The First Thanksgiving — Warrington Colescott

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The First Thanksgiving, 1973 by Warrington Colescott (1921 – 2018)

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A grave and dark-clad company!” quoth Goodman Brown.

In truth, they were such. Among them, quivering to-and-fro, between gloom and splendor, appeared faces that would be seen, next day, at the council-board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land. Some affirm, that the lady of the governor was there. At least, there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled lest their mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of light, flashing over the obscure field, bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the church-members of Salem village, famous for their especial sanctity. Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived, and waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his reverend pastor. But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes. It was strange to see, that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints. Scattered, also, among their pale-faced enemies, were the Indian priests, or powows, who had often scared their native forest with more hideous incantations than any known to English witchcraft.

–From “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne (1835)

“Plants of the Witches” — Richard Folkard

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“Plants of the Witches”

by

Richard Folkard

from

Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics: Embracing the Myths Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom (1884)


HECATE, the Grecian goddess of the infernal regions, presided over magic and enchantment, and may fairly be styled the goddess, queen, and patroness of Witches and sorcerers. She was acquainted with the properties of every herb, and imparted this knowledge to her daughters Medea and Circe. To this trio of classical Witches were specially consecrated the following herbs:—The Mandrake, the Deadly Nightshade, the Common Nightshade, the Wolfs-bane, the Pontic Azalea, the Cyclamen, the Cypress, Lavender, Hyssop-leaved Mint, the Poley or Mountain Germander, the Ethiopian Pepper, the Corn Feverfew, the Cardamom, the Musk Mallow, the Oriental Sesame, the rough Smilax, the Lion’s-foot Cudweed (a love philtre), and Maidenhair, a plant particularly dear to Pluto. Medea was specially cognisant of the qualities of the Meadow Saffron, Safflower, Dyer’s Alkanet, the clammy Plantain or Fleawort, the Chrysanthemum, and the brown-berried Juniper. All these plants are, therefore, persistently sought for by Witches, who have not only the power of understanding and appreciating the value of herbs, but know also how to render harmless and innocuous plants baleful and deadly. Thus we find that an Italian Witch, condemned in 1474, was shown to have sown a certain noxious powder amidst the herbage near her dwelling, and the unfortunate cows, stricken at first with the Evil Eye, were at length attacked with a lingering but deadly malady. So, again, in the ‘Tempest,’ Shakspeare tells us that in the magic rings traced on the grass by the dance of the Elves, the herbage is imbued with a bitterness which is noisome to cattle. These rings, which are often to be met with on the Sussex Downs, are there called Hag-tracks, because they are thought to be caused by hags and Witches who dance there at night.

It is recorded that, during the period of the Witch persecutions, whoever found himself unexpectedly under an Elder-tree was involuntarily seized with such horror, that he in all probability fell into an ecstatic or hysterical state. Although not one of the trees dedicated to Hecate and her Witch progeny, the Elder appears to have invariably possessed a certain weird attraction for mischievous Elves and Witches, who are fond of seeking the shelter of its pendent boughs, and are wont to bury their satanic offspring, with certain cabalistic ceremonies, beneath its roots.

These satanic children of Witches are elfish creatures, sometimes butterflies, sometimes bumble bees, sometimes caterpillars or worms. They are called good or bad things—Holds or Holdikens. The Witches injure cattle with them; conjure them into the stem of a tree; and, as we have seen, bury them under the Elder-bushes; then, as the caterpillars eat the foliage of the tree, the hearts of those people are troubled of whom the Witches think.

The ill-omened Cercis Siliquastrum, or Judas Tree, is reputed to be specially haunted by Witches, who experience a grim pleasure in assembling around the tree on which the traitorous disciple is said to have hung himself. Perhaps it is they who have spread the tradition that death overtakes anyone who is unfortunate enough to fall into one of these trees.

The Witches of the Tyrol are reputed to have a great partiality for Alder-trees.

Witches are fond of riding about through the air in the dead of night, and perform long journeys to attend their meetings. Matthison tells us that

“From the deep mine rush wildly out

The troop of Gnomes in hellish rout:

Forth to the Witches’ club they fly;

The Griffins watch as they go by.

The horn of Satan grimly sounds;

On Blocksberg’s flanks strange din resounds,

And Spectres crowd its summit high.” Continue reading ““Plants of the Witches” — Richard Folkard”

The Witches’ Sabbath — Salvator Rosa

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The Witches’ Sabbath, 1654 by Salvator Rosa (1615-1673)

Witch’s Tavern — Cornelis Saftleven

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Circe Invidiosa — John William Waterhouse

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The Witches’ Sabbath — Arthur Rackham

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Pretty Teacher — Francisco Goya

“The Witch’s Life” — Anne Sexton

“The Witch’s Life” by Anne Sexton

When I was a child
there was an old woman in our neighborhood whom we called The Witch.
All day she peered from her second story
window
from behind the wrinkled curtains
and sometimes she would open the window
and yell: Get out of my life!
She had hair like kelp
and a voice like a boulder.

I think of her sometimes now
and wonder if I am becoming her.
My shoes turn up like a jester’s.
Clumps of my hair, as I write this,
curl up individually like toes.
I am shoveling the children out,
scoop after scoop.
Only my books anoint me,
and a few friends,
those who reach into my veins.
Maybe I am becoming a hermit,
opening the door for only
a few special animals?
Maybe my skull is too crowded
and it has no opening through which
to feed it soup?
Maybe I have plugged up my sockets
to keep the gods in?
Maybe, although my heart
is a kitten of butter,
I am blowing it up like a zeppelin.
Yes. It is the witch’s life,
climbing the primordial climb,
a dream within a dream,
then sitting here
holding a basket of fire.

“The Hag” — Robert Herrick

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Sorceress — Dominique Vivant Denon

Two Witches — Hans Baldung

Goya’s Witch/Clergy Axis (Robert Hughes)

In a disguised way, Goya in the Caprichos drew a parallel between witchcraft and the activities of the clergy. He stressed the resemblance between witches and friars in their obedience to the hierarchy of their calling, the younger deferring to the older. In plate 47, Obsequio al maestro (“Homage to the master”), an apparently senior witch looks down with stony disdain at another, who ois offering her (or him) the gift of a dead baby; the supplicant’s gesture reminds one of a groveling postulant kissing the cardinal’s ring. “Es muy justo,” runs the Prado text: “This is quite fair, they would be ungrateful disciples who failed to visit their professor, to whom they owe everything they know about their diabolical faculties.”

Plate 46, Correccion (“Correction”), shows a group of brujos, male witches, as seminarians, consulting “the great witch who runs the Barahona seminary” — whatever that institution may have been. Of course, Goya could not be too explicit about this: on the other side of any public criticism of clerical practices lay the ever-watchful eye of the Inquisition, which Goya had to be at pains to avoid.

—From Robert Hughes’s biography Goya.

Witches Spitting Fire — Joseph Beuys

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

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We’ve always felt that Bedknobs and Broomsticks is one of Disney’s most unfairly shunned films. This 1971 psychedelic classic combines live action with animation to tell the story of three young children billeted out during the blitz bombings of London in WWII (shades of Narnia). They’re sent to stay with Miss Price (Angela Landsbury), an amateur witch who’s none-too-pleased to take them in. They discover her (very amateurish) witchery, and blackmail her into bewitching a bed into a kind of magical transport. They set off to London, where they hook up with Professor Emelius Brown (David Tomlinson), a conman running a fake-wizarding school with a stolen spell book. The fivesome take off on a magical journey to find the other half of a spell, Substitutiary Locomotion, that Miss Price needs to make inanimate objects come alive (shades of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). Their quest takes them to a number of strange places, including a lovely under-the-sea journey:

–and a soccer match with some animals:

The whole shebang climaxes (as you would expect) with a battle against Nazis:

Fun, fun, fun. An ersatz family on a magical quest, cheap, addictive songs, trippy animation, telekinesis–what’s not to love? And who can resist the metaphorical implications of a bed as a site of magical adventure? We watched this on VHS about a million times growing up. It’s far-superior to Mary Poppins, and something of a proto-Potter take on magic (okay, maybe that’s a stretch). In any case, it’s a fun family film for Halloween, and perhaps one that too-often goes overlooked. Highly recommended.