The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Thursday, August 23, 2012


Todd Akin didn’t just pull his rape comment out of thin air. It's Christian theology from the Dark Ages. Rape victims who kill themselves (or who get pregnant) must have enjoyed it.  When St. Augustine heard that multitudes of Roman women, raped by the invading Visigoths in 410 A.D. were committing suicide rather that living with the consequences, he wrote:

“‘No one can dispute that if a woman remains firmly opposed to the act upon her, no violation of a woman is her fault as long as she cannot avoid it without sinning. But because a woman’s lust may be gratified during such an act, the woman will experience shame, even though she is pure of spirit and truly modest, because such an act cannot be experienced without some sensual pleasure, and people will believe that she gave her consent.’”  St. Augustine, City of God.

In The Flight of the Sorceress, Hypatia lectures on this dogma, as expounded by St. Augustine. When I wrote it, I had a premonition that the political debate on this issue would come to pass. A significant portion of our country is advocating a return to Dark Ages thinking. They may not like it characterized this way, but St. Augustine, Pope Innocent I and attendees at the Council of Nicaea (322 A.D.) would be comfortable with Todd Akin's thinking and vice versa.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

PUSSY RIOT: Sorceress Redux

The Flight of the Sorceress tells the story of a declining empire scrambling for an ideology that will motivate a skeptical population to restore the empire to its former greatness. Caesar choses Catholicism. Intellectualism is stifled. Women are increasingly oppressed. Dissent becomes heresy as the lines between church and state are increasingly obliterated. All for the sake of a renewed empire that will bring little benefit to anyone except the privileged few. 

Although The Flight of the Sorceress is fictionalized, the big picture is not made up. We have a thousand-year Dark Ages to show for it. During which, according to estimates, six million women were accused of witchcraft or sorcery and either burned or stoned to death. It was a millennium of ignorance, superstition and cruel human oppression.  Europe's knowledge of agriculture, engineering, manufacture and trade remained stagnant. Literally nothing of significance created in the arts or discovered in the sciences was permitted to flourish. And presiding over it all was an omnipotent religious organization.

Today, we have another toppled empire in Russia and a neo-czar, Putin, an heir to the Caesars. During his reign he has crushed all organized political opposition and jailed every serious challenger to his power, accusing each of the corruption that he has enabled and from which he profits. But in this latest gambit involving three women, Pussy Riot, his regime had revealed the next page in his game plan to restore Russia to its former imperialist stature. It is now state heresy to lampoon the Russian Orthodox Church. No sarcasm permitted. No ridicule. No hyperbole. Alles ist verboten. Heil Putin. Heil the Russian Othodox Church. Heil theocracy. Down with high-steppin on the pulpit. It’s got to be hatred. An attempt to stir up the masses against this pillar of state power.

And so now Russia has announced to the world that it has joined the ranks of the theocracies, where blasphemy remains a crime and you could lose your head if you dissent from orthodoxy. Certainly a substantial portion of the peasantry will rally around this comfortably familiar custom and practice, but most of them were serfs until 1861, and as a practical matter, up until the present. Having a base of power among those you have deliberately cultivated to remain backward can bring limited success when it comes to retaining power, but it certainly is no prescription for restoration of an empire’s greatness. And so Pussy Riot has become a reincarnation of the Sorceress.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Three New Four Star Reviews on Goodreads

Merissa Sheppard rated it 4 of 5 stars false "A fast-paced book with lots of detail. If you like historical books, then give this one a try.

Stephanie rated it 4 of 5 stars false "Great historical fiction, obviously well researched. I wish there had been more elaboration. Overall great quick read."

 Edith Parzefall rated it 4 of 5 stars false "Barry S. Willdorf weaves an intriguing tale about the lives of two exceptional women. While one boldly stands up for what she believes in, the other seeks to escape persecution and continue her fight for women's rights. Really a fascinating read, only the ending felt a bit rushed..." 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I was devastated to learn that the temple in Tiberias that I have Pelagius describe in Flight of the Sorceress was seriously damaged by what appear to be Ultra-Orthodox religious fanatics.
"The most beautiful part of the mosaic from the fourth century was severely damaged," said Dror Ben Yosef of the antiquities authority. "The perpetrators drilled a hole in the drawing of the holy ark and damaged the menorah drawing as well. It seems they worked very hard trying to take apart the floor."
A zodiac wheel (described in the novel in detail) drawn on the mosaic appears to have been hit by a pickax. For more:  Temple vandalized

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Medical marijuana: A mummy tells all

My dear friend, Justice Gus Reichbach, has caused a stir with an Opp Ed in the New York Times advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana in New York. His piece reminded me that there is a scene in The Flight of the Sorceress about medicinal use of marijuana in ancient times. Indeed my scene (recounted here in brief) was the result of research.

In this scene, Glenys, a Celtic healer and herbalist is attending to the labor of a young girl whose pelvis is too small. She is unable to deliver. The baby is stuck. They will both surely die unless something drastic is done. Glenys instructs the husband to retrieve some cannabis from her treatment rooms.
"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. (The midwife.)

“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 obtained the raw material for this scene from a May 20, 1993 report in the Albany Times Union.  

“The first physical evidence that marijuana was used as a medicine in the ancient Mideast was reported Wednesday by Israeli scientists who found residue of the drug with the skeleton of a girl who apparently died in childbirth 1,600 years ago. The researchers said the marijuana probably was used by a mid-wife trying to speed the birth, as well as ease the pain.   Until now, the researchers wrote in a letter to the journal Nature, "physical evidence of cannabis (marijuana) use in the ancient Middle East has not yet been obtained." The seven researchers -- from Hebrew University, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the National Police Headquarters forensic division -- said references to marijuana as a medicine are seen as far back as 1,600 B.C. in Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek and Roman writings.   But physical evidence that the hemp weed, cannabis sativa, was used for that purpose has been missing. The researchers' examination of an undisturbed family tomb near Jerusalem dating to the fourth century AD indicated the girl, about 14, died because her pelvis was too small to permit normal birth."

We hear a lot about how there hasn't yet been enough research. Well, you'd think that with all the written medical accounts over the lady four thousand years, plus this kind of forensic evidence, there would be enough to go on, at least to permit its use palliatively by terminally ill patients. We hear a lot about pot being a gateway drug. So be it, if the gateway we are talking about is the pearly one.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012



A SHOT IN THE ARM, Part Two of my 1970s Trilogy of mystery/suspense novels is on a virtual book tour this week and next. Pop in to the blogs below and find out more.

MAY 15 - Queen Tutt's World of Escapism (Guest Post ) Queen Tutt

MAY 16 - Zee Monodee's Author's Corner (Book Feature) Zee Monodee

MAY 18 - Murders & Mysteries (Guest Post) Murders & Mysteries

MAY 23 - Elizabeth Morgan's Blog (Guest Post) Elizabeth Morgan's Blog

MAY 24 - Zee Monodee's Author's Corner (Interview) Zee Monodee

In conjunction with the tour, Part One, BURNING QUESTIONS is available at Amazon KDP, and free to Amazon Prime members. Check in to my blog 1970s Trilogy for information about giveaways to come.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Reviewer is looking forward to more!

05/08 Sheree gave 4 stars to: The Flight of the Sorceress by Barry S. Willdorf
bookshelves: historical-fiction, own, 2012-100-plus-challenge, 2012-historical-fiction-challenge, read-in-2012, reviews
recommended for: historical fiction lovers
status: Read in April, 2012

Glenys, Celtic healer & herbalist in Aquae Sulis, Britannia & historical figure Hypatia of Alexandria are the strong female characters in this compelling tale. Set in 410AD, my sparse knowledge of this period in history and Willdorf's skilled storytelling made for a fascinating and page turning experience.

I loved the opening chapter; it detailed Glenys using her herbal and midwifery skills in a difficult birthing despite the recent edict prohibiting any engagement in the healing arts. Branded a sorceress she flees to escape the prescribed punishment; death by stoning.

The beautiful Hypatia; renowned philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, teacher and last librarian of The Ancient Library of Alexandria was a symbol of learning, feared by early Christians associating knowledge with paganism. When Glenys & Hypatia's paths cross their friendship is cemented but they, along with Jews and Hellenistic pagans continue to face bigotry, persec ution, blind hatred & brutality.

Hypatia's murder by a Christian mob was graphically detailed and after doing a little research of my own, I was horrified to read this was quite accurately portrayed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the main characters Glenys, Hypatia, & Jewish herbalist Aschi but Glenys' relationship with lover Ceallaigh made my skin crawl.

Willdorf vividly describes a period in history dominated by misplaced power, religious paranoia, ignorance and persecution but I could have easily consumed more, more pages and more detail. I look forward to more from this author.

Monday, April 16, 2012


's review
Apr 16, 12

5 of 5 stars false
bookshelves: to-read
Read in April, 2012

I really liked this book! We are indoctrinated to view religion, particularly Christianity, as a benign and socially positive infuence in our world. We assume that the rise of Christianity brought about beneficial social changes and that the well-being of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire was improved by their conversion from paganism. Barry Willdorf would counter that it was the rise of Christianity as the doctrine of the Roman Empire that lead to the Dark Ages. His historical novel The Flight of the Sorceress vividly illustrates that notion.
The heroine and alledged sorceress in this book is Glenys, a Celt from the tribe of the Silures in Britannia. Glenys is raised as a druid and has acquired skills in midwifry and herbal medicine at an early age. After her parents are killed she becomes the lover of Ceallaigh, a somewhat dissolute man who maintains the Roman baths in Aquae Sulis (Bath). Glenys practises her healing skills among the residents of Aquae Sulis. She has been baptised a Christian but has no great commitment to the faith. She maintains an alter to Asclepius, the pagan god of healing, but considers it more of a good luck charm than an actual deity.
When the Visigoths under Aleric threaten to sack Rome, the Roman legions are recalled from Britannia and the power in the former Roman province falls to the tyrant Vorteneu. Vorteneu immediately issues edicts that, essentially, forbid Glenys to practice her healing arts. Any use of herbal remedies would have her branded a sorceress and lead to her being condemned to death. Women were also forbidden to travel abroad unaccompanied. Glenys runs afoul of the law almost immediately when she attends to the delivery of a baby by a very young girl. The baby is stuck in the breach position and Glenys is unable to turn it. She gives the woman an herb that she bought from a Jew to try to get her to relax, but it is all to no avail and the mother and baby die. The woman's husband complains to the authorities that Glenys is a sorcerer and she is forced to flee Britannia. Ceallaigh and Glenys' cousin Morcant are traveling to Rome to try to persuade the Pope to accept the Celtic Christian church, which maintains doctrines considered heretical. Glenys flees Britannia in their company.
The action in the book switches back and forth from where Glenys is to Alexandria. Alexandria is the most cosmopolitan city of its day, full of Jews and pagans as well as Christians, but Christianity is now in the ascendancy and affairs are rapidly deteriorating for both pagans and Jews. The library of Alexadria was a repository of knowledge of the western world. It contained millions of books, writings from everywhere in the known world, and on every subject known to the age. The library was run by a Greek woman named Hypatia. Hypatia was one of the very few women educated at Plato's academy and was, very likely, the most learned woman of her day. Hypatia gave lectures on various subjects and was much admired for both her beauty and her intellect. The authorities began to view her as a threat and issued edicts sharply limiting what subjects she could lecture about. Anything but pure mathmatics was hazardous. The library itself was full of Pagan and Jewish works and was, itself considered a threat. The Christian authorities decided to put the library to the torch. With the help of some of her Jewish friends Hypatia was able to save a very small fraction of the books, but nearly all of it was lost. A tremendous amount of knowledge about such things as history, mathmatics, biology, agriculture and archetecture was lost to future generations. (My gosh I wish I had Plutarch's Life of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africnus for my own historical research on the second Punic war. No doubt it perished in the conflagration!)
Glenys's flight eventually takes her to Alexandria where she becomes friends with Hypatia and also with Aschi, one of Hypatia's Jewish admirers. Ultimately the tensions between the Christians on the one hand and the Jews and Pagans on the other come to a head, with dire consequences both to Hypatia and to the Jews of Alexandria.
Barry Willdorf's novel is supurbly written and a must read for any devotee of historical fiction. 
's review
Apr 13, 12

4 of 5 stars false
bookshelves: historical-fiction, kindle, my-reviews

Two women who challenged the beliefs of their era, one fictional and one a well-known historical personage, are the focus of this book. Their lives alternate in the narrative up until their meeting. It's a very compelling and well-written story.

I confess I downloaded this book because Hypatia of Alexandria is one of these women. According to the most reliable authorities, Hypatia did not teach religion or expound on it as this author depicts in one momentous scene. I recommend Hypatia of Alexandriaby Maria Dzielska for those who want a scholarly biography of Hypatia.

Yet this was a lovely novel. I enjoyed reading it right until the unexpected ending.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


To my readers:

WILD CHILD PUBLISHING has just announced that my award-winning historical novel, THE FLIGHT OF THE SORCERESS will be available as a free download on Amazon on April 2 and 3. 2012 even if you are not an Amazon Prime member.

As the current candidates for President debate the issue of separation of church and state, THE FLIGHT OF THE SORCERESS has become increasingly relevant. This carefully researched historical novel accurately recounts the consequences of joining together church and state the last time a world power tried it.

click here for information on getting a free download

Thursday, March 8, 2012


One of the reasons I wrote The Flight of the Sorceress was to raise my voice against ominous signs that there were powerful forces presently at work striving to destroy the separation of church and state. The objective is intolerance. The mission is to impose a strict, theocratic moral code upon the entire population. The result will be a return to the Dark Ages.

Shortly after Theodosius I became emperor of Rome, in 479 A.D., he revoked the Edict of Toleration and made Catholicism the state religion. No longer was there even a pretense of separation of church and state. In short order, pagan worship was outlawed, pagan temples were seized and their properties confiscated. Possession of many books was declared illegal and the penalties for possession of such books or pagan icons could include confiscation of all property. Terrified Roman citizens soon began burning their own libraries. Untold numbers of written works were lost to posterity.  People were simply unwilling to take the chance that they might lose everything they owned. Ultimately, this is the goal of religious zealots --to use to power of the state, its police and military might, to impose their religious beliefs upon everyone else.

The campaign begins with innocence. The zealots pose as the victims. All they want, they will declare, is the right to practice their religion. But soon, they will proclaim that their rights are violated if others practice differently, or do not practice at all.

Today we see the ugly tactic again rearing its head. Emboldened by a relentless campaign first against “unrestricted abortions” that morphed into “any” abortions for any reason, we now see these same zealots turning their attention to contraceptives. Lead by the same theocrats that brought us the first Dark Ages --the Roman Catholic Church -- politicians such as Rick Santorum whine that the rights of their most extreme religious adherents are being violated if the state does not take their part in a campaign to undermine women’s reproductive health care.

Over the last several weeks, we have been subjected to a debate that attempts to raise a freedom of religion argument in opposition to government regulations that would require some religious organizations to provide certain health care benefits to its workers. This debate is a sham with the ultimate objective of dismantling a health care program that one should expect religious organizations to support for the good of people.

Some see this as simply an attack upon women by misogynist Christian sects (as well as some Jewish and Muslim elements) but it is more than that. Like the canary in the mine that heralds poison gas leaks that will ultimately kill every miner,  if the fight over women’s reproductive rights ends with victory for these zealots, it will prove to be just a jumping off point for their ultimate objective, the utter and complete control over all societal behavior. Religious zealots cannot be satiated until everyone practices their brand of whatever religion they profess, or at least pretends to. The current sparring over contraception is merely a harbinger of things to come, for they cannot stop. They must always have heretics or infidels to crusade against and exterminate. Their promise for society is another Dark Ages, with more book burnings and witch burnings and Inquisitions. Lest there be any doubt, this is Rick Santorum’s real platform, and it is an agreeable Faustian bargain for all of the other Republicans currently running for president.

No one advocates a policy that would prevent anyone from expressing his or her religious beliefs. Nor is anyone being compelled to use contraceptives, or to have an abortion. No one is being forced to have sex out of wedlock. No one is being forced to marry someone of the same gender. Religions are free to convince people to behave consistently with their dogma, but they are, and ought to be prohibited from using the power of the state to force people to obey their dogma.

If a religious institution decides to run a hospital, a thrift store or to operate a university, it is making a choice. No religion is being forced to engage in these activities. But when they do, they are competing in a marketplace and they are hiring employees. The playing field must be level when it comes to voluntary endeavors. Employees should all be subject to the same minimum wage laws, the same laws relating to hours and breaks. If the government mandates that employers provide certain benefits it would be discriminatory to exempt some businesses while requiring other similar businesses to comply. An employer who is exempt from paying a benefit is actually paying its workers less than a non-exempt employer and is therefore at a competitive advantage. Such a result rewards a religious employer with an economic preference.

Take, for example, a thrift store run by Jehovah’s Witnesses. They don’t believe in any medical intervention at all. Are they entitled to a complete exemption from providing medical insurance to their employees? Can they require that their employees refrain from spending any portion of their paycheck for health care? Can the Catholic Church prohibit employees at their hospitals from privately purchasing health insurance that includes contraception and abortion benefits? If the minimum wage is $8.00/hour plus a health plan that provides contraceptive coverage, can the Catholic Church get away with providing a cheaper plan that does not provide that coverage? What if the law says, if an employer fails to provide the coverage, the employee is entitled to a minimum wage surcharge equal to the cost of obtaining such coverage privately?  Can the religiously affiliated employer demand, as a condition for employment, that its employees not use birth control? Not have an abortion? Not seek any medical care at all? Can Baptists tell potential employees that they must sign a pledge to not drink alcohol? Where does it stop?

Our constitution addresses religious liberty in two parts: freedom to practice religion and a prohibition against government establishing religious requirements. There is a tension between these two liberties. One person’s freedom can be another person’s oppression. In some places laws exist that prohibit various commercial activities on Sunday. Is this a government-imposed religious requirement? After all, Sunday is a Sabbath to some, but not to all. Can the government force a Jew or a Muslim to abide a Christian Sabbath? Sometimes courts avoid this question by declaring that there is a secular purpose to a day of rest that simply through custom has fallen on a religiously recognized day. But is that really the case? For some, that would mean two days of inability to do business, their religion’s Sabbath and Sunday. Over time, Sunday Sabbath laws have dwindled, but they are not completely obliterated. However most of us now recognize that the decision to close a business on Sunday, or any other day, ought to be a private one.

The constitution also gives our government the power to regulate commerce. One of the purposes for this power is to insure that there is a level playing field for similarly situated enterprises. If the government makes exceptions, it must justify them. However, the government need not make exceptions. Once any person or entity decides to engage in commerce, it is agreeing to abide by reasonable government regulation of that commerce. For example, just because a religion endorses the use of a hallucinogen, it doesn’t mean that the government must permit a business run by such a religion to sell the drug.

So it is not infringing upon religious freedom to require, let us say Georgetown University, to provide its janitors with the same health plan as NYU. No one is requiring the Catholic Church to operate Georgetown University. But the government does have a legitimate interest in insuring that all janitors get similar health coverage.

The freedom to practice one’s religion is a freedom that pertains to activities involving worship. It is a freedom that entitles church members to assemble together and to employ free speech to convince others to follow their path. But it is not a freedom to advantage the religious institution in its commercial enterprises. Such a demand by any religious denomination is a demand for special treatment. It is a demand that our government must not agree to because it is really asking for all of us to treat as special, a specific religion. To give Catholic universities or hospitals an exemption from any labor laws that apply to similar commercial enterprises would be a violation of the constitution’s prohibition against establishing a government sanctioned religion.

What these advocates of so-called freedom of religion are arguing for is that their practices be imposed upon all of us. They want to prevent everyone from using contraceptives. They want to prevent every woman from having an abortion, regardless of the reason. So they demand that the enterprises they support get special treatment, thus an advantage over others. Over time their demands will prove insatiable, their position intractable and we will find a government edict dictating that we follow their creed. This is not a matter of freedom but a matter of theocracy.

Once upon a time, in ancient Catholic Rome and in Europe during the Middle Ages priests were not subject to the laws of the state. They could not be tried in a civil court. They could commit any crime and walk free, unless the Catholic Church decided to discipline them. Some, like Rick Santorum, would have us go back to those days. But we must be aware of the danger, as were the drafters or our constitution.  Every cleric, of every stripe should be put on clear notice that once stepping out of the church and beyond their roles as leaders of services, that upon entering into the public square the secular laws of our state apply equally to them as to everyone else.  And politicians who advocate special exemptions to clerics from our secular laws, merely because of their religious affiliations, cannot without perjuring themselves, swear to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States. The likes of Santorum, Romney and Gingrich, in particular, are by their own admissions, disqualified to hold public office under our constitution. If we do not want to invite a return to the Dark Ages, we must repudiate them and their extremism.

Monday, February 6, 2012


While I was preparing my non-fiction trial guide, SEE YOU IN COURT! for publication, it came to me that it was a good reference work for writing fictitious court scenes. It is full of nuances and quirks that could lend credence to a narrative.  And that got me to wondering what, if anything, lawyers and authors have in common. Go to the mystery and thriller section of a bookstore (if you can find one of those) and you will see that a lot of authors are actually lawyers who write novels. I came to the conclusion that there must be something they have in common. But what? Find out by reading the whole article at See You In Court!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012