Remembering Witches: Memorials, Memory and Magic in Public Space

Camilla Mørk Røstvik, University of Agder

Is the witch back? Recently, several memorials to the historic witch trials have been built. From the permanently burning chair by artist Louise Bourgeoise in Vardø to the large stone book in chains in Salem, the open competition for a national memorial in Scotland to the time capsule erected on the old gallows in Orkney. At the same time, interest in both the historic figure of the witch, and the new religion of Wicca increased online and through a series of celebrations, conferences, and research projects. For participants, the figure of the witch mattered.

In this talk, I explore how memorials and memory matter through the example of the witch memorials that do exist – and the many that do not. I argue that the witch is an extraordinary figure to memorialize, due to their position as both fictional character and victim of patriarchal imagining, and as an iconic figure of real power. They can teach us a lot about the status of history, gender, abuse of power, and documentation in public space, about who gets to be remembered and who is missing. But the witch is also a popular figure because they are associated with magic, enchantment, and transformations – concepts seldom seen or celebrated in public. We begin by analyzing the existing memorials to witches in Norway, in contrast to the places where memorials were never built (- in other words, why is Kristiansand not Salem?) Next, we zoom out into a discussion of the real and fictional status of the witch, and the many ways they have been visualized in art, popular culture, and religion. Finally, we land back in Kristiansand by asking what a memorial to the witch trials there could look like. Through exploring the case of missing and existing witches in public space in Norway and beyond, this project is an attempt to find magic, enchantment and new memories in public space.

Camilla is Associate Professor in History at the University of Agder. She specializes in 20th and 21st cultural histories, with a longstanding research interest in the history, cultures, and art of menstruation. Her interests include feminist art history and art projects, environmental humanities, medical humanities, feminist Science & Technology Studies, Norwegian/Sámi art histories, and the archetype of the witch.

Camilla is Honorary Lecturer in the School of Medicine and the School of Art History at Aberdeen, and Honorary Research Fellow in Art History at the University of St Andrews.

Camilla’s work has appeared in Technology & CultureOxford Art JournalEnvironment & Society, Enterprise and Historyand Leonardo. She has written in Norwegian for Tidsskrift for Norsk Kjønnsforskning and Nytt Norsk Tidsskrift. Her most recent book is Cash Flow: The Businesses of Menstruation (UCL Press, 2022), and she is working on a new book entitled The Painters Are In: A Visual History of Menstruation (McGill Queen’s University Press, 2024), where one chapter is about the intersecting histories of witches and menstruation.