Macbeth’s Weird Sisters: Reason or Treason?

A Psychological Riddle:

Were Shakespeare’s weird sisters real evil hags who seduced the newly-appointed Thane of Cawdor with ambitious promises above his station?  If so, could they have been the reason why the brave warrior Macbeth murdered King Duncan?

Points to consider:

* Superstitious Jacobeans believed in magic, and would have readily accepted that Macbeth was genuinely bewitched.  Satan was stalking the land in search of souls and his coven of witches found a good, brave man who succumbed to their temptations because he was also human.

* If you were put under a spell, you had no control over your actions.  Therefore, once Macbeth was in their power he could not prevent himself from killing the king.

* The Malleus Maleficarum claimed that wicked women have been responsible for the downfall of great men since the time of Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Macbeth was following in a long tradition of doomed heroes.

* The three sisters first approach Macbeth.  He does not initially seek them out.  This implies that Macbeth was intentionally targeted by Satan, which makes him a hapless victim of evil.

* Banquo sees the women too.  They were not just a figment of Macbeth’s imagination.

Fuseli

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)

Or perhaps the witches were merely a convenient excuse?  In other words, did they exist only in the mind/s of the central character/s – as a projection of ambition and desire – or as a psychological attempt to rationalize the ultimate treason?

Points to consider:

* If Macbeth was truly a good man he would not have been so readily tempted by evil.  Satan picks targets who are easy to seduce. The witches were the excuse he used to explain away his actions.

* The ambition to be king may have been seeded in Macbeth’s mind even before the witches appeared.  It was common to come across poor wise women, gypsies, or cunning folk, who made a living from fortune telling.  After the murder they were fashionable targets to blame for the deeds that Macbeth was destined to do.

* Supernatural influences can be used to explain, excuse, and justify horrific acts on the grounds that they are outside of self control.  In the same way that mass murderers claim to hear voices that make them commit their crimes, Macbeth blames the popular scapegoat of his (and Shakespeare’s) time.

* If Macbeth was genuinely bewitched he would have killed without deliberation.  But he questions his actions, later wrestling with guilt and remorse.  Is this because he knows he has done wrong and fears being found out?

* Banquo sees the weird women and also hears their prophecies, in which case he should also fall under their power.  But he is content to let fate play out by itself and does not take part in any murders.

I have always been fascinated by Shakespeare’s skill as both a writer and early psychologist.  His audience would have accepted these characters as real supernatural influences (which means Macbeth was an innocent man duped by evil).  But the bard also knew the human mind.  In today’s psychoanalytical society we understand how criminals sometimes project their crimes onto external influences to escape from blame (in which case Macbeth would have been guilty of murder and treason).

What do you think?

Olde English Raspberry Crumble

Raspberry Crumble

Ingredients

1lb fresh raspberries

2oz white sugar

1/2 pint water

8oz plain flour

pinch of salt

6oz butter

4oz brown sugar

2oz chopped walnuts

20z rolled porridge oats

knob butter or margarine

Method

1. Heat the oven to 350 / 180 / gas 4.   Grease a large baking dish with the knob of butter or margarine.

2. Wash the raspberries.  Place them in large pan.  Add the water and white sugar.  Heat gently until the water boils.

3. Stir well for two minutes.  Turn off the heat, but leave the raspberries cooking in the pan.

4. In a large mixing bowl sift the flour and add the salt.  Chop up the butter into small pieces and rub in until the crumble topping looks like large breadcrumbs.

5. Stir in the brown sugar, chopped nuts, and porridge oats.  Mix thoroughly.

6. Place the raspberries inside the greased baking dish.

7. Add the crumble topping.  Smooth out.  Press into the edges of the dish to seal the fruit mix below.

8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30-45 minutes, until the topping is crisp and the edges turn brown.

9. Cool before serving.

This tasty dessert is great with fresh whipped cream, pouring cream, vanilla ice cream, or English custard.  The raspberries can be replaced with blackberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, rhubarb, or apples! 

In Search Of Evil

Devil

After recently re-reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I am again left questioning the origins of evil.  Golding takes the classical stance that there is good and bad in everyone – the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other – yet he ultimately remains pessimistic about human nature and the fate of civilization.  Golding sides with the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, suggesting that the “life of man” is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  But where does this wickedness come from?

It can be argued good and evil are human psychological concepts, projected onto outside active agents.  People need something other or outside to worship, fear, or blame — something beyond their own selves — and so they unconsciously create, and then personify, supernatural forces.  The semantic origins of God being Good and Devil being Devil supports this theory. These powers are then courted, worshipped, and offered sacrifices, in an attempt to secure individual favors.

By turning something other into the wicked outside element, communities can maintain an image of themselves as chosen or blessed.  They are then able to avoid looking too carefully at their own souls, may deny personal responsibility, and can point the finger of blame at a scapegoat: the witch, beast, devil, bogeyman, or whatever.

Over time, encounters with the supernatural have either turned into folk legends or been expanded into organized religions.  The eternal battle between good and evil was then mythologized in morality tales that showed folk how to live together in civilized societies, or served as warnings against giving in to selfish desire.

I  find myself agreeing with Golding’s conclusion that the beast dwells within us all.  As the Lord of the Flies tells Simon: “You knew, didn’t you?  I’m part of you?  Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are as they are?”

What are your thoughts on evil?

Kit’s Crit: Lord of the Flies (William Golding)

Golding

Lord of the Flies

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) tops my list of all-time favorite books!

In the wake of a nuclear war, a group of school boys are being evacuated from England when their aircraft is shot down.  The survivors land on an isolated tropical island with no adult presence.  Here,they have to fend for themselves. The children ultimately form two rival gangs and soon cross the line from civilization into savagery.

There are three main reasons why Lord of the Flies is the perfect novel.  Firstly. it is an allegory that makes readers question their moral, spiritual, anthropological, and psychological beliefs about childhood innocence.  Secondly, Golding produces a beautiful cocktail of modern and poetic language where every sentence advances the action, or reveals something important about one of the central characters. And thirdly, he incorporates mythology, magical realism, anthropological research, religion, and psychology to build up the tension with carefully crafted foreshadowing and symbolism.  This is a very tight, taut, controlled horror story full of unpredictable events, where the only relief comes right at the end.

Lord of the Flies exposes the darkness of the human condition.  It is a pessimistic examination of everything we hold sacred.  And that is why it so wonderfully terrifying.

Boggarts and Bogeymen

Boggart

Boggarts have terrified English country-folk for hundreds of years.  Particularly feared in Lancashire,  they were said to haunt the fields, woods, and marshes – sometimes stealing away naughty children.  The term Boggart derives from the Middle English bug meaning ghost, hobgoblin, or object of terror (OED).

According to those who have seen these spirits, Boggarts come in many shapes and sizes.  Sometimes they appear as ugly humans, while others have described them as beast-like creatures.  Everyone, however, seems to agree that they are hairy, strong, have strange eyes, and sometimes resemble devils.

Tradition says that if a Boggart is given a name it becomes destructive and unreasonable, rather than simply mischievous.  Perhaps for this reason these sprites are often referred to generically as The Bogeyman. 

While they have sometimes been held accountable for poltergeist activity inside the home, Lancashire Boggarts prefer the outdoors – they scare people with eerie noises, overturn farm items, sour milk and ale, lame animals, and leave behind weird hoof-prints.  They also get blamed when children or travelers go missing.

So how do you ward off Boggarts and Bogeymen?

Stay away from the places they roam, especially at night.  And hang a horseshoe over the front door of the house – or leave a pile of salt outside your bedroom.

Sweet dreams!

Horseshoe The Golden Horseshoe (William Michael Harnett)

 Sources:

Wikipedia: “Boggarts” accessed 3/28/2015

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon,1993)

Olde English Cottage Pie v. Shepherd’s Pie.

I am often asked what the difference is between Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie.  They are essentially the same recipe, except for the type of meat at the base.  Shepherd’s Pie uses minced lamb, so it has always been popular in sheep farming communities.  Cattle-rearing areas generally prefer minced beef instead, to make Cottage Pie.  Both versions are nourishing but can be rather bland.  So here is my own tasty version, developed from my Great Grandmother’s recipe to spice things up.

Ingredients:

5lb potatoes

Pinch of salt

Knob of butter for greasing dish

1oz butter

2 tablespoons of milk

1lb lean minced meat (lamb or beef)

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

1 clove crushed garlic

1 finely chopped onion

3 carrots, cut into rounds

1/2 pint beef stock

6oz tomato paste

1 tablespoon mixed herbs

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4oz grated cheese

Shepherd's Pie

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven 350/ 180 /gas 4.

2.  Grease a 2-pint ovenproof dish with the knob of butter.

3.  Peel the potatoes and place in a pan of water with the pinch of salt.  Boil until soft.

4.  Heat the virgin olive oil in a large saucepan to boiling.  Add the garlic, chopped onion, and meat.  Stir until thoroughly browned.  Add the carrots.  Stir well.

5.  Slowly mix in the beef stock.  Then pour in the tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.  Add the mixed herbs and stir.

6.  Reduce to a medium heat.  Cook for 20 minutes until the carrots are soft.  Remove from the stove.

7.  Drain the boiled potatoes. Mash with 1oz of butter.  Add the 2 tablespoons of milk and whisk to a creamy consistency.

8.  Place the meat mix in the ovenproof dish and spread flat.  Cover with a layer of grated cheese.

9.  Spread the mashed potato evenly over the top of the cheese, taking care to seal the edges so  that the meat will not bubble over.

10. Place the dish in the center of the oven for 20 – 30 minutes to heat through.  Brown the top layer under a high grill for 5 minutes for a crunchy topping.

Serve with fresh garden peas or sweet corn.  Enjoy!

The Ancient Rushbearing Festival

Rushbearing

Rushbearing is an old Lancashire custom from the early Middle Ages that still survives in a few rural areas today.  It began as an annual Catholic festival to rededicate the local parish church, and soon developed into a day-long village celebration.  In olden times, the floors of churches were made of packed earth.  These were covered with rushes, herbs, and grasses to provide a sweet-smelling insulation against the cold and damp – a practice that continued until flagstones were finally installed.  One day a year, at the end of summer, or on the Saint’s Day associated with a particular church, the old rushes got swept away and new ones were put in their place.

Over time, this religious ceremony developed into a community festival that contained many carnival elements.  The rushes were harvested and dried out several weeks in advance, and then fashioned into a bee-hive decoration on the official rushbearing cart – a float also adorned with garlands and flowers.  The cart was traditionally pulled by all the young bachelors of the parish, and a village maiden chosen as the Rushbearing Queen rode on top.  The procession was often accompanied by banners, Morris Men, street performers, dancers, bands, and minstrels.

The day began with a slow progress through the crowded streets.  Those towns that did not use an official cart appointed several Rush Maidens instead, who carried a white sheet containing the new rushes.  Once they arrived at the church everyone ceremoniously helped to spread out the fresh flooring.  It was originally customary to ring the church bells, and to provide wine, ale and cake for the rushbearers – but the ceremony later developed into a day-long drunken revel, which unfortunately encouraged a lot of criminal activity.

By 1579, this festival had become so bawdy that Queen Elizabeth 1st outlawed the custom, disapproving of the drinking and frolicking taking place in local churchyards.  It was reestablished by King James 1st as part of the “diverting exercises” endorsed in his Book of Sports. 

Rushbearing can be seen each August at Newchurch-in-Pendle.  Other Lancashire towns have replaced the ceremony with similar village processions such as Club Day or Carnival Day.

Sources:

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

Wiki: “Rushbearing” Accessed on 4/6/2015

Olde English Rice Pudding

For a deliciously creamy rice pudding, try my Great Grandmother’s version:

Ingredients

knob of butter

1 pint of full milk

2oz short grain pudding rice

2oz castor sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

pinch salt

fresh grated nutmeg

1/4 pint fresh whipping cream

rice pudding

Method

1. Heat the oven Gas 2/150 c/300 f

2. Grease a 2-pint baking dish with the knob of butter.

3. Slowly heat the milk in a large pan on the stove.  Add the rice, sugar, salt, and vanilla essence, stirring constantly until the mixture boils.

4. Pour into a greased baking dish.  Sprinkle with lots of grated nutmeg.

5. Bake 60-90 minutes until golden brown on top.

6. Remove and cool slightly.

7. Carefully peel off the skin if not required (though most people love it).  Fold in the fresh cream and stir well.

8. Serve warm with homemade raspberry, strawberry, or blackberry jam.

 For a fruitier, chewy version fold in 4oz of dried fruit (currants, raisins, or sultanas) to the pan of boiled rice before pouring into the baking dish. 

The “Witch” Church

Newchurch

Newchurch-in-Pendle is an ancient village in the North of England, close to where several of the Lancashire Witches once lived and roamed.  It has been a religious center since Druid days, with the first Christian building appearing around 1250.  In 1544, a stone chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Chester, possibly with the original tower.  Then a gallery was added in 1915, though the current St. Mary’s Church that stands here today has been restored and renovated many times since throughout the centuries.

Graveyard (2)

The most fascinating feature is the carving on the west face of the tower (under the clock face) – a large eye said to symbolize the all-seeing Eye of God.  In earlier years though, this may have been a talisman to ward off evil from the local cunning folk who were forced by law to attend services here every Sunday.  Today, St. Mary’s is also one of the few remaining churches that still celebrates the medieval Rushbearing Festival with a special service each August.

Graveyard (1)

The graveyard contains the headstones of many old families.  The Nutter plot (dated 1694) likely contains the  descendants of Alice Nutter, one of the witches executed in 1612.  From this consecrated soil, another witch – Old Chattox – supposedly stole twelve teeth that she later traded with her rival, Old Demdike.

In later times the village funeral processions were led by two black horses, and when these were spotted coming over Nanny Maud Hill the church bells began tolling The Passing Bell.

The Bone Room opens onto the graveyard, and for many years served as the Charnel House – a place where human remains were stored.  These were skeleton parts that had either been dug up by accident, or intentionally removed to make room in a plot for fresh bodies.

St. Mary’s Church is one of two major landmarks to have outlived the old belief in magic.  The other – providing its majestic backdrop – is the famous Pendle Hill.

Hill

Sources:

Clayton, John A.  A History of Pendle Forest and the Pendle Witch Trials (Lancashire: Barrowford Press, 2007)

Stansfield, Andy. The Forest of Bowland & Pendle Hill (Devon: Halsgrove House, 2006)

“St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch in Pendle.”  Wikipedia, accessed 3/23/2015

Magic Or Medicine?

Magic Or Medicine?

Doctors / Physicians

Doctor   Hans Brock der Altere (c. 1584)

Throughout history, people have consulted doctors to diagnose and treat their ailments, but educated physicians were rare, expensive, and often dangerous. There was no understanding of how germs spread disease.  Indeed, well into the seventeenth century practitioners still followed Galen’s Greek notion that the body was made up of four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile – and when one of these fluids got out of balance the body fell sick.  Leeches and blood-letting were common practices because fevers were thought to originate from having too much blood in the body.

Barber-surgeons

Quack  Franz Anton Maulbertsch (c. 1785)

The first barber-surgeons were monks who aided parishioners in their monasteries.  They often advocated a heavy dose of fasting and prayer to accompany their herbal remedies.

Later on, barber-surgeons  were found on battlefields tending the wounded.  In the age before anesthetics, surgery was considered a lowly occupation and these quacks performed many of the procedures that physicians refused to do, including barbaric amputations, teeth-pulling, enemas, and blood-letting for those who could not afford a physician.

Apothecaries

Apothecary

If a person knew what was wrong and merely required a cure, they could visit the apothecary.  These were early pharmacists who made medicines, salves, and potions, and also gave out advice on surgery and midwifery.  Their tonics consisted of herbs, minerals, animal parts, urine, honey, and a variety of fats.

Cunning Men and Wise Women

Cunning Folk

If you could not afford any of the above, a cure might be found with a folk-healer.  Cunning men and wise women used magic, prayer, herbal lore, and family experience to tackle the everyday ailments of the townsfolk, villagers, farmers, and their livestock.  They were cheaper than apothecaries and could be paid by trading goods instead of money.  The cunning folk also provided an array of services for specific problems that could be dealt with very discretely – contraceptive powders, abortion, love potions, impotence cures, and poisons.

Some of the more unfortunate – or unpopular – cunning folk got caught up in the witch hunts that swept across Europe throughout that period.  But when people began realizing these healers were not only useful, but necessary, new regulations appeared that differentiated between good magic and bad.  Lighter sentences were handed out – time spent in the pillory or jail – and capital punishment was only awarded to witches – those in league with demons, who conjured up devils or committed murder.

By the end of the Seventeenth Century extensive advancements had been made.  William Harvey discovered how the heart controls blood circulation in the body; Ambroise Pare made important breakthroughs for treating war wounds; Marcello Malpighi invented the microscope; and the first blood transfusions were carried out at the Royal Society in London.  But it took a great many years for these advancements to permeate throughout England.  In the meantime, the common people continued to pray and turn to the wise women for help!

 

Kit’s Crit: The Familiars (Stacey Halls)

The Familiars is in many ways a modern gothic romance set against the backdrop of the Lancashire witch trials. It tells of seventeen-year-old Fleetwood Shuttleworth’s plight to provide an heir for Gawthorpe Hall after three unsuccessful pregnancies. She enlists the help of a mysterious local wise woman – Alice Grey – who later becomes one of the accused victims. After a string of dangerous adventures, however, things reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Unlike other recent books on the Pendle Witches, Stacey Halls chooses a minor, overlooked historical character as her focal point. Alice Grey is a midwife who may or may not be associated with a familiar in the guise of a red fox, though any magic we see her perform is practical herbalism rather than supernatural spell-casting. Yet we experience Alice through the eyes of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a privileged narrator far removed from the violence and poverty of the accused witches, who only rushes to help the midwife for personal gain. Halls’ description of the Well Tower in Lancaster Castle is the closet we get to understanding the harrowing ordeal that these real prisoners went through. But having read some of the early reviews, such sanitizing of historical unpleasantness may be necessary for the modern squeamish reader.

The Familiars is an enjoyable story based on the few facts known about the events of 1612. I particularly liked the thoughtful observation that bearbaiting in London was popular because the bloodthirsty townsfolk did not get a chance to hunt!

Halls’ historical research is sound, the setting well-crafted, and the characters consistent with the gothic romance genre. This novel will appeal to readers who want to taste what living through a witch hunt may have been like, but without any graphic information.

Magic Colors

rainbow-ribbon-flames[1]

Colors have always affected the human psyche.  They create atmosphere, change moods, signal danger, hide flaws, disguise predators, indicate states of mind, and relieve stress.  And because they trigger such potent reactions in people, many cultures have used them to influence, honor, or impress their gods.

Medieval cunning folk were no exception.  They used sacred clothing, color-coded surroundings, or dyed candles for their rituals.  But the meaning of certain colors can vary – for example, a black candle might be lit in a shape-shifting spell, while its partner stone (onyx) could be used for protection.  Sorcery and alchemy were complicated arts.

Even today, the meanings associated with color are open to personal interpretation, for what is pleasing and soothing to one eye might be unpleasant and jarring to another.  Yet within modern Wicca there appears to be a loose agreement on the following associations.  Choose whichever works for you!

WHITE: purity, protection, peace, happiness, spirituality, balance

GREEN: health, money, luck, acceptance, growth, fertility, beauty, employment

ORANGE: attraction, success, creativity, fun, opportunity, celebration

YELLOW: pleasure, intellect, confidence, inspiration, wisdom, psychic power, divination

RED: strength, passion, survival, courage, good fortune, health, power, sexual potency

PINK: love, self-improvement, friendship, fidelity, compassion, nurturing, maturity

GRAY: peace, neutrality, contemplation, solitude

BROWN: health, home, healing, blessings, stability

BLUE: forgiveness, psychic awareness, healing, sincerity, peace, sleep, focus, organization

BLACK: banishing, the void, protection, shapeshifting

PURPLE: wisdom, healing, power, luck, scrying, reversing

SILVER: female energy, victory, stability, intuition

GOLD: masculine energy,  attraction, justice, health, luxury

 

Sources:

“Llewellyn’s Witches’ Calendar” (Korea: Llewellyn, 2015)

“Understanding the Meaning of Colors in Color Psychology.” available at http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/meaning-of-colors.html (2/26/2015)

Kit’s Crit: The Hangman’s Daughter (Potzsch)

The Hangman’s Daughter is the first of a seven-book series set in medieval Germany. It tells the tale of Martha Stechlin, a local midwife and herbalist accused of witchcraft. Several children die in a small Bavarian town and each has a strange witch-mark tattooed on their shoulder. The local hangman, Jakob Kuisl, is sent to torture a confession from the accused, even though he does not believe in her guilt.

Jakob’s daughter – Magdalena – is an intelligent young woman in love with the local physician’s son. They both know Martha Stechlin is not a witch, and together they set on a mission to uncover the truth behind the false accusations.

The Hangman’s Daughter is an interesting read, steeped in the local superstitions and folklore of the period. Oliver Potzsch paints a vivid portrayal of an oppressive, patriarchal society where everyone’s lives are pre-ordained at birth. But against this stifling backdrop, he makes the hangman a compassionate, human, multi-faceted character, who remains loyal to friends and family even in personal adversity.

There is little difference between Martha Strechlin’s craft, the hangman’s renowned herbal cures, and the local doctor’s medicine – except the female practitioner is the only one selected as the scapegoat. This irony is not lost on the reader. And many parallels of misinformation, personal bias, malicious gossip, and fear skillfully demonstrate how “witch hunts” still gain traction in our sophisticated, high-tech society today.

There are, however, several unfortunate modern colloquialisms in the text that jar the reader out of the Seventeenth-Century setting, but I trust this is a by-product of translation and not an inherent flaw in Potzsch’s writing.

Brighid: Goddess and Saint

The Wise Women of Britain had their own special patron – the goddess Brighid – who later became known as Saint Brigit.  She was a Celtic pagan deity, the equivalent of Roman Minerva and Greek Athene, whose name meant exalted one.  In Irish mythology, Brighid was the daughter of Dagda, wife of Bres, and the mother of Ruadan – the son she invented keening for when he died in battle.

Brighid

Brighid was one of three sisters (all named Brighid) who jointly made up the Triple Deity – maiden, mother, crone.  For many years she was closely associated with Wise Women and became the goddess of healers and magicians.  Called on for assistance with prophecy and divination, Brighid represented wisdom, intelligence, excellence, perfection, craftsmanship, artistry, healing, and druidic knowledge.  Because she protected pregnant women and aided in childbirth, she was also connected with the hearth and home.

At some point in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church syncretized Brighid into the Christian St. Brigit of Kildare, making her the keeper of the eternal flame (from her former role of protecting Druid priestesses) and tender of holy healing wells (as she was already widely associated with medicine).  Her festival day at the start of February marks the arrival of spring, but instead of being called Imbolc it then became known as St. Brigit’s Day instead.

Brighid is the patron saint of poetry, blacksmithing, arts and crafts, cattle, and serpents.  She is credited with inventing the whistle.  Her symbols include the hearth, cauldron, forge, and bridal bed.  Corn dolls, crosses, and knots have been named after her, and she is connected with cats, foxes, cows, bees, and wrens.

Corn Doll

The last time I visited St. Mary’s Church at Newchurch-in-Pendle I was delighted by the collection of rush decorations nailed along the walls, carefully fashioned into crosses, knots, and dollies.

The old traditions die hard!

Sources:

Lockhart, Elaine. “Brighid: A Personal Relationship” in Modern Witch,  First Issue, Imbolc, 2012 (p8-9)

About Religion. “Brighid: Hearth Goddess of Ireland.” Available at http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/godsandgoddesses/p/Brighid_Profile.htm (2/25/2015)

Wikipedia:  “Brigid”

The Last Wolf In England

 

. . . now witchcraft celebrates

Pale Hecate’s offerings; and wither’d murder,

Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,

Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,

With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design

Moves like a ghost.

Macbeth Act 2 Scene 1

 

 

According to Roman and Saxon chronicles, the British Isles were once overrun with wolves.  But a combination of deforestation and hunting virtually exterminated all traces of the Eurasian grey canis lupus by the end of the medieval period.  At a time when wool production was the major industry, anything that threatened sheep farming was a serious public threat.  So between 1066 and 1154, Norman rulers awarded land to official wolf-hunters, on the condition that they controlled the predators in their area.  And as part of a plea-bargain to avoid execution, certain criminals could elect to provide an annual number of wolf tongues to escape the gallows.

By Henry Vi’s reign, wolves were found only in Scotland, Wales, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and Lancashire.  But they lived on in the public imagination, and were often one of the familiars associated with witchcraft.

Eurasian wolf

Legend claims that the last English wolf was killed at Humphrey Head, north of Morcambe Bay, at a place that used to be called Lancashire Over Sands.  At some time during the Fourteenth Century a royal bounty was offered for each wolf pelt captured, and during one of the local hunts Sir Edgar Harrington became separated from his companions and rode for the top of Humphrey Head to look for them.  On his way through the forest he heard the terrified shrieks of a young girl cowering behind a rock, hiding from an enormous growling wolf.  Taking his spear Harrington battled the wolf, rescued the maiden, and took her back to safety.  Apparently, when her gratitude turned into love, the couple were married and they lived happily thereafter with a healthy batch of children.  They put an image of a wolf’s head on their family crest and today lie buried together in Cartmel Priory, with a stone wolf carved at their feet.

How refreshing to have a romantic tale about wolves at a time when they were generally associated with witchcraft and evil!

Sources:

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

Wikipedia: “Wolves in Great Britain” available http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_in_Great_Britain (2/24/2015)

Kit’s Crit: Wicked Enchantments (Froome)

What if the Lancashire Witches were actually guilty of practicing magic?  Joyce Froome’s book, Wicked Enchantments: a history of the Pendle Witches & their magic (Lancaster: Carnegie,2010) explores this possibility from the prespective of the two teenagers involved, James and Alizon Device.

Froome

Froome’s website describes her methodology.  She uses “quotations from a wealth of original sources, such as trial records and books of magic,” alongside “photographs of magical artifacts.”

This unique compilation – based on the sound scholarly research of an assistant curator at the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall –  focuses on the seventeenth-century rituals and spells that the poor cunning folk of Pendle may have used to eek out a living: love potions, healing tonics, protection charms, curses, good-luck talismans, fertility magic, and fortune-telling paraphernalia.  In addition to multiple illustrations, there are also photographs of a modern family recreating many of the ancient rituals.

The only negative comment I have is that the binding of my book fell apart from frequent reading!  But aside from this, Wicked Enchantments  is a fascinating, well-documented, alternative portrayal of the Device family.  Their spells are clearly explained.  And I fully concur with Froome’s conclusion that centuries later “there were still cunning folk around Pendle Hill . . . . Magic had survived both demonisation and ridicule” (310).     

Wicked Enchantments could have become a dry, intellectual, historical examination, were it not for the clever organization, and Froome’s subtle humor shining through the pages.

I love her opening warning: “You are strongly advised NOT to attempt any of the spells described in this book – particularly the one that involves removing a tooth from a live wolf” (iv).  Reader beware!

More information is available at Joyce Froome’s website: http://www.joycefroome.com/wicked_enchantments.htm

Olde English Honey Crispels

Try this medieval recipe for a sweet, fried pastry called Honey Crispels.

Ingredients

8oz plain flour

4oz butter (to rub in)

1-2oz butter (as needed for frying)

pinch of salt

I egg

2-3 tablespoons cold water

8 tablespoons honey

sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon

 

Method

1. Place the flour and salt in a bowl.  Cut up the butter and rub in the flour until the mixture looks like large breadcrumbs.

2. Add the egg and sufficient water to bind in a dough.

3. Roll out on a floured surface to a thin pastry dough. Cut in 2-3″ circles.  (Hint: To hold more honey, fashion a small lip round the edge of each circle so there is a slight hollow in the center).

4. Heat the butter (without burning) in a large frying pan.  Fry each round of dough until crisp.  Set on the paper to drain.

5. Slowly bring the honey to a boil over a medium heat, skimming any scum from the surface.  Stir well to clarify.  Brush over the surface of each fried pastry allowing some of the mix to sit and cool in the trough.

6. Modern Version: Dust with icing sugar, nutmeg or cinnamon.

7. Enjoy warm or cold.

* This recipe makes 4-8 crispels, and they take 2-5 minutes to fry, depending on size.  Larger crispels are light and flaky.  Smaller ones tend to be crunchier.

Honey Crispels

Old Demdike: Eight

Demdike’s Lament: Return of the Druid


In the days of old they called us
the Wise Women
and begged our aid
when the world beat against them.
The Druids crowned us
High Priestesses –
we raised storms to keep
the invaders at bay.
Dancers span spells
and wrought powerful potions,
bringing new life into being
and healing ill.
We brewed roots, bark, plants and
poisoned berries
and sang to claim the winds and wilds.

Then the clergy spoke and made
all the Cunning
into Heretics,
ostracized from the Divine.
We terrified them
and were ground down
under the boot of
the cruel Inquisition.
We became Witches
and the burnings began.
But we never honored Satan –
only nature.
Yet those put to question
still gave up
their friends to fire and gallows.

We now roam the land as Vagabonds
telling futures
and changing luck.
Skilled eyes that can pierce through the veil
will be Clairvoyants,
mastering the spirit world.
When doctors and science
fail to tame the feral –
they will label us mad and
damaged Hysterics.
Yet healers always find new ways
to combat superstition.
And when faith returns
I know Wise Women
will ride the moon once again.


Pictures:
Wilhelm Kotabinski
John William Waterhouse
Evelyn Nesbit

Three Real Shakespearian Witches

When someone mentions Shakespeare’s witches we naturally assume they are referring to the three weird sisters from Macbeth.  Yet around the same time as the Lancashire Witch Trials were taking place in Northern England, another sinister plot was unraveling closer to King James’ court.  Ironically, it involved a nefarious character who moved in the shadows of Shakespeare’s own circle – a cunning man by the name of Simon Forman (1552-1611). Two years after his death, Forman was implicated in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury through his relationship with two former female patrons, Countess Frances Howard Carr (1590-1632) and Mistress Anne Turner (1576-1615).

Forman

But Simon Forman was neither the fool nor evil magician that Stuart history suggests.  Much more likely he was a self-trained quack whose chief sins concerned the numerous illicit sexual conquests he recorded in his diaries.  Forman was a charismatic, intelligent seducer who dabbled in apothecary, astrology, and the occult arts.  His clients included Emilia Lanier (possibly Shakespeare’s mysterious Dark Lady) and Mrs. Mountjoy, the bard’s landlady.  Interestingly, Macbeth is one of the plays Forman mentions seeing at the Globe Theatre (April 20, 1610).  Yet as Barbara Howard Traister’s biography comments, Forman appeared much more interested in the note-taking doctor than in the supernatural characters, which is intriguing for a man who had already been imprisoned on charges of witchcraft.

 

Although Forman died in 1611, his reputation and influence lived on.  He was accused of having supplied the poison that killed Overbury in a diabolical plot hatched by the two femme-fatales – Carr and Turner – and of providing the countess with the magical means to be rid her former husband (Robert Devereux) in order to win over the king’s favorite courtier, Robert Carr.

Countess

At the center of the controversy stood Countess Frances, a virgin child-bride wedded to the Earl of Essex who had since fallen in love with the dashing Earl of Somerset.  Frances wanted her political marriage annulled so she could marry her beloved, but Carr’s mentor – Sir Thomas Overbury – disapproved of this match and stood in their way.  A plot was hatched to discredit Overbury, and he suddenly found himself confined to the Tower of London on trumped-up charges.

Some years earlier the countess had apparently contacted Simon Forman for a love potion.  It was stated at her trial that the cunning man also supplied her with a range of poisons, that were later mixed with tarts and jellies before being fed to the imprisoned Overbury by his jailor.  He died in September, 1613.  A few weeks later the Devereux marriage was officially annulled leaving Frances free to wed Carr.  But over the following months rumors of the murder plot began circulating at court, finally forcing the king to pay notice and address them.  Under the weight of the overwhelming evidence presented the countess confessed to poisoning her enemy, was found guilty at trial, but eventually received a pardon.  She was released from the Tower in 1622, having served due sentence for her crime.  Her accomplice, however, was not so fortunate.

Turner

 Anne Turner was rumored by some to be the illegitimate child of the conjurer, Simon Forman.  She was widowed from Dr. George Turner in 1610 and then became the mistress of Sir Arthur Mainwaring.  Somehow or other she befriended the countess, perhaps in her capacity as a sought-after dressmaker.  Anne held the patent for the saffron starch that dyed fashionable ruffs and cuffs yellow, a more flattering color for many complexions than the usual ivory white lawn.  She was also an independent business woman who ran houses of ill-repute in Hammersmith and Paternoster Row.  But because she was not of noble birth, the accomplice became the scapegoat for Overbury’s death.  Anne Turner, convicted of being a whore, a bawd, a sorcerer, a witch, a papist, a felon, and a murderer, was hanged at Tyburn in 1615.  She was sent to execution in her own fashionable yellow ruff, by a man wearing the same saffron ruff and cuffs – denouncing the color of her dye and putting an end to that particular fashion.

Of course these were not the three evil ones Shakespeare envisaged when writing Macbeth.  Yet he does add a final statement to the scandal in later versions of All’s Well That Ends Well by having  Parolles mocked for wearing a big ruff starched with “villainous saffron.”

Jacobean witches came in many shapes and guises!

 

Sources:  

The Casebook Project: “Sinon Forman (1552-1611)” (Cambridge: U of Cambridge, 2013)

Downing, Sarah Jane. Fashion in the Time of William Shakespeare (Oxford: Shire, 2014)

Traister, Barbara Howard. The Notorious Astrological Physician of London (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2001)

Wikipedia: “Simon Forman,” “Anne Turner(Murderer)” and “Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset.”

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s Recipe For Disaster

In Act IV – Scene I of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s three “weird sisters” prepare a “hell-broth” to produce a series of apparitions for Macbeth that set in motion a chain of deadly events.  Written only six years before the Lancashire Witch Trials, this script provides a good insight into some of the magical beliefs of that time.

 

out of; (c) Royal Shakespeare Company Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Round about the cauldron go;

In the poison’d entrails throw.

Toad, that under cold stone

Days and nights hast thirty one

Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,

Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf

Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,

Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,

Liver of blaspheming Jew,

Gall of goat, and slips of yew

Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse,

Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips,

Finger of birth-strangled babe

Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,

Make the gruel thick and slab:

Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,

For the ingredients of our cauldron.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.”

The Jacobean audience believed that witches brewed such diabolical charms, and seeing this dramatic scene live on stage they would likely have been terrified, fascinated, mesmerized, and revolted by the disgusting ingredients – exactly as Shakespeare intended.  But let us take a closer look at his recipe.

The bard was not only a master playwright, he was also a shrewd psychologist who understood the minds of the masses who flocked to the London theatres. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the first things thrown in the pot is the fenny snake, a nod to the snake who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The Catholic Church claimed that all women were necessarily evil because of Eve’s transgression, and that explains why the majority of accused witches were female.  The next three ingredients – eye of newt, toe of frog, and wool of bat – are added to the first item swelter’d toad venom – highlighting four nocturnal creatures that are often associated with witches and their familiar spirits.  The liver of blaspheming Jew endorses the common anti-Semitic beliefs of that era, alongside the racial prejudices held against the Turk and Tartar.  And Shakespeare further played into the beliefs of his class-conscious, biased audience by having a good man like Macbeth brought down by his scheming wife and a band of wicked hags.

A country audience, however, may have interpreted Macbeth’s cauldron quite differently from the royal courtiers and city dwellers.  Many of these exotic ingredients are actually poetic variants on the common names for herbs.  Fenny snake = chickweed; Eye of newt=mustard seed; Toe of frog = frog’s foot or bulbous buttercup; Wool of bat = bog moss; Tongue of dog = hound’s tongue; Adder’s tongue = adder’s tongue fern; Lizard’s leg = ivy; Howlet’s wing = henbane; Scale of dragon = dragonwort; Tooth of Wolf = wolf’s bane; Hemlock root = hemlock; Liver of Jew = Jew’s myrtle or box holly; Gall of goat = St. John’s Wort or honeysuckle;  Slips of Yew = yew tree bark; Nose of Turk = Turk’s cap; Tartar’s lips = ginseng or tartar root; Tiger’s chaudron = lady’s mantle; and the Finger of birth-strangled babe= foxglove, also known as “bloody fingers”.   The remaining items – toad venom, powdered mummy, shark, and baboon’s blood – were all widely thought to have medicinal properties.

Why did Shakespeare choose these fierce-sounding ingredients?  Joyce Froome (Wicked Enchantments) argues that, for the wise women of Pendle, these herbs would be part of their everyday folk magic.  Catt Foy (Witches & Pagans) suggests that maybe “Shakespeare knew a little more about herbcraft than he was letting on,” and Nigel Beale (Literary Tourists Blog) believes he chose names “designed to gross out the masses, to stop them from practicing magic.”

But William Shakespeare was  also a poet.  He knew the magic of words and  rhythmical power of his hypnotic witch chant.  It did not matter that these characters may have been throwing armfuls of common hedgerow roots and leaves into a boiling cook pot.  Much more important were the awful-sounding names that conjured up terrifying images in the minds of his audience – and at this he was an unsurpassed wizard!

Witch Circle

Sources:

Beale, Nigel. “Macbeth and what was in the Witches Brew” (Literary Tourist) http://literarytourist.com/2009/10/macbeth-and-what-was-in-the-witches-brew/ accessed 2/2/2015

Foy, Catt. “A Witch’s Brew: Recipe by Shakespeare” in Witches & Pagans #29 (Oregon: BBI Media, Spring, 2014) pages 24-26.

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

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Macdonald & Co., 1987)

Love Spells

Following on from Tuesday’s love potions post, which rhymes and chants were used for casting romance spells?  And does any method guarantee success?  A few clues exits in the rare books of magic and the ‘voluntary’ confessions extracted during various witch trials.

In De Occulta Philosophia the famous magician Agrippa (1486-1535) suggests that potions which include bizarre animal ingredients —  cat brain, wolf penis, and frog bones — are the most effective.   But the everyday spells cast by love-struck maidens were generally more innocuous.

Love Spell 2

From Mother Bunch’s Closet Newly Broke Open (by T.R.), Joyce Froome quotes the words used for piercing an apple with three pins and placing it under the pillow:

If thou be he that must have me

To be thy wedded bride,

Make no delay but come away

This night to my bedside. 

In the years of religious confusion following the Reformation, British Wise Women seem to have sprinkled their spell with a mix of paganism and papist terminology, perhaps believing that their banned Catholic rites still contained magic powers.  Old Chattox (one of the Lancashire Witches) confessed in her trial documents to using charms such as this one ( although this wasn’t actually a love potion):

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.

Five Pater-nosters, five Avies,

and a Creede,

In worship of five wounds

of our Lord.

Yet young girls of that era who wished to dream of their future husbands would say a Pater Noster (Lord’s Prayer) for each pin stuck in their sleeves before going to bed on St. Agnes’ Night, showing that religion and magic were firmly entwined in popular medieval culture.

Or on St. Thomas’ Eve, unwed girls might prick an onion with nine pins while chanting:

Good St. Thomas, do me right,

Send me my true love this night,

In his clothes and his array

Which he weareth every day. 

Love Spell 1

By the early Twentieth Century love spells had become less toxic and more in harmony with the natural world.  Froome explains how The Book of Charms and Ceremonies recommends placing willow catkins in the mouth before saying:

I eat thy luck

I drink thy luck

Give me that luck of thine

Then thou shalt be mine.

Today, however, love potions usually resemble herbal teas.  Here is one example from a “book on Druidic practices”:

1 pinch of rosemary

2 teaspoons of black tea

3 pinches of thyme

3 pinches of nutmeg

3 fresh mint leaves

6 fresh rose petals

6 lemon leaves

3 cups of pure spring water

Sugar

Honey

This potion should be made on a Friday during the waxing moon, in an earthenware or copper tea kettle.  Before drinking, the lover should recite:

By light of moon waxing I brew this tea
To make [lover’s name] desire me.

 Then they should drink some of the tea and say:
Goddess of love, hear now my plea
Let [lover’s name] desire me!
So mote it be
So mote it be. 
(links2love.com)

On the following Friday the lover should make more tea and share it with the person they desire who will then fall in love with them!

This brief summary shows a changing trend from the olden days, when young women wished to see who they would wed in harmless dreams, to cunning folk mixing dubious love potions.  During times of religious unrest, ancient prayers and traditional sacred rites were used but these were gradually replaced with herbs, roots, and mystical items from the natural world.

Rohypnol 2 mg box

Herbal teas seem harmless enough, but the suggestion to “share it with the person you desire” has become an increasingly sinister idea in this modern pharmaceutical era.  For many years men have used alcohol as a makeshift “love potion” to seduce unworldly women, but since date-rape drugs like rohypnol, ketamine, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) are available to those who know where to look, it is increasingly easy to ensure that the object of their desire cannot say no.

Love potions were always designed to make an unknowing or unwilling person comply with someone else’s wishes.  Unfortunately, date-rape drugs have now made it much easier for the predator to succeed!

 Sources:

Dyer, D.G. “Agrippa” in Man, Myth, and Magic (London: BBC, 1970)

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

“Love Potion Tea” available at http://www.links2love.com/love_potion.htm  (accessed 2/16/2015)

Potts, Thomas. The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster (London, 1613)

Old Demdike: Seven

Go Love-Nuts On Halloween!

“Can’t choose between two lovers? Here’s a spell to help – but it must be cast on All Hallows:
Light a fire and take three walnuts. Name one for yourself and one for each suitor.

Shell Walnut Walnuts Nuts

Place the three nuts on the fire with yours in the middle of the other two.
If either nut cracks – or jumps away – that union is not meant to be.
The two nuts that blaze closest together will make the best marriage!”

Love Potions

Night hearts

The topic for this Valentine’s week is love potions!  What are they made from?  Who uses them?  Do they work?

In Wicked Enchantments, Joyce Froome describes an array of magical charms used throughout the ages and recorded in the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall, England.  These include: sticking a certain number of pins into an apple or onion while chanting a rhyme; specific astrological symbols engraved on a box as a love talisman; carrying henbane root to make you appear more attractive; piercing knotted cords with pins; throwing salt on the fire while reciting a chant on three consecutive Fridays;  melting a wax heart over a hot tile while casting a charm that will bind the lover to your will;  and pushing pins in the sleeve with a prayer for each one so you will dream of your future spouse.  And quoting from The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus, Froome explains that a typical magical drink contained items such as periwinkle, houseleek,  and earthworms!

Candle hearts

Over the centuries love potions have appealed to young women in search of a husband; those who’ve lost their sweethearts and wish to lure them back; lovers in search of willing bed partners; and insecure people needing outside support, especially when they’ve already been rebuffed.  Cunning folk were only to happy to oblige and had a fifty-fifty chance of providing satisfaction, though of course they were conjuring up sexual allure and attraction, rather than genuine love.

There is some scientific research suggesting that modern-day “love potions” may actually affect human mood  – for example, those based on odors containing jasmine, rose, and vanilla.  Smells can trigger pheromones and create longing, attraction, or remind the person of happy erotic memories from their past.  Several products on the market contain chemical pheromones which supposedly make the wearer sexually irresistible.  Likewise, in the time before Viagra, certain herbs were used to increase the blood flow and stimulate arousal.  But did they really work?  What do you think?

Source:

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

The Scrying Game

Since the days of the Ancient Persians, wizards, witches, and Romany gypsies and have sought for ways to look beyond the familiar world around them.  Cunning folk have stared into fire, water, polished stone, magic mirrors, and crystal balls, seeking divination of hidden knowledge – visions of future events – or clairvoyant arts to find lost objects and detect criminals.

Scrying is a common Celtic practice too.  It comes from the Old English word descry and means to make out dimly or to reveal the past, present, or future.  Used to detect chaos, evil, good, and magic, scrying often brings a message.  The seer goes into a trance and uncovers a series of hidden images, rather like a movie playing inside their skull.  But the visions are symbolic and need interpreting, which is a skill that is only learned and honed over time.

Look into Kit’s crystal ball below.  I see you – if you see me too then perhaps you’ve also got the gift!

Crystal ball

Witches Galore: The Real Deal

One of the most popular gift shops in the world is Witches Galore, an enchanting magic store nestled close to Pendle Hill at Newchurch-in-Pendle.

 

Witch Shop Michael Ely Photograph by Michael Ely

 

Witches Galore

14 Newchurch Village, Newchurch-in-Pendle, Burnley, BB12 9JR, United Kingdom 

(Telephone: 01144-1282-613111)

Tourists paying a visit are greeted by a coven of life-size hags, who instantly weave their charms to lure the customers within!  Open seven days a week from 11am – 5 pm, Witches Galore offers an eclectic mix of information, games, and souvenirs.  There are mugs, ceramic wall plaques, tea-towels, fridge magnets, and jewelry related to the Pendle Witches, alongside a variety of books based specifically on Lancashire history, and a miscellaneous collection of magic items such as tarot packs, chalices, scrying bowls, skulls, and so forth.

But unique to this store is their expansive collection of beautifully-crafted witch models.  This one I ordered on-line (see below) is named after one of the Pendle Witches: Jennet Device.

Jennet

And this doll was bought several years ago when I was in the area:

Ali

The individual details are amazing.  I have never seen cloth-and porcelain figures of this quality anywhere else.

For a closer look inside Witches Galore check out this cute AffieFilms video with Cassie and Pippa (The Monkey Dogs).  There is also some great location footage at the start and end of their short YouTube adventure.  Enjoy!

Old Demdike: Six

From my voluntarie Confession and Examination (April 2, 1612)

” . . . the speediest way to take a mans life away by Witchcraft, is to make a Picture of Clay, like unto the shape of the person whom they meane to kill,& dry it thorowly: and when they would have them to be ill in any one place more then the other; then take a Thorne or Pinne, and pricke it in that part of the Picture you would so have to be ill: and when you would have any part of the Body to consume away, then take that part of the Picture, and burne it. And when you would have the whole body to consume away, then take the remnant of the sayd Picture, and burne it: and so thereupon by that meanes, the body shall die.”

 

Source: Potts, Thomas. The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, 1613.

Olde English Parkin

Parkin is a chewy gingerbread cake that is very popular in Northern England, especially on Bonfire or Guy Fawkes Night (November 5th).

Parkin

Ingredients:

4oz plain flour

4oz fine or medium oatmeal / porridge oats

4oz softened butter

4oz soft brown sugar

4oz black treacle

4oz golden syrup

2 eggs

1/2 level teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda

2 teaspoons vinegar

1 teaspoon dry ginger

1oz crystalized ginger

1 teaspoon mixed spice

6 tablespoons milk

Method

1. Heat the oven to 325 / 170 / Gas 3.  Grease an 8-inch lined square tin.

2. Place the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup in a saucepan and heat gently until the fat melts.  Do not boil.  Set mixture aside to cool slightly.

3. Sieve all the dry ingredients (except the bicarbonate of soda) in a large mixing bowl and scoop out a well in the center.

4. Place the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar inside the well and wait for the fizzing to stop.

5. Add the milk to the slightly cooled mixture in the saucepan, and beat well with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients are blended together.

6.  Carefully add the contents of the saucepan to the ingredients in the mixing bowl and stir thoroughly.

6. Lightly beat the eggs.  Add to the mixing bowl.  Blend until it looks like a loose batter.

7. Pour into the tray and place in the center of the oven for about 1 hour.  The parkin will turn a dark brown color and spring back to the touch when cooked.

8.  Leave inside the tin until completely cold.

Hint: Parkin should be wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight container for at least a day before cutting up and eating.  It keeps for about 2 weeks, growing moister and richer with time!

Kit’s Crit: The Wise Woman (Philippa Gregory)

Gregory

The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory

This historical fiction begins in 1540 and follows the tragic life of seventeen-year-old Alys, a young peasant girl in Tudor England.  Alys grew up on the moor with a harsh foster-mother called Morach, the local wise woman.  But turning her back on superstition and the pagan arts, Alys decides to join a nunnery.  For a time she finds contentment in this orderly sanctuary.  She enjoys the rigid structure, comparative luxury, and the safety afforded to the Holy Sisters.

But Alys happiness is short lived.  One night the monastery burns to the ground, a casualty of King Henry’s Reformation, and the young woman is summoned to the local castle to work as a scribe for the ailing lord of the manor.   Here she falls in love with his married son and heir, Lord Hugo.  She grows intently jealous of the Lady Catherine, and seeks to replace her in Hugo’s bed.  Calling on all the cunning tricks she recalls from living with Morach, Alys devises a difficult, disturbing plot to gain her heart’s desire.  At this point the novel slips into magical realism.

Gregory’s story has many Faustian overtones.  Alys conjures up the powers of darkness to possess the man she fixates on, aware that her actions are prompted by self-promotion rather than genuine love.  By the end of the book the Wise Woman is exposed as self-centered, unlikable, and evil – and therefore she meets with a hellish end.

The Wise Woman can also be read as a morality tale.  Although Alys is a victim of historical circumstance, feudalism, and gender, she serves as a warning against forbidden love and obsession.  She tries to take the rightful place of another woman – a place where she can never truly belong.  Alys discovers she has the power to unleash terrible things on the world, but by the time she realizes she has little control over them, it is too late to go back.  She sinks further and further into witchcraft.

I enjoyed the atmospheric setting of Gregory’s novel, and not expecting to sympathize with the central characters I was pleased to find them portrayed in a refreshingly honest way – warts and all!  The historical research is sound and convincing, and any book set in the medieval era must acknowledge the common superstitious beliefs of that time.

This is not a feel-good story.  It suggests everything in Alys’ world is a sham – magic, life, love, faith, and family.  But one of the great joys of reading is the ability to close the book at any point and find yourself back in the twenty-first century!

Anne Boleyn, the Witch: Part Four

Anne Boleyn 4

 Witch Crime #4: Anne Boleyn was presented as a seductress by her early suitor, Sir Thomas Wyatt.

In Poem XI he writes –

“Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.”
Wyatt is thought to be describing his own romantic pursuit of Mistress Anne, in direct competition with the reigning “Caesar” (King Henry).  With his characteristic play on words he presents “an (Anne) hind (deer)” – “Dear Anne” as their beautiful prey.  But as Karen Lindsey points out, “everyone knew what happened to the wild creature at the hunt’s end”(59) – it was captured, possessed, and destroyed.  Further, by alluding to the ingrained imagery from the Malleus Maleficarum, Wyatt’s line, “Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind” unfortunately conjured up the witches described by the two Catholic Inquisitors: “Their face is like a burning wind . . . and when it is said that her heart is a net, it speaks of the inscrutable malice which reigns in their hearts” (46).  Yet while Wyatt’s word-choice was most likely an unconscious literary device intended to portray the beloved as an illusive free spirit, his subliminal portrayal of Anne as a wild woman was not in her best interests, especially when the courtiers familiar with the Malleus, who had access to his early manuscript poems, were most likely the same men who sat at her trial.  The pretty doe of the hunt soon turned into a dangerously seductive temptress.
Even Wyatt’s enigmatic riddle (Poem LIV) implicates the Queen –
“What word is that that changeth not,
Though it be turned and made in twain?
It is mine answer, God it wot,
And eke the causer of my pain.
It love rewardeth with disdain:
Yet is it loved. What would ye more?
It is my health eke and my sore.”
Again, not intentionally associating his “answer” (Anne, sir) with witch craft, the poet’s ambiguous phrasing lends itself to a potentially sinister interpretation.  For although both the “causer of my pain” and “my sore” are common terms from the Courtly Tradition, they are also reminders of the Inquisitor’s warning  that, “a woman is beautiful to look upon, contaminating to touch, and deadly to keep” (46), and one of her many “injuries towards men” is the agony of “bewitching into an inordinate love”(47).  Wyatt’s poems stand in acknowledgement of Anne Boleyn’s seductive powers.  They may further have reminded her enemies of the old Queen Catherine because of this statement from the Malleus: “. . . how many adulterers have put away the most beautiful wives to lust after the vilest of women!” (51).
Perhaps one of Wyatt’s most damning poems is XXV –
“The lively sparks that issue from those eyes
Against the which ne vaileth no defence
Have pressed mine heart and done it none offence
With quaking pleasure more than once or twice.
Was never man could anything devise
The sunbeams to turn with so great vehemence
To daze man’s sight, as by their bright presence
Dazed am I, much like unto the guise
Of one ystricken with dint of lightning,
Blinded with the stroke, erring here and there.
So call I for help, I not when ne where,
The pain of my fall patiently bearing.
For after the blaze, as is no wonder,
Of deadly ‘Nay’ hear I the fearful thunder.”
 
It is thought that “The lively sparks” may be a reference to Anne Boleyn’s “striking and unusual” dark eyes (Chapman, 21).  The second line, “Against the which (witch) ne vaileth no defence,” suggests that the lover has no protection against the sorceress, and the phrase, “Have pressed mine heart ” recalls one of the punishments dealt to witches when their bodies are “pressed” under heavy stones to extract a confession.  The speaker of the poem is “ystricken with dint of lightning” as if falling under a spell, and though he should say “Nay”(No), her power over him is too strong to resist. Ironically, this young man’s heart-felt love poems may have helped pave the way for his sweetheart’s execution.
It is doubtful if any of the Queen’s friends actually believed she was a witch.  And though she was condemned for treason and adultery, her own conscience was apparently clear.  Shortly before her death Anne told her jailor that she “would be a saint in Heaven, because I have done many good deeds in my days” (Lindsey, 100).   But unfortunately, over the centuries,  Wyatt’s damning words have reached far more ears than her last cry of innocence.
Sources for Part Four:
Chapman, Hester W. Anne Boleyn (London: cape, 1974)
Kramer, Heinrich; and James Sprenger. The Malleus Maleficarum (New York: Dover, 1971)
 (Worldwide: Addison-Wesley, 1996)
Wyatt, Thomas. The Complete Poems Ed. R.A. Rebholz. (Worldwide: Penguin,1978)

Anne Boleyn, the Witch: Part Three

 

In today’s enlightened age, few would believe that Anne Boleyn was actually guilty of witchcraft.  She may have had traces of an extra nail growing on her little finger, and possibly a mole on her neck, as reported by early biographer George Wyatt (grandson of Sir Thomas) who based his information from interviews with Anne’s former attendants.  But who does not have any form of blemish on their body?  Such flaws were obviously acceptable to King Henry when he desired her, but they appear to have been greatly magnified by her detractors in later years.  By the time Nicholas Sanders gave his account a half-century later, the disgraced Queen was said to have buck teeth and a whole extra finger on her right hand!  Yet the remains of a body thought to be Anne Boleyn’s, exhumed in the nineteenth century, showed no signs of skeletal abnormality.  Of course, after three hundred years there would be scant trace of a mole or extra finger-nail remaining, but the evidence suggests that any imperfections Anne had were minor. So why were they interpreted as signs of devilry? A clue may be found in the English language.

 Boleyn 2

The Malleus Maleficarum states that “The word ‘woman’ means ‘the lust of the flesh'”(43), which today can be understood as a psychological projection of blame onto the object of male desire.  Women were seen as fickle, seductive creatures who would lead good Christian men astray.  They made easy prey for demons to recruit, and then these familiar spirits would claim their victims with “witches marks” (moles, skin tags, supernumerary nipples, or birth marks) – places on the body where they could suckle human blood.  Therefore every sexually-active woman was potentially the devil’s gateway. 

Unfortunately, the dual concepts of wickedness and blame worked their way into everyday language.  If a man found a woman attractive it was because she was consciously bewitching, beguiling, enchanting, charming, captivating, or seductive.  Now as part of every day speech, such terms were harmless.  But when certain courtiers wrote them into love songs and sonnets, then  they became exceedingly dangerous.  Especially for a suspect Queen.

It seems unlikely that Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) and Anne Boleyn ever consummated their close relationship, despite the fact he was an ardent suitor of Mistress Boleyn before King Henry started noticing her. With the reputation for being one of the best poets of his age, Wyatt used clever wordplay and an ambiguous “I” speaker in the poems thought to have been written with her in mind: “Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,” “What word is that that changeth not,” “If waker care, if sudden pale colour,” and “Sometime I fled the fire that me brent.”  The poet was arrested in May 1536, charged with committing adultery with the Queen.  Five other men were also accused, but he was the only one who escaped execution – proof enough that Henry believed his relationship with Anne was platonic.

And yet the beautiful words in Wyatt’s love sonnets may have ultimately  helped to condemn his lady.  Find out how in Part Four.

Sources for Part Three:

Daalder, Joost.  Sir Thomas Wyatt: Collected Poems  (Worldwide: Oxford UP, 1975)

Foley, Stephen Mirriam. Sir Thomas Wyatt (Boston: Twayne, 1990)

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

Wiatt, William H. “Sir Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn” in English Language Notes, Vol. VI (December, 1968). Colorado: U of Colorado, 1968. 94-102.

Old Demdike: Five

A Charme to Cure the Bewitched.

(Francisco de Goya y Lucientes)

“Upon Good-Friday, I will fast while I may
Untill I heare them knell
Our Lords owne Bell,
Lord in his messe
With his twelve Apostles good,
What hath he in his hand
Ligh in leath wand:
What hath he in his other hand?
Heavens doore key,
Open, open Heaven doore keyes,
Steck, steck hell doore.
Let Crizum child
Goe to it Mother mild,
What is yonder that casts a light so farrandly,
Mine owne deare Sonne that’s naild to the Tree.
He is naild sore by the heart and hand,
And holy barne Panne,
Well is that man
That Fryday spell can,
His childe to learne;
A Crosse of Blew, and another of Red,
As good Lord was to the Roode.
Gabriel laid him downe to sleepe
Upon the ground of holy weepe:
Good Lord came walking by,
Slep’st thou, wak’st thou Gabriel,
No Lord I am sted with sticke abd stake,
That I can neither sleepe nor wake:
Rise up Gabriel and goe with me,
The stick nor the stake shall never deere thee.
Sweete Jesus our Lord, Amen.”

Taken from Jennet Device’s testimony against her bother, James (August, 1612)

Anne Boleyn, the Witch: Part Two

 

The Malleus Maleficarum stated that, aside from fornication, “the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith” (43), which the English Catholics interpreted as the influx of Lutheranism coming from Henry’s break with Rome, after his marriage to Mistress Boleyn.  Bluff King Hal was  beyond reproach, but his concubine was not.  Anne – an intelligent, radical thinker with her own ideas about religion – became a rallying point for the Reformers.  But how much of a Protestant was she? Katherine Lindsay’s book Divorced, Beheaded, Survived points out there was no record of the queen “denying the doctrine of transubstantiation, one of the central Protestant concerns,” and she clung to the Catholic notion that “good works could assure a place in Heaven,” as opposed to the Lutheran “insistence on justification by faith” (100).  It seems evident, therefore, that the queen believed herself to be a good Christian.  But the plotting courtiers painted her in an entirely different light.

Witch Crime #2: Anne Boleyn was suspected of being a key player in a diabolical plot to overthrow the Church of Rome.

Boleyn 3

Archbishop Chapuys reported to his employer (Emperor Charles V) that His English Majesty was “bewitched by this cursed woman . . . does all she says, and dare not contradict her” (Chapman, 151).  For as Alison Weir explains in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Cromwell had told him the king “made this marriage seduced by her witchcraft, and for that reason he considered it null and void” (304).  The Malleus decreed that “if witchcraft takes effect in the event of a marriage” it “destroys the contract” (4).  This gave the unhappy husband a loophole to be rid of Anne so he could wed Jane Seymour instead.   By itself, however, enchantment was not a sufficient reason to execute a royal wife.  Other charges were needed.  So as the case against Anne grew she became accused of “having poisoned the late Queen Katherine [and] attempting to do the same to Lady Mary” (Weir, 326) – which on top of the multiple counts of adultery, including incest with her brother, amounted to the heinous crime of witchcraft.

Exodus 22:18 commands, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” and the Catholic Inquisitors were quick to condemn all women as inherently wicked “because of the first temptress, Eve, and her imitators” (Malleus, 44).  According to Pierre Brunel’s Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes the sorceress became “the core, the center of all that cannot be understood or accepted.”  She attracted fear, hatred, and loathing until she was no longer seen as a human being but instead turned into “the expression and cause of the misfortune” suffered by all (1165). In short, the cunning woman became the royal scapegoat.

Witch Crime #3: Being an instrument of darkness, Anne Boleyn was directly and indirectly responsible for all the wrongs in the kingdom.

Yet who did the most damage to the Queen’s reputation?  The answer may surprise you!  Check back for Part Three on Thursday.

Sources Cited in Part Two:

Brunel, Pierre. Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes (London and New York: Routledge, 1992)

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

Holy Bible (London: Collins)

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

Lindsey, Karen. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived (Worldwide: Addison-Wesley, 1996)

Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII (New York: Ballantine, 1993)

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 Protestant 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)

Fairy Dust

A few wires –

a leap from reality –

and Peter Pan took flight

through fairy dust

in front of us

on an ordinary weekday night.

And glitter

shone in the eyes of the child

sat there all evening

stock still – grinning –

finger in mouth –

catching his breath and believing

every tick

of the crocodile’s tock-clock,

and each brave sword blow,

walking the plank –

taking the plunge –

without ever needing to slow.

Peter Pan

And I ask

myself why the magic is

sham and corrupt,

in failing to

 ward off those

pirates of old –  our growing up?

(Degrassi Wiki Gif in Public Domain)

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)

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)