Saturday, August 23, 2014

Guest Post: Women and Witchcraft by Anna Belfrage

Flashlight Commentary and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours are pleased to host author Anna Belfrage as a guest contributor and eagerly invite readers to enjoy her original feature, Women and Witchcraft.

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In the lost mists of time, long before the advent of monotheist religions, man worshiped Mother Nature. Time passed, civilisations developed, and somewhere 4 000 years ago, the old veneration for Mother Nature – a most female deity – was replaced by the decidedly male God of the Hebrews, soon to become the equally male God of Christians and Muslims.

A Patriarch God preferred male servants – or so the male servants said. Scripture abounds with examples putting women in their place – below men. St Paul states that “woman was created for the sake of man” and men like Thomas of Aquino did women a disservice when he described us as being intellectually inferior to men, weak vessels that did best in acknowledging man’s supremacy. 

Further to this, woman was much more susceptible to sin than men – after all, it was Eve, not Adam, who ate that famous apple. And let us not get into the myth of Lilith, that ultimate apocryphal seductress, proving once and for all that woman was susceptible to lust, a creature ruled by her carnal desires and adept at entrapping men in her web of sensual pleasures. Ugh, said Thomas of Aquino, wrinkling his nose. Seriously, he added, sex for pleasure is a sin, and women are most sinful of all.

It suited the powerful Church to relegate women to the fringes of things. By combining a subtle defamation campaign along the lines described above with the often repeated “truth” that women are weak and need male protectors, women were eased out of almost all positions of power – at least officially. 

Women who chose not to listen, or who continued to draw on ancient knowledge to heal and help others were viewed with distrust. Witches, their uneducated neighbours would whisper – but more in awe than in fear. Initially, however, the Church scoffed at the concept of magic and witches, stating that such things did not exist, and it was very rare for anyone to be accused of witchcraft. But in the 15th century, things began to change. For one thing, the Church was battling an increased number of heretics, and secondly, popular belief began to equate witches with heretics – in the sense that a witch worshiped Satan. A papal bull late in the century and the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer) in 1487 effectively created an open season on witches – most of whom were female (of course, what with us being weak and sinful to begin with…) 

Things didn’t explode until late in the 16th century. The tensions of the Reformation coupled with the general instability of the times created fertile ground for witch hunters, and suddenly there were witches crawling out of every fissure in the ground, both on the Continent and in Britain. No matter how many voices were raised protesting the barbaric practises of torturing a woman to extract her confession of being a witch, they didn’t help – especially not when such prominent figures as James VI of Scotland loudly argued that witches did exist and had to be fought with whatever means possible. 

Enter the Witch-finder, usually a man, who claimed to have the ability of identifying all potential witches. One such man was Matthew Hopkins, and what childish dreams he may have had regarding what he wanted to be when he grew up we will never know, as essentially nothing is known of Matthew Hopkins until that day in 1645 when out he pops of the woodwork, a self-proclaimed Witch-finder General. 

At the time, Hopkins was a young man, some years and twenty, and over the coming years he was to more or less singlehandedly cause the death by hanging of 300 witches (mostly women) Given that it is estimated the total number of people executed for witchery in England is around 500, one can but assume that Hopkins took to being a Witch-finder as fish take to water. 

He extracted confessions through various creative procedures, such as sleep deprivation and “pricking”, whereby the accused was shaved of all body hair and submitted to being pricked with a long, sharp needle. Should the needle hit upon a point that didn’t bleed – well, obviously the naked terrified woman being inspected was a witch. 

Fortunately for the women of England, Hopkins died in 1647 – still a number of years shy of his thirtieth birthday. At the time, his methods were already being questioned, and a number of people were speaking out against him, accusing him of being a cheat (duh), more motivated by the money involved than by any genuine desire to cleanse the world of real evil.  

Unfortunately for several women in the New World, Hopkins was very proud of his methods – so proud he wrote a handbook, called The Discovery of Witches in 1647. This book was taken as the ultimate guide in how to find witches – at least in the Colonies – and indirectly Hopkins would thereby cause a number of further deaths in America – long after he was dead.

This little handbook offered a number of alternatives as to how to reveal a witch. Sleep deprivation and pricking have already been mentioned, but Hopkins was also a warm advocate of the swimming test, whereby the unfortunate woman was tied up and thrown into the water. If she floated, she was a witch, if she sank she was innocent. Most people float – at least initially – when thrown in water. And once they start sinking, chances are they’re already more dead than alive…

Over the coming years, Hopkins’ methods would be applied to a number of unfortunates, starting with poor Margaret Jones, a Boston midwife who was hanged as a witch in 1648. His suggested approach to witch discovery was also used at the notorious Salem Trials of the 1690’s, and the swimming test would be continued to be used for a number of decades after that, as testified by the sad case of Grace Sherwood, who was ducked in 1706, had the misfortune (or not) to float, and accordingly spent the following eight years in prison for witchcraft. 

Over time, the voice of reason prevailed. Over time, men would yet again scoff at the ridiculous notion of witches. Sadly, that reaction came too late to save the estimated 50 000 people, 75% of which were women, who were executed during those centuries when it sufficed to point finger and yell “witch” to bring that person’s life tumbling down. 

In Revenge and Retribution, my main character, Alex Graham, faces accusations of being a witch. No wonder she is more than unnerved when she hears this. Just the thought of being subjected to one more humiliating inspection after the other – plus the fear that she might be found guilty – must have led to an endless number of sleepless nights!

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I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

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A dark and addictive tale, Revenge and Retribution proved impossible to put down. Highly recommended to both fans of the series and those discovering it for the first time.
-  Erin Davies at Flashlight Commentary

Anna writes deep, emotional historical novels, adding the fantastical element of the time slip and a “what if?” scenario, and creates for us a world in which to be lost in on rainy days and weekend reading fests.
- Erin Al-Mehairi at Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK!

With each book she writes about the Grahams, I have been blown away by her characters’ lives and their family unit. One can tell how much heart and soul puts into her characters and the situation they are going through no matter what. 
- Stephanie Moore Hopkins at Layered Pages

 I loved the element of historical detail in this book. I loved learning a little bit of new information about my state! Overall, this was a very good story that I ate up!
- Meg at A Bookish Affair

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'Revenge & Retribution' is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage's time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham. Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure - as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them. Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it's Matthew's brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her. Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex's entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them. On a sunny May afternoon, Philip finally achieves his aim and over the course of the coming days Alex sees her whole life unravelling, leaving her family permanently maimed. As if all this wasn't enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex's arms to begin a new life in the wilderness. How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: July 1,2014
Released by: SilverWood Books
Length: 391 pages
ISBN-10: 1781321752
Genre: Historical Crossover
Series: The Graham Saga

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Check Out All the Stops on Anna Belfrage's Revenge and Retribution Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Friday, August 15
Review at Just One More Chapter
Monday, August 18
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, August 19
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Guest Post at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, August 20
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Friday, August 22
Review at Layered Pages
Monday, August 25
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, August 26
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, August 27
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Friday, August 29
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, September 1
Review at Dianne Ascroft Blog
Tuesday, September 2
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, September 3
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, September 4
Review at Kincavel Korner
Friday, September 5
Guest Post at Kincavel Korner
Guest Post at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog

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