Friday, October 31, 2014

The Good Witches

31st October 2014

All Hallow's Eve (Halloween) is one of those pagan holidays that the church took over and tried to make holy (in the sense of people filing down the aisle to drink blood at the altar! Mmmm)  In my country, Halloween is called Samhain (pronounced Sah-voon) in the old Gaelic language, and my book Veil Of Time starts on Halloween when my protagonist arrives at the ancient fort of Dunadd in Scotland.  There are plenty of Christians these days who won't celebrate Halloween because it is supposed to be the devil's birthday, but whether you do or you don't, Samhain keeps shining through the veil: there is just no escaping the holiday's pagan roots.
What our ancestors were celebrating on this day of Samhain was not the devil, for god's sake, since they hadn't yet divided the world into "good" and "evil," but the fact that our everyday world is only a thin veil drawn across the great totality beyond space and time (which is why we dress up as the dead, the ghosts and ghoulies.) Once the church took over the holiday, witches appeared in this Halloween pot, too. But "witches" were just the wise women of pagan times, the ones the church didn't want leading their disciples off the Christian straight and narrow. You can't conceive of Halloween without witches -  those hundreds of thousands of "witches" the church took out and burned to death.

On this Halloween day, let's take a moment to remember the wise women, as they are remembered by a small sconce with pink flowers set in the wall of the esplanade at Edinburgh castle. This is one of the spots the "witches" were taken. Sometimes these innocent women were garroted first, often they went to the flames fully conscious. It is a horrendous and not much acknowledged part of church history. In 1727, Janet Horne was the last woman to be burned at the stake in Scotland on the charge of consorting with the devil. This was the same year Handel was composing St. Matthew's Passion. The plaque next to the sconce allows that "some" of the witches were actually good witches. Small recompense, I say.

I was going to talk today about dialogue -  a fun but crucial aspect of writing stories - but let's leave that until next week. On this day of Halloween, I am feeling the weight of this fear of the wise woman and of the pagan in general. I'm thinking of the untold damage it has done to human consciousness. It is not a literary point and I apologise for this time out of my blog's main function. But it inspired me to take a stand in a book series and write about what was lost to our religious sensibility when the monks took over. It's about time someone did. It's about time.

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