The association Les sans pagEs host a Wikiwitches workshop on the theme of witch-hunts in Switzerland on November 4, 2023 at the Geneva library. Other workshops will follow throughout Switzerland. The term “witch” evokes a multitude of themes, from Halloween celebrations to horror stories, religious blindness, inquisition, power, violence and torture. However, much remains unclear on this subject. The association Les sans pagEs wishes to conduct Wikiwitches throughout Switzerland in collaboration with Wikimedia CH, in order to complete the mapping of people persecuted during the great witch hunts, and to make this history available to all. The general mananger of Les sans pagEs, Natacha Rault, answers some of Wikimedia CH’s questions below.
Hi Natacha, how did you come up with the idea for this project?
Natacha Rault: The Wikiwitches project is first and foremost a project to map the victims of witch-hunts on Wikidata… To answer your question: I was once accused of witch-hunting when I complained about the treatment I was being subjected to as a woman (criticizing my Wikipedian actions, but never wanting to discuss them directly with me). In order to direct my anger constructively, I set about mapping women who were victims of witch-hunts. It was an outlet, and it felt good. Each time, I felt I was giving a soul and an existence back to a woman who had been denied in the most violent way possible, by making an attempt on her life and putting her to death under cover of often false accusations.
I was amazed to discover that it all began in Switzerland in 1428, in the Valais region! I don’t think I ever got out of the cauldron after that.
What personally appeals to you about this theme?
Natacha Rault: Documenting feminicide and its history, of which witch-hunting is a part, in a factual and rational way, because in my opinion it explains a lot about the place of women in our societies today, and the invisibility and lack of economic opportunities they suffer from.
There are countless facts and stories about witches. Where would you like to emphasize the theme?
Natacha Rault: We don’t record stories or popular culture about witches. Rather, we record and attempt to geolocate cases of people who were victims of witch-hunts. These are mainly facts drawn from trial records and the very official convictions that followed, as well as property transfers (their property was confiscated) in notarial registers that document the acts of torture to which they were subjected, the type of confession obtained, the conviction, and the execution of the sentence. In Switzerland, women were often burned alive, as in Germany, while in England they were hanged and in France beheaded before being burned.
For the most notorious cases, such as Michée Chauderon, Pierre de Torrenté and Anna Göldi or La Catillon in Fribourg, we can then make a Wikipedia entry, which requires finding secondary sources in addition to entries in the legal registers.
On Wikipedia, we have published a number of biographies, as well as thematic articles such as:
- Procès en sorcellerie dans le canton du Valais (Witchcraft trials in the canton of Valais)
- Procès en sorcellerie à Fribourg (Witch trials in Fribourg)
- Procès en sorcellerie dans le canton de Vaud (Witch trials in the canton of Vaud)
This last article is a draft and remains to be refined. There’s still a lot to be done on this subject on Wikipedia! On Wikidata, our ambition is to survey the people executed for witchcraft for Switzerland, and then produce a methodology to extend this project worldwide. We think, for example, that a smartphone application that lets people enter data would be a good idea to enable them to participate, even without having to actively contribute to Wikidata or Wikipedia.
Where are the sources for new contributions? What are the challenges facing witch research in Switzerland?
Natacha Rault: The primary sources used for Wikidata are trial registers, as witch-hunting was one of the first legal procedures of recorded inquisitorial trials (before that, justice was summary and often undocumented). These registers are often in Latin or Old French, and have to be translated before they reveal their substance! We are therefore dependent on the results and advances of academic research, as well as on the digitization and transcription of legal registers, which are often to be found in cantonal archives in Switzerland.
Many men were victims of the witch-hunt. Is there a place for them in your project?
Natacha Rault: Our research focuses on the victims of witch-hunts, most of whom were women. For example, we worked on the biography of Pierre de Torrenté, a man who fell victim to the greed and prevarication of Walter Supersaxo, prince-bishop of Sion, still considered the hero of the Valais today. There were also many LGBT women victims of these hunts, but their stories have been rendered invisible because women’s sexuality was never taken into consideration and theirs denied.
Are there still witches today?
Natacha Rault: The witches we chased away weren’t witches at all. Let’s face it: real witches like me only exist in fantasy culture! Nevertheless, in contemporary feminism, the theme of the witch as archetypal feminicide has been politically recuperated. What’s more, many feminists wonder why there are so many monuments to the dead from the First and Second World Wars, but why there is only one place in Norway where a memorial has been made with all the names of women murdered and tortured during witch trials. It is the Steilneset Memorial.
On the other hand, witch-hunts continue: in some countries, you can still be accused of being a witch as part of a legal procedure, and in others, old or undesirable women, albino girls or girls with disabilities are quite easily disposed of by being accused of being witches.
Many thanks for the exciting information on this new project, Natacha.
- Anyone interested in participating in Wikiwitches or finding out more can find out more on the project page.
- Natacha Rault video Everybody can push the edit button
- Les sansPages
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