Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Erika Mailman's The Witch's Trinity

This book is not technically horror, despite its title. It's more historical horror (is that a genre/subgenre?) in the vein of the film, The Witch (a favorite). However, it's not my historical horror selection for my I Read Horror Year-Round challenge (that would be Kostova's The Historian). Instead, I read this one for the "written by a woman" category. 

As with any book surrounding the witch terrors/trials in European and American history, this book is equally horrifying. I sit there thinking, as I'm reading, I can't believe what people did to these women. Then I think, yes, I can believe it. I'm always quick to blame religious fervor, and yes, that did play a significant part, especially in America. The same goes for my feeling it was more focused on women. However, Mailman did clarify in her author's note that "Secular courts were just as eager, and sometimes more so, to capture and punish witches" and that "in the 1300s men were named as witches as frequently as women were." Interesting. Of course, we know that superstition, fear, and, in the case of this book, severe hunger played large parts in this hysteria, the latter especially holding true for the European witch craze...and that damn book, Malleus Maleficarum. The man who wrote that book was the true evil, in my humble opinion. 

Also, of note, Mailman's own ancestor, Mary Bliss Parsons was accused of witchcraft twice in 1600s Massachusetts. Jealousy and slander are what brought her to the attention of the court for witchcraft, but in the end, she had too many people come to her defense. Definitely an impressive and interesting heritage.

The Witch's Trinity illustrated that you better not grow old in a village wracked with famine in the year 1507...because you will be the first to receive an accusation of witchcraft. The elderly, especially women, past childbearing years and unable to do any hard work, are looked on as a burden. This is the situation Gude found herself in. Aged, she can't do much, she's an extra mouth to feed when there's barely enough for her son's family of four, and her mind is not what it was. She starts having fantastical and horrifying experiences with witches and the devil himself (the devil's book), but it's never quite clear if it's really happening or not. She's not even sure herself. 

The book was riveting. Just under 300 pages so a quick read and I couldn't put it down. I felt pure outrage the entire time I was reading...toward humanity, the church. It made me think of how the less of us are treated in today's society. Sure, no one is being burned at the stake, but the persecutions are still going on, purely because someone is different, or deemed of less use to society. 

Near the end, Gude said two things which really hit home and will stick with me.

"I didn't know what I thought of heaven above us or hell deep below, the fires supposed to be constantly stoked and tended. I was afraid to tell her what I feared: that both places were kingdoms of air. I had been to the churchyard to sit above Hensel's bones and to the spot where Kunne's blackened remnants lay, and when I listened to the earth, it told me they were still down there. And for all the praying I've done in my life, I fear that prayers are bits of grain the birds drop to the winds."

Exactly my sentiments.

"If there comes a day when the food is scarce again, you must equally divide what you have. It is wrong to say that one should eat more than another, or that one deserves nothing. Give it out with the hope that more will come."

If only more people thought like this. The world would be a better place.

The Witch's Trinity by Erika Mailman
The year is 1507, and a friar has arrived in Tierkinddorf, a remote German village nestled deeply in the woods. The village has been suffering a famine, and the villagers are desperately hungry. The friar’s arrival is a miracle, and when he claims he can restore the town to prosperity, the men and women gathered to hear him rejoice. The friar has a book called the Malleus Maleficarum—“The Witch’s Hammer”—a guide to gaining confessions of witchcraft. The friar promises he will identify the guilty woman who has brought God’s anger upon the town; she will be burned, and bounty will be restored. Tierkinddorf is filled with hope. Neighbors wonder aloud who has cursed them and how quickly can she be found? They begin sharing secrets with the friar.

Güde Müller, an elderly woman, has stark and frightening visions—recently she has seen things that defy explanation. None in the village know this, and Güde herself worries that perhaps her mind has begun to wander—certainly she has outlived all but one of her peers in Tierkinddorf. Yet of one thing she is absolutely certain: She has become an object of scorn and a burden to her son’s wife. In these desperate times her daughter-in-law would prefer one less hungry mouth at the family table. As the friar turns his eye on each member of the tiny community, Güde dreads what her daughter-in-law might say to win his favor.

Then one terrible night Güde follows an unearthly voice and the scent of charred meat into the snow-filled woods. Come morning, she no longer knows if the horror she witnessed was real or imagined. She only knows that if the friar hears of it, she may be damned in this life as well as the next.

The Witch’s Trinity beautifully illuminates a dark period of history; it is vividly imagined, elegantly written, haunting, and unforgettable.

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