Band Heal and Harrow to launch first project album on the persecution of Scottish women under the Witchcraft Act
The new multidisciplinary project – divided into album, visuals, spoken word and podcast – by musicians Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, aka Heal and Harrow, will explore historical beliefs in supernatural and modern parallels in society with the group that will debut at Celtic Connections in early 2022.
The project is an artistic response to the ongoing campaign by Witches of Scotland for a pardon and memorial to defendants in trials across Scotland.
All of the music on the album, except for one traditional Gaelic song, is newly composed, however, all songs have a deep root in traditional folk music.
The songs are inspired by and in remembrance of real women who were persecuted under the Witchcraft Law of 1563 which was not repealed until 1735.
In Scotland, an estimated 3,837 people have been accused of witchcraft and 84% of those accused were women.
Musicians Rachel, who is primarily vocals and harp on the album, and Lauren, who is primarily violin and viola, both contribute spoken word throughout the album with director Alison. Piper creating the visuals.
The two artists – childhood friends who met at FÃ¨is Rois, a Gaelic music festival, when they were around 9 years old – worked on projects previously focused on historical and mythological beliefs in Scotland.
While working together on another project, the duo visited the Witch’s Stone in Dornoch, also known as the Janet Horne Memorial Stone, where Scotland’s last witch-trial took place in 1722.
Rachel said the rock tour “planted the seed” of the project in the head of the group.
The group commissioned writer Mairi Kidd – author of Warriors and Witches and Damn Rebel Bitches and Rachel’s former drama teacher – to write 10 exclusive fictional stories about the women involved in the witch trials as well as women. mythological.
The songs are based on these stories with author Mairi Kidd slated to launch the stories in book form later in 2022 as a âcovenâ of 13 stories.
Commenting on the reason for creating fictional stories about women, Mairi said, âThere is only one crime and it is an invented crime, so the aim was to tell who the humans could be behind. these accusations.
âWe don’t know much about women other than what their accusers said, so we gave women like Margaret [Aitken] training in healing and that her mother had been a healer.
“There is definitely a feminist eye to it and these are definitive fictions exploring what could have been, who these women could have been to try and understand them better.”
The characters include women persecuted as witches such as Isobel Gowdie and Lilius Adie who died after being tortured for “being a witch”.
Mairi said: âIsobel Gowdie said some really amazing things.
“She said she could transform into all kinds of creatures and her friends too and she said she killed one of the children of one of her accusers.
“It makes you think, ‘What did they do to him? “
âIn many ways these stories attempt to cast a glance at Scotland and the accusers.
âYou can’t say exactly what’s going on here.
“You can tell there is real misogyny, but you also have to entertain the idea that some of these women thought they were doing these things.”
There are “bad” female characters, including the witch stinger Christian Caldwell who dressed as a man and found other women guilty of witchcraft to escape his own persecution.
There is also Eachlair Ãrlar, a magical being who was a common ‘villain’ in Gaelic stories and another story focuses on Scotland’s role in the slave trade.
The group and Mairi were keen not to simply represent âgood womenâ.
Musician Rachel added, “It’s exhausting to see women in a one-dimensional way and as victims all the time, so it was really important for us to see this well-balanced performance.”
Women are very interested in the strong parallels the stories have with modern misogyny.
Rachel said: âIt really fits the way women are being treated right now.
âThese women did absolutely nothing wrong and they were seen as criminals and it’s really similar when you have all this current account of the actions of women leading to their own disappearance.
“We wrote with Mairi that it had been suggested that the word witch could be replaced by the word woman, so it was important for us to explore that.”
Mairi added: “The idea that women are somehow less than human is worryingly prevalent in today’s society and I think that is why we have to deal with the misogyny of our history. .
“I am inclined to see this as a human rights issue that we have never addressed properly.”
A total of 10 actors – who will be well-known women from across Scotland – will also read the stories written by Mairi which will be turned into a podcast in 2022.
Rachel said: âIt was really important to involve as many women as possible.
“We haven’t confirmed with all of the women yet, so we’re waiting for that before revealing who is involved.
âThe idea is that people listen to the podcast, then listen to the music or vice versa.
“We initially saw it as a one-off project, but it really feels like there is so much to explore with it.”
Heal and Harrow is coming to Glasgow for Celtic Connections in January 2022 where the band will perform the album which will then be followed by a tour across the UK in February.