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Witches and Devilry in Wuthering Heights by Jamie Freeman (2011)

Essay review: Witches and Devilry in Wuthering Heights: A Call for Neo-Pagan Perspective (Amazon Kindle, 2011)

Neo-Paganism is a growing religious movement in America, England and around the world. As such, Academia has a unique opportunity to watch and record a culture come into being. The Neo-Pagan perspective comes out of a rich history interlaced with mythology (both world mythology and our own foundational myths), magick and history. Not only is literature being written by Neo-Pagans, but their methods of discourse, history and theology can be used to evaluate and examine other texts. Charlotte Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights can benefit from such an exploration, showing the mythical side of Wiccan origin in a fiction written before the Murrayite debate.

This paper applies cultural analysis to well-documented literature in an attempt to provide new insight for those within the culture, and without. It is a call for Neo-Pagan perspective in literature as a viable model of evaluation, and enlarges the scope of Neo-Pagan theology and philosophy beyond the foundational texts to search for meaning within the culture of the Western canon. Utilizing an exploration of Adian Kelly’s “Foundational Myths” as the framework for New Historicism, the paper examines Bronte’s novel from the perspective of a Wiccan practitioner awash in a sea of differentiated meaning from mainstream culture. Using sources such as the Malleus Mallificarum and “commonly accepted knowledge” of The Burning Times, Wuthering Heights is explored from the sacred marriage of Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw, of Cathy’s empowerment as a High Priestess Witch, and of Heathcliff’s demonic possession of Cathy’s mind. The paper concludes with the value of such evaluation, and how it might be applied to other works of literature to develop of canon or perspective of Neo-Pagan literature.

Yeah, that’s about half the essay right there. Okay, no, not half exactly, but let’s face it, at 70 kb/163 Kindle locations, it’s not a very long or in-depth paper and it could just as easily have been posted on someone’s blog or on a Pagan website. It really didn’t need to be a Kindle book, especially not one that hasn’t been proof-read properly and could have done with some more formatting work. The “Charlotte Bronte” of the introduction is later mentioned as “Charolette”, but then she’s (correctly) the sister of the author of Wuthering Heights, Emely (sic). Eventually, Freeman gets it right (“Emily” – never “Brontë” with the two dots), though.

Formatting and spelling aside, I’m at a loss as to what the actual purpose of this paper is. It starts off talking about Neo-Paganism and its history, and also giving a brief overview of the Burning Times (the inquisition/witch burnings) and its meaning to the Neo-Pagan community today. Then it suggests that Charlotte “was known to pay only a lip-service to Christianity, and may have believed that God could have been a woman” (loc 46). Really? It’s got a reference to say where Freeman got it from, but it’s still news to me.

It goes on to say Charlotte Brontë “pays more attention to the land her characters are living on, with particular head to local customs and superstitions.” Yes, admimttedly there is scenery porn galore in Jane Eyre, but what has the views Charlotte might or might not have had (I’m leaning toward the latter because of the definite Christianity themes flowing through her novels) got to do with her sister’s one and only published novel?

The paper then finally tries to explain the views of Wuthering Heights “through the lens of Neo-Pagan beliefs about the witch hunts or the Burning Times”. To me, it doesn’t particularly explain it at all. Freeman talks about Cathy being some sort of priestess and Heathcliff is supposed to have been a Changeling and possessed by devils and whatnot. I’m sitting there wondering if we’ve read the same book.

Just because Heathcliff speaks using words the others can’t understand doesn’t mean he’s been possessed by demons – he could simply be from a foreign country. And him being obsessed by Cathy is supposed to make him her familiar, rather than a creepy, psychotic stalker? Seriously? And what exactly are in that book to talk about the Burning Times anyway? I never quite got that.

Yes, it would be interesting to view books from a Neo-Pagan perspective (preaching to the crowd) but at the same time I wonder if it’s really necessary to read a book and dissect it from certain angles, whether it’s about Neo-Paganism, Feminism or whatever. Can’t we just read a good book for what it is, what the author intended it to be, and leave it at that?

If you want a book which is in tune with Neo-Pagan beliefs but without being written to the community in question, read The Secret Garden. It has Magick and plenty of love and respect for Mother Nature. Works for me. This paper, however, doesn’t. It doesn’t feel like it comes to any sort of conclusion and it lacks structure. A lot like this post, you could say, but this is merely a blog post, so if you reach the end and feel “well … that was pointless”, at least you didn’t have to pay for it.

Sure, it was only £0.69 so not more than a chocolate bar, but even with a choclate bar you have to ask yourself if the flavour is worth the calories. This paper could have been a very interesting read, but it’s poorly edited and I don’t feel as if I’ve learned something new from it – it just feels as if the author has had a good idea initially, but when it comes down to it, is just clutching at straws trying to prove a point that isn’t there.

It has to be a 1 out of 5 familiars. Sorry.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

2 thoughts on “Witches and Devilry in Wuthering Heights by Jamie Freeman (2011)

  1. I’m sure I liked your review way more than I would’ve liked the paper, though the subject matter is intriguing. It strikes me as more trying to fit a book to an idea than anything else. I like the notion of neo-paganism as a growing culture, but I don’t see WH as a true part of it other than that EB lends herself to that kind of thing by her personality.

    In reading her poems, she seems much more aligned with Church of England doctrine than probably most modern WH readers credit her with.

  2. Thank you, you’ve hit the nail right on the head! Fitting the book around an idea, that’s exactly it! (Like, oh, I dunno, thinking CB wrote Jane Eyre as a tribute to Jane Austen. *rolls eyes* Ach, I still need to write about that.)

    I’ve not read any of EB’s poems, but when reading WH, “oh this is like a metaphor for Paganism and the Inquisition” was NOT in my thoughts. Nor was it anywhere near reading CB or AB. Anne’s novels feel the most steeped in Christianity, Charlotte keeps taking swipes at Catholics and there is a lot of Christianity in her novels as well. Yes, she does have a lot of nature descriptions, but you don’t need to be Pagan to appreciate the beauty of nature. Even if she DID think of God as female, that also means very little as the point of Paganism is divinity being a duality, not a singularity. Likewise, writing about passionate love and obsession and spirits doesn’t make you Pagan.

    I’d love to read a novel where the main character is a Neo-Pagan or at least with those kind of themes (without being preachy), but the Brontës aren’t it.

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