It is 19.09.18. I am staring at the photograph because it calms me. It was taken in Dubrovnik, by a deaf Austrian pharmacist. It shows three women; one from Austria, one from Scotland, and one from Germany. We are all smiling. It is rare that we three meet, and the resonance with the witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth makes us laugh. This reference seems particularly pertinent to us because we first bonded on an outing, organized during the first residential week of our Masters course, to a forest near Magdeburg famous for its history of witches. We are Hexen.
German Hexe (n): witch from Middle High German hecse, from Old High German hagzissa; hexen(v) to practice witchcraft, to work miracles; Hexene (n): C6H12
The photograph was taken two days before the start of my Herbology course; my witches are delighted for me, and are joking that I will become a certified witch. In fact, we are each facing our own major changes in direction. There seems to be something in the stars. My German Hexe has just begun her PhD and taken a new part-time position at a German University. Our Austrian Hexe has recently terrified us all by narrowly escaping death with an entirely accidental diagnosis of a heart condition requiring 14 hours of emergency surgery, from which she almost did not recover. But that was 6 weeks ago, and her characteristic ability to amaze us with her tenacity and strength has already returned.
My concerns pale in comparison. I stare at the photograph for a while longer, sipping its power to fortify.
I believe in witches. That is, I believe in alternative systems of knowledge. And I believe in history’s particularly misogynistic suppression of that knowledge, and its violent eradication of the structures of transmission of that knowledge.
I was born and raised in Lancashire, once the south-western tip of the Kingdom of the Isles. The persecution of the Lancashire witches was as brutal as any other and, as a female, I was acutely aware of my inheritance. A tour of Lancaster Castle’s chamber of torture equipment left an indelible imprint on my adolescent eye.
Of course, much of the ‘witchcraft’ these women practiced was community medicine. Herbalism. Much of their dark knowledge was simply herbology.
I remind myself that being here — on this recognised course, at a world-renowned institution — is an act of reclamation long overdue.
And I think about miracles.