cunning folk

British Folk Magic & Familiar Spirits

Posted on Feb 25, 2012 in cunning folk, daughters of the witching hill, pendle witches, witchcraft | 1 comment

British Folk Magic & Familiar Spirits

In popular imagination, the figure of a witch is accompanied by her familiar, a black cat. Is there any historical authenticity behind this cliché? Our ancestors in the 16th and 17th centuries believed that magic was real. Not only the poor and ignorant believed in witchcraft and the spirit world—rich and educated people believed in spellcraft just as strongly. Cunning folk were men and women who used charms and herbal cures to heal, foretell the future, and find the location of stolen property. What they did was illegal—sorcery was a hanging offence—but few were arrested. The need for the...

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The Pendle Witches and Their Magic, Part 1

Posted on Oct 23, 2011 in cunning folk, fairy faith, lancashire, pendle witches, reformation, social history, witchcraft | Comments Off

The Pendle Witches and Their Magic, Part 1

In 1612, in one of the most meticulously documented witch trials in English history, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest in Lancashire, Northern England were executed. In court clerk Thomas Potts’s account of the proceedings, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, published in 1613, he pays particular attention to the one alleged witch who escaped justice by dying in prison before she could come to trial. She was Elizabeth Southerns, more commonly known by her nickname, Old Demdike. According to Potts, she was the ringleader, the one who initiated all the...

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All Hallows Tide in Pendle

Posted on Oct 31, 2010 in all hallows, cunning folk, pendle witches, witchcraft | 6 comments

All Hallows Tide in Pendle

When Halloween comes around, the popular imagination turns to ghosts and hauntings. And to witches. Especially in my neck of the woods. I live in Pendle Witch Country, the rugged Pennine landscape surrounding Pendle Hill, once home to twelve individuals arrested for witchcraft in 1612. Unfortunately Halloween seems to drag out all kinds of ghoulish speculation about historical witches and cunning folk in a way that is not only historically inaccurate but disrespectful to the dead. The Pendle Witches were not ghouls, but real people who were held for months in a lightless dungeon in Lancaster...

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Pendle Witch Library

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 in cunning folk, pendle witches, witchcraft | Comments Off

Pendle Witches: Further Reading on the Pendle Witches, Historical Cunning Folk, and Wisewomen Fiction: Harrison Ainsworth, The Lancashire Witches: A Romance of Pendle Forest (EJ Morten) (First published in 1849, written in dialect, very long, gothic, and dense.) Robert Neill, Mist Over Pendle (A lovely novel for both adults and young adults but not very kind to the witches!) Nonfiction, Primary Source: Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster (Published in 1613, these are the official transcripts of the 1612 trial. Though not infallible, Potts’s account...

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The Charms of the Pendle Witches

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 in cunning folk, pendle witches, witchcraft | Comments Off

The Charms of the Pendle Witches

From Thomas Potts’s A Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, the official trial transcripts: Mother Demdike’s family charm “to get drink”: Crucifixus hoc signum vitam Eternam. Amen. (Literal translation: the crucifix is the sign of eternal life.) This charm to cure bewitchment is attributed to Chattox: A Charme Three Biters hast thou bitten, The Hart, ill Eye, ill Tonge: Three bitter shall be thy Boote, Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost a Gods name, Fiue Pater-nosters, fiue Auies, and a Creede, In worship of fiue wounds of our Lord. (In modern language the last part would...

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