Feeling a little on the dumb side? Eat a lot of cashews; they’re supposed to make your brain sharper. At the seventh annual witch lecture, this year titled “Practice Safe Hex,” the audience learned spells in addition to the sometimes funny, sometimes shocking history of witchcraft and witches.
For the first time in seven years, the lecture, given by Michele Lise Tarter, associate professor of English, was actually held on Halloween night.
The Music Building auditorium, filled nearly to capacity, was exposed to a number of stories on witch-hunts, both historical and modern day, as well as slides on devices of torture used on accused witches. There also were performances by students from Tarter’s classes, both alumni and current students.
Tarter spent much of the lecture sharing true stories that varied between amusing and disturbing, though she always managed to insert humor and lightheartedness into even serious subject matter.
One story focused on Tempest Smith, a 12-year-old girl from Michigan who committed suicide after being teased mercilessly in her middle school for wearing gothic clothes and being interested in Wicca.
Tarter told the audience how students would comment about her in the halls and would sing Christian hymns whenever she walked past them to intimidate her.
Tarter also talked about a book written in 1486 by two Dominican friars, called Malleus Maleficarum (Witch’s Hammer). It explained how to spot witches, how to get them to confess under torture and what to do with them after they “admitted” to being witches.
She quoted lines from the text in which the words “woman” and “witch” were used interchangeably. “A woman is a liar by nature,” according to the book. It was used in Europe as a legal document for over 100 years, and had the pope’s highest stamp of authority. That text, she said, caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Witch hunts are still happening today, Tarter said. In Zimbabwe, according to an article from The Associated Press, a prostitute, who was called a witch, was accused of stealing a customer’s “members and testicles.”
“You know what a member is, right?” Tarter asked in the middle of reading the article. “A penis.”
The victim ran away, “‘clutching his smooth crotch.’ How naughty,” Tarter said. The prostitute, according to Tarter’s reading of the article, informed her victim that the “lost apparatus” would be returned if he paid the fornication fee he’d withheld, with interest. He agreed, and awoke the next morning with member back in place.
However, on a less humourous note, in countries like the Congo Republic and South Africa, women are still being harassed and killed.
“They can’t understand why their people of dying of AIDS, why their crops are failing,” and they need someone to blame, Tarter said.
According to the witch doctors of the African tribes, witches were distinguished by their red eyes. However, Tarter revealed that people’s eyes would redden from cooking over open fire.
“If you learn nothing else this whole night, besides to practice safe hex, remember this, witches were honored and revered as wise women . and healers,” Tarter said.
She went on to explain that pre-Christianity, witches were the people to go to if anything was wrong. “Having trouble conceiving? Go to the witch.”
In attendance were students, faculty, alumni and even people from outside the College. Tarter’s acupuncturist Paula was in the audience as well as James Right, also known as Righteous, who drove up from Florida for the lecture.
“I met her through her brother, last week,” Righteous said. “We spent the day together, and went for a swim in the ocean fully clothed.”
He said that he loved the lecture, and that Tarter had resparked his interest in Wicca.
Word about Tarter and her classes and lectures has gotten around within the College, as well. Freshman Adam Mamawala discovered Tarter through his sister, senior Shaheen, who had taken Tarter’s “Goodwives and Witches” class, as well as from friends who were taking her Freshman Seminar.
The communication studies major said he didn’t know there was so much history behind witches, and that Tarter “dispensed of a lot of stereotypes, which needs to be done.”
“It was absolutely incredible,” Heather Roessler, junior psychology major said of the lecture. “The most powerful part, to me, (were) the slides about the torture devices, which made it all real.”
Tarter ended the lecture with a poem, titled “Sunrise,” by Mary Oliver. “You can die for it/an idea or the world,” Oliver wrote.