Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shirley Jackson Awards

I'm happy to announce I'm a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards which honor "outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic."

Which means I'm embroiled in reading some wonderful books and some not-so-wonderful books, and open to recommendations. The book has to be have been published (or slated to be) this year.

The press release is here.

I'm also excited to see that Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle is going to be made into a film.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Red Room

One of my favorite scary books when I was a kid was Scott Corbett's The Red Room Riddle. Fittingly, right now there's a wonderful website to check up on authors. It's Red Room: Where the Writers Are.

Within the site, authors can create blog posts. I wrote one recently about my experience of Halloween. Currently, Red Room is featuring me on their home page, linking directly to that post. Thanks so much, Red Room! This is a great site to learn more about writers and to find out event dates and the like.

Speaking of events, I'll be talking to the Mayflower Society in Pebble Beach, California, this Saturday the 14th. I'm particularly excited because I just read Nathaniel Philbrick's incredible book Mayflower, which shed a lot of light on what conditions were like in 1656 Massachusetts at the time of my ancestor's first witchcraft trial.

I think I'm going to buy multiple copies for my family members this holiday season... learning how the Pilgrims and Indians very nearly were able to cooperate (and did in fact live together fairly well for decades) and then how pressures from Puritans, self-interested individuals and general mistrust led to King Philip's War was nail-biting stuff. And I don't usually say that about nonfiction, especially nonfiction whose outcome I already know.

Philbrick's book basically gives the background for every skirmish of the war. "King Philip" was the mocking name given an Indian with apparently regal bearing... his war against the Europeans ultimately spelled the doom of his people--although it so easily could have gone the other way. Philbrick relates:

In the years before the war, Native Americans had constituted almost thirty percent of the population of New England. By 1680, they made up less than 15 percent.

Another shocking statistic is that in 2002, it was estimated that 10 percent of the American population descends from Mayflower passengers. Those Colonials did their best to propogate, having huge families. My ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons (not a Mayflower passenger, but a very early immigrant) did her part, birthing 14 children, nine of which lived to adulthood. A different world, no?

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

I’ve blogged before about the passage in the Malleus Maleficarum (the witch hunting bible written by medieval German friars) in which witches gather up men’s stolen penises and store them in a bird’s nest. But recently another nuance to this story occurred to me. Bird’s nests usually contain eggs, right? Once again, witchcraft circles around the concepts of fertility and growth.

Here’s the actual quote:

Witches…sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as 20 or 30 members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many, and is a matter of common report.

A subsequent anecdote talks about a man who was a victim of penis theft. He approached a “known witch” for advice on what to do. She suggested he climb a certain tree and “take which he liked out a nest in which there were several members.” He (can we blame him?) tried to take a big one, and she said he couldn’t take that one since it belonged to the parish priest.

It’d be nice to insert here a platitude about how lucky we are not to live in the Middle Ages…except that “penis theft” is still happening, and people are still being killed for this absurd crime.
Google “penis theft” (or enter the term in the search box above to scan my archives) and blow your mind.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall Reading Recommendations

As part of a literary community, I love the fact that I can recommend books written by people I know. I hope as the weather turns, you will sit by the window with a glass of warm apple cider and read each of these books (why not?).

1. The Widow's Husband by Tamim Ansary. I loved this book. A beautiful, literary look at Afghanistan in the 1800s, with tribal life lovingly rendered. Tamim is also the author of West of Kabul, East of New York, and the recently-released Destiny Disrupted, A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.

2. Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran. I have to confess, this is still in my TBR pile...but I love Michelle's writing and so can confidently make the recommendation. Michelle does Egypt (and now Rome) like nobody else!

3. Flow Down Like Silver by Ki Longfellow. Another one I have yet to read but can wholly recommend on the basis of her previous novel The Secret Magdalene.

4. The Gatekeeper by Michelle Gagnon. Not available until next month, this thriller follows Kelly Jones in her third installment of serial killer trackdowns. Michelle is so personable in real life, you'd never guess her mind is so dark.

5. Exult by Joe Quirk. I loved this novel. Joe is amazing at action scenes that literally make your pulse race. His first novel The Ultimate Rush was well-named for that reason. Joe also writes nonfiction about the differences between the genders: Sperm Are From Men, Eggs Are From Women is a witty read.

6. Remedies by Kate Ledger. I went to grad school with Kate, who made me jog with her in Arizona's brutal heat. She's gotten great reviews for her debut novel, and I can't wait to read it.

7. The God Patent by Ransom Stephens. Could there be a better title? Ransom has published through I also hear there's an audiobook in the works. That's the one I'll be buying; I'm a big car listener.

8. The Sower by Kemble Scott. This book got lots of noise (including NYT noise!) for Scott's alternative publishing method. His first novel, SoMa, was a finalist for the Lambda award.

All right, those oughta keep you busy for a while. And if you haven't read The Witch's Trinity, that would be a perfect fit for this time of year.

Happy reading!

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

My letter to Google

Things are heating up around the proposed Google Book Settlement, since the time for authors to object is nearing its deadline.

Authors, we have until Sept. 4 to file an objection to the Google Book Settlement. For specs, see the FAQ under This is a landmark, precedent-setting case; please consider expressing disapproval to the court.

For those of you new to the issue (and those who aren't), I'd like to share my letter of objection.

Office of the Clerk,
J. Michael McMahon
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
500 Pearl Street
New York, New York 10007

August 21, 2009

Dear Clerk:

I’m writing to object to, and express my horror at, the Google Book Settlement currently on Judge Denny Chin’s desk.

As an author, my creative work is copyrighted. What does a copyright mean when a corporation like Google can get hold of my work, without my permission, for financial benefit?

I find it unconscionable that an interloper who had nothing to do with the writing of my books, nor the publishing of them, will now be able to profit from them.

If I were a dressmaker and Google absconded with my gowns, there would be no question that Google would need to promptly return them and face serious legal consequences. However, due to the digital and therefore distributable nature of books, Google’s theft does not appear that way to all eyes.

I opted in to the settlement because it was the only way to protect my rights to my work; my back was against the wall. I did so under situational duress. My literary agent recommended that I do so. I don’t have the time or resources to hire my own attorney, but I do not feel that the Author’s Guild attorneys represent me… nor do they somehow magically represent the world of “all writers everywhere.” I am not a member of the Guild, and I am deeply upset that the Guild is considering the settlement. I would like Google to go to court and have to defend its position.

Under the terms of the settlement, Google keeps 37 percent of all revenue generated by its sales of works written by hapless authors. That is a despicable figure given that the typical percentage for authors who created the content is only 10 percent under traditional publishing.

With the settlement, Google keeps 37 percent. Of the remaining 63 percent, writers and publishers must pay 10-20 percent to the Book Rights Registry (again, an entity I don’t know and don’t want to profit from my work) and then equally split the remains. Doing the math, whether the Registry keeps 10 or 20 percent, the author and publisher percentage is significantly less than Google’s (28 percent or 25 percent, respectively). That is grossly unfair.

Authors sweat and pray and write for years to create a book. Publishers do a fair amount of work as well. They put up money to create a tangible book (or e-book), maintain a stable of editors and marketing staff, and undertake the arcane and unwieldy world of book distribution. These two entities deserve revenue from their books. But what will Google do to receive 37%? It will scan a book—which any halfwit with a scanner can do.

The publishing industry is already on the wane. This Google settlement may sound its death knell. Independent bookstores are closing like the livery stables of yore, and losing business to yet another online competitor may close down the entire literary operation, with thousands of publishing house employees, bookstore employees, and authors left stranded. If we thought Amazon was tough on the business, this new venture will shoot it in the knees.

The saving grace for publishers may be e-books… a new way of reading that may rescue the industry. Yet the Google Book Settlement will undercut this possibly vital new scheme.

Publishers publish books knowing the undertaking is risky. The book may not flourish and its publication will have been an error. But that is the beauty of literature: we do not know which books will please, and we read and write and hope for the best. Already it is famously difficult for writers to get published…if publishers must watch their wallet even more closely, and take less risks on new writers, there will be a trickle-down effect on the entire world of literature.

And what about libraries—those bastions of civic benevolence? If one can access a book at 2 a.m. on one’s computer, who will bother to wait until morning to get in the car and go to the library? The whole library system may founder.

This settlement provides a landmark precedent for whether literary works will be protected by law. If Google is permitted to scan and sell others’ content, the “barn door is open,” as they say, and scads of other companies will leap to do the same thing.

Please protect writers, publishers and bookstores by unequivocally shutting down this unfair, abhorrent settlement—make Google go to court and explain itself.


Erika Mailman

cc via email:

Boni & Zack

Debevoise & Plimpton

Durie Tangri Lemley Roberts & Kent

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Witchcraft in India

I had a discussion with book blogger Gautami Tripathy of India about her country's modern-day persecution of witches. She was kind enough to agree to write a guest post for me. She cautioned me, "I tweaked it a bit leaving out specific places. Remember, ours is a volatile country."

Please leave comments here and I can get them to her, or you can visit her at Everything Distills into Reading.


Witch Trials in India

By Gautami Tripathy

I have read a lot of books on the Salem witch trials. And I have been horrified by it, as I ought to be. Most of us think of it as something which is in the past, and simply move on after deploring the past with platitudes.

Is it in the past? And gone? Not so. Here I will highlight that aspect. Witch trials are still happening in today's India. Scary, isn't it?

What is the reason that it still persists? Superstition? Religion? Those do not even scratch the surface. It is more on the lines of property rights. Brand a woman as a witch, throw her out of the village and grab her property. It happens with those women who have no family support and no one to speak for them other than themselves. Sometimes it is also done to settle scores against women who have spurned sexual advances from powerful men. Those women too aren't spared who question the societal norms or go against them. How can a man's ego, any man's ego, stand that?

Mostly childless and helpless widows face the brunt because the husband's family don't want to share their property with her and want her gone from their fold. The villager elders instead of supporting the woman even instigate the woman to be thrown out or sometimes killed. When mobs come out, what does a woman do? The law either turns a blind eye or turns up after the deed is done. With virtually no witnesses, the culprits go scot-free.

Sometimes religious beliefs allow a woman to be tortured. Hinduism too has stories about witches and if something happens to someone, the woman is blamed and all come out against her. In recent years, as many as 700 women have been hunted down as witches.

Most of the witch trials end up in killing. NGOs have come up, spreading awareness, providing for helpless females, but it still isn't enough. As long the feudal spirit persists, superstition rules the roost, and spreading awareness will not help.

Frankly, the government is apathetic too, which is a shame. Maybe it thinks brushing it under the carpet will make it go away.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009


My lovely English editor at Hodder & Stoughton sent me a mobile phone image of Witch's Trinity being featured front-of-store at Waterstone's. It's part of a buy one, get one free promotion for the next week or so. You can see it in the second row, third from left. I absolutely love this yellowish, snowbound landscape cover design.

Waterstone's has been really good to the book; thank you!

Waterstone's has a special place in my heart. When I took my junior year abroad in Ireland oh so many years ago, I won second place in a poetry contest sponsored by University College Cork, and the prize was a Waterstone's gift certificate. I still have and love the book I got with it, a volume of Patrick Kavanagh's poems. It still has the W sticker on it! I loved the dark wood of the shelving units and spent a lot of time wandering the Cork store.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009


The Times Online reported recently the discovery of “witch bottles” which one buries outside the front door to discourage witches from following you inside and wreaking havoc.

Scientists examined the contents of one such flagon, found outside Greenwich several years ago and dating to the 17th century: inside was urine with traces of nicotine, well-manicured nail clippings from a man, a lock of hair, some belly button lint, nails, pins and a heart-shaped leather emblem. There were 200 such witch bottles found.

The article states:
Most witch bottles are heavy stoneware wine flagons from the Rhineland known as bellarmines after the French cardinal whose face was traditionally embossed on the neck. When the import of bellarmines ceased glass bottles were used, although fewer have survived.

As one of the commenters at Times Online correctly pointed out, this is witchcraft to ward off witchcraft.

The link to the article is here.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Gambia 'witches' forced to drink foul potion

This, from the May 20 New York Times: "Witch Hunts and Foul Potions Heighten Fear of Leader in Gambia."

Under the bizarre rule of dictator Jammeh, squadrons arrested Gambians (mostly elderly, witnesses reported) suspected of witchcraft, took them away on buses, and fed them a strange liquid. The article reads,

"To the accompaniment of drums, and directed by men in red tunics bedecked with mirrors and cowrie shells, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Gambians were taken from their villages and driven by bus to secret locations. There they were forced to drink a foul-smelling concoction that made them hallucinate, gave them severe stomach pains, induced some to try digging a hole in a tiled floor, made others try climbing up a wall and in some cases killed them, according to the villagers themselves and Amnesty International."

The drink made some unconscious, and one man interviewed for the article shakes his head uncontrollably from side to side and has done so since the torture. Amnesty International says that six people have died from the unidentified drink.

This story ran on page A6 of the New York Times...the news about witchcraft persecutions is getting more attention lately, as it should. This is a shameful human rights issue that needs to be addressed.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Abuse of child witches on the rise

From today's CNN wire, the article "Abuse of Child 'Witches' on the Rise, Aid Groups Say" addresses the horrible plight of children stigmatized by the name witch. It follows in particular the story of 14-year-old Christian Eshiett of Nigeria, whose "rambunctious" ways led him to be repeatedly beaten, and to run away from home as a 12 year old, spending the next two years on the streets.

The article states:

“Children accused of witchcraft are often incarcerated in churches for weeks on end and beaten, starved and tortured in order to extract a confession,” said Gary Foxcroft, program director of Stepping Stones Nigeria, a nonprofit that helps alleged witch children in the region.... The states of Akwa Ibom and Cross River have about 15,000 children branded as witches, and most of them end up abandoned and abused on the streets, he said.

Link here to Stepping Stones Nigeria, should you wish to donate.

Interestingly, Foxcroft feels the belief in witchcraft should be permitted to remain. I strongly disagree. As long as anyone believes another person wields supernatural powers, especially demonically-endowed powers, there is danger.

This is a very sticky issue for Africa and other parts of the world: Westerners don't wish to insist that such beliefs are superstititious or primitive. Medieval Europe found a way to extricate itself from such egregious beliefs (without the interference of colonializing forces). I honestly think the key is for economic conditions to improve. Crime rises when people are desperate--and accusing someone of witchcraft is a crime.

I don't support the belief in witchcraft. However, perhaps Foxcroft feels his best bet is to improve the system from within, allowing the belief to remain while removing children from its target:

“It is not the belief in witchcraft that we are concerned about,” Foxcroft said. “We acknowledge people’s right to hold this belief on the condition that this does not lead to child abuse.”
What do you think? I welcome comments--is the belief in witchcraft harmful in itself, or a benign belief system?

The image accompanied the article on CNN, with the caption "Children branded as witches protest on February 26, 2009, in the southern Nigerian city of Eket."

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

This originally appeared as a guest post for Historical Tapestry.

I love historical fiction, because I love the opportunity to learn about women's lives of thepast, whether glorious or painful. It helps me hold a mirror up to my own life, and see that I am lucky to live when and where I can vote, where I can speak my mind, where I can take penicillin and not die from a minor infection, where I can undergo labor that is still risky, but knowing my chances of coming out of it alive, with a healthy child, are pretty strong.

History seems to give the lion’s share of textbook coverage to men and battles, but I like to know what women of the day were doing. Sometimes it takes some digging, but the research is always compelling and allows me to feel kinship for these women who made the best of the world they were given.

In the most recent instance, I buried my nose in books about medieval witchcraft. I studied a world where society measured women’s value by how many children they produced, and how many of those they managed to raise to a “safe” age. I learned that having a male relative (father, son, husband) was key to protecting oneself—many widows or unmarried women found themselves accused.

I learned that the cards were stacked against women accused in medieval Europe (New England was far more reasonable—more on that later). Getting one’s case dismissed is hard when you are not allowed to have an advocate (lawyer) speak for you, or even to know who is accusing you. Those were two procedural suggestions from the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch hunting Bible written in the late 1480s. This pseudo-legalistic book by two friars provided a guide to help magistrates figure out how to properly try a witch. A bestseller of its day, it winged its way across the countryside, allowing baffled lawmen to confidently hold inquisitions.

The reason magistrates withheld the accusers’ names? So that the witch could not summon the Devil or other witches to visit retribution on the accusers’ heads.

And why not permit her to be represented? Because anyone who supports heresy is a heretic in turn.

Fertility plays a huge role in witchcraft accusations—and as women are childbearers, they were more frequently accused, although certainly men also faced trial in significant numbers. In a world without supermarkets, staying alive requires that you have a successful harvest and properly store the food, effectively raise and keep animals, and have your own children to help do all this work…all of which hinges on fertility.

Small wonder, then, that so many of the accusations relate to cows and chickens dying—there’s milk and egg production squandered and lying in the dirt. Other accusations involved controlling the weather (and hence crop growth)… this medieval woodcut shows witches calling down the rain with the magic stew in their cauldron.

And of course, many, many accusations related to miscarriages, stillbirths, newborn deaths and outright infertility. These are issues we still struggle with today… imagine that grief compounded by an angry belief that someone else did that to you.

In 1656, a woman was pregnant at the same time as my ancestor, Mary Bliss Parsons. While Mary’s baby thrived, the other woman’s died soon after birth...and she called Mary a witch for it.

This was just one of many crimes her Massachusetts neighbors felt she was responsible for. The others also fell in line with the fertility concerns of centuries: that she made a cow, pig and sow die, caused a neighbor boy to trip in the woods while tracking down his family’s errant cow, and made spun yarn diminish in volume. (She also faced oddball accusations like being able to go into water and not get wet.)

Mary spoke for herself in court, so effectively that she won. And here’s where New England was fairly reasonable: nearly 30 percent of witchcraft cases ended in acquittal. As a new country, not so deeply entrenched in the centuries of witch hunting that Europe endured, the colonies behaved far gentler to their witches. Even when executed, witches knew kindness—the preferred method was hanging, a presumably quicker death than burning at the stake.

Mary again faced the witchcraft accusation 18 years later; apparently, the court’s ruling was unconvincing. She was—mindblowingly—acquitted again, and died of old age in her eighties.

Mostly these sojourns into the past make me so, so grateful that I live when and where I do. Although to be honest, I’d give my eyeteeth (who needs them, really—and in fact what are they?) for a chance to visit the 1800s just for a day.

Preferably not a day when someone with tuberculosis sneezes on me, or a day when I’m giving birth to a breech baby…or a day when a migraine hits…or I have food poisoning and it’s 30 below zero and I have to keep running to the outdoor privy… or I really hate the candidate running for office and wish that I could cast a vote, and my husband tells me it isn’t proper for women to vote… or a day when… actually, maybe I’ll stay here in 2008.

* * * * *
The image comes from a 1489 book on witchcraft, De Lamiis, reproduced in Kors & Edwards: Witchcraft in Europe 1100-1700.

Monday, May 04, 2009

How do witches fly?

This was originally a guest post I wrote for fellow historical fiction writer C.W. Gortner's blog Historical Boys. Gortner's wonderful novel The Last Queen is being released in paperback tomorrow!

How do witches fly?

One of the prevailing characteristics of witches throughout time immemorial has been their ability to fly. Before broomsticks came into the picture, medieval imagery depicted witches flying on tree branches, as in this woodcut from De Lamiis, a pre-1500s tract written by German professor Ulrich Molitor to confirm the existence of witchcraft.

But how might a witch elevate herself? What provides the power that thickens the air and permits her to ride it?

We turn to the Malleus Maleficarum for the answer. The Malleus Maleficarum translates to “The Witch’s Hammer”—not the hammer a witch uses, but one that is used on her. This book, written in the 1480s, provides information on how to identify, question and punish witches, in essence a witch hunting Bible. Two German friars wrote it, based on their experiences roaming the countryside ridding it of witches. No less a personage than Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull complimenting these men on their hard work and providing an endorsement for them.

The book became a bestseller of its day, going through multiple editions over hundreds of years… and today, you can purchase a 1970s edition that is still in print. The Malleus purports to be legalistic and reasonable, even while it contradicts itself and provides flabbergastingly ridiculous examples of witchcraft. My edition provides nearly 300 pages of wince-worthy material… we would be laughing uproariously if hundreds of thousands hadn’t died because of its convictions.

So, the answer on how to fly. This comes from Part II, Question I, Chapter 3 (you can see that the very format of the book lends officiousness and dignity):

Now the following is their method of being transported. They take the unguent which, as we have said, they make at the devil’s instruction from the limbs of children, particularly of those whom they have killed before baptism, and anoint with it a chair or a broomstick; whereupon they are immediately carried up into the air, either by day or by night, and either visibly or, if they wish, invisibly; for the devil can conceal a body by the interposition of some other substance, as was shown in the First Part of the treatise where we spoke of the glamours and illusions caused by the devil. And although the devil for the most part performs this by means of this unguent, to the end that children should be deprived of the grace of baptism and of salvation, yet he often seems to affect the same transvection without its use. For at times he transports the witches on animals, which are not true animals but devils in that form; and sometimes even without any exterior help they are visibly carried solely by the operation of the devil’s power.

So there you have it: you must murder children before they can be baptized (saved), and create a potion from their limbs. Or with the devil’s help, you can dispense with the unguent and ride a devil in animal form, or just fly away solely.

The Malleus follows this information with a real-life example, to fortify its truth. The friars write of the town of Waldshut on the Rhine. Here lived a woman everyone hated so much that they didn’t invite her to a wedding that all the rest of the townsfolk attended. Indignant of the slight, she raised a hailstorm to ruin the festivities and prevent the guests from dancing.

Witches “usually” raise hailstorms by pouring water into a trench—since she had no water, she instead urinated into a little hole she dug and stirred it with her finger. A devil stood nearby, and when she was finished, he raised up the liquid and transformed it into the hailstones that fell on the celebrants.

[Quick tangent: how sad that she had no water. Was this indicative of the fact that she was a beggar and scorned for her inability to get food and drink for herself, to the extent that the town excluded her from the wedding celebration?]

As the woman re-entered the town, everyone who had been marveling at the hailstorm saw her and thought, “Aha!” Later, shepherds who had been tending their flocks and saw her urinate into the trench shared what they witnessed, and the witch was arrested.

She confessed to spoiling the wedding because she had not been invited. And they burned her at the stake.

What a frightening land and time to be a person that no one likes. Burned at the stake for the whims of weather, paired with guilt over not providing feast food for the one woman in town who was probably the most hungry.

As I wrote this guest post, I found myself wondering whether Waldshut really existed. Thanks to Wikipedia, I see that it is today amalgamated into the city of Waldshut-Tiengen.

And in the town, yes, still stands the Hexenturm ("Witches' Tower"), a round tower of the medieval fortified walls where witches once were jailed.

Photo credit is from Kors & Edwards: Witchcraft in Europe 1100-1700.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to interrogate a witch

Apologies if this is content you've seen before... I originally wrote this as a guest post for Lee Lofland's wonderful blog The Graveyard Shift, and provided a link to it. Now that a respectable amount of time has passed, I'd like to post it on my blog as well.

The Graveyard Shift is an incredible resource for crime writers. Many thanks to Lee for letting me guest blog. My name’s Erika Mailman and I’m warping the concept of the blog a tad… I’m not displaying the latest crime-fighting gadgets or talking about police procedures. Instead, I’ll discuss the “cops” of the medieval Dominican monastery, the tonsured friars who hunted witches.

Instead of the Macavity-nominated Police Procedure & Investigation, the book that guided friars in their interrogation of witches was the Malleus Maleficarum. Written in the late 1400s by two German inquisitors, this book addresses every question that a witch hunter might ask.
An exceedingly popular book, the Malleus underwent multiple printings. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press 30 years earlier made possible its widespread dissemination. It’s still in print after 500 years (I got my copy on Amazon), and a more chillingly misogynistic book can’t be found.

In pseudo-reasonable legalistic writing, the friars set about instructing readers how to identify witches, what to do with them once they’re in custody, how to interrogate them, when and how to use torture, and how to determine if the “extreme penalty” (death) is warranted.
In this post, I’ll be highlighting some of the information found in the book.

Ø Not believing in witchcraft constitutes heresy. The authors knew that in some communities, witch hunters would face opposition from those who argued that witchcraft didn’t exist. Their solution: disbelief in witchcraft became heretical itself. While people might stick their neck out to protect a wrongly-accused neighbor, their willingness would abate if doing so put them under suspicion.

Ø Women are more likely than men to be witches. The title Malleus Maleficarum, which means “The Witch’s Hammer” (i.e., the book is a weapon to hurt witches with), gives the word “witch” a feminine gender. Although medieval witch woodcuts often depict men and women in equal number, and data shows that in the 1300s both were equally targeted, the Malleus clearly finds women more culpable.

There are two reasons for this. They are “feebler both in mind and body” and therefore unable to resist the Devil’s allure as easily as men. But the second, more overwhelming reason, is that women are unspeakably carnal. The authors in Freudian slippage delighted in describing the various lustful abominations women indulge in. [Remember, friars undertook vows of abstinence.] They wrote, “To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.”

Ø Women steal penises. One of the strangest things women were accused of doing was stealing penises. They either pilfered the member outright, or rendered it smaller. The Malleus devotes incredible amounts of ink to this problem; no less than three full sections deal with the issue. The book earnestly reports that witches “sometimes collect male organs in great numbers, as many as 20 or 30 members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many.”

The image of corn-eating phalluses would bring a smile to your face if the consequences weren’t so severe. And so terribly, terribly current. Believe it or not, a penis theft epidemic rages in certain African countries today. As recently as April 2007, Congolese men tried to lynch witches who had stolen their members. In 2001, a mob beset five people in Benin for the crime. Reminiscent of being burned at the stake, the vigilantes doused four of them with gasoline and set them on fire; the arguably lucky fifth was hacked to death.

Ø They don’t recommend attorneys for these kinds of cases. Although witches desperately wanted someone to speak on their behalf—especially since so many of them lived powerlessly on the fringes of society—they would have to fight to convince someone to do so. Why? Because any advocate of theirs would be defending heresy… and therefore also a heretic. The Malleus states, “Such cases must be conducted in the simplest and most summary manner, without the arguments and contentions of advocates.”

Ø It’s best that the witch not know who her accusers are. For fear that the witch would demonically retaliate, the Judge suppressed the names of the witnesses. The Malleus does admit that personal feuds may lead to an accusation, and in that case the accused should be released. That sensibleness is tempered, however, by stating that “It is very seldom that anyone bears witness without enmity, because witches are always hated by everybody.”

Ø The judge and inquisitors must be careful to protect themselves. Lest the witch target them, the officers of the church and court took protective measures. They did not let the witch touch them, and to prevent the evil eye, she would be led into their presence backwards. They wore a necklace called Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) that contained consecrated salt embedded in wax. The witch would be shaved (everywhere) to locate any powerful amulets she might’ve hidden on her body.

Ø How to obtain confession. First, the witch’s friends were brought to her, instructed to tell her that she would be spared her life if she confessed. If that did not work, the Judge would “order the officers to bind her with cords, and apply to her some engine of torture; and then let them obey at once but not joyfully, rather appearing to be disturbed by their duty.” If she still resisted, “let her be often and frequently exposed to torture.”

Ø What to do after she confesses. Lifetime imprisonment was the proper sentencing for normal heretics. But witches were more than simple heretics; they were Apostates (people who forsake religion). As such, they had to suffer the extreme penalty, even if they were penitent and immediately confessed. Thus, the only value to confession was to avoid torture before execution.

Ø So… what about that promise to spare her life if she confessed? This forms the most egregious part of the Malleus Maleficarum. The book suggests that the Judge may pass the buck: “The Judge may safely promise the accused her life, but in such a way that he should afterward disclaim the duty of passing sentence on her, deputing another Judge in his place.”

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Friday, April 24, 2009

And now we bring you your weekly gross-out

Please don't read this if you are eating! Switch screens and come back when you're done. I'll even give you a few "carriage returns" so your eyes don't happen to fall on anything gross.

la la la

la la la

la la la

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For today's excerpt from the Malleus Maleficarum, the witch hunting Bible penned by two medieval German friars, the blog will turn a bit scatological.

Amusingly enough, this quote comes from the section entitled, "Whether Witches Can Sway the Minds of Men to Love or Hatred":

We know of an old woman who, according to the common account of the brothers in that monastery even up to this day, in this manner not only bewitched three successive Abbots, but even killed them, and in the same way drove the fourth out of his mind. For she herself publicly confessed it, and does not fear to say: I did so and I do so, and they are not able to keep from loving me because they have eaten so much of my dung - measuring off a certain length on her arm. I confess, moreover, that since we had no case to prosecute her or bring her to trial, she survives to this day.

In the immortal words of E.L.O., she's "got a strange magic."

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Contest winners

I’ve pulled two winners for the two separate editions of The Witch’s Trinity and am announcing them here. I plan to do another giveaway over the summer and hope to blog on a more regular basis, so I hope you will bookmark this page and check back here now and then.

The winners are:

U.S. hardcover: Wanda

U.K. paperback: Nightdweller20

I have asked them to respond by Thursday midnight EST with their addresses; if I don’t hear from them, I will pull other winners from those who entered.

I used a somewhat unconventional method to select the winners. I had heard other bloggers talk of “auto randomizers” that they used for their contests, so I imagined it would be an easy websearch to find one. Well, I failed on that end, and noticing the luck of having 51 entries, I thought, “That’s almost a card deck!”

I eliminated the Seven of Clubs, since long ago some rabid Hearts-playing friends and I decided that was the most worthless card. I organized the suits by how I like them (which probably does not match their ranking in poker): Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds and Spades.

If you’re still following my [questionable] logic, the first 13 names on my list corresponded to the Ace through King of Hearts. The second deck was Clubs, skipping from six to eight to avoid the hapless seven. And so on.

So, to get the actual cards to pull, to correspond to the numbered list of entrants? I pulled up Solitaire on my computer and looked at the hand it dealt me. Believe it or not, the Seven of Clubs was the first card on the left! So I skipped him and went to the next two, the Eight of Diamonds and the Queen of Spades.

If you are double-checking me, there may be irregularities because I missed two people’s comments when they initially posted, and so tacked them onto the end of my list when I did my double-check just before the [skillfully-done] drawing. I used my own numbered list which I added names to as they posted.

It’s a good thing I don’t run a corporation and I’m not in charge of anything important.

Anyway, I enjoyed this process and I thank everyone who took the time to enter to win. Those who didn’t, I suggest asking your library to purchase a copy and/or putting it on your gift wishlist. Or just wait for the next giveaway!

Many thanks! And Happy Earth Day....

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Get yourself ready for May

A few days left for the giveaway of Witch’s Trinity! Scroll down a few posts to learn how to put your name in the (pointed) hat.

In the meantime, find yourself a willow tree and quickly. You have only a week or so to protect your livestock against a year’s worth of witchcraft.

According to the witch hunting Bible The Malleus Maleficarum,

On the first of May before sunrise the women of the village go out and gather from the woods leaves and branches from willow trees, and weave them into a wreath which they hang over the stable door, affirming that all the cattle will then remain unhurt and safe from witchcraft for a whole year.

This was a “common practice” in Swabia, a region in Germany.

You’re welcome!

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

If you’re looking for The Witch’s Trinity giveaway, keep reading; it’s the post under this one.

It’s been a long time since I posted an excerpt from the Malleus Maleficarum; it’s time. I’m going to write about an anecdote the friar authors relate, about a woodcutter in Strasburg.

While he was cutting wood one day, a large cat attacked him. While he drove it off, another appeared, larger and more fierce. He fought off those two, then a third showed up. He crossed himself, and in a great panic beat them away by hitting one on the head, one on the back, and one on its legs.

He returned to his work. An hour later, two men came and took him to the magistrate. He was under arrest!

The judge kept his distance from the man and refused to listen to him—the man was tossed into “the deepest dungeon of a certain tower, where those who were under sentence of death were placed.” He stayed there three days, begging his jailers to help him get an audience with the judge.

Finally the judge relented, and he got his hearing. He threw himself before the magistrates and pleaded to know what his crime was. The judge said:

You most wicked of men, how can you not acknowledge your crime? At such a time on such a day, you beat three respected matrons of this town, so that they lie in their beds unable to rise or to move.

The man protested his innocence, said he was cutting wood all that day, and in fact the men who arrested him could attest that that was what he was doing! Upon further reflection, the man remembered the cats. “I remember that I struck some creatures at that time, but they were not women,” he said.

The woodcutter told of the three large cats that attacked him. Horrified, the magistrates let him go.

The anecdote ends there, but the Malleus goes on to examine it. Did devils arrange the attacking cats without the presence of the witches, or were the witches actually there in the shape of the cats?

The friars believe the second:

For when the devils attacked the workman in the shapes of cats, they could suddenly, by local motion through the air, transfer the women to their houses with the blows which they received as cats from the workman; and no one doubts that this was because of a mutual pact formerly made between them.

As with all the anecdotes, I try to reason out a reasonable explanation, but sometimes the stories are simply too farfetched to do so. With this one, I came up with a few ideas:

A. The man really did attack these women in a fugue state. Returning to his work, possibly one cat snarled at him, and he confused that brief cat skirmish into the maelstrom of beating. He did say that during the cats’ attack he was “more panic-stricken than he had ever been,” which may explain his increased adrenaline after the real attacks on the women.

B. Rabid cats? But that doesn’t explain the damaged matrons who sent the magistrates after him.

C. Pure, total, crazy fantasy on the part of the witch hunters. The Malleus says it is “charitable and honorable” to withhold the name of the town in Strasburg where this happened. Makes it kind of hard to double-check facts when the scene of the crime is unknown!

For those interested in reading more, this is from Part II, Qn. I, Ch. 9 of the Malleus Maleficarum.

Image is from and is a woodcut from The Wonderful Discovery of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillipa Flower, about women executed at Lincolne, England in 1618.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009


Update: The contest is now closed. Please bookmark and check back later: we will do another giveaway over the summer.

In tandem with Literate Housewife's posting of an interview she and I did, I'd like to offer two copies of The Witch’s Trinity as a giveaway.

One is a hardcover U.S. version, a first edition (left).

The other is the U.K. mass market paperback version (right).

All you need to do to be considered is to post a comment here. The deadline is midnight, April 21, 2009, so that the next day—Earth Day—I can post the two winners. Somewhat befitting since what the earth does and doesn’t do in medieval Germany is the crux of my novel.

I will use an auto-randomizer to pick a hardcover and paperback winner. I will mail anywhere; all nations welcome.

Please also check Literate Housewife on Monday for the interview.

P.S. Please either leave your email address in the comment or make sure to check back here on April 22 so I have a way to let you know if you won!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Timberline's true name

This blog is currently about witchcraft persecutions, ancient and modern, but now and then I will dip into material regarding my first novel Woman of Ill Fame. The novel is about a Gold Rush prostitute in a dangerous, brand-new San Francisco.

A few days ago, someone was in my archives and saw my post about the real-life prostitute whose image is featured on the cover. All I knew was that her name was Timberline, she was a Dodge City prostitute, and her image is in the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Well, the anonymous commenter wrote that her name was Rose Vastine.

That for one thing totally threw me. Although I fashioned my character based on this photograph and named her Nora, for some reason I had “felt” that this real woman’s name was Kate.

Secondly, the commenter wrote that she earned the name Timberline for being 6’2” in height. Another big surprise. In my mind, the nickname had dirty connotations!

Armed with her real name, I consulted Professor Google.

The first link I accessed made me gasp out loud in the café I was working in, and literally grab my forehead. According to Linda Wommack’s Ladies of the Tenderloin, “Timberline climbed up into the hills above Creede and shot herself not once, but six times.”

When you have spent so much time staring at someone’s photograph and constructing an entire novel around them, you develop a strange and intense connection to them. It was almost as upsetting as hearing this news about someone I knew…but not only was Timberline a stranger to me, but she died 150 years ago. Whatever sorrows she endured, they are dust now.

I dedicated the novel to two wonderful women the world lost at an early age, and on the second line dedicated it to “Timberline and the other girls of the line: I hope the world was kind to you.”

And here was evidence that the world had not been kind to her.

The link went on to say that Timberline did not die from that suicide attempt, but strangely enough, another link had her recovering from an “intended overdose.” Is it apocryphal that she tried to kill herself with such vastly different methods and survived both times? Whatever the truth is, she must have been an unhappy young woman.

Several sources have her living in Creede, Colorado, a silver mining camp 420 miles from the Dodge City that her photograph is labeled with. Sure enough, the website for Creede, Colorado mentions Timberline on its “About Creede” page. Bat Masterson too (whose biography the commenter mentions) lived in both cities, so maybe she hitched a ride with him.

If anyone has any more information on her, I’d most definitely love to know it.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Pope in Angola

Probably this is old news to many, but I wanted to belatedly link to the BBC’s article “Pope Warns Angola of Witchcraft.”

In it, the Pope is quoted as saying,

“In today's Angola, Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because - they say - they are sorcerers."

It’s interesting to me that as witchcraft beliefs have spread through southern and central Africa “over the last few years,” as the article says, the phenomenon is echoed by an exponential increase in western novels about witchcraft in medieval Europe and colonial America. Something is drawing western novelists to explore the lives of people living in such abysmal conditions that they seek a scapegoat (a witch), at the same time that people across the world are still LIVING that reality.

In the last paragraph, the article notes the Pope’s shameful refusal to support condom use in combating HIV/AIDS, which is such a tragic epidemic and, I might note, a trigger for witchcraft persecutions. Just as medieval people blamed the plague on Jews poisoning the wells, some Africans blame the spread of AIDS on “witches.” The case of the young girl burned to death in Papua New Guinea a few months ago may have been a result of such an accusation.

Here is the BBC article in full.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Witch killing country

"I am driving deep into witch killing country," writes Johann Hari in an extraordinary Independent (U.K.) article.

Hari reports on Kenya and Tanzania's overt "witch" murders, with old women paying the price for living too long. I was especially struck with the story of women blamed for the death of a young child from diarrhea--that was one of the more serious accusations leveled against my ancestor in 1656, that she had killed her neighbor's newborn, while really flux (the old term for diarrhea) was the cause.

1656 was 353 years ago... is it not outrageous that these same tragic issues are still happening, with parents bewildered by the brutality of their child's unfortunate death, and casting their eyes about them for someone, anyone to blame?

"Witch killings are a daily event in Sukumaland," writes Hari. This is an agricultural area of Tanzania. A daily event.

Hari tackles one of the more touchy aspects of discussing modern witchcraft persecutions: the fact that it renders the western world patronizing and meddling and oblivious to the aboriginal culture:

Africa consists of hundreds of fissiparous cultures and no culture anywhere is homogeneous and unchanging. The culture of Massachusetts was to burn witches not so long ago – until some people there began to stand up and oppose the practice. In the same way, there are huge divisions within African societies.

To read the entire article, which is quite in-depth with much anecdotal evidence (and tackles genital mutilation as well as witchcraft), please visit here.

To help support those fighting against witchcraft, visit, which is teaming with Comic Relief to help elder women in Sukumaland. The article also mentions Maparece, an organization working against female genital mutilation, but I couldn't find an online presence for it to create a clickable link.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Welcome, English readers!

Today the Witch's Trinity launches in England in its mass market paperback format. It's the same novel as the hardcover, but in the back there are now a few extras:

1. Five medieval woodcuts of witches and demons
2. A Q&A with me (also to be found on my website)
3. Book group discussion questions (ditto)
4. A brief list for further reading on witchcraft.

Since I believe strongly in authors helping each other, I will also post that list here:

The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
Entertaining Satan (nonfiction) by John Putnam Demos
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
The Witch of Cologne by Tobsha Learner
Witch Craze (nonfiction) by Lyndal Roper

Meghan of Medieval Bookworm posted the first review of the new paperback here at her blog. Thanks, Meghan!

Today is also World Book Day in the U.K. and Ireland. Started by Unesco, over 100 countries participate, but most do it on April 23. [Why? Because the tradition started in Spain, and that is the date of Cervantes' death. It's also connected to St. George's Day of the same date, a celebration that since medieval times has entailed a man giving his love a rose, and her ---or him! As I type this, the Supreme Court is deliberating on Prop. 8---returning the favor with a book.]

In Ireland and U.K., children are given a special token that they can use to buy one of six specially-published books at a bookstore. What a neat idea... get kids into bookstores, and armed with a special coin to buy a book!

Sadly, I don't think this is a holiday that the U.S. participates in. I have never heard word one about it before, and I am a regular library and bookstore visitor. Maybe I'll write a letter to President Obama about it. After all, we share the same Random House imprint... he'll have to listen to me! ;)

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Behind the Pointy Hat

Cue the music for "Behind the Music"... this is an expose of the "dark" side of witchcraft.

A good friend, LeAnn Lewis, agreed to write about her experiences working at the Salem Witch Museum. LeAnn and I were in the same writers group in San Francisco for years; I had no idea until recently that she had this “witchcraft” background. Upon learning it, I of course begged her to do a guest post for me. She now lives in Paris and very kindly agreed.

Without further ado, here are her hilarious ruminations on one of the best jobs ever!

The Official (Slacker) Witch of Salem
By LeAnn Lewis

I have had many jobs in my life before obtaining the current one that I have had now for five years, that of teacher. On average I was able to hold a job for three months. That is approximately what it took before someone was forced to let me go, without being legally responsible for firing me. I am really good at job interviews; I always know just the right tone to hit, what to wear and I myself get caught up in my own enthusiastic falsehoods. People were so sorry when they hired me. And I felt sorry for them as well, and convinced that I could change…If I could only make a job out of job interviews---I really do think I have crafted it to an art.

In my late teens and early twenties, I was a bartender, waitress, bike messenger (with no bike), headhunter, diet counselor, personal trainer, human resources consultant, psychic hotline operator, ice cream sundae smoosher (you know, at one of those places that custom mixed in the Snickers bars), secretary, and witch. Yes, I did say that, witch.

Not only was I a witch but also again I only lasted the three months of witch-in-training before they hired someone else at the Salem Witch Museum. Apparently I was not nice enough.

I was a Slacker Witch specifically. I think the people who hired me should have known that I would not work out. Firstly because I did not even apply for the job; I got it through the back door, by being Replacement Witch when my friend Spring Break SubWitch was too hung over to show up for work. It was sort of an “acting” job: tour guiding. So one could also say I was also an “actress,” but you need to make the air-quote sign with your fingers.

To understand this job fully one must understand the epoch. It was the ‘80’s: neon colored T-shirts, bangles, Big Bangs. So Big that they were ready to pierce the sky. Big Bangs that I still wore as a Witch. The job was designed to supplement my alcohol budget, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam cassettes, and spray needs for my Big Bangs.

At the time we were both in college and very excited about our illicitly-obtained I.D.’s. Going out every night was essential. Spring Break SubWitch “was,” according to her lost/stolen I.D., a 40-year-old woman with prematurely grey hair named “Carol.”

I “was” a blonde with blue eyes that did not fit my brown hair and hazel ones, and my I.D. read “Shayna.” We secretly thought Shayna was a stripper, because she kind of had a louche look about her. "Carol" was jealous because my photo was sexier. "I look like a.... like a mom," she would complain, as if this was the worst fate imaginable for anyone. "I wanna be Shayna!" I, however, was jealous of hers because Carol seemed normal, whereas Shayna seemed the type of woman destined to drive intentionallyfast into all life's bad turns. Who knew what would become of a woman like that?

We would often forget to call each other our new names in front of overweight bouncers and we would make dramatic eye rolls to express our fear that we would be discovered as 19 and kicked out of Trackside, the bar everyone went to. But nobody cared; I.D. was a formality to get in the door.

However, that summer in Salem was also my first summer as an Adult: I had just had to file taxes for the first time, pay for my own health insurance and portion an amount of my paycheck to pay for Rent (!), Food (!) and a mimosa-colored towel set, my first adult home purchase at Kmart (being the burgeoning alcoholic that I was, the big joke was that I could only describe colors by comparing them to cocktails, a trait I still share with “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” hosts, apparently). Being a Witch therefore was also part of the plan to Be. An. Adult, and thus pay my own way.

I would work the morning as a Witch and the evenings as another version of a witch: a constantly stressed out waitress at the Hawthorne Inn.

Soooooo my first day. I showed up as Replacement Witch in jeans and my wrinkled Absolut Vodka T-shirt that some publicity company had given me the night before and explained that I was subbing for my friend because she was “sick.”

I told my new potential bosses that “Carol” and I had both been in the same production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;” had they not seen me? I was, I assured them, as my new “bosses” nodded confusedly, a big star in Salem at the dinky community theater. Did they not see me? (This was true. I had been in the production, but “star” was stretching the point). Finally they made out amongst my confused babble that “Carol” was not coming, and since the door was opening soon, I had the job!

Yes they had seen me, they assured me, and they thought that I was a good enough “actress” to do the job. Just for the day. They asked me if I had my script. I did. I dug it out of my jeans. It was written on a cocktail napkin before “Carol” passed out the night before. I had memorized it on the bus.

Sort of.

The gist of the meaning of the lines.

My job was to act on a stage with one other “actress” and nine paper mache dummies with voice-boxes (because there was only a budget for two live people). We would re-enact a trial scene from the Salem Witch Hysteria for busloads of tourists and then give them tours. I was Ann Putnam. The other actress was Goody…Something. My job was to say my line and time it correctly to be responded to by either Goody Something or the paper mache dummies’ voice boxes. Could I do that? For $9 an hour?

“Cool.” I said. “No prob”.

I couldn’t wait to tell my friends that I was a real actress. It was the most money per hour that I had ever made.

They gave me my uniform. A ankle-length dress, petticoat, and bonnet with attached fake curls coming out of its sides like Nellie from Little House on the Prairie (that looked mysteriously like my I.D....) My bangs made the top of the bonnet look Teepee-ish. Then they ushered me into the barn theater where my “debut” would take place.

A typhoon of searing heat blasted me, and this was how I discovered that the stage was not air conditioned in the 100-degree Salem heat wave that occurs every summer in Massachusetts. I slumped into the green room and met Goody Something, a 56-year-old early retiree who had had a health scare recently, which, upon her being cured, saw her quitting her high-paid financial job in Boston to move to the North Shore and take classes at Lori Cabot, “The Official Witch of Salem’s,” Crow Haven Corner (which is now franchised to someone). She was busy reading some book on chakras and gave me a perfunctory nod as we passed though. I was told by my new employers that I would also be conducting a tour through the “dungeon” below the barn after the show and then coming back to repeat the performance. 10 times. Where would Goody be?

“Oh, she just does the show. We like the younger girls to give the tours. She will just wait in the green room”.

I already did not like this job, ageism that did not favor me. Why did she get to read about chakras while I was slavin?

“Anything else?”

“Yeah. Uh. How many tours?” I asked.

There was tour every 40 minutes and the show lasted 15 minutes. I would have five minutes to recoup and slug down a Crystal Light. I would be there for a six-hour shift.


“Uh, yeah.”

When the curtains came up I was confronted with my first audience: an entire tour bus of Floridians with large lapels of sunflowers on which were marked the names of Marge, Leon, Geraldine...there was even a Carol that looked like “Carol” but no Shayna. They all smiled sweetly. I started my speech, looking down nervously at my crumpled Trackside napkin. A little old man tottered to the front and heaved a video camera that was the same size of his body in my face and stage whispered in an echo, “Excuse me, dear, could you please speak up? The video is a present for my granddaughter’s birthday. She likes witches.”

“While what-for with, my good man,” I improvised gratefully but I was slightly disturbed with my ability to suddenly channel a former life Renaissance Faire Wench so easily.

I stumbled through my lines, instantly forgetting what I had memorized on the bus, replacing old English with “the gist” and interrupted various voice boxes.

“So he be-eth…er, I see-eth, um, the point is that he is, is-th, uh, a witch, a um witch-eth?”

However, I still, 25 years later, remember the first lines that I was able to actually memorize: “My name is Ann Putnam. I be a single woman of Salem Village who has been aggrievedly abused by Goody Something who, while the good lord left me lie sleeping, did visit me and performed with my person ungodly acts!”

At this point, Goody Something would interrupt me to say “No, NO!” Then the voice box of the Judge would continue “Now, fine people of Salem…”

Then, after several minutes of this dialogue, I was to throw myself on the floor, convulse as if I was having an epileptic seizure, while accusing her of bewitching me so as to avoid being persecuted myself. Then the curtains closed.

Goody would leisurely pull out her chakra research or open up a bento box complete with matching plastic Hello Kitty chopsticks and begin to pose bits of sushi delicately in her mouth while I tripped down a creaky stairway in my skirt and bonnet to try to usher arthritic oldsters through a very cost-efficient dungeon in a record amount of time. Usually I had to push them on to get them out in time for the music, which, once it was starting, was a sign for me to get on stage and for Goody to wipe the wasabi off her bonnet ribbon. The curtains would fly open, the voice boxes would start to accuse and then I would commence “My name is Ann Putnam. I be a.…”

Somehow the job continued. Spring Break SubWitch was on a bender, so I substituted the next day. And the next. I tried at different points to get Goody to do her fair share by hiding her bento box or spilling my Dunkin Donuts iced coffee on differing chakras, but she held firm. She was not willing to do the tours.

On humid days sometimes the voice boxes would get stuck and drone out the same lines and I would have to have my epilepsy a bit closer to the paper mache judge, to “accidentally” kick him to stop it. The moisture also did damage to their forms and often the limbs of the mannequins would fall off in the middle of my “soliloquy.” This wasn’t too hard to handle: I would just accuse Goody Something of bewitching them too.

I have a low attention span. Once I master something, I need to be challenged. After a day I mastered my “script,” I started improvising. Goody reprimanded me. I told her that she was hindering my creative growth and that this was Strasburg method acting. Or was it Stanislavski? Or Spanikopita acting? Something like that. Even Brando knew it.

She told on me and I got written up. I invited my boyfriend and his friends to come see my “professional acting” and they threw spitballs at Goody in revenge and oooohed and guffawed (as only 21-year-olds can do) when the voice boxes, or I, repeated the words “ungodly acts” which I had not noticed, until then, was so prevalent in the script or so salacious sounding…. Goody complained, and I was warned that my friends could not come and see me “on set.”

Then there was also the problem with my other job at the Hawthorne Inn. Despite the lack of a bonnet, I was still recognizable as the witchly tour guide. One night while waitressing, I approached a table and the youngest started screaming and hitting the banquette.

“What is it, honey?”

“No, I don’t want her giving me food! She is a witch!”

I had to explain to my boss what that meant. He was annoyed; now he understood why I was not flexible to work lunches. My temper started getting shorter in the heat. I was getting madder at Goody Something. I was spitting out my lines to the audience and screaming into their video viewfinders, “I BE A SINGLE WOMAN IN SALEM!”

This turned out to be true when my boyfriend dumped me for a blonde that looked like my wig. She was uncomplicated and did not have to work two jobs. She had time for him.

“Besides, you keep saying your lines in your sleep. And then you have your convulsion sometimes too. It’s freakin me out. Have you thought of just taking out a student loan?” he mumbled.

The fall leaves began to blow across Salem Center Park. Laurie Cabot, the “Official Witch of Salem,” switched her summer pointed hat for a sturdier winter one, and a black long shawl. Goody Something started to bring soup instead of sushi. It was the dreaded time of year; the re-start of school and homework, the end of my first summer with Shayna’s I.D., the horrible possibility of running into the blonde and the boy who had broken my heart and the end of the sun. My costume was not causing me to sweat anymore; in fact, there was no heat in the barn and it was freezing. One day I slunk into my costume feeling sicker than usual, despite not having drunk the night before. I could not understand why. Then, I remembered.

It was the three-month review.

“You have done a very nice job and we really appreciated all your help this summer, but we think we are going to start with another girl. You know, I think you have really gone above and beyond our expectations; you have actually merged with your character,” my boss said, smiling only with her mouth.

Then she showed me a few customer complaints. I was rude, curt, too mean on stage, and brusque during the tour.

“You really did find a witch, didn’t you,” said one.

I hung my bonnet up and walked past Goody Something slurping her soup, as haughtily as only a 19-year-old can. She was there. I was movin’ on to better things, I told myself. I wouldn’t end up like her, defeated, desperately clinging to illusion, fleeing my day job. I was a Real Actress. My life would hold better things for me…and it did, but getting older myself now I realize that she too was doing her own thing…. courageously.

One never knows where life’s turns take you, to New York, to San Francisco, to other countries, even, all the way from the North Shore. And looking back now, there are worse places to come from, and worse ways of spending a teenage summer, than being the Official (Slacker) Witch of Salem, Massachusetts.
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Thursday, February 12, 2009


Throughout The Witch's Trinity, the main character Gude remains conscious of extending gratitude to the things in her life that sustain her: the water in the river, the buds under the snow, the meat on her plate.

Today I came across a news story I wanted to post... about a 40 year old woman who tracked down the firefighter who saved her life as a newborn. Evangeline Anderson told Boston Globe reporter Maria Cramer:

I didn't want him to leave the earth, or I to leave the earth, without saying thank you.

They were reunited yesterday for the first time, 40 years after firefighter William Carroll crawled on his stomach through an apartment black with smoke, to find baby Evangeline in her crib unconscious with soot dusting her face.

It's an emotional read, and I invite you to read it here.

And then for one moment, think of something you are intensely grateful for. Blessings are falling out of our fingers, and we need to number them.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Witchvox essay

I'm happy to say that the witchcraft website Witchvox has published an essay I wrote for them. You can read it here.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A very stirring morning

It’s been an incredible, moving day. I’m ebullient, lifted, feeling—very sincerely---hopeful. I believe President Obama’s earnestness, and I believe he has the power to make many (or hopefully all) of the things he talked of become a reality.

His inaugural speech was moving in part because, as one commentator said, it referred to values, not just a series of policy promises. It was a mission statement of sorts. Obama’s mindset is not just red, white and blue: it is about the peoples of the world, and how our country affects how the world operates.

He spoke directly to poor nations, telling them we felt a responsibility to help them establish healthy farms and clean, running water—and then he spoke to other wealthy nations and reminded them that we have a duty to help those poorer nations. That was the part of his speech that affected me the most: it made me see that we elected someone who can’t freely enjoy this country’s prosperity knowing that others around the world have nothing to eat, and are drinking from contaminated water, or none at all.

My book club for the first time eschewed our policy to read only fiction, and we are reading Dreams from My Father, President Obama’s first book. I am only 40 percent of the way through it, but I am awed by his writing power, not only in his turns of phrase, but also his sense of history.

In his 1995 introduction, he writes,

“[This book] is autobiographical, although whenever someone’s asked me over the course of these last three years just what the book is about, I’ve usually avoided such a description. An autobiography promises feats worthy of record, conversations with famous people, a central role in important events. There is none of that here.”

Reading that through the film of 14 years of hindsight, it’s poignant. Not only has President Obama had discussions with famous people, he is famous. He will play a central role in important events and perform feats worthy of record. He is one of only 44 people in the history of the world who have led this brash country founded on beautiful, simple democratic values.

His sense of history is strong, as his book explores his own familial story against the backdrop of the larger march of time. His world sense is keen: he spent formative years witnessing devastating poverty in Indonesia, and he has seen racial attitudes from Hawaii to Manhattan, including his own white grandmother being afraid of an aggressive, panhandling black man.

He represents the “patchwork” he referred to in his speech. He is named “Barack” after his African father, but the name itself is Moslem and means “blessed” in Arabic. His family roots are as “apple pie” as small towns in Kansas, and as worldly as Kenya. He has spent many years examining himself, his family’s story and the larger story of the world, and his conclusions are solid, compassionate and so desperately needed at this hour.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

A few things to share

I have a few updates to share.

First, my last-ever reading for The Witch's Trinity will be in a few weeks. 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 27 at Booksmith, 1644 Haight St. in San Francisco, 415-863-8688.

Secondly, Booksmith is such a wonderful and enterprising bookstore that they hired local filmmakers to do a video of me and four of the other authors reading there this month. The filmmakers describe it as a "video love letter" to San Francisco. You can go to Booksmith's website and it is featured there on the home page. It's also playing on YouTube.

Thirdly, the fabulous Marshal Zeringue invited me to do a guest blog over at his My Book The Movie site. The idea of the site is that he invites authors to fantasize about who might play their characters if their novel was made into a film. It's really fun to read through his archives.

He also runs The Page 69 Test, another creative blog where he asks authors to open their book to page 69 and comment on whether that page is representative of the whole, and why/why not. He invited me to post at Page 69 back in 2007 when Witch's Trinity came out in hardcover (and that hyperlink brings you to my post). Thanks so much, Marshal.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

More thoughts on the woman burned in Papua New Guinea

Tonight I made pasta, and as I put a single campanelle on a spoon to blow on it and then taste it to see if it was done, it jounced off the spoon and fell flatly against my bottom lip. It was only there for a second before it fell off, but the stickiness of the pasta meant it did stay there for a beat. And it burned. I immediately thought of that poor young woman--just a second of burning on my lip was agonizing. And she felt it everywhere, until she died.

Another thought. I told a friend about this news story, and he got caught up in the detail that she had been placed atop a pile of tires to be burned. He said, "A culture advanced enough to have tires, and yet they're still burning people alive for witchcraft?"

He also pointed out that Papua New Guinea was one of the last places to give up cannibalism (just 50 years ago, as a quick Google search reveals).

The entire news story on the woman burned to death for witchcraft, as reported by CNN, can be read here.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Young woman burned alive

My heart sinks every time a new witchcraft item makes its way into the news. I wish I never had anything to blog about. Today’s horrifying news headline from CNN is “Woman Suspected of Witchcraft Burned Alive.”

The lead sentence is:

A woman in rural Papua New Guinea was bound and gagged, tied to a log and set ablaze on a pile of tires this week, possibly because villagers suspected her of being a witch, police said Thursday.

Just as in medieval times, victims provide scapegoats for others’ misfortune. The article, by Saeed Ahmed, describes how Papua New Guinea’s high AIDS rates give rise to witchcraft accusations, as people believe witches spread HIV and AIDS.

Police don’t know who the woman was and are asking people to come forward. “Somebody lost their mother or daughter or sister Tuesday morning,” a policeman is quoted as saying. Her remains indicated she was probably in her late teens or early 20s.

She was not the only victim of recent times, Ahmed's piece relates:

The country's Post-Courier newspaper reported Thursday that more than 50 people were killed in two Highlands provinces last year for allegedly practicing sorcery.

In a well-publicized case last year, a pregnant woman gave birth to a baby girl while struggling to free herself from a tree. Villagers had dragged the woman from her house and hung her from the tree, accusing her of sorcery after her neighbor suddenly died.

She and the baby survived, according to media reports.

There is much more in the full article; click here.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Witchcraft ritual

January is the month of inaugurations. This year I am thrilled beyond belief that we have an incoming president who can do so much positive work for our country. And he’s a writer, no less!

In other inaugural news, I’m proud to present my first-ever guest blog post.

Bill Baldwin is a fellow writer, and I met him recently at the Book Group Expo in San Jose. He graciously accepted my offer to write about modern-day witchcraft here. In October, he organized a Samhain ritual—Samhain is the pagan precursor to Halloween—and here he writes about that experience.

Thanks, Bill, for sharing this information. I welcome any comments that I can pass along to him.

So what do modern Wiccan Witches do? Do they have anything to do with the witches we read about from hundreds of years ago? “Yes and No; How would we know?”

I don’t know so much about medieval witches, but I know quite a bit about modern Witches. I’m a legally recognized priest of the Covenant of the Goddess, a witches’ organization. And I often organize community rituals in the San Jose area.

The Samhain (Halloween) ritual I recently presented was intended for a medium-sized group (25-30). South Bay Circles has been offering the eight Wiccan sabbats to the San Jose Pagan community for over twenty years. Its rituals include the basic Wiccan elements of casting a circle and invoking the directions and the Goddess. But I also wanted the ritual to hold personal meaning for me and the participants.

My basic concept was Shamanic – the willing offering up of the shaman to symbolic death and dismemberment in order to achieve wisdom for the sake of the Community.

But I didn’t want the ritual to be too scary. How could I make people laugh at Death? Of course Halloween-time is also the time of the Mexican Day of the Dead.

In the spirit of play I decided to include children’s songs and games: “London Bridge” (to represent Death by Engineering Disaster), “Ring-A-Round-The-Rosie” (to represent Death by Disease), and “Rock-Paper-Scissors” (to represent Death by Violent Competition).

I also decided to perform the entire first part of the ritual counter-clockwise, the reverse direction from usual, to represent dissolution.

I began by honoring witches killed in the witch persecutions. Then, invoking the Three-Form Goddess, I remembered friends and lovers who had died.

Then the children’s games, one by one, left all participants on the ground – “dead” – waiting for rebirth – as I read passages from T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” and performed a brief drumming meditation on death, dismemberment, and disintegration.

Then I invited people to awake in the Land of Hades and Persephone. We shared a meal with the Dead -- in contrast to classical myths where you are *forbidden* to eat in the Underworld. By eating with the Dead we accept their deaths, our own deaths, and our connection to those who have gone before us.

Then reconstitution and resurrection, to the song “Them Bones”, based on the Biblical vision of Ezekiel. And a Spiral Dance, leading into the circle counterclockwise, then bending back on itself to return from the circle clockwise.

From here on, everything continued in the clockwise (sunwise) direction of growth. We had offered ourselves for death, met Death, communed with the Dead, been reformed, and returned to Life. What we have learned in this encounter is meant to help us live a better life.

And we have remembered our loved ones who have died, acknowledged that we too shall die, and resolved to live in service to the Community.

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