The Cast of Delevan House #5

Lawrence Gordon

Witches! Witches! Witches!

Naw, not really. More Fae. However, let’s broach the ‘witch’ in the room a wee bit today.

Perhaps the way Jagge and Sinclair communicate certain ideas in the public domain, and considering Sinclair’s ‘Clan Witch‘ brand, many folks have assumed that Delevan House would be a novel of witches and witchcraft. Well, assumptions are often incorrect, and in this, that stands true.

Readers have and will discover that the world that stages Delevan House touches on historical references to the Scottish witch trials, specifically during the 17th century. The witch frenzy hit peek points at various stages between the 14th and 18th centuries. The most notable occurrences were heightened during political, economic and religious unrest. (Thank goodness, that at least isn’t something we have to worry about in today’s Scotland. There would be little blood left to spill!)

The 17th century trials are relevant to the period of a few of the Delevan House cast. One of whom, Lawrence Gordon, was a Minister of Badb and Witch Pricker of his time. Unless you’re familiar with this part of history, Scottish Witch Prickers would search out the ‘Devil’s Mark’ in those accused of witchcraft using needles and other sharp implements. They would ‘prick’ the accused’s skin, paying attention to freckles, moles and such marks. It was said that if the pricker hit a mark where the accused did not cry out in pain – that they had found the ‘Devil’s Mark’ confirming their guilt as a witch. These Witch Prickers spilt from lowland Scotland over the English border to support Witch Hunts there.

Given out timeframe and location, it would be impossible to visit Scotland during that period, even in fiction, and not be exposed to the atrocities and, indeed, the madness that had taken over the people in the frenzied hunts and trials.

A horrific fact of Scottish history is that Scotland was responsible for the highest proportion of witch executions, killing up to an estimated 6,000 people. Note people. Yes, it wasn’t just women, though women made up most of those murdered. The tried and killed included some men and, indeed, children too. The numbers are something that are by no means exact. Many records were destroyed, or simply never recorded, so the exact details are impossible to pin down. Overtaken by such hysteria, it’s no surprise.

Sinclair has a particular interest in these crimes of humanity, being a practising pagan (yes, she admits it. Don’t call in the pricks. She’s a witch) and keen explorer of historical sites, art and literature of her Celtic lands, it’s an area she’s confident in approaching through writing and art.

The word, ‘witch’, is one whose meaning has changed over the centuries. And in many fictions, such as fairytales, those witches are radically different to those who were and are persecuted. And in the real world, there is also a gulf of differences there too. Not all of those executed for crimes of witchcraft in the period noted were practising ‘witches’ as many may think. Yes, some may well have been, and some included cunning folk and healers who wielded tools of Mother Nature in poultices and other remedies to support their communities.

In early modern Britain (specifically, the late 15th century), witch hunts were a political move for religious reforms. Christians killed Christians (and others who didn’t fit the desired mould). In their first occurrences, the Catholic Church were a significant driving factor. Supported by the Papal Bull of 1484 by Pope Innocent VIII, which acknowledged and condemned witchcraft and witches and followed physical action in the form of inquisitors being dispatched into communities to weed out witches. The authors of the infamous The Malleus Maleficarium took this papal bull as ‘support’ for their text when it was first published a few years later in 1487, even publishing the bull as the book’s preface. This book became somewhat of a manual in seeking out and executing witches—written by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer and Inquisitor and theologian Jacob (James) Sprenger.

Pope Innocent VIII

Later, towards the end of the 16th century, the English (and Scottish King) monarchy tried to move the country to Protestantism, and witch trials were a way to burn out the Catholics who wouldn’t fall in line. This, of course, spiralled. In 1597, King James I published his manifesto against the witches in Daemonologie. By this point in history, many condemned the support for The Maleus Maleficarum, but King James I had his own vendetta and paranoia about witches. And this global fear was a tool easily manipulated and wielded to thin the herd (in Britain) of those that were Catholic and whoever else took the fancy as an unsavoury in the community.

King James I

300 years after the Scottish Witch hunts, a justice campaign, Witches of Scotland, launched on International Woman’s Day 2020 and ran for two years which drew attention to the brutal torture and murder of those tried and found guilty as witches. The petition can be read here. This zealous campaign resulted in the acknowledgement and apology for victims executed under the Witchcraft Act of 1563 from Scottish Government’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The petition progress can be accessed here. This came on International Women’s Day, 8th March 2022, where Sturgeon outlined three reasons for apologising for these historic crimes:

“Firstly, acknowledging injustice, no matter how historic is important. This parliament has issued, rightly so, formal apologies and pardons for the more recent historic injustices suffered by gay men and by miners.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Government

“Second, for some, this is not yet historic. There are parts of our world where even today, women and girls face persecution and sometimes death because they have been accused of witchcraft.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Government

“-thirdly, fundamentally, while here in Scotland the Witchcraft Act may have been consigned to history a long time ago, the deep misogyny that motivated it has not. We live with that still. Today it expresses itself not in claims of witchcraft, but in everyday harassment, online rape threats and sexual violence.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Government

Prior to this (and potentially since) there has been movement within some communities where memorials have been commissioned and erected in commemoration of those executed.

The words ‘pagan’ and ‘witch’ have historically (and even now by some) been wielded as slurs. Ultimately though, they were used to target anyone who didn’t fall in line with the dominating organised religion or political regime of the area or time. And are both often used to note folks who honour more than one god or deity.

Through the bloody historical realities of our world, where neighbours and communities turned on each other. Families turned on families. Sinclair has been easily able to trace several of her ancestors murdered during the hysteria and has visited sites where they were strangled and burned. She has lifelong been opposed to organised religion and found herself a wandering witch of her own ancient pagan path. So, the use of fictional witches gives her deep conflict at times. Biting back a bitter taste rising in her throat. The ancestors whose energy bides within recall being strangled. They get restless. It takes work to separate the realities and fiction and consider what the author’s motivations are to the piece that uses the ‘witch’. Which ‘witch’ are they using?

In many cases, it is blatant, thoughtless cultural appropriation. Using witches in fiction can compound prejudices or misplaced romanticism that sits uncomfortably on this witch’s soul (Oh, yes, I most certainly have one, not sold off to any Christian devil—that is fiction). Are these personal truths an asset or a hindrance when revisiting the past, even in fiction, to our brazen readers? Well, that’s for you to decide. Perhaps for Sinclair, it’s a wee bit of both.

Returning to our Badb Minister and Witch Pricker of our novel, Delevan House. Readers are introduced to Lawrence Gordon in 17th century Scotland. He is not painted favourably in his sequence of events. He is a self-righteous man, always looking at what others have and feeling like he deserves more. He’s bitter, jealous and cursed with envy which controls his actions. He is obsessed with The Malleus Maleficarum — the notorious Hammer of the Witches. And his sadism knows know limits — his involvement in the witch hunts and trials deepens his bloodlust and drives him power mad. This book was his excuse. He perhaps commits one of the ultimate sins as a man of faith when he sees himself as more than a hand of his god but has god-like views of himself. His superiority complex controls the village of Badb and does so through generations after his death. We see some of his character traits in the present with Robert Lawrence Gordon.

Delevan House is not a ‘witch’ book. This novel draws on historical elements to reflect the time and impacts these have on some of our cast. Time and history can be significant catalysts in art and life.

In one of our updates, we shall share more with you due to Scottish and Celtic mythologies that touch on ‘witch’ in other ways. For now, these two old atrocities are some of what runs through the blood of our Gordon family cast.

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