Stories of Spirit…Convicted of Witchcraft [Alison Balfour died at the hands of men]

crowsaliToday’s tale is spun of truth, the actions being factual, the fiction comes only in the flavoring of the tale, and the expression of emotion shown.  The emotions were imagined by me, as I sat preparing my story for the Bardic telling.  I wrote this tale in the Fall of 2008, after reading of the real story of Alison Balfour, a woman convicted of witchcraft in 1594.  Her story touched me, and I remembered as my own.  I have told this story a few times before, speaking it aloud, as if the words were my own.

The last time I performed it, my father was there.  When I was done, he walked over and hugged me, saying “I am sorry that happened to you.”  I do not know that this story is truly mine, I do not know that I was Alison Balfour, but I have my suspicions.  One thing I do know, is that if I was not she, then we shared similar stories, for the writing of her tale was like remembering a dream, a very unpleasant dream.

I wrote & performed during the bardic year of my Druid training.  It is based on the historical details of a woman (Alison Balfour) who was convicted of Witchcraft in Scotland in 1594.  I share this story now, as we once again live in a time, when people are persecuted for their beliefs and their spiritual practices.  I am ever thankful to live in a time when I do not have to hide my abilities for fear of persecution, but I have not forgotten, and I do not turn a blind eye on the persecution of others.

And so the story begins…

As many of you know already, I stand before you a self confessed Witch.  Many moons and many faces I have worn since the days of the fire, but memories born in flame are hard to forget.

The Earl of Orkney, Patrick Stewart or “Black Patty” as he was so often called by the people of the land,  was a tyrant…a greedy, arrogant son of a bastard.  His father having been the illegitimate son of  King James the fifth.  He was a despised man, and it came as no surprise to me, that someone had tried to poison him.  The  word of importance here is ‘tried’.

The failed attempt at poisoning “Black Patty” was blamed on his brother John Stewart, the Master of Orkney.  As you could not come right out and blame a noblemen…and someone must be brought in for questioning in the affair, his servant, Thomas Paplay was brought in.   Now I do not blame poor Tom for what came next, as he was a simple man used as a pawn.

For 11 days Tom held out to their torture, even though they crushed his arms in “Caspies Claws”.  Then in his defeat he named me a Witch, and a conspirator in the poisoning of “Black Patty”.  It was no secret that I knew the ways of medicine, and as rumor had it….magic.  They came and dragged me from my home, away from my aged husband and children and commenced to working my confession out of me.

Henry Colville, the Parson of Orphir…that vile excuse for a man of God, was called upon to “question” me.  They had found a piece of wax in my home….wax , such a funny thing to bring about ones demise.  This wax had come from the home of Patrick Bellenden, the Lord of Stenness.  The Lady of Stenness was suffering terribly with stomach problems and I had agreed to work my charms on healing her.  Its funny how ones gifts often so appreciated can quickly becomes ones bane.  Henry refused to accept my answer, as he was convinced that I had used the wax to concoct a poison to kill “Black Patty”, and that Lord Bellenden was part of the ploy.

My torture or questioning, if you  like was carried out in the castle of Kirkwall.  They crushed my legs in “Caspies Claws” for  48 hours.  I reached out to my Gods and retreated inward…refusing to  confess to a crime I did not commit……..Then they brought in my family.

My husband was a great deal older then me, at 81 he had lived a long life.  I loved him dearly, but could not confess.  They placed him in the “Long Irons”,  and proceeded to crush him before my eyes….50 stones they laid upon his chest, 700lbs in terms you would understand now.  As he died before my eyes, my resolve began to crumble, but I heard his voice clear as day inside my head urging me to stand strong.

My son, came next.  A strong lad…just entering manhood, handsome and brave.  He stood before me and said “don’t do it ma…don’t let them condemn you for a crime that is not yours”.  Even now all these years later, life times passed I find myself drawn to tears as I think on his brave soul.  They placed his legs in “the boots”, drove the wedges in and crushed his feet with 57 strikes of a mallet.  57 times my heart cried out, begging the gods by all their names to stop this torture….to free my son from his earthly prison.  As he collapsed upon the floor, my life slipped colorlessly before my eyes. I thought I had endured all the pain a person could take….and then they brought in my wee lass.

7 years old and bright as a sunny day.  My daughter, my joy, the love of my womb…I could not believe that even the evilness of “Black Patty” could claim the life of one so innocent.  But there she was, her tiny fingers being placed into the piniwinkie…and I could take no more.  As they began to crush her finger I cried out my confession.  I confessed to consorting with the devil, to poisoning the Earl, and to many other atrocities’ too dark to repeat. Inside I begged the goddess above to forgive me for my lies, but I could take no more.  Darkness enveloped me and time took on a dimension unknown to those that have never truly suffered.

My confession earned me the punishment of execution…seeing how Witchcraft was considered a form of treason in Scotland, I would be burned at the stake.  As I was found guilty, the fee for services rendered…torture, execution and such would be deducted from my families estate.   The Gallows in Kirkwall was my final resting place on December the 15th, 1594.   As burning is a rather noisy way to dispose of a living body…strangulation was customary, prior to the stake.

As I stood awaiting my death…the darkness of my mind cleared, and I found my voice.  “I Alison Balfour, do stand here before you an innocent woman.  My confessions that of a mother seeking only to spare her children!”  The crowd went silent, and my soul was released from hell.

John Stewart, the Master of Orkney stood trial for seeking the aid of a Witch…for the destruction of his brother Patrick.  He was acquitted, as the evidence which lead to my death was thrown out of court, on the basis that it had been obtained under torture.

Henry Colville, the hand of my torture….got his due.  Traveling on the Earls business in the summer following my death, he was come upon by the Master of Orkney and 30 of his men.  They proceeded to unmercifully slay him…I will leave out the details for those of you weak in the tummy.

And…Black Patty, I have saved the best for last.  The son of a Bastard, the Tyrant of Orkney was beheaded in 1615 for treason to the crown.

May all those who have been persecuted find peace!

spreading love-salicrow

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STORIES OF SPIRIT…Ode to the Plowman [remembering Plowmen passed]

townplowtruckI cannot follow a  plow truck, or look out the window during a snow storm without thinking of my grandfather.  He worked for the town of Whitefield, NH most of his life.  This meant he spent every snowy day & night rambling the roads of his town, doing his best to keep it safe.  He never bitched or moaned about his job, I honestly think he loved it, and saw himself as a steward of town.  One with a job to do, keep people safe.

Grandpa Brown with his retirement house. An old school bus, he decked out in his free time.

Grandpa Brown with his retirement house. An old school bus, he decked out in his free time.

My grandfather was a widow for as long as I knew him, as his wife/my grandmother died when I was 3 months old.  Most of my childhood he lived with his mother, ‘Grammy Brown’.  When I was little he lived at her house, and later in my childhood the roles reversed, and she lived with him, in his house. I was practically attached to Grammy Brown by her apron strings, which meant I spent a lot of time with my grandfather as well.  He was a man of few words, a man who liked to watch time go by.  He was simple, predictable, and reliable, and his job in many ways defined him.

In the winter he slept on the couch in the living room; close to the phone, ready at any minute to get called out.   When a storm was forecast, he would set about preparing for the inevitable night on the roads.  His lunch box was a sturdy, old, metal thing, large enough to hold a couple of sandwiches, some snacks, and an emergency soda; in case his sugar dropped.  He was diabetic, which meant he carried a needle with insulin, and a sugary treat just in case.  Along with his lunchbox, he carried an enormous thermos filled with coffee.  I always loved watching him put together his road pack, specially watching him fill up the thermos with coffee.  I loved the little cup that screwed onto the top, and thought how fun it must be to drink out of it.

As a child, watching my grandfather prepare for a winter-storm , was like watching Indiana Jones prepare for an adventure into a hidden temple.  Everything was prepared, just in case it was needed.  Flashlight batteries were checked, extra clothing was packed, and rations were laid out.

My grandfather told stories of his wintery adventures.  One that stood out, involved a blizzard and a VW Bug. Like all towns, there were winter snow bans in Whitefield; simple really, if we are expecting big snow, don’t park in the road, and like all towns, there is always someone who does not think this rule applies to them.

One snowy night, during a heavy snowfall, my grandfather was out on the roads in blizzard type conditions.  It was late into the night, and he had drank as much coffee as his bladder could handle, when he headed up onto South Whitefield road.  South Whitefield road, winds up and over a long hill.  It’s rural, and heavily wooded.  You don’t see much traffic on it, but the roads are a bit narrow.  My grandfather was about half way up the hill when he came across a complex of family houses, place where all the neighbors were related to each other.

One of the younger cousins of the complex had totally ignored or forgotten that his car should not be in the roadway.  When my grandfather came up the road, with his plow blade down, he did not see a car in front of him, on the side of the road.  He saw a snow drift, much like half a dozen others he had seen that night.  When he hit the snow-drift, it became apparent that it was not snow, but was indeed a car.  The VW bug was completely lifted off the ground and shot into the snowbank, as if it was no more then a block of ice.  My grandfather being the matter of fact man, that he was, didn’t even stop.  He just kept driving, chewing his gum, and rumbled a bit to himself, about how the dumb-ass shouldn’t have parked his car there.

Another story that sticks out to me; when I follow  a plow truck, or sit comfortably on my couch during a snow storm, is of a local man I have communicated with in Spirit.  Many of his family have been to see me for Spirit Communication and he loves these visits.  He worked for the town road department, right here in the Northeast Kingdom; in Sheffield or Wheelock, VT  I believe.  Like my grandfather, he was dedicated to his work; stopping in to the family holidays and dinners when he could, but the roads came first.

Whenever he comes through, he always shows me his plow truck.  One of the stories he likes to share,  is how he went off the road, and put his plow-truck on it’s side.  It was during a big storm, with a lot of ice.  Coming down a steep hill (I believe Square Mile Road), his truck ended up in the ditch on it’s side.  I always wonder what kind of tow-truck it takes to get a road-truck out of the ditch.

snowstormtimewarpI think about these Winter road-warriors, whenever I start to complain about following a plow truck, or when the roads are so bad, that I am thankful to follow one.  I think about the long hours, through blinding, warp-speed looking snow, and ice.  I think about drinking lots of coffee, and trying to stay focused and awake, while everyone else is hunkering down.  I think about the time I watched a plow-truck with chains on, have to back down Newark-hill (the hill I live on) unable to make it up the icy incline.  I think about the challenges of a job that many of us take for granted, and I am thankful.

The next time you run into someone who you know plows for a living, whether they are working for the state, or plowing your driveway, remember to give thanks.  There is a lot of sacrifice made to keep our roads safe for driving.

spreading love-salicrow