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  • Mj Pettengill

A Rootless Tree Cannot Reach the Light

Spanning from the early decades of the fourteenth century until about 1650, continental Europeans executed between 200,000 and 500,000 witches. Upwards of 85% were women.

The nature and timing of these executions and the brutal persecutions preceding them were determined in part by altered objectives of the Inquisition as a result of the differentiation process within medieval society. As a result of the extensive changes in the medieval social order, this craze resulted in the urgent need for redefining moral boundaries. These executions and the accompanying demonological theories enjoyed widespread and popular acceptance and can be explained through the anomie which permeated society at that time. While these conditions provided the intellectual, cognitive background for the witch-hunts, economic and demographic shifts, together with the emotional need for a target, clarify why the witch-hunts were directed at women (Ben-Yehuda).

Then, across the Atlantic, the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas took place. Of course, this was not geographically limited. The indigenous of all continents were systematically slaughtered. Along with losing their lives and customs, the land was also decimated by the first European settlers. The first arrivals of the Europeans did not restrict their intentions to mere exploration, they planned on staying, and as we know, they did just that. A bit further along the timeline, in North America, the schools opened up for Indian children. No, this was not a nice offer. It had nothing to do with choice. It was a rip the children away from their families and tribes to erase both their individual and cultural identities. The options for the Native Americans were to conform via forced education and programming, hide like a fox, or quietly assimilate into a hijacked society with the least amount of attention. This is cultural genocide at its finest, another example of Social Death. Missionaries worldwide believe that they are rescuing indigenous peoples, stripping away access to their ancient ancestral beliefs and customs. They go on to replace them with their version of spirituality wrapped in organized religion. It is believed that this is what is best. Somehow, a deep connection to Nature, Our Mother, is perceived as barbaric. The goal is to remove our links to the ancients.

This is not limited to tribes, as we imagine. Let's stroll back even further on the timeline. From 58 to 49 BC, Julius Caesar confronted the Druids during his conquest of Gaul. It is told that they were the only men throughout the Celtic tribes that were powerful enough to coordinate and implement opposition to Roman rule. Following the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 A.D., the Druids were banished and considered to be outside of the law—Social Death. There were many deadly clashes between the Romans and Druids. After the Battle of Mona in Wales, many Druids were massacred. In an attempt to erase signs of their existence, all monuments, artifacts, and sacred groves were destroyed. The remaining Druids—survivors—fled to Ireland. Rather than get deeper into the historical details of the tyrannies during these particularly dark times in human history, I illuminate a handful of events, people, and places. There are so many atrocities to choose from. I am focused on those persecuted due to powerful Earth connections and practices. What did these humans have in common? They were deeply connected to the environment. They were one with all life on earth, inhabiting the cycles of the wild and guided by the heavens. They knew their place, and it was not outside of the natural world. Their communication with plants, animals, and the elements served as a life force until annihilated and deemed evil. My work as a social historian focuses on cultural narrative and traditions, collective and intergenerational trauma integration, ancestral healing, and social welfare development.

Living in a world that openly omits and edits information (both past and present), I am aware of the significance of acknowledgment. I am a bit of a historical whistleblower, which has become more defined throughout time. Contemplate what we do know about the numerous genocides in our history. It matters not where or when one lives. We all carry these related traumas on some level in our cellular memories—individually and collectively. Whether we want it or not, it is part of our wiring. Life does not begin with you or me. It's not that simple. Considering that our cells are loaded with information carried on for countless generations, we have a lot to unpack. No wonder there is such a vast separation between humanity and nature. Along the way, many people have forgotten that we are nature. The knowledge of what came before us, the wiping out of entire ethnicities, is who we are. The information woven into our human fabric is complex and multi-faceted. An ancestor may have carried out executions of heathens, burned heretics at the stake, or brought an Indian scalp to Boston for a bounty. (We have that whole thing mixed up.) Skeptical? Check out The History of Carroll County, New Hampshire, 1889. It is available in digital format courtesy of the University of New Hampshire. The link is provided below.

Then again, your ancestor may have been the one hanging from a noose... or the so-called savage with tears streaming down his cheeks in a school of shame, designed to strip away all known identity. So without knowing, we continue to pass along these wounds from one generation to the next. Persecuting, punishing, and killing out of greed and a lack of understanding those closest to Earth, carries many consequences. It is no wonder that natural resources, powerful spiritual connections, and infinite wisdom have been guarded and feared. With such an abundance of harmful programming, one can comprehend why destructive practices, assaults on Our Mother continue. Those who came before us were killed in cold blood for their beliefs. Is it fear? Greed? The need for control? How threatening to outsiders—those lacking an authentic link to the whole—that food, medicine, and sacred traditions are so powerful. It makes sense that there is a colossal misunderstanding and separation between Our Mother and Her inhabitants. Most do not remember or have no way of tracing back to ancient times to know the origins of their deep-rooted fear. It likely comes from multiple sources. I make medicine from plants that I gather here. I believe in the power of magic and maintain a strong bond with the natural world, both plants and animals. I reclaimed my place in it. Some call it rewilding. To me, it was an act of freeing myself from thousands of years of wounding, entering the knowing field. About a decade ago, when the pine grove was cleared, I had a difficult time. While the loggers were out doing what loggers do, I took a few photos and videos. I journaled about my response to what was happening, which profoundly affected me for many years. I am still observing the consequences of the dismantling of a cohesive family system intact for upwards of two hundred years. One day, the logger said, “I guess she’s a tree hugger…” And he continued with the job at hand. I recall standing there realizing that for many, a tree hugger is not a compliment. Like most other topics in our society, it is divisive. One of my studies at Vermont College was about the events leading to the Salem Witch Hysteria. I am a direct descendant of the Ingersoll's— accusers, plaintiffs, and inspectors of those accused of witchcraft. The Pettengill's were not free from the act of persecuting. They moved from Salem to Newburyport, where Richard was a grand-juryman for what was known as the Ipswich Tryalls. Those who disobeyed the Sabbath rules were punished by humiliation in the town square—stockades.

My question today is, would my Puritan ancestors send me to the gallows? Going back further on that timeline, would I have been burned at the stake with the other 500,000 or so others? Think of how your ancestors fit into the puzzle. There are many pieces to choose from. Battles have raged, cultures erased and dismantled, and many lives lost. When you make a conscious effort to reforge your bond with Our Mother, you can be the little piece that makes the puzzle complete. Reestablish your rightful place, understanding that we cannot manipulate, harness, or harm "Nature" without doing the said act to ourselves. Acknowledgment, parting with pain and unworthiness, brings about limitless healing. A rootless tree cannot reach the light.

Primary Sources / References

Ben-Yehuda, Nachman. “The European Witch Craze of the 14th to 17th Centuries: A Sociologist's Perspective.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 86, no. 1, 1980, pp. 1–31. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Apr. 2021.