Last week’s episode was simply a taste of what was to come…and what we got this week was a portrait of a village who takes fun (and revenge) in burning people at the stake. I don’t know about you but I’m thinking these people could use a constructive, village-wide hobby. Origami? Square dancing? Somebody open up a YMCA please!!
The circus began immediately, with villagers baying for blood. Makes you wonder if this is considered sport for the village…and how often they did such a thing. Judging by how excited the villagers became, this was a real treat; they’d caught more than ONE witch! HUZZAH!! This calls for a weenie witch roast!
It was stated, at the first day in court, that they weren’t in a court of law. For all intents and purposes it was a morality court. Now, I’m not sure if the magistrates declared that to keep Ned Gowan from defending Claire and Geillis; it wouldn’t surprise me. But, in his own cunning way, Ned wormed his way into becoming their lawyer, for which I am eternally grateful (and so are they I imagine). And how fun it was to watch Ned give the witnesses the what-for. If ever I were accused of being a witch I would certainly want Ned Gowan on my side. How ever great it was for Claire it seemed to put a damper on the entertainment value of the proceedings which, as the trial went on, that’s what it seemed to be: entertainment for the hard-working masses. And why shoudln’t they have their entertainment? Oh come on! It’s just a bit of harmless fun wrapped in moral justice! What’s the harm? They’re not REALLY going to burn them…
Going into this episode I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen, and from the very beginning we knew that Claire and Geillis weren’t going to get a fair ‘trial’, if that’s what you call it. THEY knew they weren’t going to, as stated by Claire. Their kidnapping (yep, I still think it’s a kidnapping and not an arrest) was clearly unjust, unfair and, frankly, rather impolite and rude.
The injustice of the proceedings was clear to everybody except the courtroom itself. And this reminds me how much Claire really does love Jamie; she’s time warped back into a time (and has chosen to stay in said time period) of corsets, lousy food and heinous social injustice. At least, in her time, the world fought back against social injustice; there seems to be no fighting it back in 1743. If this trial was any indication, social injustice was a spectator sport.
Before I go any further, let me remind you of a few things. Keep in mind, the events in Outlander take place only 50 years after the wildly infamous Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, in Colonial Massachusetts, three girls between the ages of 9 and 11 (including the reverend’s daughter), were suddenly taken with violent fits, contortions and screams. A doctor who examined them declared them to be demon possessed, my guess to cover up the fact that he didn’t have a clue what was wrong with them. In a series of unjust and brutal ‘trials’ that lasted 10 months and resulted in 200 accusations and 20 executions, witchcraft was never proven and the colony, and history, would never be the same. Three hundred years later it’s been speculated that the girls could have suffered from ergot poisoning, a poisoning from fungus that infects, of all things, rye. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
Anyway, these three young accusers, under pressure from the magistrates, began blaming three outsiders to the colony for ‘afflicting’ them with devils. Hmmm…sounds like they were blaming the outlanders. Ring any bells? Two of the accused women, a homeless beggar and an elderly impoverished woman, denied all the allegations. It was only by the confession of the third woman, a slave of one of the accusers, that sent all three to prison. Even her confession is suspect because, being a slave, the threat of beatings was ever present. In other words, she could be forced to confess to anything. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
Now, ergot poisoning is a conceivable explanation; just as conceivable is that these girls, each of prime hissy-fit ages, were really drama queens and threw temper tantrums to get attention, their own way or deflect attention from their own misdeeds. Then, under pressure to explain themselves (and, perhaps, give themselves a convenient out), they confessed with the controversial ‘I SAW SUCH-AND-SUCH WITH THE DEVIL!’ Hmmm…does this sound a bit familiar? Yeah, I’m talking to you Spoiled & Bitchy
I’m not here to speculate about what happened in Salem; that’s been done to ad nauseum. And that’s not why we’re here anyway. We’re here to to talk about Outlander. The parallels, though, are quite interesting, don’t you think? It would seem that the Cranesmuir trial is characteristic of the witch trials of that era. In 1692 ‘witch trials’ were nothing new (they’d been in practice, particularly in Europe, for three hundred years prior), though their popularity was waning. By the late 17th century witch trials had become somewhat rare, even where they’d been the most prolific. It 1682, it had become a crime in France; the witch trial laws were repealed in England in 1736 and abolished as late as 1776 in Poland. Nobody agrees to why the practice was dying, even as the practices were outlawed in the very countries that made them household names. Could it be that new causes helped end witch trials or was it just the absence of whatever started them in the first place? (Source)
One suggestion that in the vacuum of disorder the rise of the lawlessness of the witch trials increased. (Source) Salem was a hotbed of contention. Some Christians, and others of different faiths, believed that the Devil would, in exchange for the person’s loyalty, harm others. With this mindset humming in the background, the class warfare between the ‘country’ and the ‘town’, coupled with the major dislike for the current preacher, fueled nothing but a mini-civil war within the small Colonial town. The Puritans came to believe that the quarreling was from the Devil. (Source Smithsonian)
So, basically, witch trials were one historical, though perhaps not completely conscious, method of creating havoc?
In the case of Cranesmuir that could be one explanation though I think there was something more straightforward. I believe that the villagers of Cranesmuir intended to get rid of these two outlanders and intentionally ignited the spark by ‘arresting’ them in such a manner. As Claire stated at the beginning of her trial, she knew nobody; had no allies. Cranesmuir, just like many a small village, was a hotbed for gossip, speculation and hate. You get the right person, a native of the area, with honeyed words and appeals to the irrationality of people, and you’ve got a situation on your hands. And, while
Legwax Laoghaire used it to try to rid herself of her (seemingly) romantic rival, I think there could be a much bigger picture here.
When I read the review of 1.11 from Three If By Space, http://www.threeifbyspace.net/2015/04/outlander-review-of-ep-111-the-devils-mark-doesnt-hit-the-mark/, I was struck by a reason for the trial, as mentioned in her review. She said that it could have been Colum who masterminded the witch trial in order to get Claire out of the way so that Jamie could be his successor; he’d just found a very willing accomplice in
Legsore Laoghaire and, possibly, an unwitting accomplice in Father Bain (I added that last bit about Father Bain). Given that it took three little girls to change the course of a small Colonial Massachusetts settlement, it wouldn’t, necessarily, have to be Laird that got the ball rolling. The village, being as isolated as it was and as dependent upon its superstitions, Claire was already making waves wherever she went. She picked up the ‘fairy child’ and killed it; Claire was seen, by the disgruntled employee of the Duncan’s, to be ‘mixing potions’; Claire ‘stole’ Jamie from, then later slapped, Lardhair Laoghaire. (You gotta help me; I’m running out of demeaning Laoghaire names…)
And, as we know, every single one of those allegations were completely false. Since we know something they don’t know, we know how inconceivable it would be for Claire to use witchcraft. The woman just wants to go home; she doesn’t want to complicate her life, any more than EVERYBODY ELSE seems to be doing for her.
But…what’s up with Father Bain? Do you believe he’s had a change of heart? Or do you believe that he’s trying a subversive tactic to get rid of the thorn-in-his-side, Claire? His reactions in the courtroom were contradictory; he had a bit of a sneering smile after his ‘confession’, which others have suggested it’s a nod to the audience like, ‘Yeah I’m totally pulling the wool over their eyes’. However, when they announced death to Claire, Bain shut his eyes in horror. Now, I was never a fan of Bain (as last week’s Inside Out can attest) but I was willing to think that, maybe, he could have changed. I was leery about that though…and I’m glad I haven’t changed my mind. To me it was the readiness of Father Bain, a man who is supposed to teach peace, forgiveness, understanding, to march, nay LEAD, Geillis Duncan to the stake that made me realize he hadn’t changed one bit. He is as he’s always been: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
One glaring difference between Salem and Cranesmuir is intent. At least in Cranesmuir the ‘court’ didn’t seem to even try to give the pretense of a court of law. How nice of them to just put it all out there from the beginning; saves a whole lot of trouble in the end, doesn’t it? At least the accused, and the spectators, knew exactly what was going to happen, much to their own personal feelings on the matter. And the intent was, if you can’t drive these strangers from the village, put them up on a stake and let them fry. In Salem that wasn’t the case. Perhaps other facets of society wanted the undesirables out but I doubt that was the intent of the girls who accused them. Cranesmuir wanted the Outlander and the…well…Geillis (how exactly does one classify Geillis Duncan?) out of their village; the other escalated into something that never should have been.
Diana Gabaldon’s witch trial was a great piece of storytelling: it was historically accurate and it moved the story along, with the rescue of Claire by Jamie at the end. I was incredibly impressed with how Diana, and Moore & Company, handled the scenes in both the written and television worlds. But not just that; the trial was necessary, I believe, to show not only the reader/viewer, but Claire herself, the culture that she was living in. Because, as we saw at the end of ‘Devil’s Mark’, Claire had to make a decision about where she would live: 20th or 18th centuries. And I thank Diana for including this.
So, until next week. Tootles my lovelies!!