Two so-called witches are in the news. The first from England from the Guardian:

Britain’s last ‘witch’ may be pardoned

By Bonnie Malkin and agencies

Last Updated: 11:01am GMT 28/02/2008

Helen Duncan

Campaigners will submit a petition to the Scottish Parliament today calling for the last woman convicted under the Witchcraft Act to be pardoned.

Helen Duncan spent nine months in Holloway prison after being convicted at a trial in 1944.

Her conviction followed a seance at which the spirit of a dead sailor was said to have disclosed the loss of the battleship HMS Barham with most of her crew.The sinking had been kept secret by the authorities to maintain wartime morale, and was not disclosed for several months.A petition to the Westminster Government last year failed to secure a pardon, and the new petition urges the Scottish Government to urge the Home Secretary to reconsider the case.

The 1735 Witchcraft Act was repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.

Scottish Parliament researchers said it was a common misconception that Mrs Duncan was convicted of being a witch.

“In fact, the 1735 Witchcraft Act was originally formulated to eradicate the belief in witches and its introduction meant that from 1735 onwards an individual could no longer be tried as a witch,” said their research paper.

“It was, however, possible to be prosecuted for pretending ‘to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration, or undertake to tell fortunes’.

“Supposed contact with spirits fell into this category.”

A second petition asks MSPs to urge the Scottish Parliament to grant a posthumous pardon to all people convicted in Scotland under all witchcraft legislation.

The petitioners claim around 4,000 people were convicted, 85 per cent of them women.

The Witchcraft Act was in force between 1563 and 1736, and the top county for witchhunting was the area that is now East Lothian.

Torture was used to extract confessions as late as 1704, said the petition, and those convicted were almost always strangled before their body was burnt.

The petition states: “Many of today’s professions have their roots in tradition and what could be seen as mystical wisdom.

“Professions such as mediumship, herbalists, midwifery, reiki and many alternative therapies, to name just a few.”

And from Saudi Arabia via the BBC:

Pleas for condemned Saudi ‘witch’

By Heba Saleh BBC News

Human Rights Watch has appealed to Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a woman convicted of witchcraft. In a letter to King Abdullah, the rights group described the trial and conviction of Fawza Falih as a miscarriage of justice. The illiterate woman was detained by religious police in 2005 and allegedly beaten and forced to fingerprint a confession that she could not read. Among her accusers was a man who alleged she made him impotent. Human Rights Watch said that Ms Falih had exhausted all her chances of appealing against her death sentence and she could only now be saved if King Abdullah intervened. ‘Undefined’ crime The US-based group is asking the Saudi ruler to void Ms Falih’s conviction and to bring charges against the religious police who detained her and are alleged to have mistreated her. Its letter to King Abdullah says the woman was tried for the undefined crime of witchcraft and that her conviction was on the basis of the written statements of witnesses who said that she had bewitched them. Human Rights Watch says the trial failed to meet the safeguards in the Saudi justice system. The confession which the defendant was forced to fingerprint was not even read out to her, the group says. Also Ms Falih and her representatives were not allowed to attend most of the hearings. When an appeal court decided she should not be executed, the law courts imposed the death sentence again, arguing that it would be in the public interest.

Before I go any further with my commentary, may I ask my readers to go to a petition to save this woman’s life.

What is a witch? Is it someone who practices Wicca, an animist faith of Earth-based spirituality? That could certainly be one definition. But it probably does not define either of these women. A dowser is also sometimes called a witch, but certainly neither of these women are or were being persecuted for dowsing. No, in both cases the definition would be one who practices sorcery, usually a woman, a sorceress.

In the English case, Helen Duncan, apparently through mediumship, had sensitive knowledge which she could not have obtained through her five ordinary senses. In the case of Fawza Falih there appears to be no evidence whatsoever that anything criminal, paranormal or otherwise has occurred. Indeed, if a woman could cause impotence in a man with a withering look, surely there would be no rape, and far fewer unwanted pregnancies or babies in the world. In fact Saudi Arabia is a place where the rape victim is punished, often by death, and the perpetrator goes free or gets a slap on the wrist.

Even in countries that have a veneer of equal rights for women, the appellation of “witch” or “bitch” is commonly used to marginalize powerful women. Although women make up 51% of the US population there has never been a woman president. Why? Because powerful women get marginalized by being called these names and by being held to a different standard than men.

 

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