blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, December 27, 2013

I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War

For over a year now, I've been mentioning my upcoming title, I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War. When I first studied the Civil War for my fictional trilogy, I read quotes from historians that claimed the Civil War was a "low-rape" war. At the time, I didn't question their research, but as I learned more about the war, I began to doubt the belief. Around seven years ago, I started researching the subject in earnest with the intent on writing an article. I found more historians repeating "low-rape" war without any citations or serious research.

Words like "restraint" were fairly common as to why Victorian men supposedly didn't rape during wartime. These same Victorian men had no difficulty shedding that restraint when it came to raping black or Native American women. So restraint meant white women specifically. As I dug into the material further, it became clear that restraint was reserved for upper-class white women, and even then, women of all classes had been raped.

As it turns out, I wrote an article, using mostly secondary sources. Eventually, a now defunct Civil War magazine published it, almost a year after submission. By that time, I had amassed a database numbering into hundreds of incidents of rape. Only then did I realize my article had grown into a book. At first, I scoured the period newspapers and the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, which are commonly referred to as the Official Records or OR for short. The OR consist of 128 lengthy volumes of the official reports, orders, and correspondence of the two armies.

This research was easy compared to the next phase when I started collecting records from the courts-martial. For over two years, I traveled back and forth to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., photographing the trial records of soldiers who had been accused of rape. When I got home, I went through the tedious process of transcribing the records. At the same time, this method allowed me to maximize my time at the Archives by photographing as many records as possible in any given visit.

Sometimes, I'd miss a page or a couple of pages came out blurry. As a result, I had to pull the record again on my next visit and locate the missing pages. Fortunately, most court transcribers of the era numbered the documents, which usually helped my search. Some of the Confederate guerrillas had been accused of numerous crimes besides rape. Those particular trials could be over 100 pages in length, and I would have to scour through them to locate the relevant info for my book.

The title I Had Rather Die comes from a court-martial record. One woman testified that she would "rather die" than be raped. In that particular case, the two men were executed, which was fairly uncommon during the time, even though rape was considered a capital offense. The men in question had a history of trouble making, plus she had a sympathetic ear from General Marsena Rudolph Patrick. He located the assailants because one of the men had bragged about what they had done.

As anyone might guess, reading so many accounts of rape was daunting, and there were many times that I wanted to give up. The stories were heartbreaking. That's also the reason why I couldn't let go. The women who spoke of their torment had been silenced before, when their voices had been dismissed to a "low-rape" war. Like any other war, the Civil War had numerous rapes. At long last, the survivors' voices have been heard.

Kim Murphy

Friday, December 20, 2013


Crone Henge: THE SUN'S BIRTHDAY:     New Grange Once known as Bru na Boinne, or Palace of the Boyne , was built in the Boyne river valley around 3200 BC, by a s...


New Grange

Once known as Bru na Boinne, or Palace of the Boyne, was built in the Boyne river valley around 3200 BC, by a society of Neolithic people who were clearly well-organized, well-fed and dedicated to the task at hand. They wouldn’t have been able, otherwise, to utilize the manpower to construct this enormous monument , 249 feet across, 39 feet high and covering 1.1 acres of ground, consisting of alternating layers of earth and stone. The structure wasn't just massive, but, when first built,  it was also perfectly aligned with sunrise on the winter solstice. At the end of a passage which is 60 feet long, and lined with large engraved stone slabs, is the most famous feature, where there is a large room with three antechambers and a high, corbelled (and still water-tight) vaulted roof.
Here, on the solstice--through a roof box which was only rediscovered during excavations in 1967—enter the first rays of the rising winter sun.  (Irish folktales had always spoken of magical rooms within tumuli where, in the midst of eternal darkness, the sun shone...) When that beam of light penetrates the bee hive chamber, the winter sun touches the floor just below a great stone engraved with a tri-spiral, perhaps in honor of the ancient triple goddess, maiden, mother and crone. Spirals, symbols of our life path, carry us on our journey from birth to death to rebirth. The end is also a beginning, as a new seasonal cycle commences again.
The chamber is illuminated for a mere 17 minutes, but, this year more than 30,000 people entered their names into a lottery to win a ticket to witness a marvel which has been occurring since before Stonehenge—or the pyramids--were built.


This winter Sun, seen by the ancient people as “new born” feels like a miracle to observers today, those of us who watch the skies and mark the seasons with festival, feast and meditation, much as our ancestors did. From that day forward, we know that the darkness will begin to recede, and the tide of light will come in again, until we again reach the summer solstice and the longest day. Crops will grow, lambs and calves and children will be born. No wonder the early adherents of an odd new eastern religion called Christianity, hoping for converts, were eager to conflate the birthday of their "dying" god with the associatively powerful symbol of the rising winter solstice sun.


Kerb stone symbols 

The roof box and megalith with spirals

A modern Stonehenge solstice
Bright Blessings to all, as we welcome a new year!
Learn more at these sites:

Juliet Waldron

Friday, December 13, 2013

Crone = Ugly ?

My sister claims I must have a lot of karmic debt to pay off since the past seven years of my life have been mostly spent taking care of the sick, dying, and aged — first helping with my dying mother, then my terminally-ill life mate/soul mate, now my elderly father — but I have a hunch it’s more that I’m going through my crone stage a bit earlier than normal. Although “crone” has become a pejorative term, crone is one of the mythological stages of a woman’s life (maiden, mother, crone). Crones cared for the dying and were spiritual midwives at the end of life, the link in the cycle of death and rebirth. They were healers, teachers, way-showers, bearers of sacred power, knowers of mysteries, mediators between the world of spirit and the world of form.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Something to look forward to becoming — a wise woman — and yet crone is a word few women embrace, and no wonder since over the centuries, crone has come to mean “ugly old woman.”

It seems strange that there are so many derogatory words for ugly old women — witch, hag, crone, harridan, battle-ax, beldam, shrew, termagant — yet not a single derogatory to word to describe ugly old men. (At least, I can’t think of any.) And why are such wise women considered ugly, anyway? Apparently, after men have had their way with young maidens, then used up their youth in bearing and rearing children, they somehow expect women to still be attractive. Nowadays, of course, with creams and lotions and make-up and hair-dyeing and all the other beauty treatments available, most women do retain at least a semblance of their youthful looks. And yet those ancient terms for “wise old woman” still retain their pejorative connotations.

But no matter what she looks like or what she is called, a woman who calmly listens to the crotchets of the old folks, who patiently sits by the bedside of the dying, who deals with life’s unpleasant chores with a minimum of complaint, has an aura of beauty. I would be willing to be that no one who is ministered to by one of these “crones” thinks she is ugly. I bet her beauty shines through to them, if no one else.

I also bet she isn’t aware of her beauty. Like me, she is probably simply doing what needs to be done as calmly as possible.

It seems odd that so many of us who have lost our mates end up taking care of aged parents, but perhaps we are the ones who have the patience for dealing with the slow and inexorable ways of age and death.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Friday, November 29, 2013

To Grandmother's House We Go

 “Over the river and through the woods to Grandfather’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.”
When was the last time I sang that song? I can’t remember. I had to Google the rest of the words. The song ends with “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie,” in case you forgot as well.
Thanksgiving used to be so special. It was second only to Christmas on my list of favorite days of the year. The four of us would pile into our white station wagon and ride through the fields to my Grandparents’ house. With aunts, uncles and cousins there were never less than 12 people at the two large tables pushed together in the dining room of the 19th century house where my father was born. The home-cooked meal was delicious, and after dinner the men snored to the sound of a football game while the women cleaned up and we kids played games on the living room floor. Dessert was always pumpkin or minced meat pie. It was another world.
Thanksgiving was the teaser for Christmas, but there were no decorations out, no Christmas ads, no Black Friday appellations. There was Buck Monday. The hunting season would open, and the men would depart for the woods. At some point that became a shopping tradition for women on the day after Thanksgiving. The men were leaving so women were released from the obligations of taking care of their husbands and they could go shopping instead! Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Well, it did in 1965. For many years the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend was a day off as well. Most of the boys would be hunting with their dads.
A bit more emphasis was placed on the original Thanksgiving as well. Or perhaps that is just my grade school memory. There were Indians and Pilgrims and that sense of Blessed Destiny. Today there is a slightly better sense of equality between the two cultures, but we are far from getting the story straight. And I don’t mean small pox and broken treaties. Research is still necessary for some of the facts.
When the first settlers stepped off the Mayflower and into their New World, they encountered a larger cultural difference than they realized in the native Wampanoag people – or the People of the Dawn. The women who might have served the pilgrims the “three sisters” – corn, squash and beans – were landholders. They were the heads of their families. They gave shelter to the men who married their daughters. And they were able to become sachems – the political leaders of their communities.
What might have happened if  Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna Winslow had been permitted to sit down and eat with the Wampanoag women who might have decided to attend the Harvest Feast of 1621? If Weetamoo, Awashonks, Wunnatuckquannumou, and Askamaboo had regaled the four white women with their history and customs, how might our history have changed? Suppose Mary had told Weetamoo she should be helping to serve, and Weetamoo had said, “I’m the big Kahuna and you shouldn’t be waiting on those men.” And what if, upon hearing this, Elizabeth had proposed a toast: “Thanks be to God, we have arrived in a truly New World. Stephen, bring me a turkey leg.”
In 1965, my last name might have been my Grandmother’s maiden name. Dad might have taken me hunting that year, and my uncle might have joined my aunt to wash the dishes after our turkey dinner. Half the signers of the Declaration of Independence might have been women, so when I was learning about the Indians in 3rd grade, I might have also learned about our Foremothers. I might be a nuclear physicist instead of an English teacher!
On an educational website I found this interesting tidbit.
What were men and women's roles in the Wampanoag tribe?
Wampanoag men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Wampanoag women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Wampanoag chiefs were always men, but today a Wampanoag woman can participate in government too.
Revisionist history is alive and well. Evidently 3rd grade children are still learning that Indian women were drudges, just like the Pilgrim women.
We have come a long way in 50 years. Many women work outside the home. A very few even make lots of money. Men are becoming nurses, and women can be Nurse Practitioners. Women are serving in the military, and my husband does the dishes. We just have to resist the temptation to be satisfied with where we are. The Daughters of the Dawn remind us that we have a long, long way to go – to Grandma’s house.

"Indians of Southern New England and Long Island, early period" Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15. Ed.Bruce G. Trigger. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. 171f. Wikipedia. 27 November 2013.
“Wampanoag Indian Fact Sheet.” Native Languages of the Americas. 1998-2013. Web. 27 November 2013.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Guest Post from author Joyce Moore

Hi Roberta, and thanks for inviting me as a guest blogger. My usual blog topics are about my writing life, but because I just returned from a trip (yes, with a new idea for an historical mystery), I’m going to share some of my incredible experiences with your readers. If anyone has visited these places, I hope they comment with their opinions. It’s always interesting to see how different people react to the same environment.
I flew into Vienna, Austria, a day before meeting the group of like-minded people with whom I would be traveling. I always need the extra day to recover from jetlag. When the others arrived, our journey began.
Ah, Vienna. Just the name of the city conjures up images of eighteenth century ballrooms and chamber music. The Viennese are justly proud of their cultural heritage, and although much of the city, along with its opera house, was bombed, the city has restored most of its damaged buildings using the original plans. There is much to see there, and if I went again, I would plan to spend at least a week instead of the three days we had.
From Vienna, we took a train to other cities. I splurged and got a deluxe sleeping car, complete with private bath and a huge picture window. I’d do the same again. Sleeping on a train is my idea of heaven on earth, to say nothing of dining in a car with new friends while the world zips by.
Our first stop was Innsbruck. From there we visited other cities, like Munich, Salzburg, and Venice, ending our train ride in Budapest. The route took us through Brenner’s Pass, an area that figured in WW II history.
I had been to Munich and Venice before, but I had never seen Venice in flood stage! It had rained for days and the canal flooded the streets and the square. The authorities put up something like a catwalk (short folding tables) so pedestrians could cross the square without wading. Of course, vendors were selling colorful plastic boots and some pedestrians just chose to wade across the square. I wish now I’d bought a pair of those boots—a perfect memento—but I had to think about my full luggage.
Innsbruck and Salzburg are beautiful cities, surrounded by alpine country. I definitely would like to go back and spend a week in each of those cities.
My surprise came in Budapest. We stayed on the Pest side of the Danube, but many sites we wanted to see were on the Buda side. I took one afternoon to enjoy one of their thermal baths and a massage, then took one of their frequent buses back to the hotel in time for dinner. Speaking of dinner, one night we ate dinner on a boat on the Danube. Budapest, from the river, is an awesome sight at night. The bridges are lit and from the city streets, hundreds of tiny lights flicker, reminding us that in spite of its ancient beauty, Budapest is a thriving city of thousands. Budapest, to me, is a hidden jewel. I believe they consider their town a poor stepsister of cities like Vienna. I emphatically disagree. Budapest should be on everyone’s bucket list. And the opera house is beauty to astound you. Be warned, though, to read what the opera is about if you don’t already know. The subtitles are in Hungarian, whereas both Prague and Vienna state opera houses have English subtitles.
Our last day was spent at the Danube Bend, where we ate lunch in a wonderful restaurant high in the mountains with a view of the city below. From there we visited a market where I bought scarves for my daughter. They are always a welcome gift and take little space in your luggage.

Now I’m home and back to revising a mystery set in Stockholm. That might require a trip to Sweden too!  

~ Joyce E. Moore

Monday, November 4, 2013

Witch Trials and Rape

"It is true that rape is a most detestable crime, and therefore ought severely and impartially to be punished with death; but it must be remembered, that it is an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved, but harder to be defended by the party accused, tho innocent."

Sir Matthew Hale, The History of the Pleas of the Crown (1736)

No words have severely affected modern women more than Sir Matthew Hale's seventeenth-century declaration, which was first published fifty years after his death. Even though the crime of rape has been shown to have no more false accusations than any other crime, Hale's statement, warning jurors that women are liars, has been repeated throughout courtrooms for centuries. In the U.S., the words weren't stricken from the courts until the 1970s.

In the seventeenth century, a woman who brought the charge of rape against a man was automatically regarded with suspicion. A girl's sexuality was controlled by her father, and once she was married that power shifted to her husband. If a woman had been raped, her "protector" would bring the charges to the authorities. Women with no male protector were often looked upon as being unchaste and thought to readily consent their virtues to any man.

By now, I'm sure you're wondering what the crime of rape has to do with witch trials. While researching for my nonfiction title I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War, I discovered an ominous connection. In 1664, Hale presided as a judge in a witch trial of two elderly women, Amy Duny and Rose Cullender. Dorothy Durent accused that Duny had caused her children to have "fits." In one instance, Duny had prophesied that Durent would see some of her children dead and end up on crutches herself. When Durent's daughter became sick, Duny foretold that she hadn't long to live. The girl died two days later. Shortly after her daughter's death, Durent went lame only to be cured upon Duny's conviction.

Duny was also accused of bewitching the Pacey children. In 1663, Deborah Pacey went lame. Soon after, she had "fits" and great stomach pain. She told the doctor that Amy Duny had appeared to her and frightened her. Duny was put in stocks for the crime. Two days later, the other Pacey child began to have fits that included lameness, deafness, loss of speech, fainting, and coughing up pins. Both children claimed that Amy Duny and Rose Cullender had come to them. The children were also thought to be possessed by the devil.

Two more children from different families had similar fits. In body searches of the accused women, Rose Cullender was found to have "something like a teat about an inch long" in the abdominal region.

During court, three of the children fell into violent screaming fits. In a test, the girls were blindfolded and touched by strangers. Tricked into thinking the touches had come from the accused women, the girls had a "bewitched" reaction. The father of one of the girls stated that sorcery was the cause for their mistake.

Sir Matthew Hale refused to allow the evidence to come before the jury and failed to give a similar speech that he normally delivered to rape jurors about how difficult the crime was to prove. In fact, he offered the exact opposite explanation and lectured the jury about the evils of witchcraft. After half an hour, the jury delivered a guilty verdict for thirteen counts of witchcraft and sorcery. With the conviction, the children were restored to good health and walked out of the courtroom completely healed.

Duny and Cullender denied any wrongdoing and were hanged on March 17, 1664.

Like rape trials, the female victims in witch trials were mocked and believed to be corrupt. Hale and those who thought like him had ways of keeping women in their places through intimidation and fear. His infamous words may have been stricken from the courtrooms, but his legacy lives on when the modern justice system fails to take rape complaints seriously.
Kim Murphy

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lights to Welcome Lakshmi

On November 3rd of this year, the Hindu festival of Diwali will begin. The 3rd day of Diwali is devoted to the Goddess Lakshmi. She is the supreme Mother of Earth and the wife of Vishnu who is God’s aspect of continuity (of the three persons of God, Vishnu is the one who maintains our world).
Lakshmi rose from the ocean when the gods stirred its depths using a mountain spun by pulling on a snake wrapped around its base. Appearing from the foam, she was standing in the cup of a lotus and holding one in her hand. The most beautiful of all the goddesses, she is golden-skinned, dark haired and wears a red sari and a crown. 

           Lakshmi is the intercessor for prayers to Vishnu. She is the heart of the god, and all things happen through her. The embodiment of love, she is the force that moves through all being. She brings material fortune, spiritual fulfillment, and fertility. She is Mother Earth and provides everything in it. It is as if Vishnu is an intention while Lakshmi is the power that fulfills his desire. 
           The red of Lakshmi's sari is an aspect of femininity. It is the color of the heart's river, pulsing through all creatures. Red is also the color of success in ancient cultures. Red's warmth and fire link it to the power of the Sun - the life force of the universe. Lakshmi is wearing the red of life, love, and light.
           One of this goddess's many names is Padma, the Sanskrit for the lotus flower. This is a symbol of transformation. Growing from the pond or river's bottom, the plant sends a stem shooting up into the sunlight, and crowns it with a bowl of soft petals.The flower represents the soul's release from the earth's attachments. Lakshmi is the purity  and release of life from the darkness of decay; she holds the gift of enlightenment.
            Her iconography is reminiscent of Venus. Arising from the waves as splendid women is certainly appropriate, since their births are surrounded by the waters of Earth’s womb. Lakshmi and Venus are born as adult women, fully matured and ready to bring life to the world. As an expression of ultimate beauty, they assure us that men will surrender their hearts and increase their fertility with their ardor.
A woman’s power is not oppressive, but to suggest that the godess is not as powerful as a god is to miss the point. Her skills are nurturance, providence and intercession, but nothing is possible without her cooperation. Vishnu is impotent if Lakshmi does not provide a conduit for his life force. And this form of creativity is spiritual as much or more than it is physical. If we are tempted to view a woman’s role as the power behind a ruler’s throne, we are buying into an illusion. The true source of power is hers. The fact that a man can sit in a glorious place of authority is only because the goddess has created the room, made the chair, and invited the god to have a seat! And if she is not out front, it may be that she has no need for the adulation. Content with her place and the manifestation of all of life as a gift from her being, she can find her joy in Nature and the people she births and blesses. Why sit on a throne when she can float above it on a flower?
           During her festival day in India, all houses are made scrupulously clean for purity is her abode. Lamps are lit all around the outside of the house, small lamps shine in the  windows and halls; they beckon Lakshmi from her home in the heavens. When she visits, she brings good fortune and golden coins to her worshippers.
Knowing of Lakshmi’s holy day, some of my own traditions of fall now remind me of her festival. That extra deep cleaning is done before the cold settles in and the windows are sealed for the winter. Candles decorate the mantle and table, and warm-weather comfort foods are on the menu again. Comforters , sweaters and flannel shirts reappear from the back of the closet.  And as I put my gardens to bed for the winter, I trim the dead stems so that the plant’s life force will be concentrated and unspent during the dark days to come. In my way, I am worshipping Lakshmi and preparing to ask her to bless and sustain the world.
On November 6, I will light my candles and put lanterns outside both doors. A new tradition will begin for me this year – welcoming Lakshmi to my home.

** The beliefs of different cultures and their female deities has become a source of inspiration to me. It is my own voyage of discovery, so this article is one of personal interpretation. My principal sources are:
             “Diwali” on Wikipedia. 
Diwali  - the festival of  lights. Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India,
  Patricia Monaghan’s The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines, 3rd ed. 2000.Print.