WALLINGFORD, Conn. – The last few decades have seen an increase in calls for posthumous exonerations or pardons for those falsely accused of practicing “witchcraft,” many of whom were executed. While Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issued a formal apology late last year to all of the victims persecuted under the Witchcraft Act of 1563, the possibility of posthumous pardons is still pending.
In another example, last year a middle school civics class discovered as part of a research project that one woman, Elizabeth Johnson, who had been accused in the 1692 Salem “witch” trials, was somehow left off the list of those who had been pardoned. Their actions resulted in Johnson finally having her name cleared, and making news around the country and even the globe.
Now, the descendant of two Wallingford women, Winifred Benham Sr., and her daughter Winifred Benham Jr., who were accused of “witchcraft” is seeking to clear their names. The Benham’s ninth-generation great-granddaughter, Sarah Jack, in the process of researching her family genealogy discovered some startling facts about not only her own family tree but also about the “witch” persecutions in New England.
While a good percentage of the population knows about the Salem “witch” trials, they are likely less familiar with the fact that the first recorded occurrence of a woman in the U.S. being accused and executed for being a “witch” was in Connecticut. Alice ‘Alse’ Young was executed on May 26, 1647. Young along with Lydia Gilbert, the second woman to be accused and executed, were both exonerated in February 2017 by a unanimous vote of the Windsor Town Council.
Jack’s ancestors, the Benhams after being accused of “witchcraft” several times, ultimately ended up fleeing the area to avoid further persecution. While they were fortunate enough to escape and not be executed, it is undoubtedly their lives were changed forever.
Jack started End Witch Hunts, which has joined forces with historian Beth Caruso of the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project, and Tony Griego who has the Facebook page, Connecticut Witch Memorial. As a direct result of their collective efforts, Representative Jane M. Garibay, and Senator Saud Anwar, have introduced resolutions that would clear the names of those accused: House Joint Resolution No. 21; “Recognizing the Unfair Treatment of Individuals Accused of Witchcraft during the Seventeenth Century” and Senate Joint Resolution No. 5; “Resolution Exonerating the Women and Men Convicted for Witchcraft in Colonial Connecticut.”
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS), issued a press release on Sunday announcing that it had received a major funding gift from Dr. Michael York, who was described as “a longtime friend, donor, and emeritus faculty member.”
Dr. Michael York, familiar to many in our Seminary family as well as the international Pagan studies community, made his contribution at the very end of 2022. He said this about his decision:
“The rebirth of paganism in the contemporary West–especially as earth-centric spirituality–is unquestionably vitally important for the ecological future of our host planet and also for a wider appreciation of our human species’ place in nature and our responsibility for the restoration and maintenance of environmental sanity.”
“Consequently, I fully believe in the momentousness of Cherry Hill Seminary for both the promotion of pagan ministry and as a teaching institution to expand religious understanding for people in general. My wish is that CHS will gain accreditation, and to this hopeful end I have made my gift.”
Dr. York is well-known for his research on contemporary Paganism, has written numerous articles, and is the author of Pagan Ethics: Paganism as a World Religion.
He was the director of the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, coordinator of the Bath archive for contemporary religious affairs, and director of the new age and pagan studies program at Bath Spa University until his retirement.
Also contained within the press release was a statement from CHS, Chair of the Board of Directors, Dr. Jeffrey Keefer, “Many of us have come to see Cherry Hill Seminary as an essential factor in the blossoming of our spirituality. Dr. York has a special understanding of our role, having founded the first Pagan studies program in the world (Bath Spa University), and having mentored and supported so many of our students over the years. We are proud to accept his gift as affirmation of our mission,” said Dr. Keefer.
CHS, which is entirely community funded, identifies itself as, “the leading provider of education and practical training in leadership, ministry, and personal growth in Pagan and Nature-Based spiritualities for more than fifteen years.”
- A call for abstracts to be published in the Theology, Religion, and Popular Culture book series on the subjects of “Theology, Religion, and Dungeons & Dragons.” but not limited to, the topics below for a volume on the intersections of academic disciplines of theology, religious studies, and the creative world of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). The deadline for submissions is February 15.
- Mystic South Conference has issued a “Call For Papers for 2023.” The annual event is held in Atlanta, Georgia, and will take place on July 14-16, 2023. Mystic South is a polytheistic conference and the call is for papers of a polytheistic spiritual nature. Blocks of the allotted time for those submissions that are accepted will be one hour. Presenters receive free access to the entire conference in exchange for their presentation of their paper. Papers may be either written and read or read and audio/visual in format. Those interested can submit a 400 +/- word abstract via the event’s website, deadline for submitting abstracts is February 28, 2023. The event states, “This is a perfect place for those that are not used to presenting academic papers; such as students, junior faculty, or those that are looking for tenure or promotion credits.” Questions pertaining to papers may be emailed to the Papers Coordinator, Gypsey Elaine Teague.
- The Journal of Academic Freedom is seeking original articles that investigate the links between landscapes of social power and the historical development and contemporary status of academic freedom for its 2023 issue. From The Journal, “We invite consideration of how academic freedom serves as a touchstone for democracy and the ways that the death of academic freedom signals the atrophy of more inclusive and democratized landscapes of power. What is the relationship between democratic societies and the flourishing of academia and academic freedom within them? What kind of society would powerful forces working against academia and academic freedom usher forth if they had their way?” The deadline for submissions is March 20.
- The Imbolc Polk County Pagan Market is scheduled for Saturday, February 4, from 12:00pm until 7:00pm (CST) in Joe Pedigo Park in Livingston, Texas. The event will feature over 100 vendors, workshops, entertainment, and an Imbolc ritual invoking the goddess Brigid will be led by Houston-based the House of Sage and Lavender. The Pagan Market is being hosted by Pendulumking, Witch’s Brew Metaphysical, and the local Polk County Pagan community. This will be the second Polk County Pagan Market, and the group plans to have a third market for Beltane on April 29. Entry is free and the environment is focused on being all-inclusive, free from hate, and proselytization. The first Pagan Market event in November saw some pushback and protests from a local pastor, but the event was ultimately held on November 12, 2022.
- The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture (ISSRNC) announces the hybrid conference, “After Earth? Religion and Technology on a Changing Planet” which will take place in Tempe, AZ, and online Feb 2– 5. Student registration is free; recordings of all online sessions will be posted on our website for later viewing by registered participants. The Deadline for online registration is January 30.
- Circle Sanctuary will hold its 2023 Imbolc Festival on Saturday, February 4, from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (CDT) at the Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in southwestern Wisconsin. The theme for this year is Brigid’s Wisdom and will include rituals, workshops, poetry sharing, nature walks, and crafting. The event is in-person, but Bright Brigid Blessings with Selena Fox will be livestreamed and available for online viewing, paid registration is required. The registration deadline to attend is Thursday, February 2, and must be received by 11:59 pm. Circle Sanctuary has Covid-19 protocols that must be followed. More details can be found on the Circle Sanctuary website.
- The Circle Sanctuary Community will host their Celebrate the Imbolctide Full Moon online on Sunday, February 5 at 7:00 pm (CST). The theme for the event is “Loving Kindness,” and will be livestreamed via Circle Sanctuary YouTube Channel.
- Earth-based Spirituality Action Team (ESBAT) will hold its next meeting on February 13, 2023, from 5:00 pm – 5:30 pm (PDT). The meeting will feature John Beckett presenting, “Animism: A Foundation for Connecting to Nature.” A description of the presentation: “Unlike what some of us were taught in school, animism is not a ‘primitive religion.’ It’s a worldview: a way of understanding the universe, our place in it, and how we can relate to it all.” Beckett is a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD), a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), a member of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. He’s been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals since 2003. His books The Path of Paganism (2017) and Paganism In Depth (2019) are published by Llewellyn Worldwide. The meeting will be held via Zoom.
- Circle Sanctuary announced last week that registration for Pagan Spirit Gathering is now open. The annual event includes a variety of vendors, workshops, music, and rituals.
In other news:
- The 2,300-year-old Egyptian “Mummy of the Golden Boy” will go on display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. The mummified remains were scanned using computed tomography, as well as advanced radiology, modern computer programs, and 3D printing allowed researchers to see the inside of the mummification without disturbing its physical wrappings. The scans revealed the body had been prepared for its afterlife journey with 49 amulets for protection, 30 of which were made of gold, and a golden mask. The remains were originally excavated from Edfu, in Aswan, in 1916 and unlike many of the discoveries dating to that time, were never examined and were left intact to be stored in the basement of the Cairo Museum. The “Golden Boy” dates to the Ptolemaic period (circa 300 BCE). The age of the boy was determined to be 15 years old. The advances in technology and scanning have allowed researchers to have more access when examining remains without disturbing them, and further ensuring their preservation.
- Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire examining bones and a shell bead excavated from Heaning Wood Bone Cave, near Great Urswick, believe they are among the oldest human remains to be found in northern Britain after the ice age, dating to 11,000 years ago. While the discovery of earlier human remains has been made in southern England and Wales, such finds are rare in northern Britain due to the destructive effect of past glacial activity according to the university. Prior to this discovery, the oldest remains were those of a 10,000-year-old burial from Kent’s Bank Cavern which is nearby and was discovered in 2013.
- A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience found that the core of the planet may have paused its rotation and is possibly in the process of reversing the direction of its spin. At first glance, the news seems like the basis for an apocalyptic movie, but the reality is that this process is likely part of a regular cycle. According to Popular Science, “The team from Peking University in China believes that these findings could indicate that the changes in the rotation occur on a decadal scale and are helping us understand more about how what’s going on deep beneath the Earth affects the surface.” The Earth’s core is comprised of mostly iron and is very dense and solid and surrounded by liquid magma. The research team believes it is possible that this shifting of rotation is part of a seven-decade cycle and found data to support the idea in the frequency and changes in earthquakes. Though not all scientists and seismologists agree with the new theory, and not all of the data supports it.
On Saturday, January 28, Cherry Hill Seminary as part of their continuing series, “Coming to the Center,” interviewed Professor Ronald Hutton about his life, his work, and what motivated him to undertake the research he has focused on. The wide-ranging interview covers a variety of topics, including the challenges of Pagan scholarship, and his latest work.
The interview is followed by some live discussion and commentary from viewers.
Deck: Everyday Witch Tarot, by Deborah Blake, artwork by Elisabeth Alba, published by Llewellyn Publications.
Card: Knight Of Swords
The week ahead is liable to amplify the elements and influences that encourage the pursuit of dreams, ideas, and new projects. The potential for feeling driven and determined to forge a path forward is likely to be high this week.
Conversely, be mindful that wild enthusiasm should be tempered to avoid overstepping boundaries or becoming so focused that the original goal is undermined.