Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop, historian and witch, in A Discovery of Witches, Episode 1 (2018).
The final article in the “Paganism, art, and fashion” issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies argues that books and television series based on historical witchcraft make it too safe and fail to portray “the genuine strangeness of witches and magic users in all periods and cultures.”
The authors, she argues, focus too much on female empowerment and not enough on how “early modern witches are much stranger and much more disconcerting than anything likely to be found at Hogwarts or in Narnia or Rivendell.”
Thus the “getting it wrong” of her title not an attack on contemporary Pagan-themed literature — she admits its creative energy— but the suggestion that if you think you are doing something “transgressive” now, you ought to look at some primary sources. And since she teaches at Oxford, she has some snarky things to say about how her university is portrayed in Discovery of Witches on TV.Purkiss’ exclamation over the fictional Professor Bishop, ‘That’s not how this works!” might equally well have been applied to the long-running British Inspector Morse mystery … Continue reading
M. Z. Bradley, she points out, was more influenced by Starhawk than by anything on ancient Pagan religion. “We tend to want goddesses with moral characteristics derived from Christianity and from the Enlightenment, and matriarchal societies with characteristics derived from Christian socialism and even Marxism. All this excludes the bitter truths embodied in Pagan myths and ideology.”
It’s not that we cannot enjoy Diana Bishop, heriditary witch and professor, but that, as Purkiss is anxious to point out, the real thing was even stranger than the “anondyne” modern re-creations.
Purkiss’ exclamation over the fictional Professor Bishop, ‘That’s not how this works!” might equally well have been applied to the long-running British Inspector Morse mystery series, set in Oxford town, which portrayed Oxford dons as bludgeoned on an almost-weekly basis. Apparently that is how positions are opened up for new hires. Perhaps Bishop arrived immediately after a murder.
Inscription: John Proctor. Hanged. August 10, 1692. At the 1692-1992 memorial site in Salem — which is not the execution site and not the victims’ burial place.
The last time that I walked through the Salem witch trials memorial adjacent to the Charter Street cemetery, I saw that someone had left a rolled-up paper at John Proctor’s memorial bench.No one ever seems to sit on the benches, perhaps because they usually hold offerings of one sort or another. Was it a petition? An announcement of an upcoming workshop on Tarot reading? Maybe Proctor, a prosperous farmer before he and his wife were accused, would have been interested in a farm-auction flier.
Obviously, I did not pull out the paper and read it. Doing that might have been good journalism but poor manners. Even though the memorial is not a cemetery, I feel that cemetery etiquette applies. But if it was a missive addressed to Proctor, that could mean that someone now considers him to be among the Mighty Dead.
In a turn of events that would have mystified [accused witch] Ann Foster, it is easy to buy a broomstick in Salem, home to a large Wiccan community. Hotels are booking now for next Halloween.
We have been talking for decades — since Margaret Murray’s time — about reclaiming the word witch from its satanic and evil-doing associations.I am fully aware that some people, however, want to keep them. We could do that without dragging in John and Elizabeth Proctor, Sarah Cloyce, Ann Foster, and the other 150 or so people who were charged in 1692, of whom 19 were executed.
But we have dragged them in. We are (apparently) treating them as honored ancestors, the Mighty Dead, sometimes defined as “those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil.”
Wiccan writer Christopher Penczack equates the Mighty Dead with the Secret Chiefs or Hidden Company that various occult groups invoke. Yet at least in their 17th-century lives, those Puritan colonists would have been horrified to think of themselves as “practitioners of our religion,” wouldn’t they?
We like to say, “What is remembered, lives,” but are we really remembering the Rev. Samuel Parris, Tituba, Judge Hathorne, Rebeca Nurse, and all of them as they were?
Or are we just performing civil religion with robes and incense, “[expressing] the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public rituals, symbols (such as the national flag), and ceremonies on sacred days and at sacred places (such as monuments, battlefields, or national cemeteries)”?“Civil Religion,” Wikipedia. Is leaving flowers and pretty stones and coins and costume jewelry at the Salem witch-trial memorial merely expressing our admiration for the First Amendment?
Somehow I think that it is more than that. Parallel and occultly linked to the transformation of maritime Salem and manufacturing Salem into “Witch City” has been the transformation of the accused Christians of 1692 into “witches” whose deaths — eventually — produced a Witch-friendly little city today. It’s not conventionally rational, but it is what it is. And we are thanking them for that transformation.