Post Mortem of The Witches of Culross
The 29th of July 2023 marked the three hundred and forty-eight-year anniversary of the execution of Katherine Sands, Agnes Hendrie, Jonet Hendrie, and Isobell Ingils, at the Gallowlee in Edinburgh. I decided it was time to bring their stories home, in an intimate three-hour collaborative event between three women whose creative work is inspired by the Scottish witchcraft trials.
On that day, I talked about the ritual process of creation for my book, The Witches of Culross. Using voice and sound, I took the audience on a spirit flight back in time, so they could immerse themselves in the world of the accused witches. Then I performed the execution and burning of Katherine Mitchell, who legally killed in 1642. This was not your typical performance. Having lived and breathed this factual story for a year it lives inside my skin. There were tears and personal resonance for those who witnessed it. This is a wound that is still raw for many women today. An ancestral trauma that needs to be healed. I made a promise long ago to the accused, that I would tell these stories. To me, this is the greatest act of remembrance.
After Carolyn had finished her part, which you can read about below. Karen enthralled everyone with a talk about women painters in the time of the witch trials and the importance of natural materials in the process of artistic creation. This thread connected us to my reading of the execution of the four women, while Karen led everyone in a powerful drawing of their emotional impressions in pastel and charcoal.
To end the event, at 4 pm (the time the four accused were executed) we held a short memorial ceremony in the pouring rain to remember the 31 women and 1 man from Culross that were accused of witchcraft. Karen read out the names of the accused to the ringing of a bell. I made the place sacred with water from the sea and offered oats that they would never hunger and whisky that they would never thirst. All present offered their personal prayers of remembrance. The second we finished; the rain stopped! We might not have sung a silver thread around the North Star like in my book, but I believe the souls of the accused heard us, nonetheless.
I hope you will read this weaving of fact and fiction and keep the accused witches of Culross alive in your hearts.
Words from Karen Strang
My third collaboration with Rowan; where storytelling and image making cocreate has developed from explorative practice into an incisive form of expression that opens up new narratives, unfolding as we go. With each project we unlock more stories and truths and the positive engagement with the audience was an important aspect of the live event. I was delighted too that we exhibited with Carolyn, her textile art is original and so apposite to the themes of the trials. The workshops, talks, and displays worked so well together, forming a beautiful synergy of understanding and participation of all who attended. Thanks to everyone for making it a very special day.
Words from Carolyn Sutton
During the event, I spoke about my memorial project, Witches in Word, Not Deed, and my intentions behind remembering the real women wrongly persecuted for witchcraft, through personalized dresses imprinted with words used against them. I shared my process, hopes, and plans for the project. Then talked about King James VI and Daemonologie, briefly describing his involvement in the witch trials and how his beliefs and writings influenced others. Lastly, I invited attendees to embroider or write the names of one of the 32 accused from Culross onto a piece of linen that I had printed with the entire text from Daemonologie and cut into 32 pieces. The pieces will be reassembled into a tapestry later.