The day was filled with speakers giving a wide-ranging set of talks, with women and justice the broad underlying theme. Julie Gibson introduced the event and the THING Project, followed by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon with a talk on Orkney’s thing sites and the lawthing of Orkney. Dr Alex Sanmark looked at the evidence for whether things were an exclusively male world, followed by Siobhan Cooke on Gender and Identity in Viking Human-Animal Relationships. Eileen Brooke–Freeman gave a Shetland placenames paper, ‘’ Annie Elspeth, Maggie Kettle and Merran Moad: Women Immortalised in Place names’’, then Jocelyn Rendall’s study of the Orkney witchcraft trials, Tom Muir looking at ‘’Declining Fortunes of Women in Orkney Folk tradition, from Goddess to Mermaid, through to Selkie Wife and Witch’’ and finally Leigh Dowie of Orkney’s Womens Aid with ‘’Survive and Thrive’’ reinforcing the point that society’s attitudes to many women have been ambivalent in the past, and continue, horribly, to be so.
That ambivalence was dramatically emphasised with the evening showing of The Witches of Gambaga with its contemporary Ghanaian tale of accusations of witchcraft, witch trials and the segregation and separation of ‘’witches’’. The resonance down through 400 years, between the current Ghanaian story and that of 17th Century Orkney lingered long in the minds of attendees, male and female.
As an interlude between the day and evening events, Fran Flett Hollinrake of Orkney’s Dragon History took attendees on a walk through Stromness with tales of sea-wind inducing witches and Stromness’s Eliza Fraser, captured and enslaved or saved by Australians on Fraser Island in 1836. This was followed by a discussion session on some of the themes raised during the presentations.
Photo: Tales of Stromness women on a guided walk around the town.© Frank Bradford/www.frankbradfordpix.com