21 Dec

WITCH BURNING photo: Witch Burning WitchBurning.jpg

There’s probably something a little obscene about a culture that can see nothing wrong with a mother, having just given birth to a drooling baby, being sentenced to death and burned at the stake because she refused to let her afterbirth be used to feed already fat pigs, but that’s what happened to Janie Cobweb’s own mother.

Janie was less than a day old and had delightful curling ringlets of ginger hair, (ringlets that would gradually darken as she sped through her first year or two) when she was stuffed (along with a sack-cloth blanket and a teat made of cow-horn) into a crudely-crafted wooden box and carted off to the Burning Field as part of a procession of excited villagers.

They loved a good burning as long as the person being burned wasn’t them. It didn’t matter if they were close relatives or distant strangers, a burning was a burning, the cries of sheer unadulterated agony that rent the air were as audio-nectar filling the darkening air at the end of the day and the aroma of singeing flesh rather like the roast pork fragrance that emanated on a weekly basis from the Lord of the Manor’s extensive kitchen. They, of course, only tasted roast meat if the creature being roasted was small, caught clandestinely and without any employees of the mighty Lord knowing anything about it. A rat would often fit the bill, and sometimes (on foggy days when visibility was poor) a sickly rabbit.

So the procession, accompanied by singing and chanting, made its way to the Burning Field. Every villager, man, woman and child, was there. A small orchestra of whistle players started a cheerful jig, and small children, their backsides hanging out of worn-out clothes, danced joyously to the anarchic rhythms. There was a party atmosphere everywhere, one that was elevated to the orgy status by the arrival of a barrel of sour beer, donated by the publican as a benevolent alternative to swilling it into the nearest ditch. Young men exposed themselves to young women and those young women, in return, screeched in horror at what they saw. Old men nodded and hiccuped and quietly dozed off whilst old women stared in envy at the young men. The youngest people, children, small and eager to get see what was happening, forced their way to the front in order to get the best view.

Then the Lord of the Manor arrived.

He was unique on that field as the only person dressed in clean(ish) clothes and carrying a weapon. He had a sword, a rusty implement, true, but he was the only member of the community with the right to bear arms so he wielded it freely. He never felt the joy of having parochial power if he didn’t inadvertently remove at least one pauper’s head from uncomplaining shoulders.

He held his hands up, and there was a sort of hush. A small group of children continued a racing dance until their leader was clobbered and rendered senseless by a scowling guard. The villagers were rapt. You might have heard a pin drop had pins been readily available in medieval times in a village such as this.

“Well, my duckies,” he began in a voice strangely conflicting with his magnificent manly appearance, “well, my duckies, this woman, this condemned woman, will soon be burned. Every scrap of her flesh will be consumed by the fires as just punishment for her failure to feed her placenta-thing to my sweet little piggy-wiggies. And this must be a warning to everyone: there must be no avoidance of feeding my piggy-wiggies, for if you fail and they stay thin and bony, what will I have to eat on Christmas day for my banquet? I have great people coming, mighty Lords and those whose name begins with Sir! And ladies in voluminous skirts wearing extravagant muslins on their heads. They will be arraigned round my table and filled with the most succulent pork, and if my piggy-wiggies are starved, then it will hardly by succulent, will it!”

There was a rumble of agreement and one or two communists might have been heard asking what meat they were going to have in order to celebrate the Christmas festival and a holy birth, but they kept their objections down to a feeble whisper.

“Take her to the pyre!” thundered the Lord of the Manor in his most manly tones, and four henchmen grabbed the weeping mother and dragged her towards a massive pile of dry timber.

“Strike a light, duckie,” grinned their Lord.

“What wiv?” asked a henchman.

“A flint. Strike a flint!” commanded the Lord.

A flint was struck and a swathe of sparks crashed into the try tinder at the bottom of the timber pyre.

There was a great and sober silence. Not even a tin whistle shrieked.

“Now,” came a tiny voice from the make-shift box. “Now light it! I want to see my mummy burn!”

All eyes turned to the crude wooden cot and the little head of red hair poking out, and the grown-ups all shivered when they caught a glimpse of the penetrative eyes that swept from it across the Burning field.

© Peter Rogerson 21.12.14


2 Responses to “A JOYFUL VILLAGE”

  1. pambrittain December 21, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Wow, Peter, this is awesome.

    • Peter Rogerson December 22, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      I get the feeling that this could not have happened in the real world though, Pam!!!

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