My formula for understanding witchcraft has been witch = accusation + fire, but no one ever burned Marie Laveau for anything. The whole city of New Orleans, they say, came to her for help or advice at some time or another. And yet she was never hauled before a court. This contradicts everything I have learned about witchcraft, about the cruelty in people afraid their power is slipping, and about the operations of 19th century slaveholding societies. Nevertheless, the story the archives tell about the charmed work accomplished by Marie Laveau is clear. Her subterfuge in the service of social justice took the form of uncorrupted generosity.
This is a hard year to be approaching the longest night. So I offer as a balm the story of the fairy queen Rhiannon.
The devil, it is said, keeps a book of names where you sign in your own blood or some other potioned ink like a liquid iron gall. There is no erasing it, there is no smearing it.
If your name appears in the devil’s book, to hear the Puritans tell it, he is now your master. If they let themselves think very much about it, the Puritans must have been terrified that what they had done to other people might in turn be done to them.
Agnes Naismith laid a dying woman’s curse on the town of Paisley and who can blame her, given how she was scapegoated, along with six other people, after that spoiled brat of a laird’s daughter, Christian Shaw, fell into fits. Or at least that’s one way to tell the story.
Behind door number 18 is Maria Sibylla Merian, the great botanist and first ecologist, who discovered and documented insect metamorphosis in the 1600s. She had to be very careful about her reputation, because there were many who still believed in witches and their power to take the form of butterflies and spoil the milk. She kept her laboratory of silkworms and caterpillars very secret.
Yesterday my friend Bob sent me a picture of the railroad tracks that ran along the edge of the defunct dairy farm outside Glouster, Ohio where I used to live. I walked over or under that bridge with my dog every morning. And yesterday another friend, Darcy Higgins, shared her beautiful graduate thesis on conservation education in that county. So today on my Advent Calendar of Witches I want to talk about Mountain Mary, Appalachian magic, hex signs, acid mine drainage, and a little stretch along the banks of Sunday Creek where I keep a piece of my heart.
Today I’m thinking about Titiba (or Tituba as you have likely seen her name spelled). There are many versions of her story, but the one I prefer is the one that highlights how her testimony turned the eye of the mob and its inquisitors away from the poor and marginalized and towards the wealthy elitesContinue reading “Advent Calendar of Witches, Day 16, Titiba”
When Catalina Ouyang wrote to ask if, as part of her work on a visual art installation, I could, along with several dozen other writers, create a poetic translation of the Conclusions & Findings section of the Title IX report from the 2016 investigation into her sexual assault at her undergraduate university, I was nearly finished writing a book about historical figures executed for witchcraft. Except I was stuck on one last chapter about a man named Johannes Junius.
Maria Gonçalves Cajada, the accused sorceress from colonial Brazil, once said, “If the bishop has a mitre, I have a mitre, and if the bishop preaches from the pulpit, I preach from the cadeira.”
Agnes Sampson, known by all of her patients and clients as the Wise Wife of Keith, was famous for the help she could offer women who wanted children, women who didn’t, women in love, and women in pain.