Today I’m dressing up as a witch for Halloween. (Hopefully it’s okay to bring back the same Halloween costume every 30 years or so – ok not the same exact one…) I love how happy my Mom looks in this picture being a pumpkin! Well, how happy the whole family looks – except me. I’m so concerned! Maybe I was feeling ambivalent about participating in the troubled portrayal of witches in our culture…
A couple years ago I got obsessed with the sick, sick, period of witch burnings and witch hangings in Europe and the Americas, and I read everything I could get my hands on. A disturbing find was the Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1487 as the authoritative guide on how to find, accuse, and sentence witches. It was reprinted multiple times over the next 200 years (thank you, Gutenberg), and during the height of its popularity was second only to the Bible in number of copies printed.
Here are some gems from the Malleus Maleficarum:
What else is woman but a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a delectable detriment, painted with fair colors!
Let us consider another property of hers, the voice. For as she is a liar by nature, so in her speech she stings while she delights us.
Woman is more bitter than death, again, because bodily death is an open and terrible enemy, but woman is a wheedling and secret enemy.
To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable. Wherefore for the sake of fulfilling their lusts they consort even with devils. It is no matter for wonder that there are more women than men found infected with the heresy of witchcraft.
I get a little peeved when people try to come up with bizarre explanations for the killing of 600,000 – 9 million innocent women over this period (there is no way to have an accurate count, of course). It’s pretty clear that a church-enforced belief system of hatred toward women was the driving force that turned specific economic and interpersonal conflicts into a war on women.
So during this holiday weekend (Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Samhain, Dia de Los Muertos), I want to honor departed souls in the midst of all the fun and dressing up and candy. I want to have some intentional and spiritual moments to honor recently departed loved ones, including my mother and grandfather, as well as more ancient ancestors. And I want to remember innocent women who did not survive the prevailing views of their day. This poem, which I wrote during the heights of my witch obsession, is one way I’d like to do that.
I am a woman of the ancients and even if –
they did not specifically explicity knowingly intentionally malevolently
go after target rip the tongues and hands off of
the healers, the wise women – the witches –
it brought to a halt
the knowing ways of women
trashed, strangled on the gallows
what if I was a witch/a witch-accused
in a previous life
strung up like so many herbs to dry
but instead a life to drain out
a widow died, hanged
accused of witchcraft
but what did she really do?
She was a woman
When I see my name staring at me from the pages
The tears sting me string me up in my own gallows
She could be my matriarch
A Wise Woman saw my sixth chakra, ordered like books
rows and rows of books
that is how I see
I opened to the page
of so many Annes Alices Joans Marys Elizabeths Rebeccas
Not just Rebecca
I don’t want to know
her last thoughts
was she still cursing them?
I would have
Maybe I did
The first woman hanged as a witch
On this continent
May 26, my birthday
This is me you hanged
The first witch hanged in Massachusetts
This is my grandmother’s grandmother’s great great grandmother
I want to go back and put red clover and nettle and oat straw on her grave
She could be my matriarch