“There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”
The town where Sithean stands is an old one, by American standards. It was incorporated in 1650, and the miles of old stone walls and the ability to trip over history everywhere you go bears that out.
Prior to incorporation, the Annisquam Indians called it something that translates to ‘the pleasant place by the flowing waters’, and that still holds true today – it is a pleasant place to be, with meandering country roads, wildflowers everywhere, and gardens of blossoms and vegetable gardens.
We reside in a spot called ‘Witch Hill’. The Salem Witch trials were not confined to what is now Salem, Massachusetts. In fact, Salem Village is now named Danvers, in one of the earliest efforts at image rebranding ever to occur – Salem was anathema after the Witch Trials, for good reason.
Witch Hill got it’s name because Mary Eastey, sister to Rebecca Nurse, came here to her son’s home after being released from the Salem Witch trials. She and Nurse were both upstanding citizens, and married to landholders. Even Judge John Hathorne, who presided over the trials, and an ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, went so far as to ask if the girls accusing her if they were certain she was a witch.
It’s hard to visualize what it might have been like. Suspicion, and not a little bit of vengeance, reigned. Women were dragged from their beds in the night and put in irons. They didn’t eat unless their families brought food, and then it might be stolen by their jailers. They didn’t bathe. They were housed in places where it was cold, dark, and bug-infested, on the words of a bunch of pre-teens and teenagers. If you ever doubt the need for due process but also the ability to challenge it by citizens, the transcripts are worth a read. The originals are in Salem, but the University of Virginia keeps a copy online.
After all, the Witch trials were perfectly legal. Moral – not so much.
For Mary Eastey, she is released after 2 months in prison, on May 18th. She came here to Topsfield, but not for long. 2 days later, Mercy Lewis accuses her again. She was dragged from her son’s home in the night and brought back to prison. She was hanged on September 22nd, 1692. Her death, along with others, was the tipping point in bringing Witch Fever to an end. On the gallows she begged for the murders – for they were that, trial or no – to stop.
Superstition seems to be part and parcel of the human spirit. Here on Witch Hill, the real story of Mary Eastey has long faded, and she is spoken about most typically in order to establish the historical bona fides of this place. In some ways, the peace and beauty force that forgetting. There is no time of year that I don’t believe I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Making it more so is one of my greatest goals.
One of the interests in the back of my mind as I have gardened over the years is herbs. Herbs have very real benefits – let’s be clear here, there’s no magical food, essential oil, or herb that is going to change your life. Herbs, oils and supplements have become intertwined with the idea that if we just consume cleaner, healthier and purer, we will be safe from disease, early death, etc. It’s true that the healthier we eat, the healthier we live, sure and some exercise is necessary. Herbs are helpers when used correctly. They can relieve anxiety, calm a stomach, make a headache go away, and even restart a heart or kill you. That these things can just grow by the side of the road, in nature, can feel a lot like a gift of magic, and maybe they are. There’s much that still defies human understanding in the natural world.
Herb lore is intricately tied up in superstition and magic. So while I diligently plant flowers to attract pollinators and vegetables and fruit to feed us, I’ll also be adding Witch Hazel, Dittany, Rue, Valerian, Yarrow, Lavender and others. Sure, they are (mostly) edible, have medicinal benefits, and they are all lovely. But they are also the herbs of protection. From what? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. It doesn’t matter. But here at Sithean history incorporates both the beautiful and the not-so-much, intertwined together, and sometimes, like with magic and herb lore, the beautiful and the not are one and the same. As I grow them, I’ll post about what they do and how I use them.
Next year we will plant both a fig tree and a Rowan tree. The former will feed us, but of the two, I tend to think the latter will be more important.
Trefoil, John’s Wort, Vervain, Dill
Hinder Witches of Their Will
Betony, Dittany, Yarrow, Rue
Deprive Witches of Their Due