Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reading: January 28, 2009; The Burdens of Sister Margaret

This reading, The Burdens of Sister Margaret by Craig Harline, is the story of a young women Margaret Smulders who leaves her home to join a convent in 1604. After spending two years acclimating as a novice, she is voted in and accepted as a full-fledged member of the house. Margaret pledged to remain at the convent for the remainder of her days, however, ten years later Margaret left the convent. There were many stories that circulated throughout the convent as to why she had left. Many of the other women believed that Margaret had sold her soul to the devil and become a witch. They recounted tales of disturbances and other superstitions that had stopped once Margaret left. After a time, Margaret came out with her story. She claimed that she left the house because of the sexual advances of the convent's confessor, Henri Joos. After investigation, Henri Joos was removed from the convent at Bethlehem and Sister Margret welcomed back, although reluctantly by most.

This reading, quite obviously, deals with the theme of religion. It recounts the life of a nun in early 17th century, showing the reader how life was for a nun at the time. It sheds light on the relationship that existed between women, religion, and witchcraft. At the time it was believed that women were more extreme, and therefore more likely to either be very good (devout nuns) or very bad (witches). In fact 80% of the people charged with witchcraft between 1500-1700 were women. We also learn that people believed there to be a connection between sinful acts welcome in evil spirits and possessions.

Another theme of this reading is categories of difference. There are some facts and statistics mentioned that deal with other locations, but almost entirely, the perspective given is one from the Low Countries (Netherlands).


  1. I would also say that categories of difference apply because Margaret's poor socio-economic background dictated the kind of convent she entered and influenced her social and religious life.

  2. I was thinking that categories of difference also applies because the focus was a convent. There was some discussion of the connection between witchcraft and convents, i.e. the entire convent that was possessed. It discussed, specifically, cloistered women and their susceptibility to things of a diabolical nature.
    Melissa Johnson