Having just returned from a lovely walk in the rare Welsh sunshine, I’m reminded that my Willow the Vampire blog post is long overdue – and that, just like Willow, I’m more a child of the light than a creature of the night, when it comes to being at my best and most creative.
Our internal clock seems to have very much a mind of its own – some people thrive only during daytime hours and are at their best early in the morning, while others are strictly nocturnal and are at odds with the nine to five office routine. In bygone days, when people rose at dawn and went to bed when it got dark, being such a “nocturnal creature” must have given rise to suspicion among neighbours and friends.
In an age, when anybody could be accused of witchcraft and sorcery for any number of idiotic reasons, the mere fact that somebody might be an insomniac could be seen as being in league with the devil. The Würzburg Witch Trials didn’t need sound reasons for accusing men, women and children of sorcery – and those accused had not even the right to defend themselves. Fire and brimstone where suspected everywhere – but particularly in the lives of women.
Typically, only 20 to 30 per cent of those burned for practicing sorcery were male. In Würzburg the percentage is surprisingly high with 40%. Of the 900 or so people who were executed, more than 300 victims were children. After 42 burnings at the stake the mass hysteria and murderous madness finally stopped on 30th August 1629. Even 48 members of the Church had been executed as sorcerers, no doubt denounced by other victims, who knew they stood no chance of survival and wanted a little revenge of their own.
Sleep – or the lack thereof – is a mysterious thing. We need our small death not as practice for the final long sleep but to stay alive and healthy. Doing without sleep for prolonged periods of time has serious implications for our wellbeing and sanity. Sleep deprivation is therefore often used as an interrogation method to wear suspects down and to torture them. It is likely that such methods were also used on those accused of witchcraft and would probably have admitted to whatever they were accused of – especially when being encouraged to denounce other people as being in league with the devil.
The Pendle Witch Trial in Lancaster, UK, in 1612, resulted in twenty people being under suspicion of sorcery, of which 16 were female and just 4 were male. Unlike the Würzburg Trials, the Pendle witches were at least allowed to defend themselves and some were acquitted without trial. There are quite a lot of details about the men and women accused and it seems that in those days just being a little eccentric and muttering to yourself could get you into serious trouble – in which case I’m most certainly a witch and will probably one day end up being tied to a stake.
When I read the description of Witch Demdike, an old woman from Pendle Forest, I think that just being an independent women could get you accused of using sorcery. The old lady might have been a cantankerous old thing, but seemed rather harmless – until some neighbour decided she had said something offensive and therefore had to be a witch.
Being an independent woman seems to have been the most grievous offence in an age, when the Church continuously told everyone that women were in league with the devil, no doubt because the Church wanted to appease male egos about their insecurities…and this is of course still going on today in many countries around the world, where male religious fanaticism always sees evil in women and children, never in themselves. In some countries being independently minded still gets women killed.
Old Mrs Demdike died worn out and aged before she could be brought to trial. Perhaps she was just an old woman who’d had trouble sleeping and liked to walk at night muttering to keep herself company and stop herself from feeling alone – she died in prison as her Christian neighbours could not tolerate anybody who was even slightly different from themselves.
When I walk in the bright sunshine I often think of those night time ramblers, those independent women bringing up kids on their own, who might have aroused suspicion in their 17th century neighbourhood and might have been accused of sorcery simply because they were creatures of the night.