A Brief History of the Witch Trials

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 

WITCH TRIALS

It’s almost Halloween and we’re feeling witchy. Here is a brief history of the witch trials and one case we find particularly interesting…

Where it happened? 

In Europe the worst were witch trials were in Scotland and Germany. From about 1590 to 1670 at least 4000 people were killed in Scotland and some estimates go as high as 7000 deaths. 75% of them were women. In Germany it ran from about 1560 – 1670 and the numbers of those killed were higher – certainly over 10 000 people and some estimates go as high as 20 000. There were witch trials all over the Europe and America, famously in Salem. The Scottish and German trials were undoubtably the most far reaching and gruesome.

What happened after the trial?

Once they were found guilty, witches were drowned. It was believed that their bodies might rise from the dead, so the corpses were burned publicly. A lot of people believe that witches were burnt alive at the stake but this was quite rare. Some women escaped but in the main if you were accused you were convicted – it was very difficult to get out of. In many cases several charges were brought against individual women and they might manage to get out of some of the charges but not that of being a witch. 

Who were the witches? 

Mostly it was women on the fringes. Those without protection. So working class women and often older women were those particularly prosecuted. Anyone could be accused but those who were ‘different’ or who spoke out, perhaps fell out with their neighbours were more likely to be accused. Sometimes people with disabilities were targeted. Once a woman was accused she was questioned (and that included torture) to see if she would turn evidence on her coven. These women were terrified. Many turned in neighbours, family and friends just to stop the pain. 

Where can we find out more about witch trials? 

The court records still exist in archives – the handwritten notes from the trials. Parish records where they survive can also be helpful.This was a time before birth certification and so details of people’s lives were held by the church. Most archives are available to the public though you have to provide ID and follow the rules of the individual institution like only being able to take in pencils (no pens). There are also lots of witchy artefacts in museums – spell boxes for example and instruments of torture. If you’re interested in finding out the real nitty gritty about female history your local archives and libraries are a good place to start. 

Here is little about a witch trial that us bitches and witches  think is particularly interesting…

 There isn’t much information about the women prosecuted of witchcraft unless they were particularly well to do or the odd infamous case. Because most women accused of witchcraft were workers, we mostly don’t have many details about their lives – birth dates are out of the question, as there was no system of certification in those days. They have, however, left their marks in some places on the landscape. Take Kitty Rankine who was burned as a witch in Scotland in 1603. Growing up in a small village, Kitty was said to have second sight, which she inherited from her mother. When her mother died, Kitty found work at Abergeldie Castle and the Lady of the house consulted her, for her powers. Kitty would have been well advised not to play ball, but she screed (put water in a bowl and looked into the future) The Laird of the castle was overseas and she saw him sporting with other women. She told the lady, who was furious, and asked Kitty to raise a storm to kill her husband on his way home. Kitty refused, saying she didn’t have that kind of power. But as it happened, a storm did kill the Laird when he was on his way home and Kitty was charged with causing it and drowning him. The 400th anniversary of her execution was marked in 2003 by a bonfire on the Creag nam Bam (Hill of the Women) near Ballater, where she was killed. The wind on the top of the Creag is very loud and locals say it is the ghost of Kitty Rankine, screaming.

“We are the grand daughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn” – an apt quote from Tish Thawer.

Although historical witch craft is often portrayed in the media there are still cases of women being prosecuted. In 2011 Amina Bint Abdul Halim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft. 

So we are the grand daughters of the witches that you weren’t able to burn, but we stand by the women still being persecuted. Witches unite. 

We want to highlight forgotten females from history. If you have a story you’d like to share get in touch with Molly at info@reekperfume.com 


Why The Witch Trials Are A Feminist Issue

WHY THE WITCH TRIALS ARE A FEMINIST ISSUE

Our head bitch, Sara Sheridan is focusing on Scotland’s witches as part of a wider project – Where are the Women? : an imagined female atlas of Scotland, which will be published next May. But why are the witch trials a feminist issue? 

Finding women’s voices from history is like treasure hunting. There I  am, in a sea of papers in an archive, digging for days and if I’m lucky, I come across a letter, a journal or an old book and wham, it’s like that woman is right next to me, telling me what she had for breakfast, or what she’s afraid of, or best of all, what she is dreaming about. I have been hooked on this kind of time travel for years and I’ve written a dozen novels, re-imagining those voices – amplifying them and melding fact with fiction. History is important. I believe we can’t fully understand our culture if we don’t know where we came from. The stories of the Scottish witch trials has always fueled my own feminist fire. 

When I founded REEK perfume with my daughter Molly we wanted to  memorialize amazing (and often forgotten) women through scent. I love the idea of perfume as a silent rebellion – no-one needs to know you’re commemorating forgotten Jacobite heroines as you swish by. For DAMN REBEL WITCHES it was important to us and our perfumer Sarah McCartney that the eau de parfum reflected the real lives of women from the witch-hunting era – outdoor smells of riverbank and crushed leaves as well as a whiff of 17th century domestic life – oak moss (used in medicine at the time), malt and hazelnuts. The resulting perfume is complex and it smells dark and kind of haunting. It was important that it was truly gender fluid – a smell that could be traditionally female and male at the same time.

People find the history of the witches fascinating and strongly identify with it. There is a ‘hallowe’en’ perception of witchcraft – a folklore version – which is seductive – more whore than hag, I’d say. Central to it is the idea that these women really practiced magic. As a storyteller, I understand the allure of that but as a historian I come back again and again to the reality. These were not women involved in a power struggle they had a chance of winning – there is no magic to their stories. They were terrified. Once an accusation of witchcraft went to a Scottish court it was difficult to get out of it. The persecution of the witches (in Scotland far more extreme than in most other European countries, with the possible exception of Germany) is a largely uncommemorated piece of our female history, and this is one reason why it is a feminist issue. Another is that it was extremely rare for men to be prosecuted – a handful of cases out of literally thousands. This is something that happened to women and in particular to women who were different – who spoke out, didn’t get on with their neighbours, who were vulnerable because of their age, infirmity, disability or sexuality. There are cases where the family of a witch was cast out after her death – banned from the local community. What happened devastated female life in Scotland for decades and sent a strong message to conform in all things.

This year, I embarked on a project commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland, reimagining an atlas of the country that does justice to the history of our women. I have been working in this field for two decades, looking at individual stories, but it wasn’t until I examined our history as a whole, I realized how many amazing women we have forgotten. Some are heroines – scientists, writers, sportswomen, actresses and activists – others were victims, like the witches. I was reminded of the words of the poet, Mairi Mhor nan Oran who exhorted us tostudy our witches as well as our saints’ and I began to look more closely at how we commemorate these women and what is left of their stories, fragments of which are available in contemporary court records. Agnes Finnie, a moneylender from Edinburgh who was drowned in 1645 while cursing the crowd ‘May the Devil blaw ye blind’. Maud Galt from Kilbarchen, Renfrewshire prosecuted as a lesbian (for assaulting her maidservant with what sounds like a 17th century sex-toy) as well being charged with being a witch. Janet Horne executed in Dornoch in 1727, thought now to be suffering from senile dementia, heartwrenchingly she had no idea what was in store and is said to have warmed herself by the fire that was being set to burn her body.

History is written by the winners, and Scotland’s witches were losers, every one. I believe, however, it is the sign of a mature civilization to recognize its victims. If we are looking for examples, we need look no further than Germany and Berlin in particular, where the city’s history weighs heavily on its built environment with raw memorials recognising (and apologizing for) its part in the Holocaust as well as telling the chilling story of the decades from the Berlin Wall going up until it came down again.

The cultural impact of commemorating our winners (and particularly our female winners) is huge – it affords, among other things, role models for a new generation because when you see that women before you have been judges and musicians, pilots and ground-breaking scientists, it seems possible or even normal to achieve your dreams. In commemorating our victims, however, the process is different. We must make a promise not to forget and more importantly, not to repeat our worst failings. In the witches’ case this needs to be done while navigating the intersection of folklore and history – there is glamour to the witches. The roots of the word glamour, interestingly, refer back to the magic of the faerie world, but unlike the faerie folk the witches are demonstrably real. They are our foremothers and we imagined them to be in league with the devil. We hunted them down, drowned them and burned their bodies. In the modern world witchcraft movement is about sisterhood and attuning to nature and it’s important that anything we say about the witches of the past, also respects that movement in the present.

I am not the only Scottish writer who is interested in highlighting this important issue. Drs Claire Askew and Alice Tarbuck are running Toil and Trouble, a six-week course of witchcraft history, theory and practice starting in November. Claire says “The lack of recognition for real, historical women accused of witchcraft was the main reason I wanted to run the course. We need to better remember them.” For me too, that’s what creating a whiff of our past was about – to silently commemorate the witches while still honouring the present. As a country, it’s time for Scotland to properly memorialize our 16th and 17th century witches – not with the scattering we have of monuments to the legend of individual women but something with gravitas, that recognizes what happened to thousands of our foremothers, and the impact that had on our culture.

This article was first printed in The National on Sunday newspaper on 21st October 2018.


Daina Renton FÉROCE

Daina Renton Interview

Daina Renton, the fierce editor of FÉROCE magazine, shares her bitchy, witchy truths, love of cats and favourite smells and spells… 

Tell us about your publication Féroce…

Féroce Magazine is a Scottish fashion/art publication. Féroce is the publication to submit to if you’ve gone outside your comfort zone as a creative. We prefer to work with independents. Féroce is a platform for artists to spread powerful messages with their work. Férroce wants to set a standard for what this industry should become.

What keeps you motivated while juggling photography and publication?

I understand that motivation is fleeting but self discipline can be cultivated.  Obsession is what drives me to multitask several projects. When I can’t discipline myself and require motivation, I think of my mother. I remember that she managed to raise me against all odds…and I feel motivated to work my ass off. If she managed that, I can manage this.

What does witchcraft means to you?

Witchcraft to me was a source of entertainment and distraction when I was in vulnerable or troubling situations as a child. The meaning of Witchcraft to me has since changed, but I realise after a long break from it that I was a witch from the beginning. There is Witchcraft in everything I do. It’s instinctive.

Tell us about some feminists that inspire you…

There are so many feminists that I find admirable. At the moment, one feminist who truly inspires me is Diane Goldie. She’s based in London. Her clothing, art, and poetry  are just infinite food for thought. When you’re ready to witness the brutal honesty of not only realising the patriarchy, but fighting it, consult her work.

What issues do you see people face in your day to day life that the world can find easy to ignore?

Homelessness. I get really caught up in this issue. It is far too easy for people to walk past and pretend they don’t see a human being who needs help. Mental health symptoms that aren’t romanticised by books and TV shows. Addiction. That’s the easiest of all of them to ignore.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

Because I have a Bachelors in fashion and marketing, I know too much to be angry. I know exactly why each decision was made. Offending viewers to evoke an angry response is a key trend in marketing and advertising right now. These aren’t ‘blunders’ or mistakes.

As a former marketing manager I would encourage anyone who is offended by an advert not to share it, because it was specifically designed to be viral. I always encourage people to watch adverts for Dove, and then watch the old adverts for Lynx. Dove and Lynx are owned by the same parent company. I hope that puts into perspective how sincere companies are with the messages they put out. They will say whatever it takes to get your attention.

What was it like being part of a REEK campaign?

A fucking dream come true is what it was! I’ve been stalking the shit out of REEK for a long time. To finally get to meet the awesome minds behind the brand and above all actually collaborate on something amazing – I wear it as a badge of witchy honour. I loved the atmosphere, and how genuine the team are. It’s a breath of fresh air as a misfit to work with like-minded people who just wanna change the world in their own best way.

What causes are important to you and why?

Recognition, representation, and equal opportunities for black and ethnic minorities. It’s important to me because it should be important to everyone.

Reusable sanitary products. I think Mooncups or Diva Cups should be distributed into low income households and even more so the homeless – even cheaper, and better for the planet than conventional sanitary products. It’s important to me because everyone deserves to bleed with dignity and if the world can be saved we should save it.

What is your favourite REEK sticker?

Witches Unite is my favourite sticker. Witches I mostly meet or hear of tend to be solitary practitioners. We’re all lone wolves in sheep’s clothing sometimes. That’s how I interpret the sticker; a reminder to us and a warning for ‘them’. Sooner or later…one day…the witches will unite.

Tell us your 3 favourite smells?

The smell of cats’ foreheads, garlic breath and Damn Rebel Witches. I think everyone is going to get sick of me talking about this, ha.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

I always say that you shouldn’t use witchcraft for any problems or tasks that could be easily solved through mundane means. I’m equal parts bitch and equal parts witch though truthfully. I’m resented like a bitch and feared like a witch. Both of those are just fine by me.

More about FÉROCE magazine here.


Sex Toy Still Life

Sex Toy Still Life
By Anna Wim

Artist and activist Anna Wim tells us the story behind her sex toy still life imagery, the causes that fuel her fire and of course some of her favourite smells…

Tell us the story behind these images and why you decided to use sex toys?

I have always been heavily attracted to sex and erotica, but it’s been a complicated relationship: on one hand, I am hypersexual and open about sex, on the other, my way to the sexual being I am now has been long and difficult. I’ve dealt with a lot of sexual frustration, questioning my own sexuality, and other taboos, which is why, I guess, I enjoy playing with everything sex-related in my work. I love that it makes people uncomfortable; this act of provoking (by something so normal and natural!) is just great.

It might not seem like it, but everything in my photos has a sexual connotation: I use fresh fruits and flowers which traditionally symbolize fertility, lust and/or sex organs. I always imagine I’m creating these opulent, gourmet table settings – only with a few sex toys thrown in!

Who do you hope will see them?

To be honest, I don’t really think of viewers when taking/publishing them. I just kinda put them out and hope someone will see them, but I don’t really think of who that could be.

What’s your favourite sex toy? Do you think that society is scared of the idea of women using sex toys outside of ‘sex’?

I started taking antidepressants a year ago and it’s made me much more sensitive to bodily sensations, and I’ve pretty much stopped using sex toys when masturbating so I’d say my fave toy atm is actually my good ol’ hand, haha. However, I once got the chance to try out Lelo’s Ina vibrator and wow, was that intense!

Sex toys in general are perceived as weird or dirty because they are seen as replacements for the “real deal”. Sex with others is supposed to be the best—or the only right—way of having sex, thanks to the reproductive, monogamous propaganda which  loads stigma on sex toys. And since women’s sexuality is seen as immoral on its own, it is no wonder it is frowned upon when it’s combined with naughty, disgraceful toys! (lol)

Tell us about a beauty campaign that made you feel angry or ugly?

I remember there used to be a deodorant advert when I was a teen which said something like “even though you might not notice it, others can smell you sweating”. I’ve always been self-conscious about the way I smell and that was just the last straw, really. To this day, I am insecure about that and always think others must be disgusted by the way I smell even if I only sweat a little or forget to apply perfume! Such bullshit, right?

Tell us something about yourself that you once perceived as ugly/unattractive that you now love about yourself?

Well, I used to think of myself as unattractive in general and that has (luckily) changed, so I’d say my whole body. But if I had to choose one body part, it’d be my Slavic hips – I am so proud of them now!

What advice would you share with yourself 5 years ago?

Take care of your mental health. Stop downplaying what you feel – it is all legit.

Tell us a campaign or movement that is close to your heart and why?

Um, there are too many to pick one! It’s the Black Lives Matter month in Berlin at the moment, and I really love what the local community is doing: lots of talks, screenings, workshops… Knowledge is power!

What are your three favourite smells?

Jasmine, pine, and lavender.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

Both!

See more of Anna’s work here.