The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Flight of the Sorceress Q&A, Part Two -The connection between the separation of church and state and the coming of the Dark Ages

Q:        What do you think the reasons were for the speed of civilization’s decline during the Fifth Century?

A:        In the late Fourth Century, the Roman Emperor, Theodosius decreed that Christianity was to be the state religion of the Empire. Its dogma would thereafter be enforced by Roman legions. . It was at that very moment in history that Christianity turned into the Roman Catholic Church. That is, an element of Christianity united with the Roman state.

Contemporaneously with that edict, Augustine came up with the doctrine of “Original Sin” which had the consequence that admission to heaven could only be accomplished by absolution administered by an ordained priest. There were a number of Christian sects at the time —Donatists, Arians, Nestorians among them. But the only state-authorized church for ordination was the Roman Catholic Church. Thus not only were non-Christians doomed but Christians who did not subscribe to the dogma from Rome were as well. This led to the suppression of all but Roman Catholics. In 411 A.D., with the backing of the Roman legions, Augustine began the purge of the Church, ousting and ultimately condemning nearly half of its members as heretics. I recount scenes of the conclave in Carthage in The Flight of the Sorceress where that actually happened.
A few years later Pelagius, whose heresy consisted of calling into question Augustine’s creation dogma, Original Sin, was excommunicated. So by 415 A.D. all dissent was declared to be heresy. Heretics, however well meaning, were doing the Devil’s work by leading people away from the path to eternal salvation.  The full force of the state was brought to bear on differing theologies. This rapidly resulted in the wholesale destruction of “pagan” and dissident writings, the cowing of Classical teachers, scientists and philosophers and the ossification of thinking.

Many historians date the beginning of the Dark Ages to the death of Hypatia who was the last known librarian of the great library in Alexandria. She has been described as a neo-Platonist, although no one really knows what that meant to her in practice. All we really know is that she was not a Christian and ultimately that cost her her life.

Q.                Are you saying that Augustine “invented” the concept of Original Sin?

A.                I can’t say that he “invented” the dogma. What he did was come up with the proposition that the sin of Adam and Eve —that is their disobedience of God’s command that they not partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge would be a) passed down undiminished to every generation, and b) that the only way one could cleanse themselves of that sin was to obtain absolution from an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a very handy doctrine. It made the Church the only game in town for the salvation business. And if you wanted an absolution franchise, you had to get it from the Church.

Q.        So you are arguing that the separation of church and state is essential for keeping a society from falling into a Dark Ages?

A.        In a word, “yes.” Once Roman Catholicism was enforced by the Roman state —if, for example, like Pelagius, you believed that good works or leading a good life would get you into heaven, you got banished, excommunicated or burned. Dissent from church dogma became a capital offense. The unification of church and the state led to state-enforced conformity of thought. Any books that failed to make the Catholic censor’s cut were burned. Pagan writings were destroyed. Entire sects of Christians, not just pagans, were denounced. You can see something similar happening in other contexts right now. Look what the Taliban did in Afghanistan. In fact the same kind of thing happens whenever the state uses its power to enforce “correct” thinking. Most people in America can understand it when you replace religion with communism, but somehow their mind goes blank when it comes to the separation of Christian churches and the state.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


“The Flight of the Sorceress is the best sort of historical fiction: set in a grim and fascinating age, when Roman civilization was giving way to triumphal Christianity, it brings a vanished world vividly to life. The Flight of the Sorceress is tight and it's dynamic.”  Tamim Ansary, author of West of Kabul, East of New York, Destiny Disrupted, A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes and The Widow’s Husband.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010



Jonah Raskin, author of Natives, Newcomers, Exiles, Fugitives posted the following comment about my new historical novel, The Flight of the Sorceress on Goodreads:

 “As readers know, the historical past often comes more alive in fiction than in history books. A new novel by Barry Willdorf, Flight of the Sorceress, positively makes the past sizzle. That’s because the author has written a kind of fictional parable for our strange and terrible times that often seem mind-boggling. Are we at the end of history? Or at the start of a brave new world? Flight of the Sorceress takes the reader into the past to illuminate the present and answer the big questions about humanity and the future. The novel also takes the reader on an adventure and into a beautifully told story that has characters with whom one can actually empathize, and dramatic scenes that make the heart beat.”

It is a fitting introduction to my Q&A on the novel. Each of the questions raised here has been posed to me over the course of the novel’s creation and publication. I hope readers will find the Q&A both informative and provocative, and I invite questions, comments and debate ---Barry S. Willdorf.

Q:        What on earth got you interested in the Fifth Century A.D.?

A.        A lot happened in the western world during the first fifteen years of the Fifth Century. In 410 A.D. alone, the Romans abandoned Britannia. Rome itself was sacked by the Visigoths and the library at Alexandria was burned. The next year was the first giant purge trial held by the Roman Catholic Church. There was a conclave in Carthage during which approximately 470 bishops were thrown out of the church and the Donatist faction, representing nearly half of all Christians were declared heretics. St. Augustine was behind that purge. In its time, it was as big as the Great Schism between the Roman and Greek churches seven hundred years later. It was the beginning of the Dark Ages.

Q.        Do you have a background in history?

A:        I was a history major in college. I studied Modern History, Economics and Politics at the University of Manchester, in England in 1964-5.

Q.        How did you choose Aquae Sulis, (Bath) as the setting to begin The Flight of the Sorceress?

A.        In 1990, I visited Bath and while I was there read in some of the literature the assertion that within three generations (a period of sixty or seventy years) the population went from knowing how to operate a Roman bath, to not even knowing what it was. The Roman baths there became completely overgrown and were not even rediscovered until the Eighteenth Century. The English spend a lot of historical energy on their conquest by Rome and have amassed a great deal of historical evidence right up to about 410 A.D. Then, overnight, the historical data virtually stops. You get to nearly a dead end. That’s when the Roman legions abandoned Britain, and with them the government record-keepers. Ever since, I have been obsessed with the reasons and how quickly a civilization can plunge from educated to the Dark Ages. The abrupt scarcity, if not the complete absence of records seemed like a good place to start extrapolating a work of historical fiction.

 More to come in later posts!

Saturday, December 4, 2010


The Flight of the Sorceress
A Novel
Barry S. Willdorf
Wild Child
Culver City, California
The Flight of the Sorceress
Copyright © 2010 by Barry S. Willdorf
Cover illustration by Wild Child Publishing © 2010
For information on the cover art, please contact
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who
may quote brief passages for review purposes. If you are reading this book and
did not purchase it or win it in a sanctioned contest, you have obtained this book
illegally. Illegal copies hurt both the author and publisher. Please delete this book
immediately and purchase it from either Wild Child Publishing or an authorized
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead,
any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story
lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Editor: Marci Baun
ISBN: 978-1-936222-34-6
If you are interested in purchasing more works of this nature, please stop by
Wild Child
P.O. Box 4897
Culver City, CA 90231-4897
Printed in the United States of America

Do not allow a sorceress to live. Exodus 22:18
Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them.
Leviticus 19:31
A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall
surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be
upon them. Leviticus 20:27
Let no one be found among you…who practices divination or sorcery, interprets
omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or
who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the
LORD… Deuteronomy 18:10-12


The Flight of the Sorceress
Chapter One
Aquae Sulis (Bath), Britannia: Spring 410 A.D.

Glenys was roused from sleep by pounding at the door. It was well past
midnight. Concerned that the tumult would awaken the old woman in her care,
she gathered her bedclothes about her and stumbled barefoot across the drafty
hut with only the light of stars and a waning crescent moon through an open
window to guide her. Reaching the door, she pushed aside the hide that covered
its peephole to spy the face of a man who had always viewed her with contempt.
His ruddy nose glowed by the flickering light of the torch he held. Dank hair
matted his forehead. Great beads of sweat clung to his eyebrows and moustache,
like raindrops on the eaves of a hut.
His sour odor seeped through the cracks in the door, making her gasp. “What
do you want?” she hissed. “It’s late and you’re waking the whole town.”
He was panting heavily and obviously had been running. “Are you Glenys?
Glenys, who is the healer?”
“What if I am?”
“I hoped to find you at the baths but Ceallaigh told me to try here.”
“You’re breaching the peace, you know. What is it you want?”
“It’s me, the thatcher. My w…wife,” he sputtered. “Come quickly. She
cannot…the baby…is stuck… Please, Lady Glenys, come. We need you.”
Glenys cautiously pulled back the bolt.
The thatcher pushed aside the door and clamped a powerful hand around her
wrist. Instinctively, Glenys pulled back but was unable to free herself.
“We do not live far from here,” he blurted before she could protest. “We need
your help right away.” Without awaiting her reply, he pulled Glenys down the
alley and then through a maze of passages until the shrieks of the mother became
audible. Women were standing in doorways, their hands over their mouths,
shaking their heads and choking back tears. Men, bleary-eyed, peered over their
wives’ shoulders looking worried.
“It’s just right over…here,” the thatcher stuttered, pointing with his torch to a
cottage that boasted a door of polished planking and matching shutters, in
distinction from those around it—signs of his prosperity. He set the torch in an
iron cradle, pulled clumsily at the latch and burst in, Glenys still tightly within his
A circle of flaming torches illuminated a young girl lying naked on a bed of
soiled sheepskins. Shading her eyes from the glare with her free hand, Glenys
gazed into terrified blue eyes desperately pleading for succor. She gulped a
breath, gagging on the acrid black smoke that hung in the low rafters like a
prescient storm cloud and sniffed the sobering odors of urine and of broken
As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, Glenys observed that the girl’s
tongue had become swollen, likely from dehydration, and now drooped to the
side of her contorted mouth as if she were a shipwrecked sailor expiring of thirst.

The Flight of the Sorceress
Her thin child’s legs were splayed wide, knees fully bent, soles flat on the
sheepskin. She shivered frightfully.
The image of her mother, who had lovingly taught her the contraceptive
secrets of Queen Anne’s Lace and pennyroyal danced before Glenys’ eyes. Glenys
unconsciously ran a hand over her mature hip. She’s no more than fourteen
years of age. Hardly five years separates us, but it is all the difference.
A gray-haired crone with a misshapen skull and a face as deeply crevassed as
the bark on an ancient oak ceased daubing the girl with a wet cloth and squinted
at the newcomer. Licking her barren gums with a colorless tongue, she cocked
her head and with a gnarled finger gestured at the girl’s vulva. “She’s a small one,
she is.”
The girl shrieked.
A second woman, younger than the crone, the girl’s mother, Glenys guessed,
put her hands to her temples and began to cry out, “Dear God, dear God.”
Glenys bit hard into her lip to keep from chuckling. The woman’s face
appeared to her as an exaggerated pair of pendulous cheeks like sacks of the flour
hung from the rump of the miller’s ass. Glenys felt a hot blush of guilt. I am a
healer, and this is a matter of life and death. She regained her composure and
plucked a torch from the circle.
Holding the fire as close as she dared, she knelt down to examine the girl
closely, running educated fingers first along the cervix and then probing further
inside. To no one in particular, she reported, “She is ready to deliver but the
head’s not engaged. I’m feeling the baby’s rear. It’s breached, and the feet are
caught. I’ll try to push the baby back and free its feet.”
The girl screamed again and the muscles of her abdomen tensed.
Glenys pushed away from the child and stretched to relieve her own
cramping. She accepted a damp cloth from the old woman, wiped her hands and
turned to the thatcher. “Your wife is very young and very small,” she explained.
“Unless I’m able to relax her sufficiently so I can free the baby’s feet, they both
will surely die.” Failing to make eye contact, she shook her head and addressed
the mother. “Even then, I can’t promise success. The baby’s head will come out
last. It may be too large for her. If that’s the case, the only thing to do is to cut the
baby free.” Again she turned to the husband. “Your wife will certainly die if
cutting must be done, but I cannot do it. Just three weeks ago, the vortigern
prohibited all women from performing surgery. Perhaps you saw the edict nailed
to the door of the old temple? You must summon the physician at once.”
The thatcher’s mouth opened and shut like a netted salmon. Balling his fleshy
hands into ham hock fists, he pounded his temples. “The physician . . . cannot . . .
be found,” he sputtered. “We looked for him before I came to you.” He fell to his
knees and, looking up at the woman towering above, clasped his hands at his
chest. “She is only fourteen, Lady Glenys. Only fourteen. Please help her, I beg of
you.” The mother too was praying now, her hands pressed together, mouthing the
words of a psalm.
Glenys had little hope. She wiped the perspiration from her brow with the
sleeve of her nightgown and attended once more to the screaming girl, whose
feeble attempts to writhe were being foiled by exhaustion. Absent a miracle, the
young girl and her baby were both going to die. Taking an iron key that hung

The Flight of the Sorceress

from a cord around her neck, she dangled it and addressed the thatcher, hardly
sparing him another look. “How well do you know the baths?”
The thatcher glanced briefly at his mother-in-law before averting his gaze
toward the rafters. “Not…”
“…well.” Glenys ventured. “But I am certain you will find it without difficulty.
Be quick. This key will open the gate. Go to the great pool. At the far end there’s a
hall. The first door you come to will be my treatment chamber. Inside you’ll see
shelves. Upon the top shelf, in a blue basket, there you’ll find herbs. The one you
are looking for has leaves of dark blue-green and the smell will remind you of a
skunk. Bring me that basket in all haste!”
The thatcher snatched the key and rushed from the cottage.
“What herb is that?” asked the old crone.
“A rare herb,” said Glenys. “I obtained it from a Jew in Clausentium who
trades with Palestinia. It should relax the girl so that I can manipulate her baby.”
The old woman fussed with the wattle beneath her chin. “From Palestinia, you
say? I’ve heard of this herb. You will burn it, yes? The girl will breathe the smoke
and lose her senses? Is this the herb?”
Glenys scrutinized the woman before responding. “Perhaps, I’ve not used it
before. But this is an emergency and I’ve been told that in Egypt they use this
herb for difficult childbirths.”
I hope it’s still there, Glenys prayed silently. With luck, Ceallaigh’s not gotten
round to dismantling my chamber yet. But he’s become so erratic... Could it
have been just three weeks? So much has changed since that night.



The Trailer for the historical novel: The Flight of the Sorceress can be found on YouTube.