The Witch Trails Project

Project under development

Olaus Magnus. The History of the Nordic Peoples1555

The Witch Project focuses on traditional ethnobotanical knowledge from healers and traditional medicine practitioners in the middle ages. We take as a reference historical documents of witch trials from the seventeenth and eighteenth-century. Invisibledrum has conducted preliminary research in northern Norway and Scotland where there are plans to develop further phases. We are carrying out a research phase in the North of Spain at this moment.

The image of The Witch as we known among popular culture can be seen as the outcome of an exercise of repression by the state upon people working from a land-based knowledge practice in 16th -17th Centuries.  The State and Clergy deliberated destruction over women working in the fields of reproduction work, health and care amongst pagan and animistic beliefs at that time. It was a way to establish an economic structure within these communities. This history presents stigmatization and eradication of knowledge from these areas, central to the progress of political, social and economic structures today, leaving orphan societies of pre-Christian tradition. 

In previous phases, We have interviewed historians specialized in witch trials archives from the 16th century and 17th century who are also specialists in the history and the origins of demonology. Our sources are Liv Helene Willumsen and Rune Blix Hagen from the University of Edinburgh and Arctic University of Tromso, and Ellen Alm from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. In Spain, there is a campaign named Memoria de las Brujas, initiated by Silvia Federici. The campaign supports initiatives concerned with the perpetuation of the image of The Witch. Invisibledrum supports the Spanish campaign and aims to contribute to relevant research in future seminars and events. 

An important source for us is the research by Liv Helene Willumsen: works Steilneset Memorial, Art Architecture History and The Witchcraft Trials in Finnmark, Northern Norway. These books contain the original sources of the Finnmark witchcraft trials during the period 1620 to 1692. The court records of the 17th-century witchcraft trials were entered into protocols by a magistrate that defined land-based practices taken in the area as being demoniac with a diabolic origin, a Satan Incarnate.  An important aspect of the project is to look into how the figure of the devil was used as a mechanism for pervading fear and control among people. Once the state ensured authority over the reproduction work and other economic regulations. We are interested to learn how these power structures can be traced through a process of re-thinking, to imagine ways for a re-enactment and re-affection, of the past into the present through cosmologies, methodologies for integrating social memory of local tradition.

Witches prepare a magic salve (woodcut, 1571)

Our goal is to rescue the beliefs and practices of traditional medicine that have prevailed throughout history, in the life of the local community that for centuries have practiced this traditional knowledge despite violence and repression, and thus update these through creative art practices. How can this knowledge be reintegrated and how could it operate within a contemporary global crisis? Our approach focuses on pharmaco poetics, how the ethnobotanical tradition shaped ecological systems and popular storytelling and poetics, suggesting the interaction between plants, insects, animals, and humans. How much we assumed about plants, and how little we know them. “Only plants had consciousness. Animals got it from them” *

Locally we are exploring fieldwork strategies where to rethink, re-imagine and recreate historical events and open a way of poetic intercommunication with local botany. The focus will be on knowledge situated in ecological resonances and on the rooting of the local botanical landscape. This conscious pilgrimage is a method to rescue popular mythology, create a local ethnobotanical archive, and do a poetic exercise that eliminates the Western rational dichotomy between culture and nature. A claim for the essential learning of plants and traditional healing practices in contemporary society. Rescuing the power of Plants and introducing it in urban contexts through the format of art. The methodologies are based on an interrelation and interconnection with the environment, through deep listening, we co-create with the Earth. We will work with performative strategies, speculative imagery, and participatory workshops. In this way, we hope to weave new narratives through art that address historical and popular cosmology through ceremonial and ritual practices inspired by the poetics of medical circles. Participatory sessions function as a fabric created from new perceptions of ecological experiences and will allow the story to manifest within the performative gesture.

The project research was initiated by artist Nazare Soares in 2016  and is currently a collaborative work between artists of the Invisibledrum Art Platform; Nazare Soares, Amalia Fonfara, Garazi Gorostiaga, Marita Isobel Solberg, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Jessica Ullevålseter, and researcher and storyteller Johana Ciro.  

*Pharmako Poeia. Plants, powers, poisons, and herbcrafts by Dale Pendell . Mercury House. SF 1995

Norwegian Collaboration Update 2021 :

We are very happy to announce that after a year of planning we have received financial support for The Norwegian north research phase of the project, in collaboration with Varanger Museum, Kurant, and Polar Film Lab, and supported by Kulturrådet, Norske Billedkunstnere, Fritt Ord, Fond for lyd og bilde, Nordic Culturefond, and Troms and Finnmark fylkeskommune.

The project Propose an artistic discourse to the new paradigm emerging in 2020, related to our reciprocal communication with nature and relationship to medicine, it reactivates the essential learning of plants and folk medicine in the contemporary social-health crisis, relearning about the power of plants and introducing it in urban contexts through artistic work.

The project is inspired by pharmacopeia methods for rethinking, re-imagining, and re-activating the folklore and the historical archives from 17th-century witch trials in North Norway. The artists involved are Amalia Fonfara, Marita Isobel Solberg, Jessie Jack Ullevålseter & Nazare Soares. The project is affiliated with Invisibledrum Art Platform and will develop a series of exhibitions and performances in 2021; at Steilneset Memorial, Varanger Museum, and Kurant Visningsrom in north Norway in June 2021.

The research explores people’s relationship to medicine, ecologies, popular storytelling, and poetics, suggesting the interaction between human beings, animals, and vegetation in their environment, including medicinal uses.

We think is important today to bring this historical event back for us to rethink the pandemic, – the medical industry, but also to reclaim the knowledge and connection to our own botanical landscape. The land we live on is part of our own body, but it is a matter of connecting to the knowledge that is already within us and part of our heritage. We approach nature as an intrinsically living archive and bearer of memory.

Norwegian Collaboration Reports 2021: