Famous Accused Witch: Joan of Arc

joan of arc

Until grade 8, I attended Catholic school. When we studied the saints, I always wanted to choose Joan of Arc (link in French). The images of her burning at the stake were commonplace and they told a story of rebellion, faith, perseverance and a healthy touch of mysticism, or in my more cynical moments, insanity.

As a preteen, I loved nothing more than to read about how she heard voices and saw visions, and how she changed her culture’s history by listening to them. Paintings depicting her death at the stake spoke to her righteousness and strength despite her weakness of being eaten up by the flames at the hands of her enemies. (Narrative tension like that is my favourite kind of storytelling!)

I used to imagine fighting under Joan of Arc’s command, picturing her inspiring armies of soldiers to rally in a war. She was so opposite of a typical 15th-century woman, she reminded me that weird people have always existed, and have been celebrated. As a very weird kid myself, I saw her as a ray of light in my sometimes bleak childhood.

joan of arc 2

 

Famous Witch: Isobel Goudie

17th century witch trial

Isobel Goudie is a 17th-century Scottish woman famous for having been recorded as confessing to be a witch—to describing a shape-shifting spell and consorting with the devil. Reading about her confession on the Spooky Isles blog, it’s hard for me to believe in its authenticity. To me, her confession reads more like a propaganda pamphlet, which were wildly popular in the nearby London at that same time. True crime stories were particularly popular, and Isobel’s confession reads like a sensational pamphlet. It would be interesting to learn more about this case to see if the origins of the document have been verified as being legal.

Famous Witch: From the Bible

I love discovering dark things in unexpected places. I found a reference to a witch in the Old Testament. Having been raised Catholic, I never considered I would find a witch in the Bible. Her name is the Witch of Endor, and she called up the ghost of the prophet Samuel for King Saul in Samuel 1, 28: 3-25. The Witchcraft and Witches website describes the story and comments:

The Biblical passages have been subject to much discussion and interpretation as, read literally, they appear to affirm that it is (or at least was) possible for humans to summon the spirits of the blessed dead by magic. Dissatisfied with this interpretation, many medieval glosses suggested that what the witch actually summoned was not the ghost of Samuel, but a demon taking his shape, or that, if Samuel did in fact appear before Saul and the witch, then it was by a sovereign act of God himself. Either way, the passages seem to satirize Saul, the once righteous king who upheld God’s law by his sword, reduced to participating in forbidden rituals.

witch of endor 17th C Flemish
Witch of Endor, 17th Century, Flemish

Horror Cinema: The Witch (2015)

A horror cinema review of Robert Eggers’ The Witch by new contributor to the Devil’s Muse, the Bubonic Illiterate.
the-witch-a24-trailer-fbpic
I’ve always been a fan of witches. Rhea of the Coos, the witch from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower universe, is one of my favourite fictional characters. Many of my favourite films revolve around witches, too—Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, even Hocus Pocus, for the matter. Yet rarely in film do we see an accurate portrayal of the true witch of folklore, the Mother Nature turned rotten, the crusty old woman of the woods who relishes in black magic and carries out Satan’s will. Robert Egger’s witch, however, is an exception.

The Witch is a true period piece. It’s evident that a hefty amount of research went into nailing not only the set and costume design but into replicating the Puritan dialect of the time. As a result of the film’s authenticity to its era, the ensuing horror is both believable and effective.

Here’s what makes The Witch frightening:

• The witch works her way at the family from various angles, and the horror increases with each new burden brought upon them: the immediate robbery of their newborn, their inability to produce bountiful crops, the possession of the family’s eldest son, the deterioration of the mother’s faith. The family crumbles.

• There is more than a menacing witch at work here; the devil is along for the whole ride. The movie is satanic, evil as all hell.

• There are some beautiful night shots of the family’s plot of land—set against a gorgeous backdrop of black woods—that will render you feeling entirely vulnerable.

• She isn’t green-skinned or cauldron-tending. She’s what you want her to be: gross.

Some of the scenes are drawn out and uneventful, and you might find yourself wondering when the real scares are coming. Additionally, some of the dialogue can be tricky to understand. While these things might deter some viewers, I found it greatly worthwhile to stick it out ‘til the film’s end; the final scene crams an abundance of evil down your throat. The camera work is chilling, and paired with the anxiety-inducing score and audio effects, the climax administers a nice dose of dread. Not only is it scary, but the final scene puts a unique spin on one character’s happy ending, which I found to be a wicked (pun totally intended) wrap-up.

She’s the witch you’ve been waiting for, and like her—ruthless and horrid—this film is the one you’ve been begging the genre to produce.

the-witch-poster

Eggers, Robert. The Witch, A24, 2015.

Famous Witch: Baba Yaga

One of my favourite legendary witches is Baba Yaga. To me, she’s an old lady who wanders the forest looking for children to eat. Growing up, I used to hang out a lot in forests, so it creeps me out to imagine coming across an old lady amongst the trees appearing wise but ready to eat me.

Visit OldRussia.net to learn a more accurate picture of Russia’s legendary Baba Yaga.

baba yaga 1

Horror Cinema: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Movie review
Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby

poster-rosemarys-baby

When pushed to answer what is my favourite horror movie, I reply, “Rosemary’s Baby.” I’ve watched it nearly once a year since I first saw it as a preteen.

One of the features that I particularly love about horror movies is that, sometimes, the bad guy wins. Growing up, I always wanted to read a comic or see a movie where the bad guy won in the end. It didn’t make sense to me that the hero always had to have the advantage.

After first seeing Rosemary’s Baby, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the final scene. It was grotesque and perfect: the Anti-Christ was born healthy and would be loved by his mother in a twisted, Satanic retelling of the immaculate conception.

My other favourite aspect of the movie is the psychological horror. Watching Rosemary unravel the secret that her neighbours are “all of them witches” and to watch her be fed to the wolves by the ones she loved and trusted most is, to me, the scariest possible thing that could happen to someone. It is also something that happens to women all the time, especially in the time that the movie was released. To me, it is an added layer of horror to watch her be treated as a possession knowing that the story is likely familiar to so many of my sisters and foremothers.

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Polanski, Roman. Rosemary’s Baby, Paramount Pictures, 1968.

 

Famous Witch: Canada’s Witch of Plum Hollow

For The Devil’s Muse’s first post about a famous witch, I decided to search for a famous Canadian witch. I found Mother Barnes, a 19th-century psychic from Southern Ontario. Reading her story, she appears to have been a resourceful, clairvoyant, strong woman. She is famous for having conducted psychic readings for one of Canada’s former Prime Ministers Sir John A. MacDonald, including one that predicted Ottawa as the nation’s capital—which is special to me because Ottawa is my hometown.

Visit Mother Barnes – The Witch of Plum Hollow to read the full biography of Canada’s famous witch.

ElizabethBarnes-Witch of Plum HollowImage from http://www.pinecone.on.ca/MAGAZINE/stories/ElizabethBarnes.html.