A Short Review of  ‘They Wur Cheust Folk’ by Helen Woodsford-Dean and Ragnhild Ljosland.

By Bernie Bell

They were cheust folk book of poemsI’d recommend folk to have a read of this – whatever your views on ‘witches’ in general, or the ‘Orkney witches’ specifically.  It’s easy to access on-line – I did so, and I’m spectacularly bad at Internet stuff.  You can find the ebook, here…………..They Were Cheust Folk

I could go on and on about the ideas and how they’re expressed in the poetry, and also in the sections of prose, but I honestly think it would be best for the reader, to go and read the original, rather than reading me, going on about the original.   I’ll try to just make some points, and say some things, to pique your curiosity, and tempt you to read it.

The accusations, are so ludicrous – they won’t have been, to the poor souls being accused, but, otherwise…..who could hear those accusations being read out, and countenance the idea that these people could be “ tied to a stake, strangled to death and burnt in ashes” if found guilty of doing some of these things?

One woman – accused of “often bothering her neighbours”  !!!!!!!!!!!!  Words fail me.  Madness.

Many of the accusations, are because the accused tried to help people, for example……….

“Curing someone of pain in the side…….”

“Curing three people of a bone or joint complaint……..”

And, a real beauty – “looking at a man over her shoulder……..” and the observations in the poem based on this accusation.  That’s something I’ve always thought – if the people accused of being witches, had the ‘powers’ which they were said to have, how come the people who tried to hurt them, weren’t ………turned into frogs, burnt to a cinder, doubled up with pain as they laid the faggots for the fire? Why didn’t the accused, turn themselves into birds and fly from the constraints of the ropes tying them to the stake? Because the accusations were non-sense, that’s why.

Humans are wonderful things.  We do have many, many abilities which we don’t always real-ise. Some people do connect with their abilities, and with LIFE, and, by doing so, can cause things to happen, or not happen.  Some do this, in a positive way, to help the world.  Also, I’m afraid, some do it for negative reasons – ego boosting, or even for harm.   People in our communities have always done this, some were valued for it, some were feared, some – a bit of both. And this will most probably continue to be the case.

These accusations were, and are, madness – fear-full madness.

I said I wouldn’t go on, but I have done – I am angry.

I’m  impressed by the poetry. The humour, the good sense, the  ‘turning an eye’ on the madness being written about.

I’ll stop now – but seriously, have a read of it – the whole thing, including the ideas behind, and development of, the project.   But, if you haven’t the time or inclination to do so, do go straight to the poems and read them, and the background and ideas behind how they were written, and why they were written just the way they were – each one. They are by different people, and, in some cases, I think it’s not hard to place who!

Good work – trying, hoping, to spread a bit of understanding in a world which is often all too ready to misunderstand any thing or any one who is seen as being ‘other.’    The woman who ‘bothered’ her neighbours – that poem, puts a whole other take on the idea of what it is to ‘bother’ folk.  Initially, it seems like a ludicrous accusation to possibly incur such a terrible punishment, but, looking at it as this poem does – still a completely unreasonable thing to warrant that punishment, but, again, that terrible thing, FEAR, fear of the ‘different’, raises its ugly head.  And the need people have to ‘fit in’ – go along with the crowd, however much harm might come from that, to others, who are………….’other’.

Really, good stuff. Will it be available from local bookshops? I still prefer to read from paper, when I can.  You could say I respect the old ways.

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