The Truth About Witches
The History Lesson they tried to keep hidden
By Olivia Beardsmore
What is a Witch?
Ask any child and they will tell you she is an old woman with green skin and a warty hook nose. Wearing a pointy black hat, she whizzes around the night sky on her broomstick, with her black cloak billowing behind her, accompanied by her equally black cat. This stereo-typical character was firmly imprinted into our collective unconscious by the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1930’s Wizard of Oz film; almost 100 years later, she is still alive and well.
Stereotypical perspective of a witch
For many of us however, she is something a little more sinister. We only have to mention the word “witch” and our bodies fill with a certain kind of dread. We turn away in fear and do our best to cast her out of our minds. She is dangerous, harmful, not to be trusted, and most definitely not the kind of woman we want to be associated with.
And yet, we all know her. Deep in our bones we know her. For there is where she resides. We feel her power, we know her magic and it makes us afraid. As she makes her way out of the shadows, more and more of us are hearing her call and her undeniable demands to be heard. We are feeling her rising. The “witch” is making her way back into mainstream culture, and this time for good.
For some of us, this brings a sense of relief; we are the lucky ones unafraid of her magic. For years we have walked with her, honoured her and allowed her to guide us. But beyond the safety of our women’s circles, we’ve kept her hidden. Any attempt to share her with the outside world has brought us a barrage of negative judgement, misunderstanding and exclusion. How good it feels that the rest of the world is now finally awakening! Life itself, is now calling for her return!
But for most of us however, her rising brings fear. The return of the Witch is shaking us up. She triggers feelings of discomfort and doubt and yet this time, we somehow can no longer turn away.
Two years ago I received a message deep within. I had a vision of a women’s gathering called “Burning Woman Festival.” As a fire-walk instructor, fire is something I’m called to and is part of my sacred path. I have experienced the healing power of it when treated with respect. But this vision terrified me and for months, every time I thought about it, that terror would take over my whole body. I felt sick, I would freeze, my stomach would churn over and over. And it wouldn’t let me go. I had no choice but to face into it and explore what it was all about.
As I began to share my experiences, I met some inspiring women who helped me understand what was happening; that I was experiencing the re-surfacing of Ancestral memory. One of those women was Cali White who had spent a year researching the European Witch Hunts and a year travelling around the UK on a pilgrimage, gathering women for 13 Full Moon Ceremonies to honour our Ancestors of those times. She explained it as the history lesson we were never taught and as the place we find a pretty strong root of our disempowerment as women. This is how she explained it:
Cali White on her UK pilgrimage, gathering women for 13 Full Moon Ceremonies to honour Ancestors of the Burning Times.
The Burning Times
“During a pretty heavy 12 months of researching, I discovered just how horrific things were during the so-called Burning Times, and how profoundly they affected the psyches of our Middle Ages Ancestors. Map onto that the epigenetic understanding of trans-generational trauma carried down through potentially 20 generations, and we come to understand just how deeply the experiences of our Ancestors continue to affect us today some 300 years later.
The European Witch Hunts were instigated by the Catholic Church and its belief that witchcraft was the practice of magic to do harm. Since God would never be at the hand of any mal-doing, witchcraft and its outcomes must therefore be the work of the devil and witches therefore, the devil’s own handmaidens. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull acknowledging belief in witchcraft and condemning it. He sent two of his holy men as inquisitors to the rural lands of the Tirol to investigate the catholic resistance there. What they discovered were small communities practising the old spiritual ways of nature, led by the women. What followed was the Malleus Malificarum, also known as “The Hammer of Witches”; their book which would serve as a manual to identify and deal with the “witch” and stamp out witchcraft once and for all. The hysteria of the Witch Hunts was born, along with its brutal methods of torture for confession, and tens of thousands of witches, 85% women, were put to the most horrific of deaths.
The Burning Times
Witch Hunt fever reached the UK in the late 1500’s, with King James VI of Scotland leading the charge. In 150 years, in which fear and suspicion gripped the land, where catholic-driven laws deemed witchcraft a heresy, five national Witch Hunts saw 4000 women burnt at the stake. In Protestant England, the 1542 Act classified witchcraft a felony for which the punishment was death by hanging. What remains of historical documents captures the number at 1000, although the likelihood of lost records would put that number much higher. Many “witches” died in prison awaiting trial and many through drowning during the “swimming” test.”
From Historical injustice to Modern Tragedy
“The women accused as “witches” were far from evil and more often than not, the healers, midwives, and elders within a local community. Persecuted for their natural healing abilities, herb lore, sisterhood connections, midwifery skills, earth-based spirituality, natural sexual energy, post-menopausal crone wisdom, and community leadership, torture and murder became the price they paid.
For our ancestors of 1450-1750, the real threat of survival led women to shut down, betray each other and play small. Whilst today, we may not know this consciously, we still know it in our bones. Talk to women about the Burning Times and many will resonate in some way and experience a felt sense that they can’t quite put their finger on. The Burning Times arguably left one of the deepest wounds in the psyche of women which, through the inheritance of epigenetic memory, we continue to play out.
Our Ancestors may be dead, but they are still with us; in spirit and in our own behavioural patterns. The scars we still carry show up in many ways; fears of being seen or heard, mistrust of other women, experiences of betrayal, playing small, irrational fears of fire or drowning, fear of rejection, fear of stepping up, fear of authority, struggles with feeling home in ourselves, lack of roots, lack of support, feelings of disconnection to nature, patterns of victimhood, inability to stand up for ourselves, difficulties in setting healthy boundaries. There are many and they continue to run deep in us, keeping us in a state of disconnection from ourselves, each other and the land.
The Burning Times smashed up our sisterhoods and broke our trust in the people closest to us leaving us feeling powerless, isolated, unsafe and unsupported. This is a collective wound that runs deep in our collective psyche and as such, it requires collective healing. We need to work to clear our inherited trauma, transform how we connect as women and to restore true sisterhood held by the strength of our ancestral lineages.”
Coming Full Circle
And so now I understand the roots of the terror that arose in me every time I thought about the vision of a Burning Woman Festival. Now I understand my resistance to the word “witch.” The trauma response in me inherited from generations of Ancestors who experienced first-hand the horror of watching innocent women being hung or burnt alive; women who had dared to speak up, be heard, or had even the smallest amount of influence within their local community.
Following the terror, the anger came flooding in! How wrong that the Burning Times are largely edited from our history lessons! How dare they not tell us the truth? How could so many innocent women be horrifically murdered for simply being their authentic selves? How can this level of brutality still be happening in countries outside of our own?
And then came the grief! Why? How could this happen? All of those women, real women who walked this land before us; healers, midwives, Elders! Gone! Our Ancestors, subjected to so much suffering through no fault of their own, turned against each other through torture, and forced to betray each other in order to survive. And I could see how it continues, even though in our western world, we no longer face the threat of being burnt; the bitching, the back-stabbing, the comparison and competition, the tearing each other down. I cried rivers of grief at the senselessness of it all.
From a vision to a reality
All of this fuelled my knowing that I had to make my vision a reality! I had to make it happen as my contribution to healing this collective wound! Even though it terrified me, I had to bring something that would help us restore our sisterhood, help us reclaim our magic and enable us to transform our relationship with fire from one of harm to empowerment.
Increasingly, we are waking up and recognising that we need each other. Women’s groups and gatherings are now happening all over the world. Women are coming together in promoting growth, healing and fun. There is a Tibetan prophecy that when 1,000 Goddesses gather, the Divine Feminine will rebirth through their combined energies and we will shift planetary consciousness from fear to love. So why not a large-scale gathering? A festival of 1,000 women here on British soil!
As I began to share my vision, I was hit by waves of “how can I help?” As I talked about it with other women the response was a resounding “Yes!” I began to dream into how it might look and offers of support started flooding in. Before I knew it I had a beautiful venue, a domain name and a live website. There was no turning back!
Burning Woman Festival
And so the Burning Woman Festival is born! A women-only gathering taking place in Henlow, Bedfordshire, across the weekend of 23-25 July 2021. 9 months in, there are nearly 2000 of us in our Facebook Group; with over half of the tickets already sold, this promises to be a landmark event.
In July 2021, the Burning Woman Festival will be welcoming women from around the world for a weekend packed with an extraordinary array of events; talks, workshops, performances and experiential offerings. No matter where you are on your inner journey, there will be something for everyone as we co-create a space of truly supportive sisterhood in which we share and learn together. We will honour the power of our femininity and pay homage to womanhood. The Burning Woman Festival will be a sacred heart-space of healing and growth, fun and laughter, friendship and creativity, held against the wild and leafy-green backdrop of Nature herself.
We will join together in the heart of the fire! On Saturday we will crescendo into an evening Fire-Walk; an opportunity for us to reclaim our relationship with fire as the fuel for our power. It is time for us to take our empowerment to the next level! It is time to reignite our passion and burn off the conditioning that stops us from living our full potential! It’s time to reclaim our wildness and make a stand for this precious life!
As the Burning Woman Festival gets underway, we must spare a thought for our Ancestors so terribly persecuted centuries before us. We will honour the “witches” of years gone by and light a flame for those from whom we have come, those who inspire us to become the true Burning Women of today. You are invited! Come join us round the fire!
Find out more about Whats On at Burning Woman Festival at https://www.burningwoman.co.uk/whats-on/workshops/
Find out more about Healing the Burning Times work with Cali White at www.loveisourpower.com