November 1 st
Remembering the witchesBy
Who were the witches? What happened? What can we learn? How does our history inform us, as women and men, today?
This Halloween is a good time to remember those women whose lives were lost hundreds of years ago.
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I recently saw the Canadian documentary The Burning Times for the first time. Produced in 1990 by Donna Read, the film examines the witch hunts that took place and the legacy they left.
Since today is Halloween, a day set aside to remember the dead, it seems an especially appropriate time to remember the witches and the hundreds of thousands of women and others who were persecuted and burned at the stake between 1560 and 1650.
These women were sought after for their intuition, healing and commitment to community.
The Burning Times is part of a fascinating 3-part documentary on Women and Spirituality. Thanks to the National Film Board of Canada, and today’s technology, you can view it on the web, for free. You can watch the first 10 minutes on the YouTube video embedded in this post, but please watch the full film by clicking here.
The Burning Times is a 56-minute documentary film. Snuggle up with some popcorn or a cup of tea and invest an hour of your time. I have watched it twice and shared it with friends. It has been haunting me and so I decided it was worth writing about, today, on Halloween.
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First, a note about history. What is history? It’s a collection of stories written by survivors. It’s important to question the history we are handed. Ask questions. Find out whose perspectives are represented. The information and perspectives shared in this film were not part of the history I learned in school.
It’s also important to remember that, as humans, our reality is socially constructed. That means that the stories we tell create our reality.
As an evidence-based ICF-certified coach and applied behavioral scientist, I know this well. We create stories individually and collectively. And these stories animate our world.
The witch burnings, as told through this film, tell a story which fills in some blanks in my own life experience. It also demonstrates the importance of culture. Culture consists of the people and artifacts we surround ourselves with, and the stories we tell and live collectively.
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I emerged from this film with so many emotions … sadness for the misunderstandings and lives lost, fear that experiences like this continue to happen on a mass scale, and anger that some of the collective fear seeded in those times continues to reside in me. I also emerged with appreciation for the courage it took to produce this film, the technology that makes it’s wide distribution possible, and the frequency with which curiosity and openness to to new perspectives is flourishing today.
I am a workplace and life transition coach. Before that I was a leadership and organizational development consultant, and before that a lawyer. I continue to collect trainings and experiences and wear a lot of hats. But, increasingly, I find myself drawn to energy, intuition, healing and spirituality. I am not sure what this means for my work just yet. This is an emerging story and I am still finding my place in all of this. But as I watched this film, I could feel in my bones that the fear I have with regard to my own path is not all mine. I am standing on the shoulders of these women. Some of my fear is coming from what Jung called “the collective unconscious”.
Hundreds of thousands of women, men and children died due to mass fear, propaganda, politics, and institutions run amok. Collective fear is a most destructive phenomenon. This is the reason that we should ALL be in the business of naming, tackling and moving through our fear.
Individual fear becomes collective fear. Collective fear creates mass destruction.
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The antidote to fear is love.
In the film, Starhawk reminds us that the word “witch” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “wiche” which means to bend or shape. To bend or shape consciousness and thus to bend or shape events in your life. I was stirred to my core when I heard this. This is what my work is about.
It is with abiding love and gratitude that I remember the witches and all of the others whose lives were lost during “the burning times”. May we learn and grow and talk about our fears out loud so that we do not repeat the past.
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I felt compelled to write about this and share the film because I believe that today we are living , all of us, with the fear from these and other horrific past events imprinted in our psyches, in our souls.
Men are walking around afraid of women and their power. Hate crimes, sex crimes, domestic violence, glass ceilings, the need for The Girl Effect … all are testimony to this legacy of fear. And women are sleepwalking through their lives, playing the “good girl”, staying in abusive relationships, in jobs, marriages or religious institutions that hold them back, deeply afraid of stepping out and claiming their power.
Ironically, the power that is feared is the healthy kind of power. It’s a good power, a power with, not a power over. It’s the power of love, compassion, and healing for individuals, families, communities, organizations and the planet.
The good news is that when this power is unleashed, there is nothing that we cannot do, men and women, together. Now more than ever, we need a blend of the masculine and the feminine. We need to love and embrace both. And we begin by claiming what we are afraid of.
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Please take action now. Share your thoughts and leave a comment below.
If you have other perspectives or sources to share, please share them in the comments below.
What do you think? What am I missing? What would you add to the dialogue?
Does any of your fear seem “older” than you or beyond the circumstances of your life as you know it?
What next step will you take?