We are in the presence of art. The Witching Hour

Posted: November 5, 2013 in art, for your reflection

Thoughts on the Witching Hour, performed on November 1 and 2 by the Judy Dworin Performance Project.

On the stage Katherine Harrison tells her story, A servant in Hartford then marrying a wealthy landowner in Wethersfield and after his death she is the owner of the largest farm in town. Then the trouble starts. Within months of her husbands death, an onslaught of lawsuits and accusations against Katherine began.

” Her animals are mauled, her crops destroyed, tongues wag and fingers point she is declared a witch.  After two years of depositions, Harrison was found guilty of witchcraft in May 1669. Harrison is not executed but is banished from Wethersfield.”

In between Harrison telling her story the dancers dance, they dance the stories of these women, those who society, the good folks the religious folks have singled out as the other. The witch. The good folks, the liars, the greedy, the fearful, the hateful, the intolerant. The folks who if ever justice is served in the afterlife will suffer more times than they ever suffered a witch with death.

We are in the presence of art. We knew it as soon as the lights began to come up over the stage and the first dancer unfolded herself moving backwards, foot stretching out from beneath her skirt, We knew it again as a dancer walked across the sage and flowing behind him a shimmering blue cloth of river, water. Look again and it is river , it is water. The choice of the cloth, the shimmer of the material says water and I am convinced. She is on top of the water sinks below the blue and is dead. Innocent cries out, May god have mercy on your soul. My mind, raising from my seat  wants to find those responsible for such a nonsensical justice, raising to throw them the judges, the murders into the river.  Sink or swim its all the same you are dead anyway.

Photograph John Woike Hartford Courant

Guilty or innocent? Guilty in the eyes of those who fear.  Lying on their backs the dancer’s legs and feet tell the story, moving all about in the air they dance. Their world turned upside down. The women of which they speak, their world turned upside down. Legs and feet dance in the air, the world below belongs to everyone else. The good folks, the goody goods, the good good goody goods, as the chants goes.

We are in the presence of art and we know it again and again through out the evening. The simple props of a long white apron tells the story a thousand times. The apron tells a complex telling of the lives of these women accused of being witches for whatever gains the accusers could receive. Their land, their livestock, their homes no longer theirs but gained by those who point their fingers and say witch. Be gone witch. Swinging from a tree, no more there, swinging from a tree out of jealousy, hate, greed, fear.

The dancers move to front stage shaking out their aprons, on the floor scrubbing, tilling the fields, weaving, and shaking again out their aprons. Shaking off the drudgery of life. Trying to shake off the tall tales that burden them. They dance their aprons cutting the space. We are in the presence of art and we know it. Out in the lobby of the theater is a sculpture, trees with aprons between them. A silent powerful testimony to what we will see inside.

We are in the presence of art and we can tell by the lighting , by the poetry, the chosen music, the movement, the telling of the story we sit and watch and the time flies by and then the calling out. The calling out of the names of the accused. The accused, the different, the outsiders, the poor, the servants, the wealthy. Fear ignorance and intolerance rule the day. Fear of the great outside, fear of bear and wolf, fear of the river flooding, fear of the Indians. The same fear brought down through the ages of that which was outside the tight little confines in the world of sameness. The calling out of the names

Mary Johnson, Alse Young, John Carrington, Joan Carrington, Rebecca Greensmith, Nathaniel Greensmith, Mary Barnes,  Elizabeth Knapp

“They were the victims of delusion, not of dishonor, of a perverted theology fed by moral aberrations, of a fanaticism which never stopped to reason, and halted at no sacrifice to do God’s service; and they were all done to death, or harried into exile, disgrace, or social ostracism, through a mistaken sense of religious duty: but they stand innocent of deep offense and only guilty in the eye of the law written in the Word of God, as interpreted and enforced by the forefathers who wrought their condemnation, and whose religion made witchcraft a heinous sin, and whose law made it a heinous crime.”

And for us, queers of the world.

Yes we are in the presence of art and the question looms large, How these fears of difference can turn dangerous for people. Queers do not have to look any further than the oppression that our trans sisters and brothers face daily in many aspects of their lives. How fear of our people turns deadly at every turn.  On November 20 as in years past the names are read out loud, we remember and ask when will this hate, this intolerance, this fear of the other end? When will our comrades, our friends, our sisters, and brothers be free to be just who they are? Our children are harassed, our children are bullied, beaten, thrown out of their homes. The cries against them become so deafening that they swing at the end of a rope, a barrel of a gun down their throat, a jump from the water tower. The crowd the insiders hang them in another way. Guilty for being who they are. Guilty, guilty guilty. Our beautiful young children dead. For what fear of the other, for some perverted religious view?

Just a thought worth thinking about.

It is interesting to note that today nearly 350 years later two of the very churches involved in the persecution of these women have not learned very much. Today both are still rallying against outsiders whom they do not think fit the bill of goods laid out by their god. The South Church in Hartford founded in 1670 by John Whiting who played a central role in condemning the women and men, the the First Congregational Church in Wethersfield which played a role in the witchcraft trials there are both rallying churches against gays, lesbians, bisexual and Transgender people. Blocking in what ever manner and preaching from their pulpits against our people.  No they can’t hang us today but we will not even begin to speculate what they would try to get away with if they continue to become overwhelmed by their rhetoric against those who they consider to be outsiders. Their intolerance, their mistaken sense of religious duty,  and bigotry are the true sins.

One of the churches The Center Church in Hartford founded by Thomas Hooker also played a role in the persecutions of women accused as witches. The Reverend Samuel Stone of Hartford who served in the church can not be let off the hook that easy. Though today the Center Church is very liberal we wonder if they ever apologized for the wrong doing of the founders and their flocks?

Reverend Samuel Stone Statue at Ancient Burying Ground - Hartford CT Photo

This statue of Stone is near the Ancient Burying Ground

We read this account

“The first recorded confession of witchcraft in Connecticut was given under duress by Mary Johnson in 1648. Mary was a servant whose legal troubles began around 1646, when she was accused of theft. Under pressure from the minister, Samuel Stone, and after extended whipping, Mary confessed that she was guilty of witchcraft (or, as it was called, “familiarity with the Devil”) and fully described her crimes, including using the Devil to help her with her household chores. She admitted to “uncleanness with men and Devils” and even to the “murder of a child”, although she was not indicted for murder or adultery. However, the charge of “familiarity with the Devil” stuck and, on the strength of her confession, she was sentenced to death. She gave birth to a baby boy while awaiting her sentence in jail in Hartford, Connecticut. The execution was delayed, probably due to her pregnancy, until June 1650, when she was hanged.”

Reverend Samuel Stone, accompanied by youthful Reverend Joseph Haynes of Wethersfield, and Reverend Samuel Hooker of Farmington formed a prosecutorial tribunal. They gathered evidence, recorded notes, and forcefully interrogated witnesses.

Notes:

For an excellent blog spot to read about witchcraft in Connecticut see HERE.

Connecticut Witch Trials, from the Wethersfield Historical Society, first printed in the Hog River Journal.

In all, Connecticut heard 43 witchcraft cases, with 16 of these ending in execution. And Wethersfield, with nine documented accusations and three executions between 1648 and 1668.

For a really good story see, “A Great or Notorious Liar” Katherine Harrison and her Neighbors, Wethersfield Connecticut 1668-1670. Written by Liam Connell, University of Melbourne.

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