The winter of 1507 followed two years of famine for the people of Tierkinddorf. They’re down to eating snow for dinner when a friar from the nearest city appears to help rid the town of the witches that must be causing the famine. The Witch’s Trinity, by Ericka Mailman, plays out over a few tense winter weeks as accusations of witchcraft spread and hunger deepens. As if the general mood of The Witch’s Trinity wasn’t paranoid enough, our protagonist is an elderly woman who is suffering from Alzheimer’s (or possibly dementia). Güde forgets things easily and sometimes sees things that didn’t actually happen. In spite of this, her age and her relative isolation from the rest of Tierkinddorf’s inhabitants allows her to see more clearly than people who are hungry, terrified, and angry.
The first woman to be accused is, like many women who were accused of witchcraft during historical witch trials, was old, lived alone, and knew how to use plants to heal. Because she has no protectors, it’s easy for the villagers to give Künne over to the nameless Dominican friar to practice what he’s learned from the Malleus Maleficarum. Of course nothing changes after Künne is killed. But Irmeltrud, Güde’s daughter-in-law sees how easy it is to have a witch trial do the dirty work of getting Güde out of her house. When Güde’s son leaves on a hunting trip with most of the village’s men, Irmeltrud quickly accuses Güde of witchcraft. Unfortunately, Irmeltrud wasn’t the only person to figure out that an accusation and a quick execution might be a good way to get what the accuser wants. An anonymous denunciation lans Irmeltrud in the witch’s tower along with Güde.
Though The Witch’s Trinity is short and occasionally bewildering with Güde’s confusion, it explores the historical injustice of witch trials. (Mailman notes in her afterword that she’s a descendent of a woman who was accused several times during the Salem Witch Trials.) It seems that all it takes for neighbors to turn on each other and do terrible things is for hardship to dissolve the bonds that hold people together. It’s easy to be generous when food is plenty and times are good. When times get tough, people look out for themselves—and try to find someone to blame.