Month: October 2018

A Witchcraft Tour of England #Halloween #witches

Halloween pumpkins

It’s Halloween and that seems like a good excuse to share this post about some of the intriguing places in England with a history of witchcraft.

England has a long and varied history of witchcraft. As a tradition stretching back centuries, it is hardly surprising that there are a great variety of places that abound with legends, stories and histories about witchcraft, witches, persecution and execution. When researching the topic, I came across lots of interesting stories and made a long list of places that I’d love to visit. Some of them I have been lucky enough to visit although I would like to visit again one day. In fact, what I’d really like to do is go on a witchcraft tour of England – spending time in all these places. All offer something interesting and informative; some are fun and have more to do with legend, myth and fairy tale than the brutal truth of the horror of the witch hunts; other places I have found to be spots where poor, misunderstood and persecuted women (let’s not forget that the majority of the witch hunt victims were women) can be remembered and honoured in some small way. These are the places I’d love to visit and re-visit.

The North West

172Pendle_Witch_Weekend

No witchcraft tour would be complete without a visit to Pendle Hill in Lancashire and it’s a great place to start. Pendle was the location of the famous 1612 trial for witchcraft. The accused all lived in the area, and ten were hanged on Gallows Hill. Of course, rumours now abound that the hill is haunted – TV’s Most Haunted has filmed there. As a sceptic I don’t believe that these women haunt the hill – I like to think they are at peace, free from the horrible persecution they suffered and no longer afraid. But I must admit I’m not sure I’d like to spend the night on the hill!

The North East

witch-pricking

Margaret Brown and thirteen other poor souls were hanged on the Town Moor in Newcastle in 1650. Margaret was a victim of ‘witch-pricking’ – it was claimed she had a devil’s mark on her body that, when pricked by a pin did not bleed. She protested her innocence right up to the last according to Ralph Gardener’s 1655 book ‘England’s Grievance’:

“These poor souls never confessed anything but pleaded innocence and one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of her execution.”

The Town Moor is a place I’d like to visit, to pause for a moment and think about poor Margaret and the other terrified accused – hoping against hope that something would end their terror.

Yorkshire

200px-Mother_Shipton

I have heard a lot of stories about Mother Shipton and the ‘Petrifying Well’ or ‘dropping well’ in Knaresborough. It used to be believed that the water was magic – turning objects to stone. Now of course we know that the calcifying is due to the high mineral content of the water – but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. And Mother Shipton herself is an interesting character – allegedly born in a cave near the dropping well, she has become a legendary figure of folklore, renowned for her prophecies. There is a whole park devoted to her now, with the dropping well, cave, a museum, castle ruins and gardens. You can even buy a petrified teddy bear in the gift shop!

East Anglia

Matthew Hopkins

This area was the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General. There are a wealth of places to visit – though few traces of the man himself remain. I’ve visited Colchester Castle and stood in the cells where Hopkins interrogated his victims (a very spooky and uncomfortable experience). I’ve also eaten dinner in ‘The Mistley Thorn’, a lovely pub that stands on the site of the inn where Hopkins set up his witch finding business and where he is rumoured to have lived. The food is lovely. I did get a bit freaked out when leaving though as we decided to go for a walk in the dark – and I have to say it was incredibly chilling to think we were walking where Hopkins may have walked. My imagination did get the better of me, but that might have been the wine.

The South

burley

Burley is a very pretty village in the New Forest known for its connection with the witch Sybil Leek. Leek moved to the area in the 1950s and opened a shop – ‘A Coven of Witches’ – still open in the village. There are now other shops in the village selling various witch-related items and a tea shop called ‘The Black Cat’. I’ve been to Burley several times and it is a really beautiful place – and a bit of light relief too!

The South West

front-door-witch-museum

Two places of note in the South West – the wonderful Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, and Exeter in Devon.

I won’t say too much about the Witchcraft Museum other than saying again how utterly fabulous it is – quirky and weird, packed full of witchcraft related stuff, but you can read about my visit here.

alice-molland-plaque

I regret not stopping in Exeter on my way to Boscastle as I would have liked to have seen the plaque at Rougemont Castle commemorating the execution of the Bideford witches and Alice Molland – you can find out about Alice here.

While Halloween is supposed to be light-hearted and fun, it is also a time, for me at least, to remember all those who suffered because of suspicion and ignorance.

wiccanWishing you all a peaceful Samhain!

 

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The Portrayal of Witches #Halloween #Witches

Here’s a post from a few years ago to get you in the mood for Halloween.

Macbeth witches

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble. 
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. 

Most of us are familiar with these words from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and with the gruesome hags that stir the cauldron. They have become the blueprint for the portrayal of witches; ugly, toothless old women; scheming, mysterious and powerful. But is it fair? And why do we see witches in this way – it can’t all be Shakespeare’s fault, can it?

Before the advent of Christianity there were many diverse religions – Druids, Norse Odinists and those that had for centuries acted as healers, midwives and wise women and men. However, when the Inquisition was launched, it wasn’t just direct ‘threats’ to the Roman Catholic Church that came under suspicion. Anyone could potentially be accused of heresy, and many of those healers and wise woman came under attack.

Propaganda was a big part of this religious war. The inquisitors sought to portray witches as evil, ugly, dirty devil-worshippers, as these images show:

Witch and devil

witches

This left anyone who didn’t conform open to attack – if you lived by yourself, had a wart on your nose, a deformed leg or a harelip – then watch out! You were probably a witch. The majority of those arrested, tortured, tried, condemned and murdered were not witches; real witches had taken their religion underground.

Of course real witches are nothing like those pointy-nosed, warty child-cookers of Hansel and Gretel fame and seemingly endless Disney adaptations. But the stereotype lingers, as false today as it was back then. Witches aren’t Satanists, and witchcraft isn’t and never has been Satanism. In fact, witchcraft in ancient times was ‘the craft of the wise’. It is a spiritual system that teaches respect for the earth. Witchcraft is also referred to as Wicca, the term most often used today. It is a religion, based on a respect for the earth, and the worship of a creator that is both male and female – Goddess and God. Wiccans believe the creator is in everything – the trees, rain, the sea and all other creatures, and this belief fosters a respect and a caring for the natural world and for all life. Wiccans celebrate the changing of the seasons, and the phases of the moon. They are still healers; using natural remedies, and their spells are for harmony, love, creativity, wisdom and healing. Isn’t it time witches were given the respect that we give others? After all, we speak a lot of tolerance for religion and beliefs and yet don’t allow this most ancient of religions any respect at all.

wiccan saying

And as a little antidote to these images, here’s a rather beautiful portrayal of a witch, strangely enough from an ad for Pears soap!

pears soap witch

http://wicca.com/celtic/wicca/wicca.htm

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/quotes/macbethquotes.html

http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-halloween-promotes-unfair-portrayal-of-witches-1.649491

 

‘Everything Is Lies’ by Helen Callaghan #bookreview #FridayReads #psychological #thriller

Everything

Waterstones Amazon.co.uk

What if your parents had been lying to you since the day you were born? 

Sophia’s parents lived quiet, ordinary lives. At least she thought so, until she came home to discover her mother hanged, and her father in a pool of blood.

Sophia is certain her mother didn’t try to kill her father – but clearing her name will draw Sophia deep into a past she never imagined.

A past that hides a dark and twisted secret . . .

Because if everything you’ve been told is lies, then how dangerous is the truth? 

Sophia has escaped the boredom of her childhood home and is living in London, working as an architect. Her mother, who she recognises has issues, bothers her constantly, and as the novel opens, she calls Sophia when she is out with her new colleagues, asking her to come home. Irritated, Sophia refuses, a reaction she’ll come to regret, because her mother has been hiding a huge secret for years, and nothing about her quiet, reclusive parents is what Sophia thought it was.

There’s loads of mystery here, and intrigue, and lots of twists and turns, all centred on a book Sophia’s mother was writing about her past. Sophia reads the first two parts of the manuscript and discovers her mother was part of a cult headed by a rock star. But the third part is missing and it seems that someone will go to any lengths to stop Sophia finding out exactly what it contains.

The clever part of this novel is that you often think you know exactly what has happened, and then something shifts, something new is discovered, and you realise you’re wrong, again. The plot is flawless, the writing tight, suspenseful and really well-paced. I really enjoyed reading this – it was pure escapism. The only thing stopping me giving it five stars is that I just didn’t connect fully with Sophia. I didn’t feel her horror and grief at her mother’s death or her fear or shock when she begins to discover her mother’s past. But that doesn’t stop me recommending this book – if you like twisty, turny, well-written thrillers, then it’s definitely for you.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel’ by Adrienne Vaughan #BookReview #FridayReads

seahorse

Amazon.co.uk

Mia Flanagan has never been told who her father is and aged ten, stopped asking. Haunted by this, she remains a dutiful daughter who would never do anything to bring scandal or shame on her beautiful and famously single mother. So when Archie Fitzgerald, one of Hollywood’s favourite actors, decides to leave Mia his Irish estate she asks herself – is he her father after all? That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel is a tale of passion, jealousy and betrayal – and the ghost of a secret love that binds this colourful cast yet still threatens, after all these years, to tear each of them apart.

There are some authors that you just know won’t disappoint, and Adrienne Vaughan is definitely one of them. This is another lovely novel, full of warmth, drama, romance, but, as always, with that little something extra, something a little dark, to lift it up from other novels in the genre.

Mia is a lovely main character, realistic, clever, tenacious and insecure, like a lot of women. Her mother, Fenella, is so strikingly portrayed, you can almost hear her theatrical voice. And Archie is lovely, a joy to read.

The setting is described beautifully, with a real warmth and affection that comes across very clearly.

I’m not a fan of over the top, saccharine romance, and that’s another reason why I like this author’s books so much. The romance is never over the top, and while it’s an important part of the story, there is enough drama here to keep a variety of readers happy. The story of Fenella and Archie’s past throws light on a history of hypocrisy and injustice, there’s betrayal here, and mystery and grief and friendship – so just about all human emotion!

Well-crafted and a lovely bit of escapism. Recommended.

4 stars

‘Home’ by Amanda Berriman #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

home

Amazon.co.uk

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

This should be a thoroughly depressing read, but it is saved from being so by Jesika, the four-year-old narrator.

It isn’t easy to successfully write from a child’s point of view once you’re an adult, but Jesika feels really  authentic. Her misconceptions and misunderstandings really make you realise how confusing the things adults say can be, and you long for the grown-ups in her life to listen to her properly, to slow down and to realise that she’s confused and worried and scared.

Jesika’s love for her mum and brother is beautifully portrayed, and her visceral fear of being left is one of the strengths of the story. And while, as adults, readers understand what is going on completely, Jesika’s confusion adds to the tension and drama – there’s an almost physical reaction, wanting to protect Jesika and poor little Paige.

This is a timely portrayal too of the frustrations and stupidities involved in accessing services, particularly for the most vulnerable. Someone should be helping Jesika and her mum – they shouldn’t be in a mouldy, dangerous flat, at the mercy of an unscrupulous private landlord. It’s a damning portrayal of the times we live in.

Hard to read at times, but definitely one to read, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this, but Jesika will stay with me for a long time.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi #ThrowbackThursday #bookreview

Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme to share old favourites and recommendations, and I discovered it through Between the Lines.

breath

Waterstones Amazon.co.uk

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

I’ve read some of the other reviews of this book and really wonder if they read the same book as me. If you’re looking for a misery memoir, a warts and all revelation of how harrowing it is to go through cancer and all that entails, then this isn’t for you. Those books have their place – my mother died from cancer and it was helpful sometimes to read other people’s accounts and to know that they were feeling as I did. But I wish I’d had this book back then.

Because this is more than a memoir or an account of illness and death. The author doesn’t list in too great detail what happens to him because it’s not supposed to be about that (which is what I think a few of the other reviewers have missed). This is about a man who, before he knew he was ill, strove in his studies and in his work to get at the meaning of life, at what it means to be human, and what it means to die. And then, somewhat ironically, just at the brink of achieving one of his goals in life, he was diagnosed with lung cancer – cancer that killed him at the age of thirty-seven.

A brilliant, eloquent and sensitive man, Paul Kalanithi continued to strive throughout his illness, to find meaning in what life meant, what made it worthwhile, and to understand when it was enough, when it was time to stop. This is what he had always wanted to do for his patients and this was how he lived his last days.

A really unusual and beautiful book. I was sobbing at the end – and any book that can cause such a powerful reaction is something very special indeed.

5 stars

Autumn Superstitions #wwwblogs #superstitions

autumn

Autumn seems to have well and truly arrived. The heating’s on, I’ve dug out my slippers and the countdown to that day has begun.

Autumn is a beautiful season – and one that is full of old traditions and beliefs. This is a post from a couple of years ago celebrating some weird and wonderful autumn superstitions.

Even the most sceptical among us might qualm when it comes to walking under a ladder, or find ourselves saluting when we see a single magpie (that’s me!); superstitions that have been around for hundreds of years still seem to have a hold in these more rational times.

Many superstitions arose in a past where life was governed by the weather and the seasons, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of customs and beliefs associated with autumn. People needed to find security in the unknown, to feel that they had a handle on what might happen. And autumn was a scary time. The harvest was crucial – would there be enough to keep everyone going over the winter months? And what would those winter months be like? Many superstitions were focused on what the winter would bring. And many have their roots in common sense (but certainly not all of them!).

fruits

For example, it was believed that if fruits were plentiful the coming winter would be mild. This makes sense; as the fruits would need warmth to ripen, meaning that the autumn was probably mild, so therefore the winter could possibly be mild too. This is possibly the reasoning behind another belief – that if ducks leave it until late autumn to fly south, then winter will arrive late.

onions

It’s worth knowing your onions too – a thin skin means a mild winter, but if the skin is thick winter will be cold.

If you want to know when the worst of winter will be, then go and look for some caterpillars. If you find lots of caterpillars that are dark brown in the middle but yellow at each end, then the middle of winter will be cold. However, if there are lots of them, of any colour, then the whole winter will be cold.

caterpillar

Not sure what sort of winter this one signifies!

You could always slaughter a hog. Apparently if you do this and can identify its spleen, then if the spleen lies towards its head, winter will be mild (as a vegetarian, I’ll think I’ll pass on that one).

By now you could be completely confused. But you might also be wondering about next summer already. Will it be good here at home or should I book somewhere in the sun? Wait a few weeks until the end of autumn, then dig up the garden. You’ll need to dig deep. If worms are found deep down in the earth, then next summer will be cold.

So what then if the winter is going to be bad? You could always ward off colds beforehand. If you catch a falling leaf in autumn, then you’ll be free of colds all year. And there’s an added bonus; every leaf you catch means a lucky month the following year.

autumn leaf

Of course one thing our ancestors were scared of was death – they understood it even less than we did. So superstitions and predictions offered some comfort and some idea of control over the future. A primrose growing in your yard in autumn was a signifier of death. And if a cherry tree bloomed in autumn, then that meant death not only for a person, but for the tree too. In the West of Scotland, a white rose blooming in autumn was another sign of an impending death; however, the blooming of a red rose meant an early marriage.

I, of course, believe in none of these. Though that won’t stop me trying to catch a leaf when I’m walking the dog later. I’ve felt like I’ve been coming down with a cold these last few days and you never know, a falling leaf might be just what I need.

 

‘The Men’ by Fanny Calder #RBRT #TuesdayBookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Men’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Cover Image - The Men

Amazon.co.uk

A darkly brilliant debut novel by Fanny Calder, and arguably essential reading for the feminist hedonist woman in your life.

City life in the 1990s. Anonymous, intense, paradoxical and sometimes lonely. A young, haunted woman falls in love with a singer. She finds she has been consumed by the relationship and when it ends – as it inevitably does – she feels unable to quite rediscover herself.

Cities can draw you into even darker places, and she embarks on a series of intense relationships with thirteen men of very different types, from a rough sleeper to a millionaire, and from a transvestite to a leading politician. As she is propelled through a series of extraordinary adventures and wild parties she finds she begins to lose her own identity. Is there a way out?

A raw and unflinchingly honest narrative with stripped down language that is liberating and sometimes challenging. It is a tale of urban human connections crafted with no judgement or deep introspection – a window on the author’s own life at that time that will resonate and stay with you.

How refreshing to read something different, something honest and authentic. This is a book that is what it says it is – raw and unflinchingly honest. It follows the experiences of an unnamed woman as she moves from encounter to encounter and from relationship to relationship, making mistakes, getting into difficult situations, looking for something she can’t quite reach.

The relationships she has make for a compelling read, and one that is difficult at times. I found the first few episodes a little irritating to be honest and I wasn’t sure I was going to like the narrator or the book, but then, as things progressed, I warmed to her and became really engrossed in the narrative. She grows on you and you find yourself feeling angry with her, sorry for her, frustrated with her and happy for her when she does find joy and contentment.

I found her friendship with the transvestite and his boy really touching and a joy to read. She found with them, it seemed, a relationship that was real and good and good for her.

The author is a very talented writer, the writing here is beautifully done – well-crafted, measured, beautiful in places without being overblown. The writer knows how to build a scene, build characters without overdoing descriptions, unnecessary adjectives and tired, clichéd similes and metaphors – this is a writer with natural flair.

An unusual, intelligent and unsettling book. Very much recommended.

5 stars