The Witches’ Ride, 1870

This woodcut of five witches on their way to the sabbat is titled “Hexenritt” [The Witches Ride]. It is dated to 1870 and is a copy of a painting by Gustav Adolf Spangenberg (1828-91). I have not been able to find out much about either Spangenberg or this this picture, although in 1862 Spangenberg produced a different work under the title “Walpurgisnacht” [Walpurgis Night].

The image is taken from a page that I bought as a cutting. It is very fragile and heavily tanned (because of the acids in the low-quality paper), but I have not been able to find a better copy, or a complete issue of the magazine. It looks better in black and white, as you can see:

A reversed and coloured version of this image appears in Susan Bowes’ Life Magic: The Power of Positive Witchcraft (New York: Simon Schuster, 1999), p.109, which is credited to AKG London (the “Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte” [Art and History Archive] of Berlin, London and Paris).

I was in two minds about including this image on Sexy Witch until I saw the colourised version. It made me realise that the two women in the foreground are definitely justification enough, because they are certainly not hags. What made me hesitate was the pubescent daughter clinging to the back of one of them. The Late Medieval and Early Modern tradition in Europe seems to offer only one role for adults and one for children at a sabbat: the (unbaptised) babies are eaten, everyone else participates in the Satanic rites (eating the aforesaid babies, kissing Satan’s arse, dancing, cavorting and copulating with demons). It seems likely, therefore, that this young woman is on her way to an orgy, possibly her first. But, for the record, whatever the age of the daughter, I have included the image because of the two women (the “yummy mummy” witches).

As a final note, given the poor paper of the original, it seems likely that the colouring was done recently, after it had been copied by AKG (either that, or my copy has been reversed, and there was an earlier printing on better paper, a coloured version of which survives. Possible, but I doubt it. More information anyone?).

3 Responses to “The Witches’ Ride, 1870”

  1. Is this not the Goddess in her Triple Aspect? Maiden in the foreground, Mother carrying child and Crone in the background.

    And, to be politically correct for the time, a rather lame, out-of-place male figure.

  2. Red Witch Says:

    Sachem, you could be right: maiden, mother(s) and crone. These survived as the three ‘estates’ of womanhood right through the Medieval and Early Modern period: unmarried, married, and widowed. (That is, every woman was defined by her relationship to a man, whereas the male ‘estates’ were all professions). Unlike the unmarried ‘estate’, the maiden aspect of the goddess was not necessarily virginal, just not maternal.  

    Unfortunately, the male looks a bit monkish or priest-ish to me, so he is probably there to suggest the imagined (satanic and blasphemous) rites. And, rather than being a lame, out-of-place male figure among aspects of the goddess, he is probably the male authority figure leading his depraved ‘flock’, made up of each womanly ‘estate’, to the sabbat.

    That said, it is the woman pointing the way, not the priest….

  3. Yes, Red Witch. You’re spot on about the male figure. I just thought he looked a bit uncomfortable or embarassed (maybe he was thinking he’d got his hands full with the the three aspects of the Goddess – most men do).

    And you’re right about the ‘three estates’. Yet, defining a woman in relationship to a man in this way was still a pretty clever method of keeping the Triurnal Goddess alive in the public subconscious. The truth hidden in plain sight, as it were.

    The Goddess might be veiled – but She’s still the Goddess.

    I could go on – but I always try to shut up before people start snoring.

    By the by, I like the site (and I first wrote ‘sight’ instead of ‘site’. For some reason you need to know that). Congrats.

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