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From The Ashes We Shall Rise

Updated: Mar 31

This was collaborative event to remember the accused witches & reclaim power through art, led by Rowan Morrison Storyteller & Karen Strang Artist. Here, Rowan shares her personal journey to the event and her interest in local memorials.



My name is Rowan Morrison. On the 9th of March 2022, I held a collaborative event for International Women’s Day called FROM THE ASHES WE SHALL RISE, with Karen Strang Artist.


It was a personal continued vision of remembrance. My way of remembering the accused witches, from a spiritual perspective. A lens that is rarely considered in these contemporary times of disconnection. One that is mostly overlooked by the witch trial academics. Something that is at the heart of what I do, whether that is telling their stories or singing their soul’s home.


I moved to Kinross two years ago. As someone who walks the old path, a healer and midwife of souls it is important for me to work with the ancestors of place, as well as blood. To get to know the stories in the bones that are buried in the land I live in. For me, that meant the accused witches from the Crook of Devon.

I have always found it unforgivable that even after all the trauma they endured, the accused were denied funerary rites and their charred remains most likely thrown on the local midden. At that time, to people of any faith, that was inconceivable. For without the observance of death customs and funerary rites most believed that the soul would not ascend to heaven.

It came to me in the dreamtime, that I should (in a very small way) try to right this wrong. That in my role as psychopomp, guide over any souls from the witchcraft trails who had not crossed because they endured such trauma and were denied these funerary rites. I jumped up out of bed, and in the middle of the night put together a small memorial ceremony for the 10 women and 1 man, who died at the little village beside my hometown.


I invited the Chairperson of RAWS to attend and shared the ceremony in the hope that it might create a little movement and inspire others to hold something similar in their hometowns. If that were to happen, I would imagine every village, town or city in Scotland would have a cairn of remembrance to the accused witches. Something that I believe is needed as well as a national memorial.


I am sharing it once again in this blog with the same hope in my heart. That they will be remembered for all eternity and that by performing some traditional funerary rights that were denied to the accused witches, their souls might rest in peace.

SINGING THEIR SOULS HOME CEREMONY


In September 2021. Thirteen women gathered in the Crook of Devon as ANUM CARA'S (soul friends) to the 10 women and 1 man who were accused of witchcraft, tortured, strangled, and burnt in the Crook of Devon.


I spoke about Scottish death traditions, the Lykewake and associated rites. Their importance on a spiritual level to people from mid-century Scotland. How the community played a part in caring for the soul of the deceased.

Each person chose one of the accused, or perhaps they chose them. We held a simple but poignant rite. Each woman lit a candle, performed part of an ancient saining rite, spoke the name of the accused and rung the death bell to announce their passing.


As a circle of women, we whispered to water from a local healing well, to bless it. This was used to consecrate the place of burning as a sacred site.


We wrote their names on stones, so they could be remembered in a cairn, in way of our Scottish forefathers. We sung the following Lament, to help cross them over.


Oh ah sing a song o’ sorrow fir the folk who wir killed at the crook

Tortured, hung, burnt by kirk an’ king

Falsely accused, cawed witch on a whim

Oh ah sing a song o’ sorrow fir the folk who wir killed at the crook

Tortured, hung, burnt by kirk an’ king

Said tae dance wie the deil an’ renouncing God’s holy book

Oh ah sing a song o’ sorrow fir the folk who wir killed at the crook

Tortured, hung, burnt by kirk an’ king

May they rest in eternal peace wie clan an’ kin

With the help of the old woman from the otherworld (my spirit guide), I performed a crossing over ceremony for any of the accused who were the restless dead. The pain they endured was immense. I still felt the pain of strangulation the following day.

On that night we walked to the hill where their bodies were burnt and held the short service, as below.

Here lies the Dust of 11 souls, accused of witchcraft, tortured, strangled, and burnt during the Scottish Witch trials in the year 1662. Denied a burial in consecrated ground, we now bless this place with our holy water that it becomes a sacred site. Denied prayers, or tears, we stand before you now full of sorrow at the injustice of your passing. We open our hearts to the heavens, and each offer a silent prayer of remembrance for our soul friends. Denied a stone to mark their resting place. We now lay a simple stone, so your names will be known for all eternity in a cairn of remembrance, as was the way of our Scottish ancestors.

Everyone took a turn to say the name of the accused they mourned that night as their soul friend and laid their stones and flowers.


I offered bread that the dead may never be hungry and water that they never thirst. Then said the following traditional Gaelic blessing, with a little change to it:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sunshine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields,

and until we meet again, may creation hold you in the palm of its hand.


If you want to visit and bring a stone you can park at the Crook of Devon Village Hall. Take a left out of the carpark and walk about 200 yards on the single-track road straight ahead. The cairn is located on the right-hand side, beside the gate to the farmer’s field. The place of burning is on the hillock. There is sheep in the field, so please do not go inside or tie anything to the fence. Stones or flowers ONLY!


I am going to be holding other singing their souls home ceremonies. Please get in touch if you would like to be involved.

FROM THE ASHES WE SHALL RISE EVENT


Sheila Gaul, Chairperson of Remembering the Accused Witches of Scotland, spoke about the work of the newly founded charity.



Karen Strang Artist introduced her art practice with a short presentation on the materials of traditional painting, how this connects directly with our collective past of the 1600s and how through research and process of painting she set about visualising the trials and the women accused. Her work is powerful, alchemical, and raw magic!



I spoke about singing home the souls of the accused and my vision of remembrance. Before I told the story I had wrote about the Crook of Devon accused witches, called a MURDER OF CROWS. This was inspired by the spirit of an accused witch who shared her pain with me. It was not an easy place to inhabit while I wrote this story. A story of all accused witches. You can see it on my YouTube channel – Rowan Morrison Storyteller.



After the performance the audience were invited to take part in a short memorial ceremony for the ordinary folk from the Crook of Devon who were murdered for a crime they did not commit. Before they lit a candle in remembrance, they laid their stones for the cairn and flowers on the floor. This was followed by a minute’s silence for accused witches from all over the world.



The second half of the event began with a brief exploration of the invisible legacy of witch trials, known as the witch wound. With the help of my deer skin drum, I led a shamanic journey to help heal this ancestral trauma by awakening the wild woman archetype within. During the journey we reclaimed the element of fire and used it to transform any residual trauma. To enable us to break free from patterns of fear that had been past down from mother to daughter since the burning times. I will also be doing more of this work on a deeper scale.


To finish of the event, Karen led a drawing session to create a collective work of art that symbolised a rising from the ashes of the past.



The day after it, I laid all the stones and flowers and am very happy to say that the wee cairn of remembrance is starting to grow.



SOME FINAL WORDS


“In this first collaboration with Rowan, I enjoyed the synergy between the different disciplines of Storytelling, Shamanism, and drawing. The audience was hugely responsive and supportive and there was a definite 'connect' in the venue regarding remembering the accused women. I want to thank everyone who took part. A poignant, illuminating, and creative journey.” - Karen Strang, artist


"I came along to the event as a representative from RAWS, not knowing what to expect as I had never attended anything of this ilk before. It was fascinating, enlightening, informative but most of all very moving. Rowan performed a piece to the accompaniment of her deer skin drum. I closed my eyes during this journey but sparks and stars were dancing behind my eyelids, my ears were listening to the words, my fingers were tapping in time with Rowan's drum beat. Tingles were definitely felt. For me the night seemed to last forever but at the same time was over in a flash." - Elizabeth McMann, RAWS Record Keeper


View Rowan's performance of 'A Murder of Crows' on YouTube.


You can read more about Rowan Morrison and Karen Strang on their own websites:

www.rowanmorrison.co.uk

www.karenstrang.co.uk


We are hugely grateful for their support, and for donating the event proceeds (£200) to RAWS. This will go towards our ultimate aim of a national memorial.

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