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Celebrate Witches’ Night At Comic-Con Museum

SDSU professor looks at witches in literature, history and pop culture

Photo credit: A24

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Thomasin in what director Robert Eggers calls his "Puritan nightmare' film "The Witch." It screens on May 1 at Comic-Con Museum.

The ancient European festival known as Walpurgis Night or Witches' Night takes place April 30 to May 1. Comic-Con Museum is hosting a two-night event to explore witches in history and pop culture.

Fifteenth Century Witch Hunting Book At Comic-Con Museum

The night from April 30 to May 1 is the time when witches supposedly hold a huge celebration.

"Walpurgis Night is a night that has dual meaning," said Elizabeth Pollard, San Diego State University professor. "It was a night when Christians would burn bonfires to ward off the evils of witches but it was also a night thought to be a moment where witches would gather together and celebrate their Sabbath."

Pollard studies witches in a historical and literary context and will provide an illustrated lecture on Tuesday, April 30 at the Comic-Con Museum.

"Back in grad school, when I was working on my dissertation, I became utterly fascinated by women who were manipulating their environment, their relationships, their social situation in a way that you couldn't categorize as religion, you couldn't categorize it as science or some sort of medical intervention. You couldn't categorize it as superstition," Pollard said. "It was fundamentally different category of acting that these women were doing. And I could see women being described doing these kinds of activities in the way we brought up you know she is a witch."

Her lecture will also dig deep into pop culture to look at how witches are portrayed in films as varied as "The Wizard of Oz," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and "The Witch."

There will be a screening and discussion of the 2015 film "The Witch" on Wednesday night. Director Robert Eggers described it as a "Puritan nightmare" when I interviewed him for my Cinema Junkie podcast.

The story involves a family in the 1630s that's ejected from their Puritan settlement and forced to live on their own at the edge of a forest. Things go wrong quickly as the crops fail, the newborn baby disappears, and the family comes to believe there's a witch living in the woods.

"The struggle of the daughter Thomasin with her siblings serves up one of my favorite scenes in that movie," Pollard said. "It is the moment by the brook where the irritating twins come out and start to tease Thomasin. She responds by claiming to be a witch. And you can see the way that it's something playing out between siblings. You know it's just a nasty petty quarrel between siblings but it gets taken up a notch when things begin to go wrong within the family. So Thomasin is saying, 'Yeah I'm the witch. I'm the one who's doing these things.' She's doing it to gain control over her little sister who doesn't behave but that that self-claiming of the identity of being the witch comes back to haunt Thomasin. So I like how that movie gets at those the larger tensions of the Father and the Puritan community and being separated from the safety of the enclosed settlement but then the family tensions of husband and wife, of brother and sisters, of sisters with one another, of daughter with mother, how those internal family tensions and how they play out and manifest an accusation is fearsome."

I met Pollard when she gave a lecture on the SDSU campus in honor of welcoming the SDSU Library's addition of a rare 1494 book called the "Malleus Maleficarum has into its special collection. The library is planning to have the book on display at the museum for the event.

"'Malleus Maleficarum,' called 'The Hammer of Witches," is a text that was created by two monks and it's essentially a witch-hunting manual. And so special collections and university archives here at San Diego State recently acquired an early print copy of this of this text," Pollard said.

This infamous work on witchcraft provided an instruction manual for the witch hunts of the next two centuries and led to the persecution and execution of possibly 200,000 innocent people, most of them women.

"Amanda Lanthorne, Anna Culbertson and Pamela Jackson who are in special collections and university archives have been pulling together this wonderful study collection that's valuable for making sense of witchcraft in a historical context," Pollard said. "They've been accumulating everything from herbal treatises to collections of witchcraft in comics and it's it's a real hidden gem here at San Diego State. So I hope if people have the opportunity and interest they might reach out to special collections and university archives at our library and see the amazing collections that are being accumulated there for for the public for people to come and study."

The free event is listed as sold out by Comic-Con Museum but some seats may become available the nights of the event.

The ancient European festival known as Walpurgis Night or Witches' Night takes place April 30 to May 1. Comic-Con Museum is hosting a two-night event to explore witches in history and pop culture.

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