It’s been a while since my last post. I attribute this to being busy at work, but really I’ve been watching movies, drinking wine and being lazy. One thing that I haven’t been doing is feeling sexy (thanks for nothing red candle).
As soon as I finished this book I desperately leapt to a generic novel in an attempt to restore my mental sanity. It’s…it’s like you can feel your IQ dropping a percent every damn page you subject yourself to. Now, this was LEAGUES better than the ever steady crapfest which was MEDIUMSHIP FOR SCEPTICS. I did find the odd bits interesting.
I’ve noticed both books have an overwhelming tendency to repeat themselves (sometimes word for word) at least 3-4 times throughout. It’s beyond frustrating and as such I attacked my book with a red pen like that ever terrifying TA you had in school who you *know* just had it out for you. Also, unfortunately for the reader, the bits that are grilled into your brain are horrific accounts of lobbing off body parts, being impaled by things and various other grimace inducing tidbits of torture. Yay!
The book could have been summed up in about 14 pages of interesting historical knowledge (though none of it was cited). To its credit it never says that any of the purported bewitching behavior is anything but speculation and fear mongering. In the midst of *hysteria* (see below note) hundreds were tortured and forced to confess – often blurting out whatever they had learned to be witchy activities; YES I GO TO SABBATS (read: orgies), YES I HAVE A FAMILIAR (read: pet) YES I FLY A BROOM (read: broom). They would also confess to oddly specific things, like burning candles made of human fat (ugh) or throwing strands of hair into the fire to cause the owner of the hair extreme pain. There were also victims claiming to have coughed up needles – clearly an indication that a witch was working their magic. It honestly just made me think of this:
The book (no author is actually listed) goes on to discuss how many trials were provoked by someone having “fits” and accusing local old women of causing them. Fits could have been seizures or perhaps repressed sexual feelings, but they were more often than not someone who was faking it in attempt to get attention. From here the accused would be physically tortured (in mainland Europe) or psychologically tortured in the UK/ North America (sleep deprivation, forced physical activity, being made to eat salty food and be denied water, as well as other things which don’t sound too bad but would have been really fucking annoying). It also mentions that anyone with a pet could have been tried as a witch as having “familiars” AKA demons given to witches by the devil to assist in nasty-doings. You didn’t even have to keep a pet – if a cat, dog, rabbit, toad, grasshopper or even BEE were found close to your house you were clearly in cahoots with the darkside.
What is probably the most interesting is that those who were accused of witchcraft were required to have a trial and were responsible for paying the costs of that trial. If they were found guilty the estates of the convicted reverted to the state – after all of the fees (including the executioner’s fees) were deducted. This made the rich vulnerable but also more conspicuous. The people who were most targeted were outcasts and if that person didn’t have enough money to pay the court bills their family were held responsible.
But let’s get to the fun bits!
“One test was devised to determine which cats were entirely innocent. They were put into a bowl of holy water and observed to see if they would try to escape” (pg 130)
“The accused was first of all asked to confess…If such confession was not forthcoming then he or she would be stripped naked and shaved…the accused were shaved partly in case a demon might have hidden in their body hair…for these same reasons the accused had to submit to have all their orifices probed.” (pg 44)
“[It was suggested that accused witch Isobel Gowdie]…was desperately bored with her rather uninteresting farmer husband…and craved the excitement and attention that was brought to her by her explicit claims of sexual intercourse with the devil – his huge genitals and semen like ice…” (pg 86)
“Gowdie also gave detailed descriptions of the activities of the coven…[including] ruining farmers’ crops by burying the bodies of unchristened children in their manure heaps… (pg 87)
[Accused witch Rebecca Greensmith claimed] “to have had intercourse with the devil after he had appeared before her in the form of a deer” (pg 92)
“The accused then went on to tell of how she…set about trying to use witchcraft to bring about the death of the king, once by raising a storm and throwing a cat with a dead man’s limbs strapped to its paws into the sea in the hope that this would make the king’s ship sink…” (pg 111)
“She claimed to have seen a cat who had promised her good things if she would go with it, and later she alleged to have been approached by ten cats threatening to kill her for having revealed to the others what happened to her during her herb-gathering.” (116)
“It was alleged that he [Charles Walton] acquired her prophetic skills when he was a boy after encountering a black dog three nights running on nearby Meon Hill. On the third night the black dog is said to have turned into a headless woman. The next day his sister died.” (pg 119)
“He was alleged to have taken some of the natterjack toads that he bred and harnessed them to toy ploughs so that they could run across the fields and blight the soil.” (pg 120)
“It was believed in medieval times that witches harvested their mandrake roots from the bottom of gallows trees. This was because the mandrake plant was supposed to spring up from the semen or other body droppings that fell from the decomposing corpses…” (pg 147)
“In order to prevent the witch getting hold of urine and using it for harmful purposes, likely victims were urged to spoil it in some way, for example, by washing the hands in it, so that it would be rendered unsuitable for use in spells.” (pg 156)
[Sabbats, ie witches gatherings] rituals included the initiate having sexual intercourse with the devil [often in the form of a goat or dog] or giving him an obscene kiss, a kiss on the buttocks under his tail.” (165)
…..so….bestiality, dead babies, conspiring kitties, all sorts of bodily fluids and adorable little toads with teeny tiny ploughs attached to their backs. Ok then.
Regardless of whether people were being burned at the stake for economic gain or as a scapegoat for the poor harvest, one thing is clear: people were idiots.
*Repetitive word count: “hysteria” (minimum of) 87 times; once every 2.14 pages.