persecution

A Witchcraft Tour of England

Halloween is a great time to discover some of the places connected to England’s history of witch hunting and witchcraft and there are plenty of them 🙂

Alison Williams Writing

pendle witches

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 for my novel  ‘The Black Hours’, 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…

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A Witchcraft Tour of England

pendle witches

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

300px-Pendle_Hill_Lancs

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

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

DSCF1380

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

coven of witches

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

Museum of Witchcraft

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.

I know I have missed out some wonderful places but there are so many that it is hard to choose. And I know I have also ignored Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – I am planning separate posts on the history of witchcraft in these countries.

Do you know of any interesting places connected to witchcraft in England?  I’d love to know about them (any excuse for a holiday – I mean research!).

 

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.

More tales of witchcraft and sorcery – Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester

Researching my novel ‘The Black Hours’ led me to discover many strange and horrifying stories of persecution, suspicion and murder, most of which seem hard to believe in this day and age. Much of my research centred on Essex, East Anglia and parts of Kent in the period that Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General and antihero of my book, was operating. However, there have been many other instances of accusations of witchcraft in the UK, from both before and after Hopkins’ horrible reign. Predictably, most of them centred on poorer, older women, outcasts or those on the edge of society. However, the rich and powerful didn’t always escape.

Eleanor Cobham was the mistress and second wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. In 1441, she was imprisoned for the impressive sounding crime of treasonable necromancy.

Eleanor Cobham

Eleanor Cobham

Eleanor’s downfall came about through her interest in both astrology and the monarchy. Her husband was the fourth and youngest son of King Henry IV by his first wife Mary de Bohun. His brother was King Henry V. When Humphrey’s older brother died in 1453, Humphrey became heir presumptive to the English throne. Eleanor, perhaps feeling that the crown was within her husband’s grasp, consulted astrologers Thomas Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke. They predicted that the king, Henry VI, would suffer a life threatening illness. Word of this reached the court, and the two men were arrested along with Eleanor’s personal confessor, John Home. Under interrogation, Bolingbroke named Eleanor as the instigator of their predictions. She was arrested and tried.

Although she denied most of the accusations, Eleanor did confess to obtaining potions from ‘the witch of Eye’, Margery Jourdemayne. She denied that these potions had anything to do with the predictions however, claiming that they were purchased in order to help her conceive. Poor Margery was also arrested.

Not surprisingly, as a woman of some power and influence, and being such a close relative by marriage to the king, Eleanor escaped rather more lightly than her fellow accused. Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered, Southwell died in the Tower and Margery was burned at the stake. Eleanor was sentenced to carry out public penance, forced to divorce her husband and imprisoned for life. She died at Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey in 1452.

Eleanor carrying out her penance

Eleanor carrying out her penance

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.
Find out more about my editing services here.

The Portrayal of Witches

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

Macbeth witches

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 the witches 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 or a deformed leg – 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  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

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

Witch Hunts – Alive and Kicking in the 21st Century

witch hunts

When researching ‘The Black Hours’ I was horrified to learn of the dreadful persecution of the vulnerable that allowed thousands of people to be tortured and executed on trumped up charges of witchcraft. But that’s all in the past isn’t it? People don’t behave like that anymore do they? Well, sadly they do. Even now, in the 21st Century, the old, the young, the vulnerable, those who have no protection or who live on the edges of society, are still being accused, tortured, beaten and murdered for crimes they cannot possibly have committed.  Here is a brief tour of the ignorance, cruelty and shame that is still going on.

Central African Republic: It is estimated that hundreds of people are convicted (that’s convicted, not just accused) of witchcraft every year.

Democratic Republic of Congo: As of 2006, it is estimated that between 25,000 and 50,000 have been accused of witchcraft. These children are known as enfants sorciers (child witches) or enfants dits sorciers (children accused of witchcraft). They are often subject to violent exorcisms carried out by religious pastors and are thrown out of their homes. It is believed that sometimes accusations of witchcraft are used as a way for a poor family to abandon children they cannot afford.

Gambia: in 2009, Amnesty International reported that 1000 alleged ‘witches’ were put into detention centres where they were forced to drink a hallucinogenic potion in order to secure confessions.

Ghana: So many women have been accused of witchcraft in Ghana that there are actually witch camps where they can go for safety, thought to hold around 1000 women. These women, mostly elderly, live in dreadful poverty, often without running water or electricity. An ActionAid report into the Kukuo camp states that the majority of women were accused of witchcraft after their husbands died – suggesting that an accusation of this type may be used as a way for families to take the widow’s property. In a quote that could have been written in 1647, Lamnatu Adam of women’s rights group Songtaba says that it is women who do not conform that are in danger of being accused of witchcraft:

‘Women are expected to be submissive so once you start to be outspoken in your views or even successful in your trade; people assume you must be possessed.’

(BBC News Magazine, 01/09/2012)

India: It is estimated that 750 people have been killed in witch-hunts in the states of Assam and West Bengal since 2003. Lynchings are often reported in the local press.

Kenya: On the 21st of May 2008, it was reported that at least 11 people accused of witchcraft had been burnt to death by a mob. The mob, comprised of up to 300 young men, hunted down and killed eight women and three men, most over the age of seventy.

Nigeria: Some 15,000 children have been accused of witchcraft. They may suffer horrible violence and exorcisms and mostly end up living on the streets. Lancaster-based charity Stepping Stones Nigeria has compiled reports of more than 250 cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft in Akwa Ibom state.

Papua New Guinea: In 2008 a local newspaper reported that more than 50 people had been killed for practising witchcraft.

Saudi Arabia: In 2006 Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali  was condemned to death for practicing witchcraft. In April 2009, Amina Bint Abdulhalim Nassar was arrested and later sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft and sorcery. She was beheaded in December 2011. And in June 2012, a Saudi man, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri was beheaded for sorcery and witchcraft. Few details of the cases are released by the Saudi government, but in the 2012 case, the defendant was found in possession of books and talismans, and also admitted committing adultery with two women.

Tanzania: in the Meatu district, it is estimated that half of all murders are witch-killings.

United Kingdom: On Christmas day 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu died in a bath in Newham, east London after undergoing horrific tortures and beatings.  He had been visiting his sister Magalie Bamu and her partner, Eric Bikubi. The couple were apparently obsessed with kindoki (the word for witchcraft in their native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo) and accused the boy of putting spells on a younger child. A couple have been jailed for life for torturing and drowning a teenage boy they accused of being a witch. After the couple were convicted and sentenced, detectives said that other children in Britain had been subjected to terrible ordeals after being accused of witchcraft. Children’s charities have called for churches and carers to be more aware of this type of abuse.

It seems, then, that centuries later, there are people in the world who think the same way as Matthew Hopkins did, and there are still hundreds of people willing to back those views, often with the approval and help of the authorities, and continue the persecution, torture and murder of innocents. As always, it is the vulnerable and the powerless that suffer the most.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18503550

http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/Clinical-Programs/international-human-rights/upload/-1-Witch-Hunt-Brief-2.pdf

 http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/jan/24/witchcraft-children-congo-drc-poverty

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19437130

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kenyan-witchhunt-leaves-11-burned-to-death/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1383732/Buried-alive-New-report-reveals-suffering-Nigerias-child-witches.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/mar/19/gambia-witchcraft-hallucinogenics

http://www.unicef.org/wcaro/english/4501_5144.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/mar/05/witchcraft-couple-jailed-for-life