THE WITCH'S TRINITY by Erika Mailman
trigger for this novel was listening to Teofilo F. Ruiz’s “The Terror of
History” audiotapes in my car. A friend had loaned them to me, I was
driving, and I had endured the long discussions of Catharists and
mystics, just waiting for tape eight: The Witch Craze. When it came, it
hit hard. Ruiz said women sometimes accused family members of witchcraft
because they were so hungry. I thought, “What kind of hell does your
life have to be, that you will offer up a family member so that there is
one less plate upon the table?” I was appalled and shaken at this very
different interpretation of the word “family.” (But then again, medieval
people felt very differently about all kinds of relationships;
infanticide was commonplace.)
I kept mulling this horrifying idea over. And then I hit on a plot
element that I thought could help me write a novel: what if a woman were
accused of witchcraft, but suffered from senile dementia and therefore
didn’t know whether she was a witch?
I hunkered down with many books, including Jeffrey Burton Russell’s
Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, to do as much research as I could. I was
more writer than historian, I fear. However, much of what is included is
truthful, but I have taken some liberties - for example, I found
reference to a pebble test like Künne undergoes, but altered it from one
pebble to three, to draw the comparison to the holy trinity.
Another valuable source was Amnesty International’s touring Torture
exhibit, which I saw in San Francisco several years ago. I approached
with a morbid, salacious curiosity, but was humbled by the true, real,
sordid pain that humans inflict on each other. The worst feeling was to
come, when I would bend down to read a placard and learn that the
medieval device I’d just been looking at was still in use today.
A visceral source was joining the Schulplattler group, a German folk
dance group connected to the Naturfreunde (Nature Friends) club in
Oakland, California. Many of our dances date to medieval times, such as
the Maypole Dance and the Miller’s Dance. Learning how to move my body
in these ancient rhythms and patterns, aided by flying sweat and
exuberance, felt like putting the needle down into the groove of an LP.
It was a way to learn, to feel in the gut the simple earthy pleasures of
Finally, my decision to set this novel in Germany just felt instinctual.
I am of German heritage and, growing up in Vermont, I knew how much
atmosphere mere snow can convey simply by being there. I wanted to
create a world that was insular, bitingly cold and remote, wanted to
offer the frightening thought that snow can effectively hide things.
When I pictured Güde’s village, I saw the bleak slumped huts of
Brueghel’s The Hunters in the Snow (yes, it portrays Holland but near
enough to Germany to be meaningful).
THE WITCH'S TRINITY is foremost a novel and it was not intended to be a resource for
anyone researching European witchcraft, but it may offer a useful
amalgam of information for those who are unaware that women perished in
a 400-year cycle of suspicion and hatred. My hope is that it might
inspire readers to do their own searching.
Return to main book page...