator that beer was made therein. They used symbols like a 6-sided star to indicate the highest quality ale. And of course cats were a necessity to prevent the grains from being eaten by mice.
Hopefully, you’re starting to get what I’m laying down. If not, take a look at your phones… tell me Mother Louse there isn’t a bride of Satan, I dare you!
Add to all of this, of course, that the church hates everything fun and booze makes people happy and want to fuck, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for accusing someone of being a witch!
Brewsters began inspiring the iconography of Dooms across Europe–a Doom is a traditional English term for a wall-painting, typically a fresco, of the Last Judgement usually depicting Christ sending people to heaven or their doom like the worst sorting hat ever.
Stories of public houses, or pubs, and the old, unwed, hunched over, cat ladies who ran many became a source of public interest and few sang their virtues.
Poet John Skelton presented disgusting images of rural drinking and drunkenness. Chaucer described alewives as harbingers of sin. And somehow, this was the fault of Brewsters, despite their production of beer being fundamental to society and the alcohol level and quality being pushed higher and higher by the demand of their not just parched, but now also frequently partying, patronage.
Then came the final nail in the coffin, women were making a ton of money at it, ran the industry, and seemingly didn’t need even just one penis to tell them what to do.
A writer for the German Beer Institute muses that:
In a culture where beer defines part of the national character, the question of who controls the brew is paramount. He who has his hand on the levers of power, also has his thumb in the people’s beer mug.
So now Brewsters are witches and burning them is preferable to buying their beer.
Except that the Inquisitions were in high gear and knowing how to make stuff was bad enough, but to make stuff in a cauldron while in possession of a vagina was literally punishable by death.
Of course, I could just be prescribing capitalist sexism where there wasn’t any, right?
No. Of course not. Another major player in women losing their positions was simply what men thought they should be doing with their time. Babies. Babies is what they should be doing.
For example, in 1540 the city of Chester banned women between the ages of 14 and 40 from being alewives in hopes of moving the trade towards women outside of childbearing age.
So there ya go. If you want to take over an industry, use its imagery against it by likening the easiest targets to the devil and away you go.
But hey, at least only the ideologies were radioactive… I mean… until the 1950’s that is.
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A hotter, cholcolatier, witch… it’s hot chocolate. That’s the, thing, in this part of the show that the women make and are then burned at the stake for.
Because of religion.
Coco of various kinds has played a key role in many South American and Native American traditions, sure, but it took the Inquisition to turn it into a murdery affair.
Gastro Obsucra, which is a great site by the way, illustrates the trouble with a story I’ll summarize with the power of word smithing…
A young woman in Santiago de Guatemala, Mechora de los Reyes, falls preggers but alas is unwed and her lover is a non-committal tool-bag. So she consults a hechizera who can use their magic to turn pre-industrial sugar manufacturing hot coco—because the ye-oldies can ruin literally everything—into a love potion. He drinks the terrible, bitter, probably spiced, Swedish Chocolatierless, sludge down but instead of falling “subject to her will” the inquisition unexpectedly appears and tries her as a witch.
Sadly, not knowing the weight of a chocolate duck, her fate will forever be a mystery…
The imagined De los Reyes would have been one of many real women whom the Spanish colonial government in Latin America tried on charges of witchcraft—specifically, by practicing magic through the bewitchment of hot chocolate.
Apparently, it was common enough to require its own historically visible sub-clause. Who knew ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Martha Few, a Penn State history and gender studies professor of gender, religion, and medicine in colonial Latin America first spotted the trend.
“I just noticed in the Inquisition testimonies chocolate coming up quite a lot”
As with brewing, cooking, and kitchen-chemistry in other areas chocolate making in Central American was the job of the women of the home or village. The Codex Tudela, an Aztec document produced after colonization, depicts the practice of pouring coco into a pot to mix and froth it.
It was, apparently, as common a drink as coffee is now or tea was… ever. Unfortunately, European fears about women mixing things were also as popular then as…. ever.
The traditions of women making coco and the fears of colonizers quickly butted heads “It also became this flashpoint between social conflicts that were racial and gender conflicts,” says Few.
The colonial governments cracked down on Brujeria, or witchcraft, based on these fears, then used those laws and superstitions to eliminate indigenous traditions as they’d done in some areas of Africa. Fortunately, in Latin America, many communities continued to practice in secret, saving their traditions from going the way of the dodo.
Preparing the drink was a long, multi-step process. Like beer there is a process of fermentation, but first the cacao beans needed to be harvested, roasted, ground, and mixed with water, spices, and often vanilla. The paste this formed was shaped and stored in blocks. Actually making the beverage meant scraping some of this paste into a cup and adding water until it reached the desired consistency. Not a lot of sorcery going on here.
Unlike other traditional practices, like shrooms, cacao wasn’t completely outlawed, instead the Spanish also took up the drink. “By the late 17th century, it’s for sale in the market,” says Few. “People are drinking it every day.” Priests drank chocolate while meeting the faithful, colonial hospitals stocked chocolate for it’s healing properties, and jerk-husbands expected it in the mornings or when arriving home.
Fears of magic were commonplace, especially during the inquisition. “Men would complain that women were bewitching them through food, and they were always suspicious of what they were served,” says Few, “There was burning at the stake and extreme violence used against native people,” still, despite their fears and extremes, men still refused to cook for themselves.
And no, that’s not just a jab at shitty husbands. Juan de Fuentes, a 33-year-old construction worker was having a hard time having a hard time, and also felt oddly compelled to make his wife morning coco… so he reported her to the Inquisition for bewitchment. The court ruled that his limp dick and breakfast in bed “cannot be a natural thing,” and sent her to jail.
Some women became infamous, like Maria de Santa Ines, became known as La Panecito, or The Pastry, for giving men bewitched chocolate pastries.
Records of these women are sparse at best. The Inquisition wasn’t big on record keeping, especially for mere women. But we do know that many died in jail or were executed. Often for little more than doing the jobs they were given, such as making coco. Other times for attempted sorcery, often in the form of trying to use coco to stop husbands from beating them, or unfaithful men from stepping out on them.
All in all, as with the Brewsters, the Chocolate Witches of Central and South America were really only ever guilty of doing what was needed of them well enough to intimidate a man.
I’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-host.
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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