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.
Agnes Waterhouse, age 64 in the year 1566, was an impoverished woman who had a white cat named Sathan that spoke in a strange hollow voice and would do anything for a drop of blood. She had him kill her pig to prove what he could do, and then had him kill the cows and geese of her neighbors, with whom she had quarreled; neighbors themselves, with whom she had quarreled; her husband, with whom she had quarreled.
Hildengard von Bingen knew all the plant medicines, all the minerals, all the tender words you could whisper over a body in pain. In ecstatic trances she saw the face of the divine spread over the world. Despite the obvious similarities and the fact she was summoned to an inquisition, Hildegaard von Bingen was not a witch, she was a canonized saint.
Dorothea of Cappadocia was a brilliant philosopher who proved difficult to execute and nearly impossible to shut up.
A first-rate bard, Isobel Gowdie’s power came from storytelling and flyting (the fine Scottish art of flinging curses.) Her “crime” was being too mouthy in the direction of the landlord. It’s day 9 on the Advent Calendar of Witches, we’re in a global pandemic, and the rent is still too damn high.
Angela de la Barthe was wealthy. She owned her own property and thus wielded some degree of influence in the city of Toulouse, which was a stronghold of those who would resist the authority of the Church. To the inquisitors a woman in authority was confusing and created a sense of disorder – you might call it a feeling of bedevilment.
Nevermind what you may have heard, Theseus was a villainous monster. Medusa, on the other hand, brought corals, the Pegasus, and many other marvels into this world. It’s day 6 on the Advent Calendar of Witches and I want to celebrate Medusa.
I didn’t know Jason and the Argonauts is really The Witch Medea Gets Your Golden Fleece for You, You Fucking Incompetent. But that’s the story in a nutshell.