Dec 012012

Witches from Orson Welles’ Macbeth

“The Weird Sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the Sea and Land, thus do go about, about! Thrice to thine, and Thrice to mine, and Thrice again, to make up Nine! Peace! The Charm’s wound up.”

In Act I, scene iii, of Macbeth, the action of the play gets set in motion “for real” once the Three Witches meet Macbeth. Immediately beforehand, though, they enact an odd little ceremony, pausing to recite the above. What means this strange little instance, and why is it now, at this moment in the show?

Well, presumably, Shakespeare’s audience is going to recognize “Macbeth” as a Witch-Story (meaning, a story with Witches in it), and Jacobean folklore and drama indicate to us that the early 1600s English found “Witches” and “Witchcraft” to be very fascinating things. So presumably, they are going to anticipate some “Witchcraft” in this play (and boy, are they ever going to get it, in the single most famous depiction of Witchcraft in Western Culture, the Cauldron Scene of Act IV, scene i. But that’s not until later in the show.) In the meantime, here’s a tasty appetite-whetting morsel of a Witchcraft Ceremony- a Witchcraft Ceremony that (once you understand the concept of Lore-Text) suggests to my mind nothing so much as: an early 1600s Lore-Text, describing a Witches’ Energy-Raising Ceremony.

The text seems to arrive in response to an unspoken question: What do the Wyrd Sisters do? The imagined answer would seem to comprise the text of the “Weird Sisters Charm” (as I call it).

“The Weird Sisters”: one of the Mysteries and Conundrums of the “Scottish Play” is the number of Identities that the enigmatic Three can encompass (the incredible variety with which they are portrayed on stage and screen testifies to this). At a minimum: Shakespeare’s era does not make hard-and-fast distinctions between Supernatural Entities; however much the Scots legend of “Macbeth” (being obviously Celtic) depends upon the unique Celtic conception of One Magickal Female Who is also Three Magickal Females (or Three Magickal Females Who act as One), a configuration seen, for instance, in popular TV shows- even in the original sources for the legend, whether these Three are Witches or Celtic Faerey-Women is never clear, and by the time of Shakespeare’s Anglo-Saxon Celtic Romanized England, clearly the Wyrd Sisters of the Teutonic Norns had entered the picture. For the record: the Three are identified by the speech prefixes in the 1623 Folio as “First Witch, Second Witch, Third Witch.” There is actually only one instance in the text (a curious and interesting one, in terms of Jacobean Witch-Lore) in which they are identified as “Witches.” The rest of the time, the text calls the Three “the Weird Sisters,” spelled either as “wayward” or “weyard”: indicating dialect pronunciation as well as a certain “out-of-control” quality to their Magicks; like, be careful about invoking Them, because their Entrance into a Magickal Working can be akin to unleashing tempests.

Witches “Posting”

Back to the Unasked Question: What do the Weird Sisters do? Answer: The Weird Sisters, hand in hand (the Sisters join hands; they must form a Witches’ Ring or Circle in doing this, Witches and Faeries both being heavily associated with Circle-Dancing in folklore); Posters of the Sea and Land (“post” being an antique verb used in relation to riding a horse, the implication is that the Witches are riding horses- over both Sea and Land; since this is plainly impossible, it must be metaphoric or Magickal “horses” that the Witches ride- such as perhaps, brooms? The final “take” is that the Witches are describing themselves as having Powers over Earth, Sea, and Air: kind of like Hecate, in earliest Greek myth, actually.) Thus do go about, about! Having formed a Circle by joining hands, the Three begin to spin in a Circle, thus going “about, about!” For the record (please just take my word for this now): “about, about” is a formula that one will encounter often in Elizabethan/ Jacobean Witch-Use; its presence seems to indicate the moment that the Energies will fly “about, about,” or get flung off, through the velocity of the Witches’ Circle, into the universe. Thrice to thine, and Thrice to mine, and Thrice again, to make up Nine!

The suggestion is that the Three are getting more and more “caught up” in their Circle-Spinning, going faster and faster, and even- in most delirious and disorienting fashion- changing directions, from “this way” to “that way” and then “back again.” One can almost begin to imagine a kind of eldritch Vortex or focused Cyclone of Energy beginning to form in their midst. But why do they do this?

The answer to that unspoken question arrives: Peace. The Charm’s wound up.

The Weird Sister Witches have performed this ritual- in order to “wind up a Charm.” Which seems so much to me like what Gerald Gardner described as “Witches raising Energy” in Witchcraft Today, that I think it should be noted.