‘Utter Bedlam’-A Story of Women’s Mental Health

 

 

‘Utter Bedlam (Elizabeth)’  and ‘Utter Bedlam (Janet)’ 

Elizabeth Clarke was the first woman in Britain to be persecuted by the Witchfinder General and was hanged in 1645. Janet Horne was the last person to be executed for witchcraft and was burned to death in 1727.

‘Utter Bedlam’ (Elizabeth)
‘Utter Bedlam (Janet)’

These two paper cuts were inspired by my research concerning the treatment of women accused of witchcraft in the Seventeenth Century Witch Trails and later the treatment of female patients in the Hospital of ‘St Mary of Bethlehem’ in London, which came to be known as ‘Bedlam’.

What is particularly poignant about these pieces is the strange movement of the women’s hair. In the book, ‘Witch – The Wild Ride From Wicked To Wicca’, author Candace Savage writes, “In the iconography of witchcraft, the strange forward movement of the hair had been used as a sign of the Devil’s unnatural powers. In 1811, the same symptom reappeared in a scientific text on hysteria”.  The Elizabeth and Janet paper cuts come from illustrations found in a scientific paper at the ‘Bibliotheque Nationale de France’, of a female patient considered to be suffering from Hysteria.  

Hysteria, was later disproved by Sigmund Freud who viewed the symptoms as a physical manifestation of the unconscious mind, including repressed desires. No wonder then, that the Seventeenth Century Witch Trails seemed to coincide with the rise of the Puritan faith as hundreds of women started showing signs of “Hysteria” or “Devil Possession” (according to the Puritans). In the Puritan faith, women were treated harshly and were viewed as instruments of Satan.

“All wickedness is but little

to the wickedness of a woman”.

Ecclesiasticus XXV

Judge Pierre de Rosteguy, Sieur de Lancre was appointed by King Henry IV of France as Witchfinder General in 1608. He also had a mistrust of women believing them to be in league with Satan. His Lordship was particularly concerned about women’s hair. “The way it flowed across their shoulders and shimmered in the light, as violent as a sunburst in a stormy sky. The way it framed their eyes – such fascinating eyes – as dangerous in love,” he tells us, “as in witchcraft” (from Witch – by Candance Savage)

From being burned as witches to experimented on in Mental Health Institutions, women have surely suffered greatly at the hands of those, who pretty much, sent them insane in the first place!

A Witch Ghost Hunt At Nunny Castle

 

In a conversation with local witch historian Andrew Pickering, I discovered that the woman named Julian Cox, whose story had inspired my paper cut and ceremonial candle wax piece ‘Hare Woman‘, was actually rumoured to haunt Nunny Castle in Somerset.  With this knowledge, it seemed inevitable that my next project would be a ghost hunt!.

On a bitterly cold, but bright November afternoon, I drove to Nunny Castle accompanied by two young women, who had agreed to be my models for the project now called ‘Witch Ghost Hunt‘. On arriving at Nunny car park, we unloaded the ceremonial clothing, candles, sage and other witchcraft ritual items (and very warm coats) which we had packed into the boot of the car at the start of our journey.

On approaching, the Castle was bathed in the beautiful, golden light of the winter sun and was breathtaking. I had decided that rather than trying to contact the ghost of Julian Cox, I would ask the models to perform a “Cleansing” ritual. In witchcraft and shamanic traditions, this ritual releases spirits who are trapped in a particular place.

    

In addition to performing the Cleansing ritual, I asked the models to dress in clothes that may represent the witch spirits that might be found at Nunny Castle.

The real magic happened, as the glowing sun gave way to the evening darkness, and the last of the visitors left the Castle. There were a couple of unsettling moments as the models performed the ritual. Although, in separate towers of the castle, both young women heard a hiss close to their ear while cleansing the towers with the smoke of burning White Sage. One model remarked, “I think we have pissed off the witch ghost!“.  The atmosphere was both eerie and mystical at the same time.

Witnessing, the two young women move around the Castle interior, performing the Cleansing ritual, I wondered about Julian Cox; the women who supposedly had been born in Nunny and was accused of and put to death for witchcraft. I felt a sadness for what she had been made to endure, along with many other innocent women and men, put to death during the European witch hunt hysteria.