Dear …dear …witches in Norneverland in 1711 and 2015. The Mary Dunbar witchcraft case is being discussed again because there’s talk about erecting a plaque to commemorate the great witchcraft Islandmagee trial of 300 years ago . Someone also wants these poor “witches” pardoned . Are they serious? Well , of course they are serious.There never were any witches in the first instance , of course.. just as there were none in Salem..just a lot of superstitious people frightened of some poor unsocial or deranged women , whom they feared as acolytes of Satan.
It seems that some of the citizens in Norneverland actually still believe in witchcraft, even in this day.. There has been a book written about the trial of Mary Dunbar by author Martina Devlin .She is is campaigning to the Larne Borough council to erect this plaque in the Gobbins visitor Centre in Islandmagee . Yes, I know , somehow Larne has once again entered the popular imagination and not in a good way .It’s already beginning to sound like something out of “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings”…Someone needs to tell these good folk that this is all fantasy and is only a product of some very imaginative minds.
Councillor TUV Alderman, Jack McKee has apparently decried the proposal as “anti-God” and said he could not support it.This is actually written down in the minutes of a council meeting in January. That is …January 2015…in the twenty first century !! Alderman McKee said he “could not tell whether or not the women had been rightly or wrongly convicted as he didn’t have the facts and was not going to support devil worship”.
“Devil worship” ? Sweet suffering, weeping stars!! Devil worship!!!
With some echoes of the “Stolen Sea God ” , also of recent Norneverland fame , Mr McKee claimed that the plaque would become a focus and a shrine to paganism and he couldn’t support the proposal as he saw it as being “anti-god”. At this point , I was beginning to have visions of Larne as the setting of a great film along the lines of the original creepy “The Wicker Man”…not the re-make , I have to add , …the weirded-out version with Christopher Lee with the great creepy folk music.What do you think …a film might work?
A recorded vote was taken on the proposal, with six members voting for, two against and the rest abstaining.
The whole thing blew up in 1711 when eight women were arrested and put on trial and convicted because of Mary Dunbar’s testimony that they had attacked her in her bed.I suppose this kind of thing was a product of the times …much like racism was in Britain or hating Jews was in Europe or burning people in cages is today. Peiople get some very odd ideas . Back then one of the odder ideas going around was the belief that some old women had supernatural powers .They were also in league with the devil , who was yet another imaginary figure of folklore, like goblins and faeries. The fact that all this was imaginary didn’t stop people believing any of it .
Some people have put it all down to hallucinations caused by the ergot fungus in flour. Rye grains tainted by this fungus can enter the food chain by being milled into flour and consumed as bread.Forty years ago it was postulated in “Science” magazine that the effects of ergon poisoning were in some ways similar to the effects of the hallucinogenic LSD , without any of its benign qualities .Sufferers of this contamination were affected by a series of convulsive symptoms such as painful seizures and spasms, diarrhea, , itching, mental effects including mania or psychosis, headaches, nausea and vomiting. .It sounds like the very worst of trips really.Other psychological symptoms, such as mania, melancholia, psychosis, and delirium, were the kind of symptoms reported in the case of the Salem witchcraft affair.Apparently ergot and its effects vary from region to region, depending on the composition of the soil it originates in. The effect would be different from person to person too, just as with alcohol or any other drug.
People reported ghostly poltergeist activity with clothes and possessions being strewn about rooms.Some felt themselves being controlled by external forces as if the two sides of the brain were conversing as two people; much like those cases of multiple personality disorder.The kind of thing you’d see in a story like “Sybil” or “the Exorcist”.
In this case , Mary Dunbar was also tormented by “poltergeists” and an apron with what were described as “witches’ knots” was found.; a skilled knot -tier too, our witch. She claimed to have been attacked by women in her bed and on her word, eight women were arrested and put on trial for having caused the various phenomena with witchcraft. All of this , of course , was mixed up with the religious beliefs, folklore and the general illiteracy and lack of any other knowledge, of the time . Of course , human curiosity is always attracted to anything like this . We love a bit of mystery but not everything is as we percrive it from our own background knowledge..
Councillor McKee could do worse that reading a little science and putting his other -worldly fears ghosties and ghouls to rest.