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The 1735 Witchcraft Act was repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.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


The following article was forwarded to me by J. P. Yates. I found it fascinating because I know a wonderful couple, Garry Nichols and Deb Kaufmann, in Brooklyn who are excellent dowsers. This skill has been demonstrated to me and I employ a form of dowsing using a pendulum.

This was in the new premiere issue of  ‘Our Iowa’.

‘My Day with the Grave Witchers

‘I was spellbound by two dear ladies as they located old graves in a country cemetery.

By Jerry Wiebel, Editor

I’D SEEN a water witcher, also called a dowser, in action before. We owned a hobby farm in Warren County years ago and needed to drill a new well.The first thing the well driller did as he hopped out of his old beater truck was grab a wire bent like a forked tree branch. He marched back and forth across the barnyard, and when the forked wire suddenly dipped toward the ground, he proclaimed, “This is where we’ll find water.”I’m sure I looked more than a bit skeptical, so he tried to reassure me. Watch this,” he said as he hung his pocketknife on the end of the wire and held it over the spot. The knife bobbed 13 times. Then he said, “We’ll hit water at 13 feet.”I watched him drill, and sure enough, he struck water at about 13 feet! That made a believer out of me.So when I recently heard about two grave witchers from Chariton who contended they could locate unmarked graves in abandoned cemeteries, it piqued my interest…particularly when I learned they could even tell whether it was a man, woman or child buried there.”This I gotta see,” I said, and my wife, Paula, and I soon headed to Chariton in south-central Iowa . There we met MARY RUTH PIERCHBACHER and her friend DARLENE ARNOLD in the parking lot of the public library. “Hop in,” said Mary Ruth, motioning us over to her car. Mary Ruth is a member of the Lucas County Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Commission, and I’d spoken to her by telephone a few weeks earlier (see “Taking the Long Way Home…” on page 44). As Mary Ruth drove us out to an old cemetery next to her family’s farm,Paula and I learned that Darlene is treasurer of the county genealogical society. That explains their interest in grave witching — something they’ve been doing for several years.

Not Everyone Can Witch

How’d they get started on grave witching? They’d seen a demonstration at a meeting, and when they got home, “We just tried it,” says Mary Ruth. But not everyone can do it. “My son can’t, and it really bugs him,” adds Darlene.Their tools of the trade are two lengths of No. 9 gauge steel wire — the same kind of wire farmers use to mend things. About 2 feet long, the wires are bent into “L” shapes, and the short ends, or handles, are inserted into pieces of PVC pipe. That way, when they grab hold of the PVC pipes, the wires can move freely.This cemetery was established in 1851 and is a mixture of relatively new graves and some long-forgotten ones with no trace of a tombstone. A handsome granite headstone on a sunny slope marks where Mary Ruth’s husband is buried.”My son says he wants to be buried over there,” says Mary Ruth, pointing to a seemingly undisturbed grassy spot. “I told him you’ll have company, because there are lots of graves there.”Mary Ruth and Darlene walked through the cemetery with a sense of reverence.This is serious — if not grave — business for them, because after they locate a grave, they’re often able to match it to old records and determine who is buried there. Imagine the joy that brings to someone who is trying to piece together a family tree.

Men’s Vs. Women’s Graves

As Mary Ruth walked along, she held her wires — one in each hand –straight out in front of her. Suddenly, the wires began to move and crisscrossed in front of her hands. “There’s a man buried here,” she explained. At another spot, the wires swung even further. This time they crossed behind Mary Ruth’s hands — an indication a woman was buried there. She said they can also determine the site of an infant burial by marking the short distance from when the wires begin to move and when they return to their normal position. A small burial area is the grave of a child. Darlene and Mary Ruth sometimes put on grave-witching demonstrations at cemeteries they are totally unfamiliar with. Before they arrive, they ask someone to cover some headstones — just to prove they can determine the difference between male and female graves. “After we give our demonstrations, we don’t have many doubters,” says Darlene. But even Mary Ruth and Darlene were stumped one time. As they approached a grave, the wires clearly indicated a woman was buried there. But after a couple more steps over the site, the wires inexplicably moved to the male position. It was only after they checked the headstone that they realized a mother had been laid to rest there with her baby boy in her arms.

Can’t Explain It

Nobody really knows how or why water witching or grave witching works. Some say it has to do with the electromagnetic pull between what’s in the ground and the wire (or tree branch — a peach branch seems to be the tree of choice among many dowsers). But that doesn’t explain why some dowsers can locate water with their outstretched hands — and no divining rod at all. Others say it’s a form of divination, a practice forbidden in the Bible. On the other hand, I recall once talking with a minister who could also waterwitch. He says many dowsers believe it’s a gift from God, which is why they typically don’t charge for their services. “We all have different magnetic fields in our bodies,” Darlene believes. Mary Ruth notes that one member of the Cemetery Preservation Commission can dowse for water, but he can’t locate graves. She adds that the pull in some cemeteries is stronger than others. “We don’t know why,” she says. I became a believer when Mary Ruth placed her wires in my hands. As I approached one gravesite, the wires amazingly crossed in front of me, indicating a man was buried there. At another grave, the wires indicated a woman was buried at that spot. Honest — it really happened! Paula had the same experience. (So does this mean we’re now able to find the skeletons buried in our friends’ closets?)