It is time to pardon all witches and in so doing rehabilitate all the cats who lived with “witches”. Pardoning witches is not a new idea. For example. in 2004, in Scotland, Dr Gordon Prestoungrange exercised his legal authority, under a baronial court, to posthumously pardon eight-one witches and their cats who were executed in East Lothian between 1590 and 1679.
It’s the time of Halloween. In pardoning witches there will be less superstition surrounding the domestic cat, particularly the black cat, which will no doubt improve the welfare of the domestic cat generally.
In many parts of Africa, witchcraft is still a very strong part of the culture of the inhabitants and, as I understand it, black cats doing “strange” things in the eyes of many Africans are regarded as being possessed by the devil. I can remember a kitten with her head stuck in a jerrycan and nobody would remove it because the kitten was regarded as being possessed and it would be dangerous to intervene. The African lady who does cleaning where I live confirmed that cats are treated with superstition in the country of her birth: Kenya.
In England, in 2014, there were still witches. They call themselves professional psychics. They are good witches. The word “witch” comes from the word “wicker”, which means “wise” I am told by a modern day witch on the radio this morning.
Modern-day English witches read tarot cards by e-mail! In Eastern European countries there are witches who call themselves witches and they have cats. One such witch living and working in Romania predicts the fortunes of young male emigrants traveling to Germany by bus to find work but what some of them find is abuse and no work but they still go and they continue to pay the bus driver a large sum of money.
Halloween is based upon fear but in a fun way. We like to be frightened. Britain’s last witch, “Hellish Nell”, real name: Helen Duncan, should now receive a pardon. My motivation is to seek “a pardon” for all the witches’ familiars (their cats); to rehabilitate them and re-shape the image of the domestic cat which is still coloured in many countries and by many people by superstition and a belief in witchcraft.
Helen Duncan was prosecuted under the witchcraft act of 1735 which was repealed in 1951. Helen was a spiritualist who practiced it to make a living. She was not a witch. Today, there are still many spiritualists doing more or less exactly what she was doing way back in 1926 when she started giving seances in which she summoned up the dead by regurgitating stringy white ectoplasm and speaking to her spirit guide “Peggy”.
It appears, that she was considered to be a threat to national security in 1941 when she claimed to have contacted a sailor who had died aboard a battleship. She had picked up the news from sailors living Portsmouth but at the time it had not been published in newspapers and therefore she was considered to have foreseen the future and in speaking about it became a threat to security.
The Witchcraft Act of 1735 was not designed to try genuine witches but to expose false ones who “pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Incantment or Conjuration…”
But at that time the press and the people, or a significant percentage of them, believed in witchcraft and wallowed in which-hunting headlines.
I’m not sure what sentence was handed down to Helen Duncan (update: it was 9 months imprisonment) on her conviction but she remained under surveillance and died in 1956. Her case was highlighted by Full Moon Investigations who refer to 4,000 cases of witch trials, executions and persecutions since 1661 in Scotland. They have petitioned the Scottish Parliament for pardons for all.
A campaign is now underway to have Duncan pardoned on the grounds that she was convicted by public prejudice which today seems archaic and simply stupid but it probably isn’t because witchcraft is still practiced in London and people still believe in it. Not long ago, in London, UK, a boy was beaten to death by his step-parents because they believed he was possessed of the devil.
In pardoning Duncan we would acknowledge the wrong done to thousands of women over the centuries; women who were mercilessly persecuted and prosecuted, burnt at the stake and dunked into rivers simply because they were not part of mainstream society or a bit untypical and mystical. Many of these independently minded women cared for domestic cats who were unfairly tarred with the same brush.
It is time to look upon these cats as true companions to unjustly persecuted women and not as evil creatures in which the devil lived.
Note: The Scottish government has rejected petitions for Duncan’s posthumous pardon on three occasions: 2001, 2008, and 2012.
THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN REPUBLISHED FROM OCT 2014.