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!
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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+