One social aspect of witchcraft can now more readily be understood. The emphasis in the sources on women’s involvement in sorcery cannot be ignored; even if reduced to more modest proportions, the references are still substantial. The attribution of witchcraft to women derives from the very essence of the traditional society, its social institutions and the human desire for power. Political power was limited to men in antiquity; a few queens reigned but they were negligible minority in the ruling masculine world. Traditional society cut women off from the sources of power and leadership in all fields. Women were excluded from war, which required a man’s physical strength, but were also excluded from serving in the capacity of political or personal advisors which required no physical strength at all. Women, then, were denied access to the sphere of social leadership. This being so, it seems that the tendency among women to practice witchcraft served as a means of expressing the feminine desire for power. As normative society banned women from attaining positions of leadership from within, women would try to overcome the ban and to achieve a different sort of power. Women’s involvement in witchcraft in antiquity expressed their desire to attain a position of power from outside the accepted social institutions that were closed to them.
Meir Bar-Ilan, “Sorceresses”, in Some Jewish Women in Antiquity (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998), 127-128.