From the Heath Where Witches are Kept Alive

Circe offering the cup to odysseus by John William Waterhouse

Now women return from afar, from always; from ‘without’, from the heath where witches are kept alive; from below, from beyond ‘culture’.

– Helen Cixous

In Scotland there are plans to erect a light house on the Firth of Forth in memory of the thousands of women who were murdered because they were accused of witchcraft. An article in the Scottish newspaper says.

“In 1563, the passing of the Scottish Witchcraft Act made witchcraft – or consulting with witches – capital crimes in Scotland, after which thousands of women were publicly accused between the 16th and 18 centuries.”

The photo below is from a recently published interactive map. It tracks more than 3,000 Scots women who were accused of being witches in the 16th and 17th Century.

Scotland was only one country where women were burned at the stake or endured humiliating trials at the hands of the church fathers and the courts. All over Europe the story was repeated.

Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches) is a treatise authorized in 1484 by Pope Innocent VIII – Malleus outlines and sanctions inquisitorial practices to exterminate witches. It ascertained that all witchcraft stemmed from “carnal lust” (quoted in Shuttle and Redgrove, 1978, p.54). In a chapter entitled ‘Nine Million Menstrual Murders’ Shuttle and Redgrove propose that being a woman was enough to be targeted in the campaign:

“In the middle-ages, it scarcely mattered whether you were an organized dissident or not. You were a dissident by being a woman. One aspect of women’s dissidence, so far as men are concerned, is that they magically menstruate, and produce magical blood” (Shuttle and Redgrove 1978, p.204).

The interactive witches map of Scotland is part of a growing trend to resurrect the story of the witch trials, a campaign that is taking root in many places as people come to terms with the ‘gendercide’, that occurred in this dark chapter of human history. From a deep instinctual place people are realizing that although the crimes happened centuries ago, the legacy lives on… sometimes all too painfully in the body memory of women who were the scapegoat of these dark projections and who continue to bear the emotional scarring.

It is time this wound is healed.

Articles like the one in the Scottish newspaper, the interactive map, the light house, the awareness raising of places like Crossbones graveyard in London are all involved in bringing the emaciated and rotting skeleton of crimes against the feminine out of the cultural closet and the shadow of the collective psyche.

And that has got to be a god thing, and yet…

I am ambivalent – on one hand of course it is good that a mass tragedy inflicted on the feminine by the patriarchy is finally being brought to light. On the other hand, there is a danger of bypassing the root of this wound by not addressing and challenging the consciousness that festered in the minds of the church fathers and other upholders of extreme anti- feminine attitudes. Attitudes that one may feasibly question if still exist today.

Is this misogynist consciousness truly healed? Is it true to say that the toxicity that led to this terrible blight has disappeared? Deep beneath the surface of everyday civility and politeness have we truly cleaned out this this wound? Are we now a woman loving culture?

On Canterbury’s river Stour just, a short distance from my house and from the towering Cathedral, a wooden seat is raised a few feet above the water. It is a replica of a torture device affectionately known as the ‘ducking seat’. Its purpose at the time of the witch trials was to plunge women who were suspected witches into the water to determine their innocence or culpability. If the woman drowned, she was not a witch, it she did not drown it proved that she was a witch and she was murdered anyway.

Historically a device of torture now a tourist attraction, symbols like the ducking seat are disturbing reminders of a dark misogynist past that find their way unchallenged into our contemporary landscapes. Will the lighthouse be the same? Will it be a tourist attraction? A photo opportunity? Or will it open the possibility of a gateway into understanding the collective psyche in relation to the feminine?

For me the true healing comes when women clear this vibration from their body-mind-spirit and reclaim their power.

 

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