It is by no means unusual to witness the singling out of a particular person (or group of people) to take the blame for an event or happening or, in some cases, for no specific reason at all. Unfortunately, history bears witness to this being a very human thing to do. Someone can become a target for no other reason than they are a ‘stranger’ who comes amongst us. Understandably, strangers often represent the ‘unknown’, and it was, and still is, an important survival tool of the human psyche to fear the unknown. Today, we have a name for this type of fear; xenophobia, which comes from the Greek word for stranger.
It has been shown by researchers in the field of psychology that xenophobia can be easily, even arbitrarily, turned on. We tend to think that this kind of fear is mainly directed towards foreigners or those from other ‘strange’ cultures. However, there have been experiments conducted that showed it took only a few hours to produce the right conditions for subjects to develop fear and go on to discriminate against those who differed from themselves in some very superficial ways, such as having a different eye colour.
If xenophobic feelings can be triggered over something seemingly trivial as the different colour of somebody’s eyes, then it is no wonder that in an age where there was no knowledge of how diseases were contracted and spread or how various natural processes occurred, such as milk curdling and more seriously, infantile deaths, fear could easily have passed throughout an entire community. Such is one explanation for the condoning of witch hunts, witch trials and executions that took place right across Europe during the Middle Ages.
Abhorrent and unbelievable as the treatment of tens of thousands of innocent folk seems in our enlightened, modern state, it is none the less understandable. Added to this, in the 1500 and 1600s, the majority of Christians were brought up believing in the Devil and his powers. To openly dissent from that belief meant you were in league with Satan yourself and would, therefore, suffer the same fate as that of a witch. No wonder there were few dissenters! Thus, the ‘fear’ of the unknown was constantly reinforced and perpetuated.
Of course, we no longer have such witch hunts and executions, but xenophobia still exists in many forms, as the experimenters in psychology have proven. Apart from the obvious groups in our societies whom we fear, either rationally or irrationally, such as those from different countries, religions etc., we probably all know, or have known, a particular person in our own circle who became, or has become, a ‘target’ for discrimination of some kind.
These particular persons are usually different from us in some way. They are sometimes considered to be a nuisance, often guilty of no more than not conforming to the ‘norm’. They are perhaps louder, more flamboyant and less respectful of the traditions and ‘values’ that their peers or contemporaries adhere to or take account of. In short, they are not like us!
Going back to the middle ages, many of those poor souls accused of being witches by their neighbours, acquaintances or village/town elders were dispatched, not because they were really suspected of consorting with Satan, but because they were a nuisance, a dissenter of some kind, or simply to remove them from the village. The accusation of witchery was a very convenient way of legally disposing of someone a few hundred years ago. Often, behind the finger-pointing and implications of witchery, was greed, sexual desire, fear and/or simply jealousy. For example, it was dangerous for a woman to be beautiful during the height of the witch hunts. Beauty was evil, according to devoutly religious persons of those times, and ‘given’ by the Devil to tempt otherwise good and true men into Satanic, sexual thoughts and deeds. Many a woman was accused of being a witch simply because of her fair looks. People were often denunciated for being a witch after they had spoken out against a wrongdoing by their ‘superiors’ or so that their land and property could be grabbed by their accusers.
The story of Elizabeth is about a woman who suffers from a number of disadvantages when she goes to live in a small, remote village in Yorkshire called Bridgeford. Not that Yorkshire is singled out to be a particularly bad place to go and live in the early 1950s; it is just that the story happens to be placed there at that time. It could, however, have been anywhere remote in any part of rural England in 1953.
Elizabeth joins the community of Bridgeford as their newly appointed school teacher. Already, without doing anything, she is vulnerable and open to jealousy. Firstly, she is the incoming ‘stranger’, who is also a lone, single woman. Secondly, Elizabeth is very attractive, although quite unaware of how beautiful she is. Thirdly, because of her education, she is deemed to be an intelligent woman; the majority of women would not have gone on to any kind of higher education in those days, and either stayed at home looking after aging parents or tried to marry well.
Elizabeth is quite naïve, having herself led a relatively sheltered life with her grandmother in a small community, similar to that of Bridgeford. Even though she had experienced some unpleasant behaviour from her neighbours in her home village, Elizabeth did not go to Bridgeford expecting to be treated in a similar or what turned out to be, a worse way.
Although it is the 1950s, some residents in Bridgeford still believe in evil and the Devil. To take that belief one step further, it would be logical for those folk to believe in witchcraft; not unusual in a remote and fairly backward-thinking community in this part of northern England, even at this time. When things begin to go wrong in the community, some of the villagers decide that Elizabeth, the beautiful, defenceless stranger, could be an agent of the Devil, and begin to spread this belief amongst their neighbours. As the events become more traumatic, so the fear of the villagers, a fear mostly directed by the men, becomes more intense, and accusations of witchery are used against Elizabeth. She needs to get away from Bridgeford. Before she is allowed to leave however, she has to be ‘punished’.
‘Elizabeth’ is the first book in the ‘Evening Wolf’ series. The following books tell the stories of the lives of Elizabeth’s blood-line going back in time. Early accounts of witchcraft trials talk about witches being able to change their shape and there are reports that refer to a connected issue of lycanthropy, a form of witchcraft in which humans were supposed to assume the form and nature of wolves.
The actual term ‘Evening Wolves’ is a quote from H.W. Longfellow’s play about Salem, which included a real-life character called Reverend Cotton Mather. The opening paragraph in the book ‘Elizabeth’ is a ‘vision’ Mather had about witches;
At the Second Coming of Our Lord, God will displace the Devil. Knowing God’s intentions, the Satanists will be very busy meeting in ‘Hellish randezvouzes’. It is then that ‘the Evening Wolves will be much abroad, when we are near the Evening of the World.’
The Reverend Cotton Mather was a minister of the Old North Church in Boston, America, and in 1689 he published a book on the subject of witchcraft titled Memorable Providence. It was a best seller at the time and well-read in puritanical New England. The work set out God’s guidance on witchcrafts and possessions. A man called Samuel Parris was made the new minister in Salam that same year. He had just moved to Salem from Boston and, of the small number of written works he had in his library, one of them was Mather’s book. It was under the ministry of Samuel Parris, that in 1692, the dreadful events of the Salem Witch Trials unfolded.
Links US http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006P2O37S