Excerpt from “The witch on the margins of ‘race’, Sycorax and others:
“The witch is always located on the edges, at the margins. The village witch works through thresholds, doorways, liminal states. She attacks in such spaces, or in debatable open country or forests. Though she may be part of social networks and interactions, she is problematic in relation to them. The stage-witch, too, is conceptually and topographically removed from the centre of the dramatic action; either she is isolated from community affairs or she is geographically located elsewhere. The Sicilians are willing to speak of witches only as ‘the ladies from outside’.”(250)
While the majority of this essay is not related to the material in class, this concept is pretty important. The act of separation and isolation is a recurring theme in every one of the pieces read for this class so far. In Conjure Wife, the other women try and hound both Tansy and Norman out of their city. Thomasin’s entire family is separated from the protection of the larger Puritan community. Vanessa Ives removes herself from polite society to join Joan Clayton on the edge of Ballantree Moor. Both of the young girls in the graphic novels feel apart and isolated from their loved ones and community due to the strange things that befall them. In short, it is extremely import and it feeds directly into the fear of being alone that occurs in early modern Europe. The 16th-18th century was not a time where anyone wanted to be on their own, especially women. The freedom of being outcast and apart from their families due to some mistake of their own probably manifested itself in this way, in the seclusion of witches. It also crops up in many of the classics that have women who use magic with characters like Circe, Calypso, Weird Sisters, and the Bacchae. Additionally, it also speaks to traditional periods of separation as in when the mother is giving birth or young women menstruate for the first time. While in general a celebratory occurrence (at least for the women), there is still the fear of the unknown and having to stay separated. This is another instance where reclaiming space can be discussed.
There is also much to talk about concerning the myth of the Burning Times and the episode of Penny Dreadful. One midwife, one young apprentice, a few innocent victims, the patriarchy, and oh look, she’s burned. Sound familiar?
Purkiss’ conclusion might perhaps be my favorite part of the book, just in term of how it wraps up all of the large, problematic questions she posed. The conclusion notes that within the modern era, the witch has been confined to children’s literature, and therefore we fail to recognize her beginning’s and roots which point to a much more complex role than that of scaring children. However, Purkiss points out that these roots are still extremely visible within modern fairy tales and stories. For example, in “Hansel and Gretel”, two abandoned and starving children find a house made out of food, but this apparent sustenance comes with a dark master, the witch. In her attempt to gain the children’s trust, the witch offers them food, warmth, and a place to sleep, asserting herself as a better “mother figure” than the woman who turned the children out in the first place. However, as we all know, the witch really represents the “other mother” who wants to devour the children. Purkiss writes that this story, among others “demonstrates the resilience of the motifs of hunger and maternity in a context of privation, and also demonstrates the ongoing meaning of the witch-cannibal for women”(279). In addition, the conclusion looks at how the image and figure of the witch has been “sanitized”, that we have created new meaning for her as a bright, positive figure that is deeply contrasting with that of the true historical witch or even the traditional construction of the gruff herbalist. The final line in the conclusions is extremely important, because it is at the heart of why I wanted to do this research and bring this class into creation: “This book, inevitably, is part of the process of keeping the witch in play, playing with her, creating new meanings for her so that she remains one of the dominant figures of our mental landscapes”(283).