Monday, July 31, 2017

For Women Everywhere & Grace Sherwood

The USA Today post, “Witchy fashion is 2017's most exciting, subversive trend” has been going around social media. The article shares one of the fall trends with a focus on the “witch style” while noting that there are “many archetypes of the modern witch” which include "goth witches in black maxi dresses and capes”… yay! Capes are always good but they have been around in mainstream fashion for the last few years. 

The article pointed to a few other descriptions with one being the “mall witches in anime buns….” Are anime buns the same as Princess Leia buns? If so, I’ve been rocking them for weeks because it has been over 100 degrees every day in Virginia and because, up until yesterday when my Gremlin Spike finally scared me, I have been parting down the middle to try to distract folks from noticing my grey roots.

I don’t follow fashion trends so much but I do like being aware if this season I will be able to find lace and velvet in the mainstream shops. Recently, I bought a long, floor-length dress and a kimono-style garment, which isn’t something that I have ever wanted to wear before (mostly because they have little form and I’m a busty girl that needs some structure!).

And, as the article notes at the very end:

"…once you begin to awaken your inner witch, it also becomes clear that blindly following trends or copying what some celebrity is wearing is just another way of suppressing our own authentic self-expression."

*Witches* have been on my mind recently. Last week, my Babushka (my best friend/ more-like sister) and I had an excursion to Virginia Beach and then to Colonial Williamsburg to see the performance “Cry Witch.” We made a day of it by going to the Grace Sherwood statue and then attending the performance.

When you think witch trials in this country, you rarely think of the Commonwealth but it has its own history of witchcraft cases.

As I wrote in last year’s blog post about scapegoats:  
Although most conquer up the Salem Witch trials when they consider colonial witchcraft, in 1626, Virginia was the first of the colonies to see a formal accusation of witchcraft of Joan Wright out of Surry County; and, in 1641, Virginia held the first trial with Mrs. George Barker out of Norfolk.

Two cases, to me, are particularly interesting. The first is with Katherine Grady who is considered the only person who was ever executed for witchcraft in Virginia. Even with convictions, Virginia officials were always hesitant about executing anyone convicted of witchcraft (perhaps one tiny aspect of Virginia history that isn’t so problematic). Ms. Grady’s case is particularly troubling because she had never even set foot on Virginia soil. Instead, she was traveling on a ship headed for the new colony from England when a fierce storm had the passengers seeking a scapegoat. For whatever reason, the elderly Grady became that woman and she was hung at sea. Because Virginia was the ship’s destination, the murder was under the Virginia colony’s jurisdiction and the captain had to report this when the ship arrived in Jamestown.

The second case came in 1698 when Grace Sherwood, who was considered a bit eccentric for the times, had rumors spread that she practiced witchcraft. Sherwood was a healer, an herbalist and a midwife who allegedly “wore men’s trousers when planting crops” (Strock). Later, she was accused of bewitching pigs and destroying crops. She was also accused of “riding” a neighbor before escaping through a keyhole.

After several other allegations, Sherwood had formal charges against her in 1706. She was searched for the marks of the witch. Although none were found, she was ordered to a water ducking trial. Basically, if her body floated to the surface she was guilty; and, if her body sunk being accepted by nature, she was proven innocent. She survived and thus was proven guilty of witchcraft. She was imprisoned for 8 years and then released to live out the remainder of her life.

Just ten years ago, in 2006, former Governor Tim Kaine (who is now running for the office of Vice President for my international friends) exonerated Sherwood on the 300th anniversary of her trial.

Colonial Williamsburg’s “Cry Witch” performance goes through the case of Grace Sherwood. During the trial, the Colonial lawyers point out what was acceptable in court trials of that time, including dreams as damning evidence. In the end, the audience gets to make the ruling. It was a close-call while we were there but the group still found Sherwood guilty of witchcraft.

I don’t believe that focusing on witches is a new trend. Last winter, I attended the performance “The Peculiar Case of Jane Wentworth: A Witch Trial Based on Historical Texts” at Agecroft Hall; and, then later my fella and I attended the Colonial Williamsburg for the “Curse of the Sea Witch” event. There is resonance in our political climate. In my course on vampires, I repeatedly say, “It’s never about the monster.” This emphasis on witches, eccentric or simply working women who spoke up for themselves, isn’t actually about witches. Let’s be honest; this is about women.
Selfie with the actress who played Grace Sherwood

Works Cited
"A Tale of Witchcraft at Hertford Theatre." Hertfordshire Mercury. Hertfordshire Mercury, 07 June 2012. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Bond, Edward L. "Source of Knowledge, Source of Power: The Supernatural World of English Virginia, 1607–1624." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 108, no. 2 (2000): 105–138.
Burgess, Maureen Rush. The Cup of Ruin and Desolation: Seventeenth-century Witchcraft in the Chesapeake. Ph.D. Dissertation. U of Hawaii, 2004. Print.
"History." Agecroft Hall. Agecroft Hall, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Klein, Christopher. "Before Salem, the First American Witch Hunt." A&E Television Networks, 2012. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Miller, Kate. The Last Witch. directed by Richard Syms; produced by Pins & Feathers Productions; performed at Hertford Theatre and at Walkern Hall, Herts. 2012.
Ross, Jessica, and Jessica Hann. "Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Sea Witch." Making History: Inspiration for the Modern Revolutionary. Colonial Williamsburg, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Strock, Anna. "These 14 Real Life Witches Show the 'Wicked' Side of Virginia's History." Only In Virginia. OnlyInYourState, 13 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Witkowski, Monica C. "Witchcraft in Colonial Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 30 May. 2014. Web. 4 Oct. 2016.
Woodall, Janet. "Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern." Walkern History Society. N.p., 24 Nov. 2011. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.

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