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Seer and Spirit - An oral and visual art performance

There was much more to the performance than what could be seen and heard on the night. This blog will attempt to pull back the curtain to allow a deeper insight into the process of creation by two women from diverse artistic backgrounds.

What the audience can see with the eyes and hear with the ears, can cause alchemical mental, emotional, and physiological reactions. These are merely skin-deep in terms of the anatomy of a performance.

There is no life without a beating heart. This was undoubtedly the two accused witches who were executed for the crime of witchcraft. We not only connected deeply with the landscape that they inhabited as part of the research. We walked a crooked mile in their shoes and danced widdershins in the abandoned west kirk. They allowed us to live inside their skins and we repaid this blessing by breathing life into a story that took place in 17th-century Scotland.

Both Karen and I brought our own unique soul parts to the cauldron, to create two animate flesh and blood beings with saltwater running in their veins. Each with a life that was independent of either of us. We both fully embodied our roles. For better or worse, I was Katherine Mitchell and Karen was Katherine Sands. Mother and Daughter, the damnable witches from Culross.

On the night, I performed as a storyteller, but that is just one of the wefts of the wool that enabled the creation of this story that was based on real people and historical facts.

They say that a writer puts themselves in a story. Like the women in the performance, I was born with one foot in this world and one in the great otherworld. Separation is only an illusion. I am bound to these women with a red thread that will never be broken. They are my ancestors of place. The soil of Scotland is soaked with the blood of the four thousand. Their bones sing to me in the darkness and in return, I sing them home across the western sea.

During the research, I had a waking vision of Katherine Sands, who allowed me to see Firth of Forth through her dead eyes. The ripe hedgerows leading up to the abandoned kirk. Her horrific death at the Gallowlee and her feet doing a macabre jig on the gallows. The overwhelming oppressive energies surrounding both trials began to impact my life, so I performed a crossing-over ceremony for any disincarnate spirits that were connected. It was only after this that I was able to fully enter the realm of the storyteller.

It was a story that I found incredibly hard to tell. Perhaps because I was also telling my story. Laying my seer’s soul bare for the world to see. As an outsider, I know the judgment of others can be harsh. History reminds us of that. In doing so, I hope I was able to do their memories justice during the performance and in our upcoming book. That is the least they deserve.

By Rowan Morrison - Seanchidh and Bean Feasa

The research leading up to the performance at the Scottish Storytelling Centre was challenging, time-consuming, and immersive. As a painter, I like to use the skills of observation and analysis and where possible to visit site locations to get a sense of the physical elements which build up the true narrative. Both Rowan and I sensed the energies that would prevail in the historic documentation, to present an understanding of the atrocities that took place. To this end, the actual painting on the day was an accumulation of all the information we gathered that was then channelled through the key characters, Katherine Mitchell, and Katherine Sands.

For me it was attempting to find that place painters seek but rarely find; a trance state whereby the artist is the conduit, and the mark-making is a response to something beyond our control or 'ego'.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the entire process was done in this state of oblivion, of course, I was prepared in advance of what was to be the general outcome and there were cues and points where I could hear Rowan speak and I responded to certain tropes in the tale. Likewise, I had planned a material structure to work on, however, this was interwoven with moments of dissociation, and I was left as surprised as the audience with the resulting painting.

We had rehearsed the general stagecraft but not on the actual canvas. At the end of the performance, I was psychically drained as I felt Katherine Sands, driving me to create. She was my muse. I hope we honoured those women executed as witches.

By Karen Strang - Artist


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