Throughout the 15th and 17th centuries, mass hysteria and accusations of witchcraft spread across the globe from North America. They were soon followed by persecutions. Women – by the majority – were hunted down, hanged and burned at the stake in events that are now famously mythologised, romanticised and depicted on the big screen.
In Wales, only 5 people were executed for ‘crimes’ of witchcraft. Unlike in England and Scotland, very few were accused and those that were tried, were largely acquitted.
Drawing on their Celtic roots and a deep connection with the environment, ‘rituals’, ‘prayers’, ‘blessings’ and non-Christian religious spiritual practises were so familiar to Welsh people who practised dewiniaeth or magic, that it was easy to tell apart real witchcraft apart from the accusations. Women, in Wales, would not be sacrificed for the sake of superstition our purity.
In the following centuries, forced assimilation into Christianity and stricter laws around speaking Welsh, pressured generations to give up more of their cultural heritage and practices of dewiniaeth slowly faded.
Today, a new generation of young, Welsh witches are emerging. A greater push towards learning Welsh, protecting the environment and global conversations around ‘decolonising’ are encouraging more Welsh people to revisit their cultural practices.
Wales’ unique spiritual connection to land, community centred society and common-sense saved thousands of women from being unnecessarily killed by superstition. In the future, what life-changing moments could be inspired by this new revival in Celtic spiritualty and how can film help us to explore this?
Image Credits: Mystic Cords of Memory © Lauren Everett, I Am Not A Witch © BFI, Druids © Severn Screen, Gwledd © Picturehouse Entertainment, Gwen © Bulldog Film Distribution, St Maud © StudioCanal UK.