Rated of 5
by Peg M. (Durham, NC)
The Good Women of the Witching Hill
Mary Sharratt has taken a piece of English history and made the women and their story come alive. Her occasional use of olde English-language words is initially unsettling but eventually infuses the story with an other-worldliness, without intruding on the narrative itself. Rather, the language is a subtle reminder that we are reading about a time in history when magic was real, and could be used for good or evil.
The story revolves around two ‘cunning’ women and their families. Life is hard, begging for basic sustenance is the norm, and the wealthy have ultimate power over the people who are literally and figuratively beneath them. The Catholic Church is a main character in the story - as an underdog. The Reformation has taken place and the old trappings of the Catholic Church (Latin prayers, saints, rosaries, religious feast days and the Virgin Mary, for example) are forbidden. These once familiar icons and holidays grow in esteem by those who remember them, and are feared by the new generation growing up since their demise and the men who are now power-hungry in their Protestant austereness. The women who continue to call upon Mary and the saints for help are soon transformed in the eyes of the others into witches – their Latin prayers become devil worship, their blessings for good health are evidence of evil deeds.
As can happen with people who have little or no political power or protection, the Daughters of the Witching Hill and a few of their men eventually become enmeshed in the struggle between good and evil, poverty and wealth. A small gathering of friends at the home of one of the Daughters is presented in a court trial as an act of treason against the King, resulting in several guilty verdicts and a punishment of death.
But before the sad and inevitable ending, we are introduced to several strong women who live, love, laugh, cry and pray. The author’s descriptions of the characters’ acute awareness of Mother Nature and her many gifts invite the reader to use all five senses to understand. The author writes about Mother Nature the way Cameron directed the new world of Pandora – you believe you are there and everything is real.
I found myself dawdling over this book as I neared the end. I enjoyed meeting these women; knowing how their story would end, I was in no hurry to say goodbye.