Jacobean Witchcraft Drama in Three Library Classification Schemes: BISAC, DDC and LCC

My professional work often coincides with my scholarly work, which is of course influenced by my personal interests. Here is an example of the examination of witchcraft in a very specific sense in Library Cataloging. (You may or may not find this interesting, but I was pleased with how it came out).



Witchcraft is a topic that can be studied and approached in a variety of ways: it is a religion, an important presence in folkloric, anthropological and sociological studies, and has great relevance in historical contexts. But witchcraft has an important place in Jacobean drama that is separate from these larger topics. In looking at the witch in early modern drama and literature, the witch becomes an important symbol of danger, power and influence. Jacobean audiences were terrified of the witch present in their midst, but had also began to see the witch as a metaphor for many of the things that were wrong in their society. The witch’s power came not from her magic, but from her words and her ability to influence events (DeVoe, 2015). Because of this, the witch as a part of the larger scheme of Jacobean drama is significant and needs to be categorized as an import subject in its own right. This paper will look at how the witch in Jacobean drama is treated in three library classification schemes: Library of Congress Classification (LCC), Dewey Decimal Classification (DCC), and Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) classification.  Given the nature of the topic, the discussion will focus on the relevance and effectiveness of these classification schemes for use in the academic library.

Background and History:

The idea of a woman’s unruly tongue is an important idea in Jacobean and early modern drama. Penny Gay says in her discussion of the unruly woman that: “Any occurrence of evil is seen as disrupting, or rather disobeying, these persuasive rhythms, and a scapegoat figure will usually, in the course of the play’s plot be expelled from the community represented on stage so that at the end we may join in, via our proxies the actors, the dance or feast which signals the communities confidence in its self-ordering” (Gay, 2002, pg. 2). Women and their ability to speak became a major focus of the writing and performance of this era. Women could disrupt the entire community and influence major events that should have been well outside their control. The eponymous three witches in Macbeth are iconic. We are told that they are witches and throughout the play they do very scary, witch-like things, but in the end, the worst thing they do is foretell Macbeth’s destiny. Without their vocalization of the possibilities of his future, would Macbeth ever have attempted to become king? We are led to believe that he would not have done so without the influence of women’s words in his ear. This is a theme that is repeated constantly throughout the drama of the period.

Through these works, the construction of gender relations and social behavior of women in this time period began to show distinct demarcations between “normal” female behavior and the practice of witchcraft. Women who operated outside of society’s strict boundaries became dangerous. Stephanie Irene Spoto points out that “It seems easy to believe that witches were simply the unfortunate victims of a misogynist woman-hunt or of an oppressive patriarchal religion, but to ignore the subcurrents of evidence pointing towards the possibility of witchcraft constructed as an empowering aspiration during the witch-hunts is to ignore the possibility that things stand not in the perfect dichotomy of victim /aggressor or good-guy /bad-guy” (Spoto, 2010, pg. 53). Suddenly, women were not simply creatures that functioned solely as instruments of the men around them. They became both complicated individuals, and threats to social order. When a woman spoke independently, her words had to be defended and proved to be normative and not witchlike (Gay, 2002). This sudden change in the potential of the female heavily influenced many major works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Law itself was affected by the idea of the witch. Many treatises were written concerning witchcraft, and significant effort was put into writings on how a witch could be identified and then legally dealt with. Numerous pamphlets appeared with news of witches and their interrogations. Much of the reported dialogue of actual interrogations began to appear in drama, lifted for the purpose of commenting on the hierarchy and ruling class of Jacobean society. James I himself was terrified of witches, believing that they had tried to kill him on his passage across the channel. His Demonology was a poor replication of the infamous Malleus Malificarum. Elizabeth I had been a beloved ruler who openly embraced the occult: with James I’s ascension to the throne, his overt fear and hysteria of witchcraft began the first open criticism of the witch trials, which were seen as an analogy for the senseless fear and bloodshed that had been occurring in English society (DeVoe, 2015). By showing the witch to be a creature worthy of empathy with and pity, writers began to turn this dangerous language back on those who were victimizing both the witch and the lower classes of England.

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Gender Respect in the Pagan Community

For this post, I’ll be referring back to my last blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue”, so if you’re confused or want to see the actual comments that I’m talking about, please go back to it.

I wanted to expand a little on my last post, because one thing became clear to me from all of the responses that I received was that what we should be talking about in the Pagan community, instead of “modesty”,  is respect.

One of the comments that I received was from a woman that said that she dressed modestly because of how Pagan men approached her. She said essentially that a lot of Pagan men assumed that because she was Pagan, she was “easy” and she was made extremely uncomfortable by this sort of attention. This is not uncommon. I too have had similar experiences. Whether you cover fully or wear nothing at all, you should never be made to feel uncomfortable at our gatherings.

My S.O. has a story about a man in the Pagan community who would go to Pagan festivals and single out the young women who were new to the Pagan community, essentially saying something to the effect of, “Hey! You’re Pagan now. You’re expected to sleep around! Why not start with me?”. Apparently, he was well known for doing this in the community. This man was actually shot and killed later on. He was staying with friends and someone walked into the house and murdered him. They never discovered who did it, but everyone assumed that he had gone after the wrong woman and a person in her life had decided to violently retaliate for the harm he caused. My question to this story is this: why didn’t we, as a community, see what this man was doing and take him aside and tell him that what he was doing was inappropriate and harmful to the community? That somewhere there would be consequences to him, as well as the emotional upset to the women he going after?

PaganDad was incensed that he took his children to a Pagan event and they had to witness BDSM when he, as their parent, didn’t think that that was something his children should witness and that it was not age appropriate. Most festivals will cordon off areas where adult behavior is appropriate and set these apart from where the children are or allowed. I still think this isn’t a “modesty” issue. It was disrespectful of the festival to blatantly disregard what parents would consider to be age appropriate. The festival didn’t take “respect” into consideration. And PaganDad is right to point out that we need to think about how newcomers and outsiders are going to react to these situations. If we don’t take respect into consideration, we are going to lose people who might otherwise join our community.

When PaganSoccerMom tells me that I’m missing the point because  “clothing made for little boys aren’t generally created to make them look sexual beyond their years”, I strongly disagree. I think that little boys get it just as much as little girls do. When little girls are being given Brittany Spearsesque clothing, little boys are getting pants that sit down well below their waist lines to show off their underwear and wife beater shirts to emulate rockers and gangsters. Doesn’t anyone see that this is clearly having the same effect on them? The boys who robbed my Significant Other and I (who are around the ages of fifteen and sixteen) have grown up in this culture, and they are expected to become like the men in their lives. They have been in and out of juvie, they have been under house arrest and the cops all know them. This behavior didn’t start last night, it started with behaviors they were taught that would gain them acceptance in their community. These boys already have blatant disrespect for the women in our neighborhood. How we teach our little boys and young men to act in regards to nudity and modesty is just as vitally important as how we teach to the girls.

PaganSoccerMom also commented that:

“As for my deliberately”not getting it” on the point that dressing our girls in an age-appropriate way is telling them that “teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies”, I think we do that every day. We teach them to not walk down dark alleys. Not to leave their drinks unattended. To walk in groups. All these are, at least to me, part and parcel (along with wearing age-appropriate clothing) ways to help keep them safe. There are bad people out there that will do bad things and we have to do things to help keep ourselves safe.”

What she is still missing is that we live in a rape culture. While we tell little girls not to get raped, we don’t tell our boys not to rape, and this is what needs to change. And instead of reacting to it in the Pagan community with the old monotheistic notion of “modesty” (look at the example of the Middle East to see how that’s worked out for everyone involved), we need to address the larger issue of respect, and how both sexes need to deal with each other. I, as a woman, should be able to walk down a dark alley completely naked and not have to worry about a predator jumping out and violating me. Now, I know that we don’t live in a perfect world and while this is the ideal, as a woman, I do avoid dark alleys and I don’t leave my drinks unattended, but if we ever want to make it to this ideal, we need to start by teaching our children that you need to respect women.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that we ignore the men in our community. That the Pagan community is not always masculine friendly. There’s the old joke that our priests are just altar boys that are there to assist the priestess. My S.O. has a book out called “The Flowering Rod“, which is about men’s roles in spirituality. His contract with his original publisher is up and he is shopping it around to some of the bigger Pagan publishers, who all keep telling him that no one wants to read about men’s issues in Paganism and that they are only publishing things marketed to women. How can we be a healthy community when we ignore half of our community?

One of the things that initially drew me to Paganism was that I saw it being a balanced approach to masculinity and feminism. The Christian church became abhorrent to me because of how they told me that as a woman, my health and my issues weren’t important enough to address outside of the patriarchal context. I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist, but one of the things that makes me angry in feminism is when we go so far as to want to exclude men entirely. If we want to have a healthy community, we have to treat men and women equally, and I think that in the Pagan community, we have the unique opportunity to actually do that.

We should not be telling our women to dress more “modestly”, we should be telling everyone that the people of both sexes have the right to be treated with respect on all issues. We need to acknowledge the role that our men play and more fully integrate them into our practices so that they aren’t left standing on the outside of our community. Until we do this, we are going to continue to have problems with the ways men and women interact. And yes, I’m sure we’ll always have bad apples, but women are often just as guilty in their behavior as men are, and until we address the wider issue of gender equality, our community won’t be able to move forward on any of these issues.