Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mary Bliss Parsons, is that you?


I was looking through my archives and realized I never corrected a major error. In this post, I attached an image that I identified as a painting of my ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons. It’s not! (and one of the commenters references another painting of her with a child, which also cannot be the case.) The image was posted at the UMass website with no caption. Because the site is about MBP and because (I must say it) the woman looks VERY MUCH like members of my family, I made the hopefully-understandable assumption that it depicts her.

I got in touch with the UMass webmistress to request permission to possibly use the image in The Witch’s Trinity, which has an extensive afterword about Mary Bliss Parsons. She informed me that there are no images of MBP. The UMass people had simply noticed the website was devoid of images and cast about to find some. The painting is of the same era, illustrating “Colonial America,” so they used it. They ran out of time and funding to properly caption the image.

(But I hasten to say the website is in all other regards completely amazing. Where else would I have been able to see—handwriting and all—the testimony in Mary Bliss Parsons’ witchcraft cases, without traveling all the way to Massachusetts? It also has a very in-depth analysis of my ancestor’s circumstances versus her accuser’s.)

The funny thing is, the woman in the image is basically a dead-ringer for my mom dressed as a Colonial woman. I’m blown away that this doesn’t depict our ancestor! (By the same token, it initially amazed me that after eleven generations, faces could still be so similar).

Interesting crinkle #1:
There was a second painting on the website (the one I think the commenter on my original post was referring to). I have to give my mother credit for questioning it. She said that she had seen it somewhere before (no, not in our attic!). With a strong interest in Colonial painting/furniture/antiques, she recalled that this portrait was unusual for that era in its use of yellow for the woman’s garment. I googled while she pulled out her books. And I was able to locate the painting, which identified the sitter as the wife of someone—not a Parsons. I just now tried to again locate the image; why didn’t I bookmark it? Can’t find it now.

Interesting crinkle #2:
I just went back to the Umass website and am unable to locate either painting. Looks like they took them down. And added some new content: nice work, guys!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Calling Down the Rain

This image from De Lamiis shows witches bringing down the rain. It looks like they are feeding the cauldron with a snake and a rooster.

Witches were feared for their ability to affect natural phenomena. For people whose lives were staked upon whether crops would fail or succeed, the elements were a fearsome unknown. A cold snap could kill the harvest, or too much or too little rain. If power to affect these elements was in the hands of malevolent neighbors, who were assisted by the devil, well, they were to be hated. And executed.

In The Witch's Trinity, townspeople whose village has been famine-struck look about themselves wildly to find who has kept the fields barren. And thus the witch hunt begins.

Image is from Witchcraft in Europe 1100-1700 by Alan C. Kors and Peter Edwards


Going through some old paperwork tonight, I found a draft copy of my first novel with a completely different title on it—a name I had forgotten. You see, various attempts to position it as more of a mystery or less of a mystery had me and a former agent trying on different names. I don’t believe it ever went to an editor under the title “The Blood-Soaked Bonnet” (the title page I just unearthed), but it was submitted under “The China Silk Murders.” The book at that point had plot points surrounding a scrap of silk found clenched in one of the murdered women’s hands. My original title for the novel had been “Ill Fame,” and it was published earlier this year under the much-better expansion, “Woman of Ill Fame.”

Similarly, The Witch’s Trinity was named Hexe (the German word for witch). I loved this title and thought it could really lend itself to some gorgeous cover art. I was ultimately won over by arguments against this title (hard to pronounce! confusing!) and am pleased with what went to press. I’ve seen online reviews poke fun at it and say it is not a serious-enough title, but I like the fact that it makes more sense once you’ve read the book.

And let’s not even talk about my unpublished young adult novel that has had five titles…

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hodder & Stoughton

Today The Witch's Trinity launches in England from the publisher Hodder & Stoughton--perfect timing, being the 13th of the month!

Welcome to any of you coming to this blog from across the big pond. My intent here is to continue to post witchcraft-related content for those who are interested in learning more. It's tough, though, during the holiday season, which for us stateside began in November with Thanksgiving.

During readings, people often ask me how the witch craze finally drew to a close. After all, why stop after four hundred years of persecution? That's got a lot of momentum.

There are many, interconnected and complex reasons for the witch craze coming to an end. One, that I'll quickly explore here, is the fact that they simply ran out of women. Literally, in a few cases: there were two German towns that were left with one woman each.

Can you imagine being that one woman?

In a more general sense, though, the villages and cities ran out of women who were stereotypically able to fulfill the role of witch. These would be women outside of society somehow: whether poverty-stricken, displaying mental health issues, or perhaps just outside the bounds of what was "normal" for a woman at this time--marrying and producing offspring. These women were easy to capture, interrogate and execute.

But when all those women are gone and the roving accusatorial eye then rested on women who were not the typical witchlike woman... women important to their society, who were married, linked with upright men of the community... well, then it became a little more unsettling. Instead of a self-righteous certainty that your village has executed a witch, you begin to be a little worried that she was actually innocent.

In Salem, Massachusetts, the witch hunts came to a fairly abrupt halt when the governor's own wife was accused.

There were of course many other facets to the closure of witchcraft (which actually is not a solidly-closed door--please see my previous post about the agonizing tragedy of young children in Africa facing accusations of witchcraft today) and I will touch on those in later posts.

Thanks for checking in!