I thought that given the current state of things, with all of us confined and waiting, It might be more useful to have a sort of bedtime story. During this time of uncertainty those of us who are self employed and who also have multiple chronic illnesses are really feeling the potential stress of the Stay at Home order. In response, I have written a fairy tale for my patrons based on the traditional Shetland tale, Jan and the Bear. You can hear me read this story and have a copy of it to read at your leisure by joining my Patreon here at any level.
There are many strange stories of bears in the North of Scotland where they are not native. These stories involve mostly polar bears captured and brought in on whaling ships and they are as disturbing as the witch trials. One story is as recent as the 70s. Locals in Banff, the village where I live, have told me about a man who would perform wrestling matches with a trained bear. He would even perform in local schools, and this is something those in their fifties remember seeing as children. In one version I have heard, the bear eats the man. In my imagination, these captive bears started to take on a certain kinship with the women I have been researching. Maybe this was the force driving this version of Jan and the Bear. I have changed it up, removing the animal cruelty and switching out the stubborn man Jan for an old woman. Her smeddum, or hard-headed common sense, is central to the tale.
In my recent Patreon update, I’ve written about sculptor Andy Scott’s monument to the accused witches of Prestonpans. In it, I talk about undercurrents of fascination with the lively witches in the paintings of Frans Fracken the Younger who are often seen reading. You can read the piece and support my work by going to my Patreon here. You can really get lost in Francken’s “Witches Kitchen” paintings, like they one below. They were a subject of obsession for the 17th century Flemmish painter.
My author interview with the Luna Station Quarterly Editors is up at the LSQ website. You can read it here. My story “Gald” about a fictional Pictish potion was published in their 10 year anniversary issue.
My short piece on the witches stone of Forres has been published in the Imbolc issue of Stone Root and Bone, available from Hagstone Press here.
This wonderful publisher might be of interest to the knitters reading my blog– they not only publish this quarterly journal but also lovely knitting patterns with pagan themes.
My piece on the witches stone of Dornoch, “The Cailleach of the Borehole,” is published in The Bottle Imp, the online journal of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies. You can read it here: https://www.thebottleimp.org.uk/2019/12/the-cailleach-of-the-borehole/
This is part of the larger project I’m working on at the moment, writing about the witches monuments of Scotland. You can read more about that project at my Patreon Page.
I’m excited to have my short story “Gald” included in this magnificent anniversary issue of Luna Station Quarterly. The beautiful cover is by Anna Steinbauer. “Gald” is about a mysterious Pictish potion and its use in a dystopian future on the north coast of Scotland.
This issue is packed with brilliant stories of potions and makes great holiday reading–curl up with your animals and a cup of mulled wine and these magical stories! Find myriad ways to purchase the ebook or paper issue here: http://lunastationquarterly.com/issue/issue-040/ and support an exceptional journal that has published women writers for TEN YEARS. We have long been out locked of genre, and Luna Station Quarterly is one of those game changers that is making the landscape easier for our voices to be heard. LSQ has always been on my A list in terms of publishers for my stories, and I’m so honoured to be included in this benchmark issue.
I’ve been writing up my field notes to Witches Monuments throughout Scotland, up at my Patreon. I’ve made a video to thank my patrons for all their amazing support. Making this video was way out of my comfort zone but I help it gives a suitable signal boost to my gratitude.
Some of you may follow my Patreon where I post new writing, specifically my field notes around the witches monuments of Scotland.
It is estimated that in Scotland over 3,000 people were accused of witchcraft during the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries and 84% of them were women. Two thirds of those known accused were executed, and these numbers are only from the existing records. Records of the witch trials in Scotland were meticulous, recording the cost of the tar for burning, rope for binding and even on occasion the cost of ale given to the spectators, but they are in no way complete and will never give us the real number of the dead, though they give us a glimpse of their suffering. In Scotland the witch hunts were more virulent than in England or the rest of Europe, yet there is no large-scale public memorial.
The recently published map representing the data in the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft is a memorial of sorts. It is a sobering visual reminder of the thousands of accused. It literally puts them on the map. Emma Carroll, a Geology and Physical Geography undergraduate student and intern at the project created the map which can be used by anyone in Scotland or the Scottish diaspora to find their neighbours and ancestors by area. Toggling through the Detention, Trial and Death Location maps is sobering viewing. The myriad charts which breakdown the victims by career—the majority were domestic workers, vagrants, midwives and weavers—is humanising.
But what of a physical memorial in the landscape? What would a national memorial look like? The possibility of a successful site brings to mind the powerful Steilnesest Memorial, in Vardø, Norway. Louise Bourgeois’ last installation, entitled The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved, was a collaboration with Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Years ago, I embarked on a pilgrimage to Vardø to see this monument, only to be thwarted by a wild Norwegian sea which was so violent we could not dock, but that is a story for another day. The structure commemorates over 100 women, girls and Sami men executed. The memorial is set in a larger structure on the craggy coastline. It is a burning chair in a dark glass box, surrounded by mirrors that reflect the viewer and the perpetually burning flame.
In Salem Massachusetts, there is a memorial to 20 people executed for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. It is a series of granite benches set in a low stone wall surrounding the Old Burying Point. Each bench is inscribed with the names of the accused, and their date of execution. Maggie Smith and James Cutler designed the memorial which was inspired by the Vietnam Memorial.
Can a monument shift the discussion of these dead women and men? Often we only hear of the victims in news stories or on commercial ghost tours, dusted off for Halloween, with the attending broomsticks and black cats. Could a monument help frame the victims in a new light? What shape could Scotland give to its memory of atrocity? How can a monument make space for witness and ultimately healing?
For the past year I have been travelling to witches monuments throughout Scotland, visiting stones, fountains and even hedge mazes dedicated to people who were accused witches during the Scottish witch hunts of the 17th century. I’ve mapped them and added field notes with a kind of trainspotter impulse. There are many secreted away outside a village here, beside a suburban lawn there, each with its own story. Some are called “The Witches Stone” or are menhirs marked with a date. Some are nothing but a big rock with stories, told over hundreds of years, attributing them to the women killed during the witch trials of the 17th century. Often these stones mark the “last woman burned” as if the monument would keep history from repeating, like a revenant stone over the grave of the unquiet dead.
As I have written up my field notes, the face of Lilias Adie has stared back at my from my laptop’s screen where I keep it as a reminder. An accused witch murdered in 1704, her face has been reconstructed from a photo of her skull by Dr Christopher Rynn of Dundee University. She has been the tutelary spirit of this project, and hers may very well be the face that launches a national memorial. The morning before I posted my notes on Lilias Adie, I received an email reply from Councillor Kate Stewart who represents the area in Fife where Lilias Adie’s grave is located. She was central in making a wreath laying memorial event for Lilias. She told me that since the wreath laying, the story of Lilias has taken off on social media and she has been contacted by artists and writers from all over the world, curious about Lilias’ story. She has asked for the grave of Lilias Adie to be registered as a site of National Importance and there has been a public meeting to discuss a National memorial organised by Fife Witches Remembered. The proposal put forward uses the Beamer Rock Lighthouse which would be re-erected near the site of Lilias’ grave. The beacon was originally a non-illuminated day navigation beacon, but I wonder if, for the memorial, light could be involved in some way, as a flame or reflected light. The minutes of the memorial meeting state “The lighthouse would make an excellent low-maintenance landscape feature or memorial. The structure is built of a high quality whitish coloured sandstone (probably Longannet Quarry stone) and could be easily cleaned back to natural stone.” The lighthouse, like most of the lighthouses in Scotland, was built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s family. Lighthouses are heroic by nature, built as they are under often violent conditions, saving many lives. The poetry of a lighthouse monument for Scotland is unmistakeable: thrashed by storms and beaten by the tides, it still shines its light of hope and redemption, of home.
How would you see our fallen dead— the sisters, daughters, wives, mothers and neighbours—remembered? The shape the monument takes will be important, as important as the momentum we now have to make this happen. We can finally look Lilias Adie in the eyes and say, we are righting this.