The 14th and 15th centuries saw a dramatic change in the presentation of magic and its practitioner in both literature and life in England. In the 14th century, texts depict both men and women practicing magic, suggesting that magic was not perceived to be a subversive threat to mainstream orthodox Catholic society. But by the middle of the 15th century, this has changed dramatically: men perform miracles, which come through heavenly powers, while women practice magic, which arises from the earth. Fuelled by the anti-feminism of the Church, this leads to the marginalised, and later demonised of women who were accused of practicing magic.
Mystics Christina of Markyate, Christina the Astonishing, and Margery Kempe experienced visions that led to what many saw as unorthodox behaviour. While their spirituality allowed them to occupy alternative spaces, their disengagement from conventional roles forced them to retreat into confining spaces for their protection – behind tapestries, within walls, in tree tops, and inside ovens. Their spiritual inclinations ultimately led to incarceration as they were locked in rooms, bound, or chained. Examination of the physical spaces they occupied reveals the anxiety of the community with lay piety and the need to restrict the women physically, as well as the mystics’ resistance of this control.