Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Stang?


I recently sat in on 12 weeks of the absolutely excellent subject "Witches and Witch-Hunting in European Societies" at Melbourne University. It is taught by Professor Charles Zika, author of the wonderful (but extremely expensive) book, "Excorsising Our Demons: Magic, Witchcraft and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe" (Brill. 2003). Dr. Jenny Spinks, who specialised in gender, and Mr. Liam Connell, who is an expert in the Salem Witch Trials assisted with the lectures. In this course one of my favourite things was finding out about the visual imagery of Witchcraft, something which I'm reasonably familiar with, but not expert on. One image in particular, which I'm sure people will be quite familiar with and which I *thought* I was also familiar with, is Hans Buldung Grien's "A group of female witches" (1510). The main part of the picture that interested me, in regards to claims from modern Witchcraft, was the forked stick that the witches are both sitting amongst and holding while flying. Now, in what is known as Traditional Witchcraft this forked stick purports to be "The Stang" a symbol of the Horned God. According to Professor Zika however, it is simply a cooking stick, it was used to take pots of food in and out of the fire. You can see a witch holding a pot with it while she flies through the air. And of course the women are cooking in this picture. In addition, Charles directed us to look at the way the witch with the pot on the ground is sitting in a triangle made of these cooking sticks, not a circle or anything we might be familiar with from modern practice. This artwork is about inverted "women's business": demonic cooking (and sex, note the sausages to the left - apparently, and I can't think why - sausages referred to the male organ of generation). So, this was just one instance - of which there were many during this series of lectures - of the historical approach to Witchcraft bringing up differences to the contemporary practitioner interpretation of historical Witchcraft. I thought that was interesting.

6 comments:

Yvonne said...

That is interesting, especially as the Stang is meant to represent the Horned God and the World Tree - so it's actually a cooking implement? Cool. Wonder where the crossed arrows came from then?

Caroline Tully said...

Hi Yvonne, well I can't say for sure that the Stang *is* a cooking implement - although as you can see those cooking implements certainly look like stangs, and personally I am convinced that it is a cooking implement, I realise that people might argue against such an interpretation. And I'm interested in hearing such arguments. As for the arrows, let me go brush up on Traditional Witchcraft and I'll return with an opinion.

Judithht said...

Those certainly are stangs those ladies are sitting and riding on. I'm thinking perhaps, in mundane life, this was a multi-purpose instrument--because in other contexts (i.e. medieval woodcuts) I've noted rather hefty stangs with the 2 forks elongated for helping hoist an oxcart wheel stuck in a rut, for instance. And possibly for encouraging said ox to move it along.

Rowan said...

Well, it couldn't be a cooking instrument, as in Scotland it was an instrument of punishment! http://www.leithhistory.co.uk/2004/07/29/riding-the-stang/

or, maybe it was just such a convenient stick that it was used for many things?

WiLL said...

What a fantastic image with so much symbolism in it.

The first use of the stang that I can find in Traditional Witchcraft is by the Coven of Atho in the 1950's who later influenced Roy Bowers (aka. Robert Cochrane). Mr. Bowers went on to spread the use of the stang as a traditional Witches tool and removed some of the things that were associated with the stang by the Coven of Atho to make it more ‘witchy’.

The original unmodified version of the stang in the Coven of Atho is actually the trident and is a symbol of power and has other meanings and uses associated with it. I do think a stang could be used to stir a cauldron and also practical to move one if needed. I have had to use a large stick before to lift a cauldron out of the fire by its handle. I did not use the coven stang but could have.

Kal said...

Love this! And I'm convinced it was a cooking stick. I've seen nothing historical to convince me that it was ever used as an "altar" in the way that neo-trad Witches use it. Kudos on the revelation, and thanks for sharing. B*B