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Midwifery and Abortion in Terry Pratchett’s “Equal Rites”

May 12, 2013

20130512-234024.jpgI just finished reading Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, and noticed several somewhat coded references to women’s reproductive health topics, and would love to know if other readers caught others.

First up, “Old Granny is up with my wife right now,” said by the smith, whose wife is giving birth. “Granny” is a common old term in the U.S. south for a lay midwife. Granny Weatherwax is a witch, too, the concepts of witches and midwives as women healers being somewhat intertwined in the imagination and history.

Later: “Esk knew that she [Granny] was famous throughout the mountains for special potions for special illnesses that her mother-and some young women, too, once in a while-just hinted at with raised eyebrows and lowered voices…” The mention of the occasional young women along with the secrecy here suggests that we are likely meant to think of herbal remedies for a late period (i.e., methods of terminating early pregnancy). Infertility and other menstrual problems are a possibility as well, but we can be fairly sure that Granny is working within the realm of women’s reproductive health.

“..a number of mysterious potions that Granny said she might learn the use of in good time.” Potentially a reference to sex or menstruation-related potions young Eskarina wouldn’t have need of just yet.

Esk out with Granny, Hilta Goatfounder speaking at her shop at the market: “…I say, there’d be many a family in this town a good deal bigger and poorer if it wasn’t for Madam Goatfounder’s Pennyroyal Preventatives.” Pennyroyal is well-known for its use to end pregnancies.
(Disclaimer: do not attempt! You can read about this elsewhere, and I do wonder how much knowledge we can pull together given MS, ND, and other states, but I’m emphatically not encouraging anyone to dive into this in a self-experiment-y kind of way.)

This is the first of Pratchett’s witches books that I’ve read – has anyone caught similar references in the other books?

PS – I’m reading books again! *For reasons,* I had to go on hiatus for a bit, enjoying briefer blog posts, fanfiction, and other online materials. Also reading: Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention : How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century. I’ll probably have to return it before I’m finished. I also just finished the last book in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, about which I have *feelings.*

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2013 5:21 am

    Yes indeed, there are several!

    In one (can’t remember which), it’s noted that people tend to call Nanny Ogg for the births and Granny Weatherwax for the deaths.

    The witch Magrat’s ignorance about sex is noted in a few books, starting with ‘Wyrd Sisters’:

    ‘But she taught you all the midwifery and everything?’
    ‘Oh, yes, that,’ said Magrat. ‘I done lots.’
    ‘But—’ Granny hesitated, groping her way across unfamiliar territory – ‘she never talked
    about what you might call the previous.’
    ‘Sorry?’
    ‘You know,’ said Granny, with an edge of desperation in her voice. ‘Men and such.’
    Magrat looked as if she was about to panic. ‘What about them?’
    Granny Weatherwax had done many unusual things in her time, and it took a lot to make her refuse a challenge. But this time she gave in.
    ‘I think,’ she said helplessly, ‘that it might be a good idea if you have a quiet word with Nanny Ogg one of these days. Fairly soon.’

    In ‘Maskerade’, the rhythm method:
    (discussing the Maiden, Mother, Crone) “These days, any girl bright enough to count and sensible enough to take Nanny’s advice could put off being at least one of them for quite some time.”

    “Bonnie Quarney had been gathering nuts in May with William Simple, and it was only because she’d thought ahead and taken a little advice from Nanny [Ogg] that she wouldn’t be bearing fruit in February.”

    Also in Maskerade are references to Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, which contains recipes like Banananana Soup Surprise and Carrot and Oyster pie….

    And in the Tiffany Aching books there are references to pregancy by incest, and forced abortion.

    • May 13, 2013 9:48 am

      Cool, thanks for commenting and providing those examples! I’ll be sure to look out for them when I get to those books.

      • =Tamar permalink
        June 9, 2013 9:20 pm

        Be sure to look for Carpe Jugulum – there’s a post-accident scene where Granny has to choose which to save.

  2. May 13, 2013 6:22 pm

    Penny Royal isn’t dangerous if you are KNOWLEDGEABLE about herbs. Dried and sifted herb is safe is appropriate dosages (only one case of death has occurred and that’s because her pregnancy was abnormal ie ectopic, in a fallopian tube), Penny Royal Essential Oil ingested has been known to be DEADLY, no essential oil should ever be ingested as ANY essential oil can be fatal if swallowed.

    Taking any herb or medication without properly knowledge on dosages, contraindications and side effects is dangerous.

    Pro-Choice isn’t just about make the choice ‘I think is appropriate for you’, it’s about giving a woman ALL of her options and letting her decide, if she wants to use herbs to terminate an early pregnancy then she should be given the appropriate info to make it as safe as possible.

    Been using Penny Royal, Dong Quai and a whole host of other herbs to regulate my cycle without side effect for a decade but that’s because I have been educated and have experience. Any woman who wants to try should be under the supervision of an education and experienced herbalist.

    Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife’s Story by Onnie Lee Logan (one of the last midwives left in AL)

    and

    Natural Liberty: Rediscovering Self-Induced Abortion Methods

    Pro-Choice Midwife

    • May 13, 2013 8:39 pm

      Thanks for your comment: because I am *not* knowlegdeable or experienced with those herbs, I wanted to make it abundantly clear that people need to do their own research and take their own risks, hopefully in consultation with someone with more expertise.

  3. May 20, 2013 4:51 am

    Terry Pratchett follows in a long line of authors who wrap social commentary in entertaining stories. However, I have to admit that when I read his books I’m just there for the fun of it.

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