Witch on Trend

One of the most prolific characterisations called upon in the writing of horror fiction is that of the Witch. The incarnations cross genres, not exclusive to horror. The notions of the Witch rouse deep interest that peaks at no other season as high as it does around Halloween. From the green-painted faces of cloaked children playing the hag, practicing cackles for trick-or-treating shenanigans to the overwhelming number of book and movie releases parading their Witch down the street, through blood-thirsty crowds for all to fear and jeer. It seems that our curiosity, bedazzlement and fear of her are insatiable.

The public hanging of witches in Scotland, with a witchfinder (right) being paid, seen in an engraving from 1678. Photograph: The Granger Collection/Alamy

Our Witch has been the macabre crowd-pleaser since the hysteria that rippled through the world with the support, encouragement and rise of Christianity in organised religious dominance. The mania began in Europe in the fourteenth century, and such infamous texts as the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ by Heinrich Kramer, published in 1486, propelled the hysteria and resulting brutality of the executions peaking several times between 1560-1630. Leaning heavily on the support of the church, the author of the text included Pope Innocent VIII’s 1484 Papal Bull, Summis Desedirantes, as the opening to the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’.

In this article, the pronouns she and her are favoured when referencing the Witch. While this is not uncommon, it must be acknowledged that from a true historical context, those trialled, persecuted and executed were predominantly female. There were men among them too. And, of course, in fiction, and real-life practitioners of the craft or occult arts, Witch can be of any gender. The dominance of prosecution and the use of the word as a slanderous term is weighted heavily towards women, hence the conscious choice of those pronouns here. Evidence suggests that 85% of the accused (in Scotland) were women. Fuelled by the desire for religious and political dominance, the Witch persecutions were also profoundly misogynistic. Hundreds of years on, these are issues which still impact society today.

The earliest printed reference of the noun ‘Witch’ was c950-c1010, Early Middle English, (Ælfric Homily (Corpus Cambr. 178) in J. C. Pope Homilies of Ælfric (1968) II. 792 Nu segð se wyrdwritere þæt seo wicce sceolde aræran þa of deaþe þone Drihtnes witegan Samuhel gehaten.) The heavily linked noun ‘Witchcraft’ was also first printed in the Early Middle English period, c1000, (Ælfric Lives of Saints (Julius) (1881) I. 182 Animað hraðe þa reðan wiccan, seo þe ðus awent þurh wiccecræft manna mod.) Although it may appear, at times, like a trend has taken hold in books or film — the Witch-craze has never really left us. Our Witch has held claim as a steadfast trend of constancy throughout history, one to love or hate but never to be indifferent to. This fascination or, perhaps more, obsession has endured. The Witch continues to thrive, though in a far more acceptable way than during such times as the six Witchcraft Acts, which presided through British history, criminalising those deemed to be Witchcraft practitioners, punishable by death. Scotland had a particular thirst for Witch hunts, murdering five times more people for crimes of Witchcraft than anywhere else in Europe.

In the 21st century, such Acts as these no longer have any place in European legal systems. Committed to a shameful part of human history, where many are working to recognise those murdered and have their criminal status pardoned. These women and men brutally murdered under the laws of the time were innocent of their charges. During the periods of Witch-mania, many (if not all) of those accused, trialled and executed were not done so fairly. Sensationalised witness reports that commonly claimed diabolism, shape-shifting and dancing with the Devil himself became a death sentence. Logic and facts had no place to play in these judicial procedures; macabre entertainment for the masses writhing in fear and fantasy that they themselves created. The control of organised religion reigning at its finest. Documents from these cases are often sketchy, and some are entirely nonexistent. Many cases escalated to local churches, and communities taking the law into their blood-thirsty hands. If anyone was dancing with the Devil, was it really those persecuted as Witches?

Considering this grisly past that spawned in Europe and spread rapidly around the globe, we must remember that there are countries where accusations of Witchcraft stillresult in severe and brutal physical punishments (and death) today. While here in Scotland, the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1736, and the last documented legal execution took place in 1727, almost 300 years ago, religious and spiritual persecution is still alive and comes in many guises.

In modern Europe, the historic Witch-persecutions are crisscrossed with a romanticism of a deadly, dark past, and fictional notions embraced to stroke these romantic ideas of magical ancestry. She is symbolic of both innate feminine strength and endurance as well as female oppression by a predominantly patriarchal society. When considering the data available from cases of the Witch trials and applying something missing from these cases—logic—one thing is clear, many of those trialled and executed were not Witches; they were not pagan in the contexts of today. Many of the accused and found guilty were victims of flimsy, vague laws, hearsay, panic and hate.

There are groups still fighting to seek justice for these heinous acts, such as Witches of Scotland, ‘–a campaign for justice; for a legal pardon, an apology and national monument for the thousands of people – mostly women – that were convicted of Witchcraft and executed between 1563 and 1736 in Scotland.’

While work is still ongoing to achieve the legal pardon of some 4,000 people killed under the Acts, a formal apology was granted by the First Minister of Scotland on 8th March 2022, “on International Women’s Day, as First Minister on behalf of the Scottish Government, I am choosing to acknowledge that egregious historic injustice and extend a formal, posthumous apology to all those accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft Act 1563.” Read the full statement here.

While it is, perhaps, admirable to fight for the status of the victims of the laws of that horrific time, and it’s important to acknowledge the gross misconducts of governments, kings, religion—misconducts that were regarded as just at the time. Their greed for ultimate control and thirst for blood and brandishing ‘authority’, the acknowledgments, memorials, and apologies of descendants will never give the victims their lives back. We cannot undo the horror of their torture—starved, pricked, stripped, poured with tar, thrown in barrels and rolled through the streets, strangled, drowned, burned, all under the eyes of the law, ‘God’, their communities and families. There’s no making up to the victims labelled as Witches. And there’s no romance in their trials. What we must do is step forward; don’t stand fearful among the crowd breeding hate. Learn from the past. Step forward. Speak up for injustices, no matter how small they may appear. History and present day horrors show us how easily pandemonium can take hold, by then it’s too late. Say nothing, do nothing, and one may as well be lighting the pyre.

To my fellow creative fiction writers: If you find yourself allured by the Witch trend, design her without feigning research—reaching for a few easy-to-find titles, selected based on the copy intended to sell you that specific content, the cover, or recommendations from non-practitioners is not research. This is the microwaveable noodle of cooking. This approach will never bring you proper knowledge and depth to create authentic flavour.

Design her with the authenticity of a true creative; think outside those boxes. That is the way of a Witch—pay homage to that in your creative endeavours. If you desire true historical context or true spiritual context, you’ll have to dive much deeper than any off-the-rack ‘spell book’. These books are often born from limited research themselves to base one’s research on, then you’d be in a sorry state to claim to know anythings but anecdotal drivel. Research on these subjects is a dedicated, lifelong business. Not a flurry of ticking boxes. Spiritually, there is reason many who walk occult or pagan paths refer to life and work within these arts as an ongoing ‘practice’. The trials and persecution of accused Witches is entirely separate to practitioners of any one of many pagan pathways—real Witches. As a practitioner of 20+ years, my clan’s Witch, I am still a mere amateur. Arrogance has no place in these arts, if it does in any at all.

The Making of Delevan House #5.2

In the Northern Hemisphere, the year’s Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to Autumn Equinox. This year the Moon graces the earth with her sunlit …

The Making of Delevan House #5.2

Summer Solstice Note

Here in the village, the longest day of light is obscured by dense, low-hanging clouds. Heat permeates air molecules, caressing the skin and teasing water just out of reach.

The rain may come, or she may not. Either way, flames will lick skyward.

Flames will dance with padding feet, and shadows and ash will remark spiritual and physical boundaries on Litha.

Steeped in traditions around the globe, the essence of the Sabbat (when the sun is further from the equator) and her rituals are ultimately the same. We dance in tandem. Burning off what is no longer needed, shedding skins, and embracing what is filled with nourishing light and growth opportunities. This is a Sabbat of rebirth, regeneration through fire and light.

Evidence of Solstice traditions goes back to at least the Neolithic era.

Some consider Summer Solstice as Midsummer, and others consider it only the beginning. Like Winter Solstice, I’ve always taken the literal translation of these sabbats being the midpoint of the season regardless of climate, which in Scotland can be unpredictable.

Some traditions of this festival of sun worship can be found in numerous sources. This one is a nice quick read over on National Trust.

Fate Never Waits

The stages of this ailment wracks havoc through my body.
Vexatious attempts to conquer; become me.
It began as all things do, a spring birth nipping exposed skin; testing the fragility and limits of the becoming.
Little by little tentative blooming begins.
Through kissed, bitten and hard pinched skin.
Assaults on the juvenile unrelenting.
More than hormones, chemical reactions take the blame.
Flora sprouts through the hardened dark, softening sporadic perimeters, lashed by sharp spring-sight-steeling-rays - momentarily monumentally blinding.
Once this is over, it’ll be ok.
Fate awaits.

They said I had some years to change, some precious time before it was too late.
Wild horses tear thunderous lumps through my soul; stallions each gunning for control.
Endless war rages within; the battle of self.
The therapies, the drugs and carefully selected words.
None ever any good.
The rampant rage is on, no war is without bloodshed; relieves the pressure of dismissed, displaced youth.
One must be real if they bleed; alive even in fantastical Maiden daydreams.
Suppression of the whispering thugs a delicate parity; equilibrium of what?
One cannot be sure - what if there is no cure?
Fate never waits.

Time, she keeps flowing through the bottomless glass.
Smoke without mirrors; dense, dancing swirls too black to pass.
Maidenhood ends, scar tissue thickens not mends.
Strands tangle in knots unseen through the haze of smoked days.
The Mother is one which cannot be skipped; the fear of becoming the Maiden’s own too hulking to dismiss.
Summer’s heat pelts down like the belt; sporadic lashings through which you must stand, never waver.
Fane unfeeling through the weeping welts.
So many mistakes, learning aplenty with a war thirsty wraith wailing shrieks in the ear. Overshadowing youth whispers, the memory of what was terrorising for so long, now a quiet comfort of historical storm.
The dust of the battles must eventually settle; submit, surrender.
Breathe it through; she’s coming for you.

Autumn bleeds summers setting into winters webbed ebbing.
A witch must relinquish the right to fulfil natural potential when the hourglass quickens towards inevitable expiration.
The time of the Crone dawns and with it awash with insight previously unknown.
Suddenly the wonder uncoils and monstrous ponderous mysteries are starkly revealed before the last breath is sealed.
Fate never waits.

Any one day can be the day she whispers.
The voice of all time and fate entwined;
“Dear daughter, you are too late. You’ve relinquished your fate.”
Fate never waits.

© Natasha Sinclair

First published in Iron Faerie Publishing’s ‘Four Seasons’ anthology

Books Releasing in October

First up is Dark Halloween, the 5th book in Macabre Ladies Holiday Horror Collection. With the eBook available for preorder now, it goes live October 6th. My 3 flash stories; ‘Interspecies Relations,’ ‘Painted Black’ and ‘Bloody Eels’ will feature among a host of Autumn/Halloween themed horror.

‘Interspecies Relations’ was inspired by some reading and artwork I was taking in around mythological creatures – particularly that of Cecaelia from Asian and North American mythology. Writing this also inspired my ‘Tentacles’ painting.

‘Painted Black’ is a little flash inspired by my youngest daughter, who rather chillingly asked me why the shadows were looking at her at bedtime one evening.

‘Bloody Eels’ is a Drabble that came from two interlinked short stories of mine ‘The Night is Mine’ and ‘Phantasmagoria.’ It is a view from a trapped spirit of the character Amy when she is in a disembodied, limbo-like state after death.

Next up is Books of Horror Community Anthology Volume 2 from the wonderful Books of Horror Publishing. Another book that can be preordered now, for October 16th release. My new short story ‘Sacrifice’ will feature alongside a mix across the spectrum of Horror.

‘Sacrifice’ was originally an idea I intended to write as a flash piece that centred around Summer Solstice. It sprouted and became a little more with some nostalgic elements entwined with themes of manipulation and betrayal.

I gained a spot with D&T Publishing, with their anthology, After the Kool-Aid is Gone. This one promises to be a ‘heavy-hitting collection’ of political horror / dark fiction. My short story, ‘Neighbours’ will feature.  preorder now for October 26th release.

‘Neighbours’ is another new story, one born during the 2020 global pandemic. Led by the MC’s internal narrative over his frustrations with the hypocrisies and selfishness of mankind, while his family-life is shattered, irreparably during ‘lockdown.’ This story is one man’s journey over the edge in suburbia.

Finally, as far as books I have stories in this October is Iron Faerie Publishing’s anthology, Hexed. Here my flash story ‘Hard Shades’ will appear. Preorder now for October 31st release.

‘Hard Shades’ came from a mind spiral evolving from ‘Painted Black’ marrying with thoughts of the theatre of vampires – though this piece is not vampiric. The dance and chase between light and dark is a classic that I enjoy playing with.