Spectral Evidence: The Witch Book is the result of a meeting between Elizabeth Willis, descendent of one of the convicted and executed “witches” of the Salem witch trials, and Nancy Bowen, descendent of Samuel Sewall, a prominent judge in the trials. Spectral Evidence pairs each of the 46 stanzas of Willis’s “The Witch Poem” with a drawing or collage by Bowen, whose iconographic style moves deftly between humor and seriousness, echoing the affective range of Willis’s poem: “With a glance, she will make rancid the fresh butter of her righteous neighbor.” / “A witch may cry out sharply at the sight of a known criminal dying of thirst.”
The book includes a conversational afterword by the authors and Litmus editor, E. Tracy Grinnell, in which they explore connections between the collaborative project, with its roots in the Salem witch trials, and the broader interwoven contexts of current U.S. politics, misogyny and state violence, capitalist and colonial power structures, and cultural practices of resistance and repair.
Praise for Spectral Evidence: The Witch Book
The era of witch-hunting is not historical but is, instead, a present day reality. In Spectral Evidence, Nancy Bowen and Elizabeth Willis bring together images and text in alchemical combinations to remind us of our nearness to this abiding system of othering, persecution, and extraction from the lives of women, the poor, and socially non-conforming persons. Each page whispers an accusation: “A witch may speak a foreign language to no one in particular.” “She finds it difficult to overcome the sadness of the last war.” “A witch will pretend not to be looking at her own image in a window.” Through the steady accumulation of such evidence, we are compelled to ask who among us is not a witch. To hear one’s name called out among the litany of charges is to be summoned to a mode of resistance.
— Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch