secondary status, certain aspects of Puritan theology and practice prepared women for a more active role. All believers, male and female, were to engage in spiritual introspection, and in particular to focus on their experience of conversion. This experience was an indication that one was among the elect, and in more established Puritan communities such as those of New England it became a requirement for membership in a congregation. A particularly dramatic conversion could give one a certain amount of power, especially if it resulted in the healing of an illness or a continuing experience of divine revelation. Women's conversion narratives are often very personal and physical, such as that of Sarah Wight published as The Exceeding Riches of Grace Advanced (London, 1647): 'Now I have my desire; I desired nothing but a crucified Christ and I have him; a crucified Christ, a naked Christ; I have him and nothing else ... I am so full of the Creator, that I now can take in none of the Creature. I am filled with heavenly Manna.'2 Though Wight appears in some ways as passive, she is discussing her own spiritual development publicly in a way that was new for Protestant women. Nuns were the only other women whose spiritual growth and trials had been viewed as important, though not even Saint Teresa of Avila's autobiography made it into print during her lifetime.
Puritans viewed prayer as an active force that could influence state affairs. Puritan women (and men) privately and publicly prayed for certain political changes, and were firmly convinced that prayer aided one's family, community, and political allies. For Puritans, who had rejected the efficacy of exorcism, group prayer was the most powerful weapon in cases ofpossession, and many tracts report on the efficacy of such prayers against that worst of enemies, Satan.
Women's prayers and conversion narratives often grew into more extended prophecies in seventeenth-century England, some of which were described by others (often hostile to the woman or the message) and some of which were published by the women themselves. Lady Eleanor Douglas, for example, published thirty-seven pamphlets during her life, despite frequent imprisonments for sedition. Female prophets were occasionally criticized for speaking out publicly on political and religious matters, but they had Old Testament and classical precedents for what they were doing, and were usually viewed in the way they viewed themselves - as mouthpieces of God, as, in the words of some, 'impregnated with the Holy Spirit'. Women who went beyond prophecy to actual preaching also emphasized the strength of their calling, but this was not enough in the eyes of most observers to justify such a clear break with the deutero-Pauline injunction forbidding women to teach. It is difficult to know how common female preaching actually was during the Civil War decades,
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