full moon in Gemini
on English Witch Trials and Othered Bodies
Welcome to this my long overdue first step into Substack land, my intention is that these posts will serve as accompaniment to my ongoing art practice, whether to give background context or as stand alone texts. If you are interested to know more about my art making then I can be found here @geraldine.hudson_
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On Witch Trials and Othered Bodies
This post was written during the full moon at the end of November, during the grey void, the dead time – between Samhain and the Winter Solstice. The darkness of Winter being the time when considering and writing about my art making feels easier.
It specifically feels like the right time to introduce an ongoing field research led project, taking the Witch Trials in England as a starting point – with a mind to how revisiting the past can evolve into scripting the future and how, at times projects stubbornly re-materialise - maybe it’s their inherent nature to do so as part of the cycle of time.
There's so much I want to write about this current research – and that I should have already written, particularly after each visit, but I also wanted to let all the collected impressions and many interwoven strands be able to sit for a while - as I sat with them, and with the thoughts of these women’s lives - so there will be more and this post is just a background primer, of sorts …
Image from the title page of A Rehearsall both Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile (1579)
An initial interest in openly examining the English Witch Trials surfaced in my practice around 2012 after picking up a booklet called The Burning Women at the anarchist book fair in Stockholm – this text was responsible for reviving something long buried and helped to bridge the cognitive gap between my former self and my then current preoccupations and practice which merged ecology, embodied place and magick.
The essay itself simply and skilfully made the connections between persecution of the poor (through tax reforms and land enclosures) control of women’s bodies/psyche, severance of our connection to the land/earth and reminded me that, the historical anger and wrath I had always been aware of, due to the horrors of inequality, that those feelings were righteous.
During this time, I was living in Sweden and had been away from England since 2007, so wasn't aware of the cultural anglo/american stirrings regarding all things witchcraft - It often occurs that synchronicities which are universal, also appear as inner personal intuitive forms of knowing, then you suddenly realise you are deep in it along with everyone else. So having recently reignited my own interest in magick as a practitioner and living in a country which felt more open minded around all things 'other' I was freed to explore what felt like forgotten her-stories – who were these women, why were they persecuted, why wasn't this talked about more and how did this relate to contemporary experiences of misogyny.
In 2013 I put together a body of work dealing with these concerns - the concluding private performance and exhibition ‘Sanitary’ resulting from issues raised in the Burning Women leaflet, conjoined with my preoccupation with dirt/earth/soil as cultural signifiers alongside the etymology of the language used to control, belittle and demean women, historically and in the present day.
(more about Sanitary to come in another post)
So to 2018, where my earlier work had morphed into an art making which was informed by a deeply solitary magickal practice, this alongside working in unison with cosmological accordances became a type of hybrid praxis which evolved into performative rites/spells, field recording soundscapes and canvases made from the ashes created during performance works - some of this making up the Topography of the Witch series. This art being a way of exploring ideas around embodied practice and site, incorporating contemporary concerns around the female body, territory, ownership and land – enabling an empirical examination of the corporeal/psyche union, a rejection of the Cartesian split - whilst including an intuitive analysis of sacred/profance pscho-geology – the work which unfolded as well as being a conduit for an overtly personal exploration was also a test bed for this way of working both privately and publicly. The beginning of a storytelling, the artwork as the medium.
The visual and concrete elements of my art making, are often drawn from months (sometimes years) of collated material, photo documentation, and visceral impressions, which are sorted and sifted, analysed and distilled, a type of inner alchemical process - so it's often in hindsight that I can piece the significant parts together, an obsession with sacred/profane place – the use of contemporary rite as artistic current, a connection with the more than human and a subversion of hauntology as a vehicle for re-scripting the present.
As Topography of the Witch seemed to have come to a natural hiatus in 2020, I started to interrogate the use of objects more in my work, looking at signifiers, relics and artefacts in relation to the power they hold re storytelling and connection to the embodied experience ... how on informing ourselves about the injustices of the past we can utilise various cultural signifiers to retell stories, shift ontologies and script a different future ...
This nicely leads into the ongoing site responsive work, seeds of which began around 2020 when having moved back to England I knew I had the chance to visit the actual sites involved in the English Witch Trials and subsequent executions.
Working with clay, earth, dirt and site, has been a constant in my practice for a long time now, as signifiers for the body – death, decay and rebirth – So I decided if I wanted to really disturb the past, I had to use earth/clay from specific sites where these women were executed in England. I approached a writer who I noticed was working with a similarly open minded magic/k making approach, even if his final outcomes were different, and persuaded them that this work was important - So on the new moon of the vernal Equinox 2023 I began a series of pilgrimages with the writer Thomas Sharp, where we attempt bi-monthly visits, in accordance with the moon, to sites of historical persecution and witch executions.
This project is gradually unfurling as a conscious Act of reclamation and restoration – whilst Thomas is unearthing psychic possibilities of the Remembrane and working on a magickal book of text, we are aiming for our equal inputs into the final work to become greater than the sum of the parts.
My own artmaking around this is just beginning to come out of incubation, after consuming a lot of information, over a year after I first decided upon this pilgrimage. I feel that this body of work is deeply rooted in using story telling and revisioning of history along with a healthy dose of contemporary magick as the backbone to an alternative world building. In this sense I’ll be using spells as technologies of self hood, and consciously taking space as a woman who due to my background, life choices and neurodiversity, would possibly more than likely have been very much othered and ostracised during the period we are talking about. Apart from this, we are taking the time needed on approaching this deeply unjust and strange part of English early modern history … so I won’t say much more about this for now, except that I will be updating here as the project progresses.
I am aware there are others out there looking at the Witch trials, and am always open to further input and future collaborations, so if you are a historian, writer or artist working with these concerns and want to get in touch then I can be reached at email@example.com and more about Thomas can be found on his website here
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