It is just such questions of good and evil, of natural and supernatural, which have long been at the core of our perceptions of witchcraft, and have shaped the role of witches and witchcraft in our society, often with deadly consequences.
(Martin. L, 2010 p. 2)
The Witchcraft of today was born from beliefs that emerged during the Renaissance period from Neo-Platonic scholars and Occultists. This belief was that magic was not supernatural but a natural science. The belief that magic is the control of the energy that animates the whole of the natural world and connects every living thing together.
This is an incredibly different view and interpretation of magic and witchcraft than that of Medieval scholars. The “traditional” view of the Middle ages, outlined by Aristotelian scholars, was that magic could only be performed with the aid of demons. Magic was believed to be a supernatural occurrence that defied the natural Lord, therefore magic was considered only possible if one was in league with the Devil.
It was this belief system that led to the persecution of so many men and women across Europe. And it is this belief that has remained a stereotype of “the witch” up to the present day, although a complete contrast to the beliefs and practices of the modern Witch.
Up until the 16th Century, common sorcerers and cunning folk were largely tolerated as part of society. The Witchcraft Act of 1542 was England’s first Witchcraft law. It established Witchcraft as a crime that could be punished by death, although this law only condemned the use of magic that caused harm and death, not the act of practicing magic itself. This Act was amended by Elizabeth I in 1563 and James I in 1604 whose Acts both rooted the concept that witchcraft was an act of evil contrary to the law of God, establishing Witchcraft itself as a crime.
It was not until 1735 that witchcraft would cease to be considered a capital offence in the eyes of the law, as sensible skepticism emerged and prevailed. However, it would be hundreds of years until the stereotype of the witch, developed during the witch craze, began to disperse.
The Redemption is a new on-going body of work by photographer Sarah Goad, which documents the sites in England where men and women were killed for crimes of Witchcraft between 1566 and 1699. The project comprises of three photo series and a collection of contemporary histories and stories.
The work attempts to create an entry point for the viewer into the stories of these men and women. It forces the viewer to confront what they cannot see, the atrocities that occurred at these sites that have been forgotten not just by the landscapes themselves but by many of todays population.
It is salutary to remember that, however remote the events described may seem, the victims and persecutors described in these pages were our ancestors.
(Pickering. A & D, p.7, 2013)
Although the persecution of Witches in England was not on the same scale as the European Witch hunts, it should still be considered a national tragedy. It was the murder of hundreds of innocent victims under the disguise of the law, those that died were victims of prejudice, propaganda and national hysteria. It is a period in our history that the artist is forcing us to face, a period that has been forgotten, a period that few remember or understand the scale or severity of the injustice that occurred.
The viewer is asked to face the crimes, and contemplate how such a paranoia and fear was able to sweep across the continent so effortlessly, and lead to so many people being executed without question and without real evidence in a court of law. The artist is almost forcing the viewer to take responsibility, to reflect and evaluate their own responses. We may not be responsible for the events, but it was mankind that allowed it to happen. We are forced to take responsibility for our kind; this may have happened hundreds of years ago, but could it happen today?
Memorials is a series of images taken at each location of death during the British Witch persecution. The artist has placed a single stem of lilies at each site in memory of the victims; the lily being a symbol for the soul of the departed receiving restored innocence after death. The victims that died at these sites were innocent of the crimes that they were accused of, yet they have never received restored innocence. Leaving lilies at these locations is an act of not just commemoration but an attempt to restore their innocence and not let them be forgotten. The artist is refusing to let them be remembered as men and women guilty of wicked crimes.
There is a confusing contradictory between the horrific violence of the events that occurred at these locations, and the normality and calmness of the landscape that the artist presents. We are presented with the landscape of what is left behind, the ordinary site that remains long after the tragedy. The artist allows the viewer to contemplate the meaning of what has taken place, and what has been lost. She shows a respect towards the victim that elevates the work to a tribute.
Hangings is a visual response to the executions of the victims of the British Witch trials. The artist invites the viewer to engage with the motion of the piece, to engage with the motion of falling, and contemplate the deaths of the victims. Although each image has been captured at the site of execution, the artists does not ask the viewer to consider the landscape this time, but simply what occurred here. The distortion of the image makes it difficult to contextualise the location, an intentional decision from the artist to focus the viewers’ attention towards feeling instead of just seeing. The viewer is invited to experience the motion, to feel and connect with the victim and their death. The image demands the attention from the viewer, demanding them to come face to face with the pain, daring us to feel.
Final Moments is a series of images that responds to the idea of accepting the fate of death. The images created are representations of the final moments of the victims, imagined by the artist. The artist attempts to create a feeling of motion from a series of static images of locations where suspected witches met the end of their lives. The images appear to capture time passing, conveying a sense of motion that does not really exist, yet replicates the artist’s impression of losing consciousness. There is a calmness amongst the chaos of the built-up layers in the image that is reflective of the calmness envisaged to be felt at the end of life, and at the end of the chaos that these men and women experienced.