The truth is that the witch is a descendant of ancient goddesses who embodied both birth and death, nurturing and destruction, so it is not surprising that she has both aspects. But when religions decay and gods are replaced, there is a consistent dynamic: the gods of the old religion inevitably become the devils of the new. If serpents were once worshipped as symbols of magic power, they will later be despised as symbols of evil. If women were once seen as all-powerful, they will become relegated to obedience to men and feeling pain in childbirth. The symbols remain but their values are reversed. The snake in Genesis is now the devil. The first female, Eve, has gone from being a life-giver to a death-bringer. Good and evil are reversed. This is the way the politics of religion work.

The contemporary image of the witch incorporates detritus from many religious sects over many millennia. Like the wall of a Crusader castle in the Middle East, it rests upon a foundation of remnants from a variety of periods. Like Hecate and Diana, the witch is associated with the moon and lunar power. Like Aphrodite and Venus, she can make love potions and fly through the air. Each attribute of the witch once belonged to a goddess.

Erica Jong

Witches   

[witches are] the embodiment of a world of female subjects that capitalism had to destroy: the heretic, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dared to live alone, the obeah woman who poisoned the master’s food.

Sylvia Federici
Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2019

Wandering the countryside of Ireland, you may have noticed the absence of snakes. While Britain has a handful of native species, Ireland is completely free of the reptiles — a feat credited to Saint Patrick. The legend goes that Patrick was fasting on a hill for 40 days when a colony of snakes began pestering him. Stricken with divine purpose, Saint Patrick gallantly drove the serpents into the sea, ridding Ireland of the creatures forever.

Snakes have long been used in Judeo-Christian religion as a symbol of sin and temptation. The story is likely a nod to the work Patrick did to convert the “blasphemous” pagans of the time over to Christianity –

On the other hand, poor old St Pat, starving himself for those forty-days and nights, was plagued by visions of cock – only sublimated to reptile form. He craved and raved cock. Not one, but a whole colony of cocks. It was his obsession: cock, cock, cock! And, knowing sainthood awaited him (and in the absence of any rosy cheeked choirboys, a much later development) he struggled with and overcame these erectile visions, banishing them from his thoughts!

The Sunday Morning Laugh

March 10, 2019

God?

January 27, 2019

Lady Claire: How do you know you’re God?

Jack Gurney: Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.

Peter Barnes
The Ruling Class

Sunday read

January 20, 2019

The crescendo of shocks which awaited me [on leaving convent life] began abruptly with my first introduction to up-to-date underwear.

Frankly, I was appalled.

The garments to which I was accustomed had been contrived by thoroughgoing ascetics in the fourteenth century, who considered that a nice, thick, long-sleeved ‘shift’ of rough, scratchy serge was the right thing to wear next to your skin. My shifts, when new, had reached almost to my ankles. However, hard washing and much indiscriminate patching soon stiffened and shrank them until they all but stood up by themselves. Stays, shoulder-strapped and severely boned, concealed one’s outline; over them, two long serge petticoats were lashed securely round one’s waist. Last came the ample habit-coat of heavy cloth, topped by a linen rochet and a stiffly starched barbette of cambric, folded into a score of tiny tucks and pleats at the neck.

So, when my sister handed me a wisp of gossamer, about the size and substance of a spider’s web, I was startled.

She said, ‘Here’s your foundation garment. Actually, most people only wear pants and a brassiere, but it’s cold to-day so I thought we’d better start you with a vest.’

I examined the object, remembering 1914. In those days, a ‘nice’ girl ‘started’ with long, woolly combinations, neckhigh and elbow-sleeved, decorated with a row of neat pearl buttons down the front…
Next came the modern version of the corset. It was the merest strip of elastic brocade from which suspenders, in a surprising number, dangled. I thought it a great improvement on the fourteenthcentury idea. The only drawback was that you had to insert your person into it serpent-fashion, as it had no fastenings.

What bothered me most were the stockings. The kind I was used to were enormous things, far thicker than those men wear for tramping

the moors and shrunk by repeated boiling to the shape and consistency of a Wellington boot. The pair with which Freda had provided me were of silk, skin-coloured and so transparent that I wondered why anyone bothered to wear the things at all.

I said firmly, ‘Freda, I can’t possibly go out in these. They make my legs look naked.’

She smiled patiently.

‘Nonsense,’ she said. ‘Everyone wears them. If you went about in anything else you’d collect a crowd.’

Monica Baldwin
I leap over the wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-eight years in a Convent

prototypical woman

January 6, 2019

Eve has long been advanced as a prototypical woman. There have been allegations to the effect that Eve was ignorant and easily duped into eating an apple by a wily serpent. She then used her feminine wiles to seduce her husband, Adam, into eating the fruit as well. In so doing, Eve is said to have brought about the fall of humanity. Men in Western culture have used this story for millennia to explain and justify the subservient position of females in society. They have claimed that women, like Eve, are easily duped into committing wrongful acts and should therefore be under tight control of their husbands or fathers. Many also view women as dangerous temptresses who will lead men into wrongdoing. To bolster this argument, they point to the “fact” that Eve used her wiles to get Adam to eat the apple. Men are thus urged to mistrust even their own wives.’ Similarly, women have at times been barred from testifying on the theory that they, like Eve, cannot be trusted. Women are also viewed as weak in will and in thought. People have pointed to God’s statement to Eve, “[Y]our urge shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you,” to explain and justify the argument that husbands should rule over all in their households, including their wives. Eve is the source and symbol of many of the negative traits assigned to women; the story of Eve has been used to justify the punishment of women throughout history. Given an opportunity to stand before a tribunal herself, it seems unlikely that Eve would be able to escape punishment.

[ .. ..]

More recent feminist interpretations of the narrative also take a more favourable or sympathetic view of Eve. One writer, while accepting that Eve committed a sin, thanks Eve for bringing about the desire to come closer to God and to improve conditions we face.’ Poet Miriam Oren “clearly admires Eve, portraying her as a model of righteousness, strength, and courage.” Anda Amir believes that Eve’s actions bring sexual knowledge and pleasure to the world, which she sees as a positive change.” Phyllis Trible writes that woman is the “culmination” of creation.” She argues that the serpent spoke to Eve rather than Adam because Eve was capable of engaging in philosophic and theological discussions, whereas Adam was not.” Finally, she sees God’s response differently than some other commentators. “They describe; they do not prescribe. They protest; they do not condone . . . . This statement is not a license for male supremacy, but rather it is a condemnation of that very pattern. Subjugation and supremacy are perversions of creation.”

Sally Frank
Eve was right to eat the apple: the importance of narrative in the art of lawyering

such delectable pain

January 6, 2019

I know a person who, though no poet, composed some verses in a very short time, which were full of feeling and admirably descriptive of her pain: they did not come from her understanding, but, in order the better to enjoy the bliss which came to her from such delectable pain, she complained of it to her God. She would have been so glad if she could have been cut to pieces, body and soul, to show what joy this pain caused her. What torments could have been set before her at such a time which she would not have found it delectable to endure for her Lord’s sake?

Santa Teresa de Jesús
The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself