Riding in the night hours, having sex in the stillness of the dead of night, seduced by illusions of the devil are ways of conduct that describe a witch throughout the centuries. This misogynistic rhetoric nourished by the church suggested that women’s lack of intelligence – an absurd reasoning for the prohibition for them to be educated – made them succumb to demons, when in fact common witchcraft was associated with love, sex, forming friendships, expressing oneself and healing, practiced regardless of the societal norms of sexuality, gender roles, and identities that were heavily imposed by christianity through the fear of the after-life rhetoric. In Medieval Europe, up to 80.000 suspected witches were executed, the majority of them were marginalized women in the sense that they were single, widowed, women that have ceased to please men, women with sexual desires, and women who took on the mantle for self-empowerment, god-forbid. This group of women is not to be related with Wicca, the modern Pagan Witchcraft religious movement part of the occultist stream of Western esotericism, nor with intercontinental healing, spiritual or religious practices and activities; it is merely an oversimplification of one of the many ways that women were dealt with when not complying to male desires or societal propriety.
The publication of ‘’Malleus Maleficarum’’ (The Hammer of Witches) in 1486, a book on how to identify, hunt, imprison and murder the combination of sorcery and heresy that mal-behaved women were, spurred a frenzy across Europe. With that, a fleet of inventions began; wearable and other machines were made to torture women, to extract confessions and satisfaction from their suffering. Both the ubiquity and invisibility of women were precisely why these machines were so deadly, in a political and material manner. See, women understood the webs of power all too well, being that they were oppressed by them; they were in need of ways to survive and keep afloat in the poisonous patriarchy of Medieval times. Thus these machines served a dual purpose; as a sacred signifier of obedience, and as an indication of accordance with the strange, i.e. a woman’s body and her power over it. They were a way to impose or simulate consciousness, a testimony to the fear of the unknown, and the improbable male superiority. The punishers invented wearable machines that would cause pain if the wearer did not behave according to the expected ways. In a sense, they used the alleged sorcerer’s ways against them. Author E.R. Truitt traces the production of automatic machines, automata – greek for self-made-, back to the 3rd century BCE, built in Ancient Egypt. Moving figures and statues of humans, animals, and mythological monsters that used hydraulic and pneumatic engineering, falling weights, and body mechanics were part of pagan pageantry that the church would aggressively renounce. These machines were infinite, consisting of steps and making transitions taking as their argument the previous state – that of stillness – and symbol to transit – usually movement or disobedience – creating a nesting relationship with the wearer, vaguely imitating the inner workings of the Chomsky hierarchy between a set of systems. In that manner, the justification for the torture would fall entirely on the wearer, as the device would react to their actions, instilling the idea of righteous self-harm.
This is the curious case of how corporal punishment and disembodiment became the modus for the existence of a mechanical apparatus within the body that lead to the modern notion of a cyborg, a neo-hybrid multifaceted organism. The leap from torture to pleasure, compulsion to necessity, punishment to reward, is a story for another time.