I spent this past weekend in a castle in Germany near the Germany/Luxembourg border where the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids held their annual International camp. About 100 members from all over Europe (plus an Australian and an American) gathered for ritual, celebration, music and community in a castle that can trace its story back to the 900s. It’s also on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route having a little shell symbol on the castle noticeboard.
My concert on the Saturday night was held in the chapel. I’ve played at a few chapels and love the natural reverb in such buildings. The weekend and concert were amazing and I loved every minute, but it’s not those that I’d like to write about on this blog.
As I explored the castle’s history I found out that the city, and the castle, had a history within the European Witch trials. 57 women were tried for their involvement in Witchcraft and 56 of those were put to death. It began with the death of Mademoiselle de Leuchteraberg. She was the fiancée of the Count of Manderscheid, the Lord of the castle. She was found dead and it was suggested that her death was due to Witchcraft. A local woman, Magdelena Pirken was arrested and confessed on the rack. She named others and the hysteria then began in ernest. In total 56 women were executed for Witchcraft. It is suggested that the executioners were merciful as each woman was throttled before their bodies were burned. I guess it was merciful. They escaped the pain of death by fire, but still, 56 women, who were obviously innocent of the accused crimes, were murdered here.
I later found out that the chapel where I played had been the courtroom.
Now were these women Pagans? Witches? Herbalists? Midwives? I don’t know. But they were human and certainly not guilty of murder. That particular burden rests firmly on the shoulders of the accusers. In the lyrics of the song The Burning Times there is a line that says 9,000,000 European women they died. This song has fallen out of popularity with some Pagans because that number is way off. Even so, the Witch Trials did happen, and the stories are horrific, no matter how many deaths there were.
Just down from the castle in the woods is a place called the Hexentanzplatz – The Witches Dancing Place. So after the closing ritual me and a couple of other OBOD friends made our way down the hill and into the woods. About a kilometre from the castle we found the spot. A memorial to those killed, and a sign that told their story.
The church bells were ringing out in the valley. We held hands, touching the stone of the shrine. We thought about those who had died. They may not have been magical folk at all. They may have been just swept along in the hysteria. It didn’t matter. They had been accused and killed for something that we now practice quite openly in Europe as modern magical people, Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, whatever.
We gently sang the chorus of Green and Grey.
We shed tears.
We offered healing.
I later found out that the shrine was paid for my the city and the church some years ago.
As pages turn, let us learn, let us learn…