Anne Boleyn, the Witch: Part One

Boleyn 1

How could anyone believe that the crowned Queen of England was a witch?  Of all the accusations made against Anne Boleyn (c. 1501-1536) this seems the strangest to the modern observer.  But the Tudors were more than willing to accept the king’s second wife was guilty of a whole list of diabolical crimes.  Let us examine why.

Although witches had been persecuted for over a hundred years on the European Continent, the first statute was not passed in England until 1542, when the Catholic clergy persuaded their congregations that Satan’s army was on the march.  This was likely the direct result of the widespread distribution of the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) – the prominent and damaging witch-finder manual written by two German Inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger.  The Malleus  was intended to halt pagan practices, but instead it triggered a wave of witch hunts that resulted in countless innocent deaths.

James Sharpe, in Instruments of Darkness, explains how the Reformation caused similar concerns among the early Protestants because “Idolatry included not only witchcraft but also the telling of the rosary, going to Mass, and saint worship” (27).   But while Catholicism and sorcery were the twin evils in the early Lutheran mind, the Papists thought Protestants and witches were heretics too.  And as Hester Chapman’s biography claims, it was not a huge leap for the Catholics to see Anne Boleyn as the temptress whose “advent had brought about disaster on the kingdom.  She was the personification not only of evil, but of an assault on religion, crops, cattle, fair weather – every aspect of daily life” (106).

Unfortunately Mistress Boleyn was an easy target.  An unconventional beauty, her enemies claimed she bore the mark of the devil from birth in an extra finger (or finger nail), and that she had numerous moles, which were widely associated with wicked women.  But as Antonia Fraser reveals in The Wives of Henry VIII , as a mature lady she “exercised a kind of sexual fascination over most men who met her” (123).   Anne was condemned for adultery with several others, but because the cuckolding of a king had no legal precedent, this alone was not a Capital offence.  So Thomas Cromwell had to imply hundreds of liaisons between Boleyn and her lovers because the Malleus claimed “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust which is in women insatiable”(47). If she could be proven to be a lascivious witch – especially one who intended to use magic to harm or kill members of the Royal Family – then she could be sentenced to death.  Not for witchcraft per se (because laws against this specific problem had yet to be passed in Henry’s reign)  but rather for the ambiguous, treasonable act of betraying the sanctity of marriage and entertaining malice against the king.

Witch Crime #1: Anne Boleyn was a wicked seductress who intended to harm the royal Defender of the Faith and destroy his Christian kingdom.

Part Two tomorrow . . .

 

Sources Cited in Part One:

Chapman, Hester W. Anne Boleyn (London: Cape, 1974)

Fraser, Antonia. The Wives of Henry VIII (New York: Random, 1994)

Kramer, Heinrich, and James Sprenger. The Malleus Malficarum (New York: Dover, 1971)

Sharpe, James. Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1550-1750 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1996)

Olde English Flapjack

English Flapjack

Olde English Flapjack

Ingredients:

8oz butter

4oz sugar

 4 big tablespoons of Lyle’s Golden Syrup

1lb porridge oats

Method:

1. Heat the oven to 250 / 130 / gas 1.

2. Grease a 8″x 8″x 2″ metal baking pan with a nub of the butter.

3. In a large pan stir the remaining butter, sugar, and syrup on a stovetop over a low heat.

4. Add the oats and salt.  Stir well.

5. Press the mixture evenly into a greased baking pan.

6.  Cook in low oven for 1 hour 30 minutes until the side are slightly brown

(the middle will seem uncooked).

7. Remove from the oven.  Cut into 12 pieces. Leave inside the pan until cold.

Do not overcook!  The best flapjack is moist, buttery, and chewy.

Another Lancashire Witch: Meg Shelton

Aside from the infamous Pendle Witches who were put on trial in 1612 and 1634, there were other unfortunate victims maligned and persecuted throughout the Burning Times in Lancashire.  Many of their names were never recorded.  Some were accused and later released – some went to court and were found Not Guilty – and some were undoubtedly dealt with by the locals in their own ways.

In these unenlightened times it was common for women denounced as witches, shrews, and gossips to be locked inside a scold’s bridle – a metal brank that caged the head and prevented eating or speech.

scold

Public floggings and placement in the stocks were also regular market-day events.  And tales of dunking suspected witches in near-by ponds and rivers to see if they were guilty (and floated) or innocent (and drowned) are part of local folklore.  So it is quite surprising that one other name still fills the local schoolchildren with terror – Meg Shelton, The Fylde Hag.

Born Margery Hilton, Meg (or Mag) Shelton is said to have lived at various times in Cuckoo Hall near Wesham, Singleton, Catforth, and Woodplumpton.  She was a poor beggar woman who survived mainly on a haggis made from boiled grouts and herbs.  Meg is infamous for her shape-shifting skills, and apparently could turn into a variety of animals and all sorts of inanimate objects at will.  One tale records her creeping into a barnyard at night to steal corn.  When the farmer ran out after her there was no one in sight, though he did notice an extra sack of corn.  So taking his pitchfork he prodded each bag, finally uncovering Meg’s disguise when she squealed and reappeared nursing a bleeding arm!  Another of her injuries was explained by an accident trying to outrun a black dog when she was disguised as a hare.  The dog nipped the hare’s hind leg – and Meg was said to walk with a limp thereafter.  Meg was often seen riding her broomstick at night.  She could turn milk sour, lame cattle, and  curse hogs.

But the reason folk remember the Fylde Hag today is because of the strange events surrounding her death.  She was killed in 1705, crushed between a barrel and the wall of her cottage.  She was buried on May 2nd, at night, by torchlight, in the grounds of St. Anne’s Church in Woodplumpton.  The following morning her hand had clawed its way to the surface and had to be reburied.  The same thing happened again and everyone was naturally terrified.  A priest came and performed an exorcism.  Then someone suggested they rebury her upside down so she would dig her way to Hell, instead of to the surface.  So they planted her head-first in a narrow trough, and then put a huge granite boulder on top to keep her in place.

In hindsight it seems odd that a known witch would be put to rest on consecrated ground.  Usually they were buried at a crossroad with no signposts so they could not find their way home.  Or their bodies were burned.  And it is entirely possible that the granite stone in  St. Anne’s graveyard is a harmless relic carried down by the ice age.  But superstition is often stronger than common sense – and we all like to believe in a little magic.

Over the centuries, the legend of Meg Shelton has survived and flourished.  I grew up being told that if you walked three times round her grave chanting, I don’t believe in witches, then that hand would rise up from the grave and grab your ankle.  But I cannot say if that actually happens or not as I never dared try!

Shelton Grave

Meg Shelton’s Grave: Photo by Brian Young

Source:

Ashworth, Elizabeth. Tales of Old Lancashire (Berkshire: Countryside,2007)

Blessed Be

Don’t overlook me

   or underestimate my power –

I rock in the darkness of night

   on a misty bower.

Moon

The clouds troll my words

   and carry my message on air –

slashing the canvas of space with

   a shadowy tear.

There’s fascination

   veiled in many disguises –

but some seek only the darkling

   feral surprises.

I glow beyond time

   like an ancient wayward daughter

birthed of the moon  – You can simply

call me an author.

What Do You Believe?

For thousands of years people believed in magic.  They were simple folk – afraid and confused – unable to grasp the world around them.

Sabbat

They struggled to:

* explain natural events

* understand why bad things happened

* barter with fate

* accept their place and rank in society

* influence things around them

* blame unseen forces when things went wrong

* believe in, and belong to, something bigger than themselves

* grapple with supernatural forces and events

* worship a greater power as part of a divine plan

* and find solace in a harsh, unfair world.

 

According to Sigmund Freud, each civilization passes through three distinct stages of development.

In the Magical Phase the primitive does not understand a natural phenomenon like rainfall, but he knows he needs water to survive.  By creating a ritual – rain dancing for example – he believes he can influence the weather to obey his wishes.

As society progresses the community enters the Religious Phase.  The rain-seeking ritual develops into an intricate rite of prayer, song, dance, and sacrifice, whereby the worshippers barter with the gods for their precious water.

But once the mechanics of rainfall are understood as a scientific process of evaporation and cloud formation, that society progresses into the Scientific Phase.  At this point, Freud argues, there should be no more need for religious or  superstitious belief.  “Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality” without which the masses “could not bear the troubles of life and the cruelties of reality.”

Was Freud correct though?  Even in today’s super-scientific space age a huge portion of the globe still follows the religious beliefs of their ancestors, and paganism is on the rise.

It turns out science does not have all the answers.  It might satisfy the mind but it cannot soothe the wounded soul!

Source:

Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion.  New York: Norton, 1989.

Shape-shifting

A shape-shifting spell from the Scottish wise woman, Isobel Gowdie:

I shall go into a hare,

With sorrow, and sigh, and much care;

And I shall go in the Devil’s name,

Aye while I come home again.

I shall go into a cat,

With sorrow, and sigh, and sudden pain!

And I shall go in the Devil’s name,

Aye while I come home again

I shall go into a crow,

With sorrow, and sigh, and convulsion!

And I shall go in the Devil’s name,

Aye while I come home again.

Shape-shifter

Adapted from Joyce Froome’s book, Wicked Enchantments (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2010)

Paws For Thought

Black cat         The phrase domestic cat is an oxymoron” (George F. Will)

Ever since hunting communities turned to farming, the advantages of keeping cats around was obvious – they kept down the rodents that ate the precious grain supplies.  As cats became more domesticated people grew fond of these playful balls of mischief and started making them pets.  Cats were revered by the Egyptians, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Romans, and Vikings for hundreds of years.  If a black cat crossed your path you would be lucky, and to dream of this creature was a good omen.  Mummified cats were buried in houses as a spiritual protection against rats and mice.  But something happened in the Middle Ages that changed public opinion so that cats suddenly became demonized and were actively persecuted.  Why did this happen?

Evil Dukie 2

The cat is an ambivalent creature, wild by nature and perhaps never fully tamed.  They are not easily befriended, roam about in the night, and are sexually promiscuous.  Cats are stealthy, sneaky, silent, clever, inquisitive, and almost invisible in the darkness – except for their scary eyes.  All felines are hunters and killers, and their eerie howls and cries can sound quite chilling.  They are said to have nine lives and be difficult to get rid of.  And some old wives’ tales claim cats kill babies – either by sitting on their faces or by sucking the breath from their noses.

The Celts believed cats were the souls of wicked people unfit to be reborn as humans who were changed into animals instead.  Perhaps this notion of evil lived on in the European psyche because when the early medieval witch hunts broke out, common animals became firmly associated with witches – particularly black cats.  Cats were said to be their familiar spirits.   Felines were seen as either shape-shifting witches or devils in disguise, or as the bad souls of former witches reborn.  In 1484, a Papal decree denounced all cats and their owners as devil-worshippers, opening the floodgates for The Burning Times to begin.

Evil Zig

This persecution lasted hundreds of years.  And just as the cunning folk were condemned to terrible deaths, so too were their pets.  Thousands of cats were hunted down during Lent and burned on huge public bonfires.  At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I (1558) live cats were stuffed inside a wicker effigy of the pope and set ablaze.  It is said that loud songs and music were used to drown out their pitiful howls, but no one spoke out against the atrocity because cats were the most feared and reviled of all common animals.

The Age of Enlightenment gave rise to a more logical and scientific way of thinking that eventually overcame these fears and superstitions.  And when people started questioning the existence of witchcraft they began seeing cats through different eyes too.  They were no longer the public enemy.

As a life-long cat owner I have grown to appreciate the independence and intriguing ambiguities of my kitties, but if yours ever lets you think they are truly domesticated – enjoy the illusion!

The Hill

There are few place in England older or shrouded in more mystery than Stonehenge.  The famous stones in Wiltshire have aroused much speculation throughout the centuries – that they were built by alien gods – conjured up by Merlin – designed by the Druids for ritual sacrifices – or are part of a mystical system of Ley Lines.  This magic circle still draws thousands of tourists every year from all parts of the globe.  It is a place of natural energy and stunning design.

Stonehenge  But there is another place of wonder in the North of Britain, far more ancient and equally fascinating, called Pendle Hill.  Almost the size of a mountain, it rises 1,829′ above sea level in the Pennine Range, separating the ancient seats of Lancaster (Lancashire) and York (Yorkshire).

Hill

The hill is a place of stark, feral beautiful, often mysteriously shrouded in mist.  A Bronze Age burial site has been discovered on the summit, and it is said that the Druids once lived close by.  For as long as men and women worshipped the rising sun there have been celebrations on this thirsty earth, a soil demanding human blood.  There are rumors of wicker-man sacrifices – fertility rites to bring in the spring – priestesses who could raise storms and conquer invading enemies.  Even the great Julius Caesar admitting to fearing these weird conjurers.

Although little of Pendle’s history is certain before the Norman Conquest, the land was then given to the De Laceys and they established two “royal” hunting grounds, one in the Forest of Pendle and the other in the Forest of Trawden.  Throughout the Middle Ages  this area was a center for sheep farming and wool production, and despite Henry VIII’s Reformation the people clung to their old beliefs – probably a little Celtic paganism mixed with Catholic ritual and a hefty dose of superstition.

It is still an awesome place today.  From the top of the cairn you can often see as far as the sea.  The air tingles with a hidden current, like the pulse of an ancient heartbeat.  This peculiar energy cannot be explained but it has been interpreted in two important, yet widely opposing ways.  In 1652 George Fox climbed to the top of Pendle Hill and had a vision of many souls coming to Christ. This compelled him to start the Quaker Movement and dedicate his life to the service of God.

A few years earlier, however, this same land was thought to be riddled with witches and demons, which triggered the Lancashire Witch Trials of 1612 and 1634.

If you are ever in Lancashire, it is well worth a visit!

 

Olde English Hotpot

Hotpot was traditionally cooked in a cauldron on an open fire.  Nowadays it’s made in a non-stick pan on the stove.

Hotpot

Ingredients:

Large can of best Stewing Steak

5lbs potatoes

1lb carrots

2 large onions

2 cups beef stock

2oz butter or margarine

Salt

Black pepper

Method:

1. Peel all the vegetables.  Fry the chopped carrots and onions together in the melted butter or margarine until soft.

2.  Add the Stewing Steak.  Stir well.

3. Cut the potatoes into 1-2″ cubes and add to the pot.  Stir well.

4. Cover over the top of the potatoes with beef stock (adding more water if necessary).

5.  Bring to the boil.  Reduce to a low heat.  Simmer for 1-2 hours until the mixture is reduced and all of the vegetables are fully cooked.  Stir frequently.

Serve with red cabbage, pickled onions, mushy peas, or crusty bread.

Enjoy!

A Brush With Power

What do you call a motorbike that belongs to a witch?   

A brrroooommmm stick!

witch_on_broomstick_2[1]

 

According to folklore, witches fly on broomsticks to meet with other members of their covens.

Broomstick handles are made from strong woods like hazel or oak, and the bristles are usually birch twigs tied up with strips of willow bark.  It is the only magic tool considered to be both masculine (the handle) and feminine (the bristles).

Brooms have long been connected to women and domestic work.  They perhaps became associated with magic from the Beltane (May Day) tradition of blessing the fields. In many farming communities the women rode brooms around the newly-planted crops, leaping as high as possible to encourage tall growth and a good harvest.

Jumping the Broom is a common practice in pagan wedding ceremonies.  It represents the joining of two households by the crossing over from one to the other.

Yet witches have several other uses for this tool:

* The broomstick is used in cleansing ceremonies, to sweep away negative energy from the magic circle and help prepare the workspace.

* In the days when wise women were persecuted, its bristles made a good place to hide a forbidden magic wand.

* When hung on a wall it protects the home from unwelcome visitors.

* If placed under a bed it brushes nightmares away.

* And in even in today’s modern world there are many who still touch wood when seeking good luck.

But what does a witch do when her precious broom breaks?

Well then she has to witch-hike!

Sources:

Blake, Deborah.  “The Witches’ Broom” in Witches and Pagans #29  (Oregan: BBI Media, 2014)

Froome, Joyce. Wicked Enchantments: A History of the Pendle Witches and Their Magic  (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2010)

In The Beginning . . .

Throughout the Middle Ages,Lancashire was ripe with tales of cunning folk.  In 1595 a conjure man called John Hartley convinced the Starkies of Huntroyde that seven members of their household were possessed by demons.  The Starkies were related to Roger Nowell, a Justice of the Peace from nearby Read who spearheaded the infamous Lancashire Witch Hunts of 1612.

Devil

James 1st became King of England in 1603 – the same year Jennet Device was born into the Demdike Clan at Malkin Tower – and the same year that a terrible plague swept the land.  Two years later Guy Fawkes’ Jesuit Gunpowder Plot failed to blow up Parliament, but it did trigger a nation-wide persecution of priests at a time when Lancashire was still a Catholic stronghold.

Witches, ghosts, and boggarts were a part of English folklore, inspiring many weird and wonderful tales that included Shakespeare’s Macbeth  (1606).  The wise women of Pendle Hill worked the superstitious locals to eek out a meager living.  They offered a wide range of services from basic herbal  medicine to midwifery and abortion – concocting charms, curses, love spells, and potions – claiming they could heal, harm, and foretell the future.

On March 21st in 1612, Old Demdike’s teenage granddaughter – Alizon Device – set off to go begging in Colne.  On the way she met a peddler called John Law who refused to give her the pins she demanded and so she cursed him.  Moments later Law collapsed, paralyzed down one side of his body.  He pointed the finger at Alizon Device and his son went straight to the authorities.  Because Alizon was one of the notorious Demdikes the rest of her family were rounded up for examination and before long, the Lancashire witch hunts had begun.

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

The Ghost Club

sceance

The Ghost Club is the oldest organization dedicated to psychical research.

It was started in 1862 and is still in existence today.

Past members include: Charles Dickins, W.B. Yates, Siegfried Sassoon, Peter Cushing, and many other famous enquiring minds.

Want to join? Check out this link for details: http://www.ghostclub.org.uk/

Happy hunting!

Fear

 

I slid through the gap and into a spiraling whirlpool,

landed inside the gray with a nauseous splash.

Trees stood stripped of dignity, shuddering in the twilight

of winter, naked but broiling with torturous stakes.

Eerie

As branches drowned in the wake of death their fingers pointed

through ripples pungent with sulfur and blue, bruised blood.

Shock took captive my slipping heart, which spluttered against the

ominous fog creeping in to steal my good eye.

 

Chris de Burgh’s A Spaceman Came Traveling

A Spaceman Came Traveling

(Chris de Burgh)

Earth

A spaceman came traveling on his ship from afar,
‘Twas light years of time since his mission did start,
And over a village he halted his craft,
And it hung in the sky like a star, just like a star.

He followed a light and came down to a shed
Where a mother and child were lying there on a bed.
A bright light of silver shone round his head,
And he had the face of an angel, and they were afraid.

Then the stranger spoke. He said, “Do not fear,
I come from a planet a long way from here,
And I bring a message for mankind to hear.”
And suddenly the sweetest music filled the air.

And it went “La la la la la la la la la,
La la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la.
Peace and goodwill to all men and love for the child.
La la la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la, oh!”

This lovely music went trembling through the ground
And many were awakened on hearing that sound,
And travelers on the road
The village they found,by the light of that ship in the sky
Which shone all around.

And just before dawn at the paling of the sky,
The stranger returned and said, “Now I must fly!
When two thousand years of your time has gone by
This song will begin once again to a baby’s cry.”

And it goes “La la la la la la la la.
La la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la.
Peace and goodwill to all men,and love for the child.”
And I hear “La la la la la la la la la la la,
La la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la la la la,
This song will begin once again to a baby’s cry.”

Oh the whole world is waiting – waiting to hear that song again
Standing on the edge of the world.
And the time is nearly here . . .

That song will begin once again, to a baby’s cry.

 

 

Check out this imaginative video version by Artwayfarer:

 

Olde English Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding2

Ingredients:

4oz plain flour

2oz breadcrumbs

4oz shredded suet

4oz brown sugar

4oz grated apple

1 grated carrot

4oz mixed fruit peel (candied peel)

3 eggs

4oz currants

8oz raisins

4oz sultanas

2oz chopped dried apricots

4oz blanched chopped almonds

1 lemon – grated rind and juice

1 tablespoon treacle

1/4 pint beer or milk

2 tablespoons brandy

1 teaspoon mixed spice

I teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

pinch of salt

nub of butter for greasing pudding bowl

Method:

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Stir thoroughly.  Cover and leave overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Grease a large pudding bowl.  Add the mixture and press down well.  Cover with pleated greaseproof paper (allowing the pudding to rise and expand) held in place with an elastic band.

3. Place in a steamer and boil for  6-8 hours until the center is cooked through.  Remove wet paper.

4. When the pudding is completely cold wrap in cling-film and store in an airtight container.

To Serve On Christmas Day:

1/4 cup brandy for firing

1 pint whipped thick fresh cream

 

5. Turn out pudding on to a microwave-safe plate.  Heat (full power) in a microwave for 3-4 minutes until steaming.  Place on dining table.

6. Pour over brandy.  Carefully set the alcohol alight with a long match to flavor the pudding.

7. When the brandy burns out the pudding is ready to slice.

8. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Queen’s It’s A Kind Of Magic

It’s A Kind Of Magic

(Roger Taylor)

Trick

It’s a kind of magic.
It’s a kind of magic.
A kind of magic – no way.
One dream, one soul, one prize,
One goal, one golden glance of what should be.
It’s a kind of magic.
One shaft of light that shows the way.
No mortal man can win this day.
It’s a kind of magic.
The bell that rings inside your mind
Is challenging the doors of time.
It’s a kind of magic.
The waiting seems eternity,
The day will dawn, of sanity.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.
Is this a kind of magic ?
It’s a kind of magic.
There can be only one.
This rage that lasts a thousand years
Will soon be done.
This flame that burns inside of me,
I’m hearing secret harmonies.
It’s a kind of magic.
The bell that rings inside your mind
Is challenging the doors of time.
It’s a kind of magic.
It’s a kind of magic.
This rage that lasts a thousand years
Will soon be, will soon be, will soon be done.
This is (this is) a kind (a kind) of magic (yeah).
There can be only one – one –  one – one.
This rage that lasts a thousand years
Will soon be done – done.
Magic – it’s a kind of magic.
It’s a kind of magic.
Magic – magic – magic – (magic)
Ha ha ha haa – it’s magic.
Ha, haa.
Yeah, yeah.
Wooh.
It’s a kind of magic!

See Freddie’s performance:

It’s A Kind Of Magic

Contacting The Dead

A séance is an attempt to contact the dead either by conjuring up manifestations of spirits, from messages relayed through a Medium, or via a Ouija Board.

In ancient times only prophets, seers, and Cunning Folk were called on to access with the world beyond death, but after Baron Lyttelton published a book called Communication With the Other Side (1760) ordinary people were drawn to the idea of “penetrating the veil” for themselves.  The popularity of séances soon developed into a new religion called Spiritualism.

The early Spiritualists used a talking board at their camps in Ohio (1886), a device that became known as a Ouija Board.  This tablet gave everyone equal access to the world beyond.  The name Ouija was said to stem from the Egyptian word for good luck, though others have argued it is a combination of the French and German words for yes.  The first commercial board was created in 1894 by Elijah Bond.

ouija board

The flat board is marked with the letters of the alphabet, numbers 0-9, “Yes,” “No,” and “Good bye.”  A moveable marker or planchette – usually made of plastic or wood – spells out words when the participants place their fingers on it.  It is a form of automatic writing.

Over the years this form of communication has been criticized by the Church as a dangerous tool of Satan.  Other users have argued it is simply a harmless parlor game.  And some modern day psychologists claim that the Ouija Board offers a fascinating insight into the minds of the players because they are unconsciously moving the marker according to their own secret thoughts, fears, and desires.  But what do you think?

Have you ever used a Ouija Board?  How well did it work?  Please share your story!

Sources:

Ghost Research Society. “Ouija: Not a Game,” at http://www.ghostresearch.org/articles/ouija.html

Psychicsuniverse.com.  “Holding A Séance: How To Do It Sanely and Safely,” at http://www.psychicsuniverse.com/articles/spirituality/living-spiritual-life/rituals/holding-s%C3%A9ance-how-do-it-sanely-and-safely

Smithsonian.com. “The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board,” at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/

Wikipedia. “Ouija,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouija

“I See Dead People!”

Spiritualism: Fact or Fraud?

spiritualism

Spiritualism is the belief that the souls of the dead pass over onto the first Astral Plane, and from there they can communicate via a Medium to warn, guide, and enlighten the living with the observations they have made from beyond the veil. The Medium communicates between the two worlds through séances.  God is the Infinite Intelligence, and when spirits pass over they grow and perfect by moving through a series of hierarchical spheres.

The first Spiritualists were radical Quakers who combined supernatural practices within their own religion. This belief system was hugely popular with middle and upper class Americans and Europeans between 1840 – 1920.  During the American Civil War period a lot of grieving parents tried supernatural sources in a desperate attempt to communicate with their lost sons, including President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary.  Another historical surge happened during The Great War too, for similar reasons. Unfortunately, trances, séances, and automatic writing developed into profitable showmanship for paying audiences and therefore became susceptible to widespread fraud.  The Seybert Commission discredited many famous practitioners.

Both Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens were members of the Ghost Club established in London, 1862.  These men undertook the scientific study of paranormal activities in order to prove or disprove their existence.  During the 1920s Harry Houdini campaigned to expose fraudulent Mediums.  And in 1921 Thomas Lynn Bradford committed suicide hoping to prove the existence of the afterlife, but no communication was ever heard from him again.

Although Spiritualism as a religion has been widely discredited there has been a continuing interest in Spiritual Healing.  This is a holistic practice where the Medium aids a sick person by transmitting curative energy that works with the mind, spirit, emotion, and body of the recipient.  Does it work?

What do you believe?

Sources:

Britannica.com. “Spiritualism,” at  http://www.britannica.com/topic/spiritualism-religion

National Spiritualist Association of Churches. “Religion,” at https://www.nsac.org/spiritualism.php

Wikipedia. “Spiritualism,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritualism

Olde English Mince Pies

Traditional Mince Pies used to contain meat, alongside the familiar fruit mixture found today.

Here is my Lancashire adaptation of Jeri Westerson’s recipe for the adventurous to try!

pie

Ingredients:

1lb lean minced beef, boiled thoroughly until reduced to small strands

4 green apples, cored, peeled and cubed into bite-size pieces

1/4lb suet, processed into fine granules

12oz raisins

12oz currants

2 lemons, with rind grated, squeezed, and chopped into small pieces

4oz brown sugar

4 tablespoons black treacle

8oz cooking sherry

8oz cider

8oz brandy

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons mace

2 tablespoons allspice

2 tablespoons nutmeg

2 tablespoons ground cloves

4 tablespoons cinnamon

1lb pastry dough

flour to roll out pastry

1 tablespoon milk to glaze

nub of butter to grease pie dish

 

Method:

  1. Heat the oven 375/ 190 /Gas 5.
  2. Grease a large, deep pie dish.
  3. Place the cooked beef in large bowl.  Add the apples, suet, raisins, currants, lemons, sugar, black treacle, cider, salt, pepper, mace, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.  Mix well.
  4. Allow the meat to cool. Stir in the sherry and brandy.
  5. Roll out half of the pastry on a floured surface and line the base of the pie dish. Pour in the meat mixture and press flat.
  6. Roll out the lid and seal the edges. Cut steam holes in the top of the pie crust. Glaze with milk.
  7. Bake for 30 – 45 minutes until crisp and golden brown.
  8. Cool on a rack.  Pies can be served hot or cold.

My version varies slightly from Jeri’s.  Check out the original below:

http://www.getting-medieval.com/my_weblog/2012/12/medieval-mince-pie.html

 

 

 

 

Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze

Purple Haze

(Jimi Hendrix)

images[7]

Purple haze, all in my brain,
Lately, things they don’t seem the same.
Acting funny, but I don’t know why,
Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Purple haze, all around,
Don’t know if I’m coming up or down.
Am I happy or in misery?
What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me.

Help me.
Help me.
Oh, no, no!

Ooo, ahhh.
Ooo, ahhh.
Ooo, ahhh.
Ooo, ahhh, yeah!

Purple haze all in my eyes,
Don’t know if it’s day or night.
You got me blowing, blowing my mind.
Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?

Ooo!
Help me.
Ahh, yea-yeah, purple haze.
Oh, no, oh!
Oh, help me.
Tell me, tell me, purple haze.
I can’t go on like this!
Purple haze.
You’re making me blow my mind.
Purple haze, n-no, nooo!
Purple haze.

Check out this version:

(Picture: Richard Riemerschmid)

The Mystica

untitled

The Mystica

In solitary non-compliant places

the Mystica rise

against the gravitational tug of nature

thwarting mortal will.

Gnarly limbs that grasp into consciousness

press the rub of time.

Their fingers grapple the swollen currents –

blasted and empty –

swimming away from treacherous  sandbanks,

unchecked by any tide.

A mysterious spell-binding graciousness

captivates the eye

and highlights the worn skeletal echoing

of constant pressure.

Their branches lie bare of verdant feathering

yet will bloom again

as they wrestle the constant drownings that

sap land-locked spirits.

Look! Out of even dead apparitions spring

promises of fresh life.

What’s Your Poison? Foxglove!

Did you know:

  • The Foxglove plant has been called Bloody Fingers, Dead Men’s Bells, Witches’ Gloves, and Fairy Glove because of its toxicity.
  • It is part of the Digitalis family.
  • Its attractive flowers have tubular bell-like petals that hang from a long stem.   They blossom in a variety of colors – most often purple, pink, red, white, and yellow – and many have speckled throats.

Foxglove

  • Foxgloves like acidic soil, and because different varieties favor sun or shade they thrive in a range of places from woodlands, moorlands, hedgerows, mountain slopes, and sea cliffs.
  • Since the Eighteenth Century a medicine extracted from the Foxglove plant has been used to treat irregular heart conditions.  A modern derivative called Digoxin is still used by cardiologists today.
  • The entire species is poisonous.  They cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, altered vision, abnormal heart rates, weakness, seizures, and death.
  • All parts of the plant are toxic to humans, a range of other mammals, and poultry.  Drying does not affect the potency.  Symptoms last 1-3 days but recovery is likely with medical intervention.
  • Vincent Van Gogh’s “Yellow Period” may have resulted from taking a Foxglove medication that was given to control seizures!

Sources:

Botanical.com. “Foxglove,” at http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/foxglo30.html

MedicinePlus. “Foxglove Poisoning,” at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002878.htm

Wikipedia. “Digitalis,” at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digitalis

 

 

Kit’s Crit: The Inferno of Dante (Robert Pinsky)

Dante

Robert Pinsky was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997-2000, and therefore my expectations for his translation of Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece The Inferno were very high.  I was not disappointed.

Pinsky recreates the medieval world view of religion and society -the original political subtext – the stunning imagery – and the 3-line interlocking stanzas of the terza rima rhyming scheme to great effect

Staying close to Dante’s intent, Pinsky underscores the symbiotic relationship between poetry and love.  He draws parallels between the narrator’s journey from Hell to Heaven with that of Ulysses’ adventures in Homer’s Odyssey, maintaining the power of the original poetry and making it accessible to the modern reader.  The Italian text is printed alongside the revised translation.

Dante’s work has influenced a wide range of intellectuals from Galileo through to the Modernists of the early 20th Century, particularly T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce.  Many artists have chosen to illustrate The Inferno in their own style.  This edition contains 35 interesting monotypes by Michael Mazur, though I personally favor the earlier illustrations of Salvador Dali.

The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Demons

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308-1320 AD.  As one of the most influential books ever composed, this religious allegory about the importance of salvation marks the start of Italian literature.

The story begins at Easter in the year 1300.  There are three parts (cantiche) aligning with the Trinity’s Father Son, and Holy Ghost.  They are entitled Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and  Heaven (Paradiso).  Each section has 33 Songs (cantos), except for the first part which has 34.  These add up to a total of 100 Songs to represent Dante’s “perfect” number 10 (10 x 10 = 100).

Written in the first person, Dante imagines his soul’s spiritual quest as it ventures from darkness into light.

Dali 1 (Salvador Dali)

“Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself

In dark woods, the right road lost . . .”

The narrator wakes up one day to find himself in the dark forest of sin.  The spirit of Virgil appears and promises to lead him on the path of salvation through Hell, Purgatory, and into  Heaven.  Virgil eventually hands him over to Beatrice (the ideal woman).

Dante’s world is full of monsters and demons.  Each soul is punished according to its former deeds, which range from small self-indulgent transgressions such as a lack of willpower. to violent and malicious crimes.  Hell is portrayed as an underground funnel made up of circles.  At the bottom sits Satan who perpetually gnaws on history’s three worst traitors: Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.  The punishments inflicted on the travelers are vivid and relentless – the stuff of eternal nightmares.  Yet those sinners who have confessed to their crimes before death are eventually permitted to leave Hell and head through Purgatory in search of Heaven.

Purgatory is a mountain made up of 7 rings, with the Garden of Eden at the top.  Once cleansed of their sins, the wandering souls rise up toward Heaven where God appears as a vision of light.

Dante’s morality poem is a tale of justice and retribution.  The wrong-doers are punished for their past crimes with the worst torments imaginable.  They have to suffer alone and abandoned, devoid of help or hope.

Cerberus_Gluttony[1]

So why is this classic called The Divine Comedy when it is a full-blown scary vision of Hell?  Because Dante’s epic has a happy ending and therefore is not considered a tragedy in the standard literary tradition.

Sleep well!

Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra

Abracadabra

(Daphne Vialletet and Jean Philippe Verdin)

Cute witch

I heat up, I can’t cool down.
You got me spinning
‘Round and ’round.
‘Round and ’round and ’round it goes,
Where it stops nobody knows.

Every time you call my name
I heat up like a burning flame.
Burning flame, full of desire,
Kiss me baby, let the fire get higher.

Abra-abra-cadabra
I want to reach out and grab ya!
Abra-abra-cadabra
Abracadabra!

You make me hot, you make me sigh,
You make me laugh, you make me cry.
Keep me burning for your love
With the touch of a velvet glove.

Abra-abra-cadabra
I want to reach out and grab ya!
Abra-abra-cadabra
Abracadabra!

I feel the magic in your caress.
I feel magic when I touch your dress.
Silk and satin, leather and lace
Black panties with an angel’s face.

I see magic in your eyes,
I hear the magic in your sighs.
Just when I think I’m gonna get away
I hear those words that you always say:

Abra-abra-cadabra
I want to reach out and grab ya!
Abra-abra-cadabra
Abracadabra!

Every time you call my name
I heat up like a burning flame.
Burning flame, full of desire
Kiss me baby, let the fire get higher.

I heat up, I can’t cool down
My situation goes ’round and ’round.
I heat up, I can’t cool down
My situation goes ’round and ’round.
I heat up, I can’t cool down
My situation goes ’round and ’round.

Click on link to watch the live version:

mqdefault[2]

Olde English Scones

Olde English Scones

Cream_Tea[1]  Photo: Ibán Yarza

Ingredients

8oz plain flour (save a little for rolling out dough)

3 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

1oz sugar

2oz dried sultanas or raisins

2oz butter (save a little for greasing tray)

1/4 pint milk

1 beaten egg (save a little for glazing)

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees / 230 degrees / Gas 8.
  2. Lightly grease a shallow flat baking tray.
  3. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and stir together.
  4. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like large breadcrumbs.
  5. Add the sugar and dried fruit.  Stir well.
  6. Mix in the beaten egg and milk to form a soft dough.
  7. Turn out on a lightly-floured surface and knead until the dough forms a large ball.
  8. Roll out to 1″ thickness.  Press out 6-8 rounds with a pastry cutter.  Place the rounds on tray.
  9. Brush with the egg glaze.  Place in the middle of a hot oven for 12 – 15 minutes until golden brown.
  10. Remove to the cooling rack.

Serve warm with butter – or cold with jam and thick clotted cream!

Abracadabra!

  • Abracadabra is the famous magical word that is still used today by stage conjurers.
  • It may have derived from an ancient Jewish cure for sickness that went:

Ab Abr Abra Abrak Abraka

Abrakal Abrakala Abrakal

Abraka Abrak Abra Abr Ab

  • Another theory is that it came from the followers of Basilides who worshipped a god called Abraxas.   He ruled the 365 days of the year. The 7 letters of his name may represent the 7 astrological planets that control fate.
  • The first recorded use of Abracadabra was made by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, who was the doctor of the Roman Emperors Caracalla, Geta, and Severus.  In 208 AD he accompanied Emperor Severus on his expedition to Britain.
  • The word was used as a healing charm set out like this:

Abracadabra

  • These letters were written on paper and tied around the patient’s neck with a length of flax.  After 9 days the charm was thrown backwards over the shoulder into an east-moving stream.  As the words shrank away, so did the fever.
  • According to Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722) people thought the Black Death was caused by an evil spirit taking possession of the body.  A similar Abracadabra spell was used to ward of the sickness using the power of magic.
  • Many favorite charms were written in pyramid form.  These amulets would be worn on the body, kept under the bed, or placed in a box and hidden somewhere about the home.

Sources:

Man, Myth and Magic.  “Abracadabra” (London: Purnell, 1970)

Wikipedia. “Abracadabra,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abracadabra

Ten Famous Witch Trials In England

Witches in the dock: 10 of Britain’s most infamous witch trials

by Owen Davies

 This article first appeared in the December 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine.
It was posted online by Emma McFarnon on December 30, 2013.

There were many harrowing witch hunts, assizes, and executions conducted throughout England during the Burning Years.  This excellent article helps demonstrate how the Lancashire Witch Trials fit into that history:

Joan Prentice, Cony and Upney hang after third Chelmsford trial, 1589 - Topfoto

“The prosecution and hanging of two men and eight women on Pendle Hill in Lancashire in 1612 has long caught the public imagination, the story being retold in puppet shows, pamphlets, plays and novels. In terms of witchcraft as heritage tourism, Pendle Hill has become the Salem of Britain. A century later, the last conviction for witchcraft in England took place in Hertfordshire.

It is fitting to put both trials in context, and explore the rise and decline of witch persecution in Britain. Note that I’ve used the word ‘persecution’ and not ‘craze’. This was not an episode of mass insanity: witchcraft made perfect sense within the world view of people at the time. It’s also important to remember that, for two centuries after the last person was executed for witchcraft in Scotland in the 1720s, people continued to harbour a genuine fear of witches.

One common misconception is that witch trials belong to the medieval era. In fact, there were no laws against witchcraft in Britain until 1542, when Henry VIII passed an act against witchcraft and conjuration. But this does not mean that witches were not considered a problem in the 15th century, as our first trial shows…

1) 1441: magic in high places

The stand-out sorcery case of the pre-witch-trial era was that of Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester. In 1441 she stood accused of employing a magician named Roger Bolingbroke and a wise-woman named Margery Jourdemayne to kill Henry VI by sorcery.

They were found guilty, and to warn others against such practices, Robert was made to stand upon a stage constructed in the churchyard of old St Paul’s Cathedral while a sermon was preached against magic. His magical paraphernalia was also exhibited, including wax images, a sceptre and swords draped with magical copper talismans. He was convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered.

Margery was burned at Smithfield either as a heretic or a female traitor. Cobham underwent public penance, pleading that she had hired the magicians not to kill the king but to use their magic to enable her to have a child by the Duke of Gloucester. She was imprisoned for life.

During the 15th century, concern was repeatedly expressed about necromancy and sorcery in aristocratic circles, leading to a handful of trials for treason, heresy, slander and murder. Commoners such as Jourdemayne were rarely caught up in such intrigues, but the tables would be turned more than a century later when witchcraft was seen to be a pervasive problem.

 

2) 1566: blood, baskets and a cat called Satan

Henry VIII’s witchcraft act of 1542 was deemed unfit for purpose, and was repealed in 1547. It was replaced in 1563 by an ‘Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts’ – a clear indication that the authorities were growing increasingly fearful of magic during the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign. Scotland passed its own, even harsher, Witchcraft Act that same year.

Essex was the heartland of the earliest witch trials under the new act, and it was the county that pursued witch prosecutions most vigorously over the next century. The first major trial in England was heard at the Chelmsford assizes in July 1566. Lora Wynchester, Elizabeth Frauncis, Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan Waterhouse, all of Hatfield Peverel, stood accused.

Elizabeth Frauncis confessed that she had been taught witchcraft at the age of 12 by her grandmother. She had given her blood to the Devil in the likeness of a white-spotted cat, which she kept in a basket and fed. Agnes Waterhouse confessed she had a cat called Satan through which she worked her maleficium (simple harmful magic), rewarding it with chickens and drops of her blood.

Frauncis was imprisoned, Agnes Waterhouse was hanged for committing murder by witchcraft, and Joan was found not guilty.
The testimony published in a popular pamphlet, The Examination and Confession of Certain Wytches at Chensforde, helped spread the notion of the diabolic familiar – a spirit in the form of an animal. 

3) 1590: James VI and the witches of Berwick

In 1590 King James VI of Scotland and his bride, Princess Anne of Denmark, were caught up in a terrible storm as they returned home to Scotland across the North Sea. Accusations were made in both Scotland and Denmark that witches had been employed to kill the couple. Suspicion fell on a pretender to the Scottish throne, Francis Stuart, Earl of Bothwell, and claims were made that a coven of witches had met at Auld Kirk Green, North Berwick, to raise storms in the Firth of Forth and so destroy shipping.

Unlike in England and Wales, torture was legally acceptable in Scottish witchcraft cases. It was applied to the North Berwick suspects, and extraordinary confessions then flowed. Agnes Sampson, for instance, confessed that she took the Devil ‘for her maister and reunceit Christ’. It was heard that she and her fellow witches gathered in the churchyard to kiss the Devil’s backside and dug up graves to get finger bones for their spells.

Found guilty, Agnes was garrotted and then burned in January 1591. As for Francis Stuart, he fled his incarceration and became
an outlaw. James VI personally examined Agnes Sampson, and penned his own discourse on the subject, Daemonologie (1597). James’s desire to keep a close eye on the prosecution of witchcraft led him to decree in 1597 that all such trials be conducted by the central judiciary rather than local courts. The king became more sceptical about witchcraft accusations in later years.

 

4) 1594: Gwen Ellis is the first witch to be executed in Wales

The witch trials were at their peak in England when, in June 1594, Gwen Ellis, a woman in her early forties who had been married three times, was taken to Flint gaol on suspicion of witchcraft. She remained there for four months awaiting trial.

Gwen made a living from providing herbal medicines for sick animals, and administering Christian healing charms to cure various illnesses. For these services she was paid in kind. But when a charm, written backwards, was found in the parlour of magistrate Thomas Mostyn’s Caernarvonshire home, Ellis was accused of putting it there to bewitch and not cure.

At the ensuing trial Ellis’s transformation from simple charmer to witch was completed when witnesses claimed that she had a familiar, a bad temper and a sharp tongue. Accusations accumulated, the most serious of which was that she murdered one Lewis ap John by witchcraft. On the last count she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Ellis’s case was one of only 34 or so prosecutions for witchcraft in Wales, a remarkably low number in the annals of European witch trials.

 

5) 1612: Pendle hangings cause a sensation

The Pendle witches are famous for confessing to having attended a Sabbat (a meeting of witches) at Malkin Tower, Pendle Hill on Good Friday in 1612. The Pendle saga began in simple fashion when, in March 1612, young Alison Device met a peddler named John Law and asked him for a pin. Law refused and subsequently became paralysed down one side. Witchcraft was suspected, and a local magistrate Roger Nowell was informed.

Reports of one person denying another charity turn up in numerous witch trials. Alison confessed that she had made a pact with the Devil under the instruction of her grandmother, Old Demdike, and had bewitched Law in revenge. She also accused a member of a rival family, Old Chattox, of being a witch.

Soon accusations came flooding in against both families and others. In all, 19 people were arrested that summer, several as a consequence of a separate set of accusations made in Samlesbury. They were taken to Lancaster Castle to await trial at the summer assizes, and tried under the 1604 act of James VI and I.

This replaced the 1563 act and extended the death penalty to invoking evil spirits and using dead bodies in witchcraft – an echo perhaps of events at North Berwick. On 20 August 1612 two men and eight women were hanged at the gallows erected on the moors above Lancaster.

6) 1645: an old lady’s pact with the Devil

Witch trials in England had slowed to a trickle by the time of the Civil War of the 1640s, but during this period of turmoil and strife the ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins and his sidekick John Stearne set about sowing a trail of fear and death across the eastern counties. While the idea of the Devil’s pact was not new, it assumed much greater significance now with numerous instances being reported of people having sex with the Devil.

In August 1645, the Corporation of Great Yarmouth sent for the two men to examine 16 suspected witches, five of whom were subsequently sentenced to death. One of them, an old woman, confessed to having made a pact with the Devil in the guise of a tall black man. He took a penknife and scratched her hand until the blood flowed, then guiding her hand she signed her name in blood in his book.

The idea of signing a Devil’s book was a product of this period, probably arising as a diabolic inverse of the Puritan parliamentary exercise of requesting people to sign or mark oaths and covenants of allegiance. Hopkins died two years later, having instigated some 300 trials that led to the execution of some 100 people.

7) 1697: six people are executed on the word of an 11-year-old

While the last documented execution for witchcraft in England took place in1682, three men and four women were sentenced to death in Paisley, Scotland, in 1697 for committing murder by witchcraft.

This tragedy began the year before with the supposed possession of Christian Shaw, the 11-year-old daughter of John Shaw, laird of Bargarran in Renfrewshire. She suffered fits during which she was rendered blind and mute, and vomited up pins, hair balls, feathers, bones, straw and other objects. Some witnesses testified that they had seen her carried through the house by an invisible force.

Christian first accused one of the laird’s maids, Katherine Campbell, and an elderly widow named Agnes Nasmith of bewitching her. She pointed the finger at others, too, and those interrogated named others, so more than 30 people were accused in all. Six of them were hanged and burned for witchcraft – and one committed suicide before the sentence was carried out.

This was the first time a Scottish witch trial had been triggered by alleged demonic possession – a remarkable fact given that such instances of possession had been prosecuted in England and Europe for decades. Christian Shaw, who came to be known as the ‘Bargarran Imposter’, later married a minister. Who knows if she felt any guilt about what she had done.

8) 1712: Queen Anne’s pardon spells the end of an era

In March 1712 Jane Wenham of the Hertfordshire village of Walkern stood trial at the lent assizes in Hertford. She was charged under the Witchcraft and Conjuration Act of 1604 for ‘conversing familiarly with the Devil in the shape of a cat’.

The trial was the cause of much religious and political polemic. Despite Judge John Powell’s skepticism regarding the evidence heard in court – when one witness testified that Wenham was able to fly, Powell replied ‘there is no law against flying’ – the jury found Wenham guilty.

She was the last person to be convicted for witchcraft in England. Sentenced to hang, she was subsequently pardoned by Queen Anne and lived out the rest of her life in the care of local gentry until her death in 1730. The trial is often cited as the end of an era, with the last of the witch trials bringing the curtains down on the early modern period and ushering in the Enlightenment.

The Wenham trial was not an aberration though. There is no doubt that the majority of the population of 18th-century England believed in witchcraft, including many in educated society. As the furore over the Wenham case shows, the belief in witchcraft was an important political, religious and cultural issue at both a local and national level.

 

9) 1808: a mob takes the law into its own hands in Great Paxton

The laws against the crime of witchcraft were repealed in 1736 but, in the absence of legal redress, communities periodically took to enacting mob vengeance against suspected witches.
In1808 several young women in the village of Great Paxton in Cambridgeshire began to suffer from fits and depression – all signs of evil at work. Then a local farmer accused Ann Izzard of magically overturning his cart while returning from the market in St Neots.

Something had to be done. On the evening of Sunday 8 May a mob broke into the cottage of Ann and her husband, and she was dragged semi-naked out into the yard where they beat her in the face and stomach with a club. Others scratched her arms to draw blood, and so break her witchery.

The mob dispersed, but when they heard that a neighbour, a widow named Alice Russel, was harbouring Ann, they threatened her too. ‘The protectors of a witch, are just as bad as the witch,’ it was declared. The next evening, Ann was attacked again, and word spread that she was to be swum. She wisely fled to another village and instituted legal proceedings, resulting in the prosecution of nine villagers at the assizes.

 

10) 1875: hag-riding in Weston-super-Mare

Throughout the 19th century ‘reverse witch trials’ periodically took place up and down the country. Those abused or assaulted for being witches were now the prosecutors and not the defendants. Several such trials arose from a strange nocturnal experience known today as sleep paralysis, when people, partially awake, suffer temporary paralysis and often frightening hallucinations.

In the West Country this was known as ‘hag-riding’, a term that sometimes puzzled the courts. In 1875 magistrates in Weston-super-Mare tried to get to the bottom of the experience when questioning 72-year-old Hester Adams, a widowed charwoman, who stabbed 43-year-old Maria Pring in the hand and face.

‘I can prove that she is an old witch, and she hag-rided me and my husband for the past two years,’ claimed Adams. ‘What do you mean by hag-riding?’ inquired a magistrate. ‘A person that comes and terrifies others by night,’ she replied. ‘I have seen her many times at night, but she does not come bodily.’ When asked how she appeared, Adams said: ‘In a nasty, evil, spiritual way, making a nasty noise.’

Adams concluded that the only way to end their torment was to draw blood from Pring. She warned the magistrates: ‘I’ll draw it again for her if she does not leave me alone.’ The magistrates fined her one shilling and bound her over to keep the peace.”

ssn[1]

While Europe lives in more enlightened times, many villagers in Africa and India are conducting witch hunts that are just as terrifying and barbaric as the ones mentioned above.  Their victims are often children.  Safe Child Africa is a UK based charity trying to educate the people of Nigeria.  You can read about their work at this link:

http://www.safechildafrica.org/childwitches/

It is scary to realize that people are still being persecuted for witchcraft!

Kit’s Crit: Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)

Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) is a classic example of magical realism, but it is also a satirical historical fiction.  The unreliable narrator – Saleem Sinai – is one of 1001 children born between midnight and 1.00am on August 15, 1947, which was the moment of India’s independence from Britain.  Although he is the bastard child of a beggar woman, a nurse switches him at birth with another boy called Shiva, so he grows up as the only son of a wealthy couple.  All of the children arriving in the same hour as the birth of the new nation are endowed with special powers – “transmutation, flight, prophecy and wizardry,” but Saleem has the most powerful gift of all.  He is telepathic and able to communicate with the other gifted youngsters across the country.  Saleem persuades them to form the MCC (Midnight Children’s Conference), but even with all their combined powers they end up being persecuted by the authorities.

Rushdie uses magical realism to construct a parallel history between the person (Saleem) and the state (India) in the fairy-tale style of the Arabian Nights.  The hero becomes entwined in a series of events that are not only fantastical, but are often scientifically dubious at best, and historically inaccurate at worst.  This creates confusion, uncertainty, and a shift in the reader’s reality that many critics have found disturbing.  Rushdie’s symbolism is also  heavy-handed.  There is little subtlety in his continual reference to snakes, ladders, noses, and knees.

The strength of Midnight’s Children lies in the central theme: What is reality?  Rushdie makes us question history, fact, truth, memory, and narrative.  Ultimately, truth depends “on perspective and belief.”  He decides that, “Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible.”

Midnight’s Children is often compared with Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum.  Both novels are mystical, philosophical, and enchanting – yet the German Classic has an additional lyrical element that I found more compelling.

SR 3

 (Photo: Kit Perriman)

Olde English Treacle Toffee

Olde English Treacle Toffee

This chewy toffee is a great Halloween and Bonfire Night favorite! Try it for Thanksgiving . . .

Treacle Toffee

Ingredients

4oz butter

Knob of butter for greasing pan

8oz brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

4oz dark treacle

4oz golden syrup

glass of cold water

Method

  1. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large pan.
  2. Mix in the sugar, cream of tartar, treacle, and syrup.
  3. Boil steadily but do not stir. After 10 minutes test for the soft crack (setting) by dropping a small spot of the mixture into the glass of cold water.  Repeat every few minutes until the toffee turns solid.  This may take up to 20 minutes.  The longer the mixture boils, the harder the toffee will be.
  4. Pour into a lightly-greased flat baking tray and leave to cool.
  5. When set, turn out onto a wooden board and break into small pieces with a rolling pin or toffee hammer.  Serve and enjoy.

Bruce Springsteen’s Magic

MAGIC

(Bruce Springsteen)

I got a coin in your palm,
I can make it disappear.
I got a card up my sleeve,
Name it, and I’ll pull it out your ear.
I got a rabbit in the hat,
If you wanna come and see.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

I got shackles on my wrists,
Soon I’ll slip and I’ll be gone.
Chain me in a box in the river,
And I rise up in the sun.
Trust none of what you hear,
And less of what you see.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

 

magic

I’ll cut you in half,                                                                                                                                                                I got a shiny saw blade.                                                                                                                                                   All I need’s a volunteer,
I’ll cut you in half,
While you’re smiling ear to ear.
And the freedom that you sought,
Drifting like a ghost amongst the trees.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

Now there’s a fire down below,
But it’s coming up here.
So leave everything you know,
Carry only what you fear.
On the road the sun is sinking low,
Bodies hanging in the trees.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

And here’s The Boss himself:

The Witch-finder General

Matthew Hopkins (c. 1620-1647) was the self-appointed Witch-finder General of the English Civil War era.  He worked mainly in the East Anglia region.

Hopkins Hopkins, the son of a Puritan clergyman from Suffolk, operated with a man called John Stearne.  Several women “prickers” also travelled around the countryside with them, going from town to town to identify those in league with Satan.  Although the Witch-finders were only active for three years (1644-1647) they were responsible for accusing approximately 300 women – more witches than England had executed in the previous hundred years!

Hopkins found employment as a direct result of the second Lancashire Witch Trials of 1634, whereby King Charles personally investigated the case and finally pardoned all of the prisoners.   Thereafter, he demanded  a confession, or material proof of a crime, before sentencing a suspect to death.

As Hopkins was paid for the witches he uncovered, he developed his own methods to comply with the royal demand.  Torture was illegal – but the Witch-finder General used sleep deprivation, ducking (or swimming) witches, bleeding, and the test of pricking the Devil’s Mark.  Rumor claims that Hopkins invented a bodkin with a retractable blade.  This looked like it was piercing the skin but in fact it made no impact.  Because the prisoners felt no pain, and did not bleed, they were deemed to be sorcerers.

In 1647 Hopkins published a pamphlet called The Discovery of Witches, but a campaign against his cruel methods had already been triggered by John Gaule, a vicar in Huntingdonshire.  As public opinion changed, the Witch-finder’s credibility dwindled and his team was forced into retirement.  He died in 1647, probably from tuberculosis.

According to local legend, Matthew Hopkins’ ghost haunts Mistley Pond — a spot in Suffolk close to where he was buried.  It is said that he still roams the land in search of witches!

Sources

BBC Legacies. “Witch-finder Witch?” at http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/myths_legends/england/essex/article_4.shtml

Controverscial. “Matthew Hopkins,” at http://www.controverscial.com/Matthew%20Hopkins.htm

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Matthew Hopkins,” at http://www.britannica.com/biography/Matthew-Hopkins

Wikipedia. “Matthew Hopkins,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Hopkins

 

 

What’s Your Poison? Oleander!

Did you know:

  • Nerium Oleander is a highly-toxic shrub that grows between 6-20 feet tall.
  • It is drought-tolerant and can survive in poor soil.
  • Oleander thrives naturally around dry stream beds but it is often reared in ornamental gardens because it is a showy and fragrant bush.
  • Mature stems have a gray bark, while the dark green leaves are thick and leathery.
  • The downy seeds grow in long narrow capsules.
  • Oleander flowers come in a wide variety of shades including white, purple, yellow, apricot, pink, and red.  They generally have a sweet scent.
  • All parts of the plant are toxic, even when dried out.  It should not be used for firewood or cooking.
  • The sap causes irritations of the eyes and skin.
  • Rodents and birds are not affected by the toxins but it is highly dangerous to humans.  There are, however, few reported deaths from Oleander poisoning, even when it is intentionally ingested in suicide attempts.
  • Effects of the poison last 1-3 days if treated in a hospital.
  • Ingestion of the toxin affects the stomach, heart, and central nervous system causing blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, excess salivation, pain, diarrhea, and irregular heartbeats.  The skin becomes pale and cold.  There can be drowsiness, tremors, seizures, coma, and eventual death.
  • Because Oleander was the first plant to bloom in Hiroshima after the atomic bombing of 1945, it  was adopted as the city’s official flower.

Sources:

Home Guides. “How Toxic Is Oleander To Humans?” at http://homeguides.sfgate.com/toxic-oleander-humans-82304.html

Medline Plus.  “Oleander Poisoning,” at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002884.htm

Wikipedia. “Nerium” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N

What’s Your Poison? Opium!

poppy

Did you know:

  • Papaver somnifera – the Opium Poppy – has been cultivated in Eurasia for over 6,000 years.
  • There is some evidence that poppies were important in pre-historic religious rites.
  • The word opium comes from the Greek word opos, meaning juice.  It was associated with the love goddess Aphrodite, and the god of sleep, Hypnos.
  • The flowers can be red, white, orange, yellow, and deep pink.
  • Not all poppies contain the narcotic opium, but they are all poisonous.  For this reason they were traditionally mixed with hemlock for a quick and painless death.
  • For many years opium was used as a murder weapon by unscrupulous members of the medical profession.
  • Poisoning occurs from eating unripe poppy seed capsules, or from overdose after it has been processed into opium, codeine, heroine, and morphine.
  • Poppies were grown for a wide range of medicinal benefits: sedatives, pain reduction, and mood elevation.  The Greeks and Romans used them to treat diarrhea, dysentery, asthma, stomach complaints, and poor eyesight.
  • Overdose triggers erratic behavior, loss of appetite, stupor, coma, and may result in death from respiratory failure.
  • Poppies are also toxic for dogs and cats.
  • John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields inspired the adoption of the poppy as the national Remembrance Day symbol to honor British war veterans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

Sources:

Poison Diaries. “Opium Poppy: A poisonous plant,” at http://thepoisondiaries.tumblr.com/post/18186895021/opium-poppy-a-poisonous-plant

Poison Plant Patch. “Poppy,” at http://www.novascotia.ca/museum/poison/?section=species&id=102

Right Diagnosis From Healthgrades. “Common Poppy Poisoning,” at http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/c/common_poppy_poisoning/intro.htm

Wikipedia. “Opium” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium

 

Queens of the Stone Age’s Burn the Witch

Burning

Burn the Witch

(John Homme, Troy van Leeuwen)

Holding hands,
Skipping like a stone,
On our way
To see what we have done.
The first to speak
Is the first to lie,
The children cross
Their hearts and hope to die.

Bite your tongue!
Swear to keep your mouth shut!

Ask yourself,
“Will I burn in Hell?”
Then write it down
and cast it in the well.
There they are –
The mob, it cries for blood!
To twist and tale
Into fire wood!
Fan the flames
With a little lie,
Then turn your cheek
Until the fire dies.
The skin it peels
Like the truth, away –
What it was
I will never say.

Bite your tongue!                                                                                                                                                             Swear to keep your mouth shut!

Make up something –
Make up something good.
Holding hands,
Skipping like a stone,
Burn the witch,
Burn to ash and bone!

The Enigmatic Pentagram

In the beginning, the pentagram (pentagon) was a holy symbol for The Divine.  How did it come to represent evil?  And why is it now the most popular image of modern Wiccans and witchcraft?

pentagon

The pentagram is a five-pointed star within a circle.  Originally, the single peak was on top and pointed towards God.  It was first recorded around 3500 BC.  The Ancient Mesopotamians used it represent their power extending into the four corners of the world.

The Hebrews chose the pentagram to signify Truth, and Pythagoras’ followers considered it to be the emblem of Perfection.  Celtic Druids also associated it with the Godhead, because five was their sacred number.

The Early Christians connected the pentagram with the Five Wounds of Christ, but eventually decided to use the symbol of the Cross as their banner instead.  Yet the religious connection to the “Endless Knot” of the star endured, and it soon became a personal talisman to ward off demons.  In Medieval times it was used as an amulet over windows and doors to stop evil from entering the home.

According to Arthurian legend, Sir Gawain adopted the pentagram for the coat-of-arms on his shield, claiming the five points represented Generosity, Courtesy, Chastity, Chivalry, and Piety.

It was also used by the Knights Templar, who believed the pentagram contained certain mystical powers.  Later, when they were persecuted by King Louis IX’s Inquisition, this symbol became associated with heresy.

Before long, the five-pointed star was linked with the Horned God, Pan.  It was renamed the “Witch’s Foot” and entered into the mythology of witches and  pagans.  No longer did the pentagram represent the Divine.  For many years it was the public symbol of Satan and his devils.

In private, however, the power of the pentagram lived on. Western Occultists and Freemasons believed that mankind was a smaller part of a greater universe and they decided that this symbol – the “Star of the Microcosm” – was the best representation of human insignificance.

During the Nineteenth Century certain Metaphysical Societies – particularly those based on the ancient Holy Kabbalah – established the pentagram as part of the Tarot Card system of divination.  They renamed the Suit of Coins as the Suit of Pentacles.

Twentieth Century Satanists adopted inverted pentagrams (and inverted crucifixes) as symbols of evil – an unfortunate association that has stuck in public consciousness.

Meanwhile, the upright pentagram has been reclaimed by Wiccans and Witches.  They see it as a representation of the five elements – Earth, Fire, Wind, Air, and Spirit.   It remains the most recognized symbol of their beliefs, and has once again become associated with the Divine!

Sources:

Cyber Witchcraft. “Witchcraft Symbols,” at http://www.cyberwitchcraft.com/witchcraft-symbols.html

Pagan’s Path. “History of the Pentagram”: at http://www.paganspath.com/magik/pentacle1.htm

Wikipedia. “Pentagram,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagram

Olde English Jam

Jam is the English version of American jelly or fruit preserves.  It can be made from a variety of fruit.

jam

Ingredients:

1lb fresh fruit (apricots, cherries, blackcurrants, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, etc)

3/4 pint water

1lb granulated sugar

Method:

  1. Wash (peel and stone) the fresh produce.  If the fruit is larger than a berry, cut into smaller pieces.
  2. Put the fruit and water in a large boiling pan over a low heat.
  3. Simmer gently until the fruit turns soft.
  4. Stir in the sugar.  Allow it to thoroughly dissolve.
  5. Boil rapidly until the fruit mix reaches the setting point.  Check by holding a wooden spoon horizontally over the pan – if a drop of jam holds firm at the tip it is ready to test on a cold saucer.  Add the drop to the saucer.  Push with your finger tip.  If the jam has reached setting point it will wrinkle.
  6. Spoon into warm jam jars and cover.

Tips:

  • Over-ripe fruit can prevent the jam from setting.
  • Sweeter fruits (like cherries) need less sugar than tart fruits (like blackcurrants).
  • Over-boiling the fruit takes away the flavor.
  • Burnt jam tastes disgusting!