Monday 8 April 2019

'"Certaine Wytches" - A Tapestry of Magic' by Karen Maitland

'Certaine Wytches.' Tapestry by Anne Jackson
I have just enjoyed a morning at a fascinating and unusual exhibition of knotted tapestries by the talented, American-born artist, Anne Jackson, on the theme of The History of Witch Persecution in Europe. The more I thought about it, the more I realised what an appropriate medium tapestry is for exploring the subject of witchcraft and not least because in earlier centuries, witches were thought to riding their distaffs to the Sabbats rather than brooms, and, of course, the whole concept of 'weaving' spells.

The technique of knotting tapestries is, as the artist points out, ‘hugely time consuming’, but in itself symbolises the witches who used ‘knot magic’ for charms and to raise storms, for which they were condemned to die by means of the knotted hangman’s noose, as is starkly illustrated in the first tapestry – Certaine Wytches.

Certaine Wytches, Chelmsford, Essex’ is a memorial to three witches from the same family who were tried at Chelmsford in 1566, Joan Waterhouse, her mother, Agnes and her grandmother, Eve. Agnes was hanged and the title of the tapestry comes from a trial pamphlet of the time.

'Grace Thomas and Temperance Lloyd: 
Why dost thou weep for me?''
Tapestry by Anne Jackson
Grace Thomas and Temperance Lloyd: Why dost thou weep for me?’ This tapestry tells the story of Temperance Lloyd who was convicted of being the leader of three Bideford witches. Grace testified against Temperance, claiming that when they met in the street, Temperance fell to her knees weeping. When Grace asked her why, she replied with the words that are woven into the tapestry. Grace swore that from that moment onwards, Temperance tormented her, entering Grace’s bedroom with the aid of the Devil; sticking pins in her; pinching her and putting a poppet in her bed. Grace said the Devil, in the form of a magpie, repeatedly terrified her by beating against her window and she also accused Temperance of turning herself into cat. Tragically, Temperance was convicted on this ‘evidence’ and hanged for witchcraft in Exeter in 1682.

'The Devon Witches: Half Hidden Signs'
Tapestry by Anne Jackson
'The Devon Witches: Half Hidden Signs' - This tapestry was inspired the book ‘The Witch in History’ by Diane Purkiss, in which she writes -
'their acts of magic are silent and unseeable, detectable only by half hidden signs.'
The artist has included images in the tapestry still used in pagan ritual today, including some runes which were given to her by a practising witch in her village,

In 'Once upon a Time.' Anne Jackson explores the way children are introduced to the concept of the ugly and wicked witch through bedtime fairy tales, whose caricature images feed into Halloween costumes and decorations. We are all familiar with the Disney cartoon of 'Snow White' being given the poisoned apple by the wicked witch, her stepmother, but tragically, this accusation is not a fairy tale. In 1664, Elizabeth Style at her trial in the cider town of Taunton was accused of poisoning a child by giving her a ‘very fair red apple’. Anne Jackson points out that cutting an apple in half is used in love charms. It has been also been used for centuries by many ordinary girls at Halloween to divine when they will be wed. Thinking of bedtime stories, reminded me that the wicked witch or bad fairy in 'Sleeping Beauty' lures the princess to pick her finger as she spins flax into thread, another link between witchcraft, spinning and weaving that has burrowed deep into our collective psyche.

'Once Upon a Time' and 'Never mention Money'
Tapestries by Anne Jackson
The tapestry next to it, Never Mention Money, depicts some of the superstitions once practised by Grimsby trawler men, to ward off witchcraft, such as smashing empty egg shells after you’ve eaten your boiled egg, so that witches can't use the them to sail out to sea and sink ships.

The tapestry exhibition is supported by a number of fascinating witchcraft artefacts on loan from The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, including a pair of glass knitting needles used to create curses and charms. The piece of knitting made in the course of the casting the spell would later be burned, so that the spell was fixed and could not be unravelled.

Tapestry by Anne Jackson
There are many other fascinating tapestries in this exhibition bearing testament to the estimated 50,000 to 1,000,000 women, men and even small children who were executed for witchcraft throughout Europe and Russia between 1450 and 1750. So, if it is coming to a centre near you, it is really worth a visit.

‘Certaine Wytches’ is currently on until 6th May 2019, at Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Riverside Mill, Bovey Tracey, Devon TQ13 9AF (Funding by Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Arts Council of England and Heritage Lottery Fund.)

No comments: