witchcraft

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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Witch Persecutions, Women, and Social Change: Germany 1560-1660

Posted on Jan 15, 2012 in counter reformation, reformation, social history, witchcraft, women's history | Comments Off

Witch Persecutions, Women, and Social Change: Germany 1560-1660

PART FOUR, Last in a series Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. The late 16th and early 17th century was an era of radical social, economic, and religious change. As women had much to lose, they had reason to rebel. And they remained a threat to the new social order. Art of this period often depicted women as insubordinate and wanton: beating their husbands, swilling wine, and lustfully dragging men to bed (Merchant 133). Reformer John Knox was of the opinion that if a woman was presumptuous enough to rise above a man, she must be “repressed and bridled” (Ibid 145). This was...

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The Pendle Witches and Their Magic, Part Two

Posted on Nov 15, 2011 in lancashire, pendle witches, witchcraft | 5 comments

The Pendle Witches and Their Magic, Part Two

Blacko Tower, a Victorian folly (ca 1890) near Malkin Tower Farm, Lancashire The crimes of which Mother Demdike and her fellow witches were accused dated back years before the 1612 trial. The trial itself might have never happened had it not been for King James I’s obsession with the occult. Until his reign, witch persecutions had been relatively rare in England compared with Scotland and Continental Europe. But James’s book Daemonologie presented the idea of a vast conspiracy of satanic witches threatening to undermine the nation. Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth, which presents the first...

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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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Witch Persecutions, Women, and Social Change–Germany: 1560 – 1660

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 in counter reformation, early modern europe, reformation, renaissance, witchcraft, women's history | 3 comments

Witch Persecutions, Women, and Social Change–Germany: 1560 – 1660

Burning witches, 1555. PART THREE (Read Part One and Part Two.) Major witch hunting panics arose in the 1560s throughout Europe and were especially severe in the German Southwest. Who were the victims of this mass hysteria? Even though witches were believed to come from all social classes, the trials focused on poor, middle-aged or older women (Merchant 138). Throughout Europe, midwives and healers were particularly suspect. These “wise women” who healed with herbs were held especially suspect, as they were often older women who had astonishing empirical knowlege, which their...

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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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