Coifs

In most historical fiction set in the European Middle Ages, the female characters wear coifs.

4x5 original

Hans Holbein

But what exactly was a coif?

Coifs were various styles of close-fitting caps that covered the top, back, and sides of the head, holding the hair in place and away from the face.

In the Thirteenth Century coifs were worn by everyone, but they slowly fell out of fashion for men.  Women and children, however, continued using them well into the Seventeenth Century.  Not only were they a practical item for additional warmth in winter, they also provided a level of respectability for women and could be turned into a decorative status symbol for the nobility.

Up until the Tudor era, coifs were made from unadorned white linen and tied under the chin.  In Elizabethan and Jacobean times the hoods of the wealthy were made from silk.  They were often embroidered with elaborate Blackwork stitches.  Many had fancy lace edges.

Noble women’s coifs were usually wired to fit discretely under the current head fashions of the day.  They gradually became smaller to allow curls to flow down the back of the lady’s gown.

Workers and servants wore large, plain practical wraps that completely covered their hair.

 

 

 

A Biblical Puzzle: The Witch of Endor

Endor Benjamin West

The Witch of Endor (1 Samuel: 28) is one of the great puzzles of the Old Testament.  She was the medium who summoned the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit at the request of King Saul, and then comforted the king when he received the terrible news of his impending defeat and death.  Yet the one true Wise Women in the scriptures was not originally portrayed as being evil, manipulative, or sinister.

Ironically, Saul had previously driven all the magicians and cunning folk out of Israel.  But when God stopped appearing in his dreams – and the Philistine army was at his door – the desperate king went in search of a medium to help him contact Samuel’s ghost for advice.  During the 11th Century this witch (named Abner) was thought to have been the mother of Saul’s cousin – and therefore his aunt – but this seems unlikely as he commanded a servant to “seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit,” and only then heard about the medium at Endor.  They met and conversed as strangers, the king being in disguise, and she was naturally reluctant to help until he promised her “no punishment” for doing what was legally forbidden.  The witch finally conjured up the dead prophet’s spirit who predicted the end of Saul and his reign. This quickly came to pass.  The Philistines were victorious and Saul, wounded in battle, ended up taking his own life.

This episode is the Bible’s only suggestion that the spirits of the dead can be summoned by magic.  The Witch of Endor, sometimes described as a ventriloquist because other voices spoke through her, appeared to see the dead yet could not hear what they told the person who had summoned them.  She was a genuine medium – not a trickster – described as a kindly character who comforted Saul after the terrible prophecy was revealed.  She even fed him a lavish meal before he left her home.

Then at some time during the Middle Ages this wise woman was turned into a wicked witch.  No longer did she present the ghost of Samuel on demand, but instead conjured up a demon to give the illusion of the dead prophet.  Martin Luther called the apparition the “Devil’s ghost” and Calvin dismissed it as “but a spectre.”  The story then changed from being a worried king’s frantic search for supernatural help, into a morality tale about witchcraft and death.

But the puzzle remains: Was Samuel’s appearance an act of God working through a spiritualist to grant Saul’s request?  Or is this tale an example of Satan’s cunning in bringing about a good king’s defeat and suicide?  What do you think?

Sources:

Wikipedia – “Witch of Endor.”  Accessed on 5/11/2015

Holy Bible, 1 Samuel: 28.

Kit’s Crit: The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory)

Gregory

On my first reading of The Other Boleyn Girl in 2001, I was impressed by Philippa Gregory’s bravery in writing against the popular romantic image of the Tudor queen as a much-maligned victim.  I re-read the book again this past week as part of my research into medieval witchcraft, and still maintain this is one of the finest examples of historical fiction in the genre.

Gregory plays the devil’s advocate by posing the question: What if Anne Boleyn really was guilty of the charges brought against her?  She then weaves a plausible explanation of the young woman’s dangerous rise to power, a gamble that ultimately cost her life.  The story is told through the eyes of the other Boleyn girl at court, her sister Mary.  And although British historian David Starkey claims there are only “four known facts” about Mary Boleyn, and that this therefore amounts to “one fact per seventy-five pages,” Gregory does a splendid job of recreating an authentic version of the Tudor court from numerous other sources.  There are, fortunately, many more extant facts regarding Anne and Henry!

Gregory’s Queen Anne is not an endearing character, but then everything said about her comes from the rival sister’s lips – one of the women she ousted from the king’s bed.  Anne is portrayed as ambitious, vain, single-minded, selfish, ruthless, callous, manipulative, and amoral.  Yet she is also intelligent, artistic, fashionable, and fun.  She is not a practicing witch – though she does enchant Henry and all those around her – but when placed in a desperate situation she turns to a local wise woman for help.  As the king is aging and impotent, when Anne needs a son to secure the throne her brother George steps in as a replacement.  And she may or may not have poisoned some of her enemies.

The Other Boleyn Girl strips away the traditional glamor of court, presenting a much more realistic insight into the fragile and perilous lives of the youngsters groomed as bargaining chips by their ambitious families.  It also highlights the differences between those born high and low, and how real happiness lies in the simple pleasures of life.  The characters are engaging and interesting – even as they descend into strange, dark places.  And the psychological explanations offered for Anne Boleyn’s criminal behavior are fascinating, thought-provoking, and plausible –  even if factually untrue.

A five-star read!

Cher’s Dark Lady

DARK LADY – Cher

(John Robert Durrill)

      Marie_Laveau[1]

The fortune queen of New Orleans,
Was brushing her cat in her black limousine.
On the backseat were scratches from
The marks of men whose fortune she had won.
Couldn’t see through the tinted glass,
She said, “Home James,” and he hit the gas.
I followed her to some darkened room,
She took my money, she said “I’ll be with you soon.”

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself.

She dealt two cards, a queen and a three,
And mumbled some words that were so strange to me.
Then she turned up a two-eyed jack,
My eyes saw red but the card still stayed black.
She said, “The man you love is secretly true
To someone else who is very close to you.
My advice is that you leave this place,
Never come back, and forget you ever saw my face!”

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself.

So I ran home and crawled in my bed,
I couldn’t sleep because of all the things she said.
Then I remembered her strange perfume,
And how I smelled it was in my own room!
So I sneaked back and caught her with my man,
Laughing and kissing until they saw the gun in my hand.
The next thing I knew they were dead on the floor,
Dark lady would never turn a card up anymore!

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself!

 

 

 

Olde English Yorkshire Pudding (Lancashire Style!)

 

 

 

Yorkshire_Pudding[1]

Here’s a Lancashire version of Yorkshire Pudding.  It was traditionally cooked in the fat drippings from a roast of beef and makes a delicious addition to Sunday Lunch.

Ingredients:

4oz plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

1/2 pint cold water

12 teaspoons of meat drippings or cooking oil or 3oz animal fat (lard)

 

Method:

1. Heat the oven to hot – 475 / Gas 9 / 240.

2. Place one teaspoon of the meat dripping (or oil or 1/4oz lard) inside the individual holes of a 12-cup muffin tray and set aside.

3. Sift the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center.  Add the eggs.  Stir.

4. Begin adding the water a little at a time, mixing with a fork to smooth out any lumps until a smooth watery batter forms.

5. Whisk with a fork for 2-5 minutes until the mixture forms large bubbles.  Place in the refrigerator.

6.  Heat the oil or fat in the muffin tray in the hot oven for 3-5 minutes until it is hot and steaming.  Carefully remove from the oven.

7. Whisk the batter again for 3 minutes. Spoon an even amount into each of the twelve holes.  Immediately return to the heat.

8. Cook for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden brown.  Serve immediately.

 

Hints for the perfect pudding!

* Puddings cooked in lard or meat dripping are the tastiest.

* Use only plain flour.

* Mixture made in advance, whisked several times, and stored in the refrigerator produces the best batter.

* Whisk with a fork – not a hand or electric mixer.

* The more air bubbles you whisk in, the more the mixture will rise.

* The oven must be piping hot.

* Do not open oven door at all while cooking.

* Fat must be smoking before the batter is added.

* Best served straight from the oven.

 

 

 

 

Elementary Magic

elements Shutterstock

The four elements are the basic substances that make up life on this planet. They were classified by the Ancient Greeks as Fire, Air, Earth and Water.  This categorization influenced European thought well into the Renaissance period, and still remains important in modern magic and astrology.  For example, the twelve horoscopes are divided into Fire Signs (Aires, Leo, Sagittarius); Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn); Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius); and Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces).

FIRE (Ignis) is plasma matter that can manifest as both hot and dry.  Galen associated it with yellow bile and the choleric body.  It is a positive power – or a destructive influence – depending on how it is used.  Fire is also a transformer that can turn into heat, light, smoke, and ash, and is the energy that brings about change.  Magicians use fire spells to inspire drive and motivation, particularly in the pursuit of passion or ambition.

AIR (Aer) – a gaseous matter – contains both wet and hot properties.  Galen believed it was related to the blood and created the sanguine body.  Air is a detaching element associated with the mind.  For this reason it is used in magic to enhance human intellectual powers and inspire creativity.

EARTH (Terra) is dry and cold, a feminine solid matter.  In Galen’s philosophy it partnered black bile and the melancholic humor.  But Earth is also a binding element, and while it can freeze, liquefy, or dry into other states, it always retains the ability to return to its natural form.  Because it represents the grounded soul, earth spells are used for guilt-free material gain, and personal happiness.

WATER (Aqua) is the cold, wet element that manifests as a liquid matter.  Galen connected water with a phlegmatic  imbalance of the humors.  This substance not only nurtures and sustains all life on the planet but it also contains magnetic properties.  It is a mystical element used by practitioners for communing with divine spirits.

 Aristotle studied the heavens and decided to add a fifth element he named Aether.  His concept of ETHER sounds like stardust – the substance beyond the material world that is heavenly and unchangeable.  Some modern magicians believe this is the stuff from which all magic is made – that spells function by directing the energy in our own bodies to manipulate the flow of Ether as it swirls about the universe.

Perhaps Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock song is right in claiming:

“We are stardust

Billion year old carbon” . . . 

Sources:

Rees, Matthew. “A Metaphysical Theory of Magic” at http://www.sabledrake.com/2000a/metaphysical_magic.htm

“Fire, Water, Air, Earth” at http://www.spiritualknowledge.net

Wikipedia: “Classical Elements” and various Wiccan, Pagan, and Magic websites.

Photo: Shutterstock

Lilith and Eve: Part Two

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

In the Christian version of Genesis, Adam (meaning literally “man”) is the perfect model of strength and beauty.  He donates a rib to create a submissive partner, the naïve Eve. They dwell in the Garden of Eden with two special trees – the Tree of Knowledge (which gives the wisdom to uncover good and evil) and the Tree of Life (which grants immortality).  Eve is tempted by the devil (in the guise of the serpent) to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and is then expelled from paradise alongside her mate, cutting off the Tree of Life and making them both mortal.

Eve, the first woman deceived by a sweet-talking male, becomes the original mother of mankind.  In the beginning she is a daughter of nature – a creature half-way between animal and man – beautiful, sensual, emotional, but also fickle, stupid, and weak.  This archetypal woman soon becomes the victim, the first person seduced by Satan and therefore the first witch.  Indeed, in early iconography, Eve is even physically linked with the serpent through her long twisting hair.

Eve sins in multiple ways – by disobeying God and rejecting divine authority, going her own way, and in seeking the wisdom of the male Gods – implying that all the evil, death, and suffering in the world comes from disobeying your master.  Naïve woman is blamed for the Fall, a typical psychological projection onto a convenient scapegoat.

At some point Lilith became entwined with Eve in the minds of the early Christian commentators.  Instead of a masculine Satan being culpable for Eve’s ruin, Lilith is associated with the snake in Genesis 3 – a female demon who tempts Eve into rebellion.  Even John Milton alludes to the “snake witch” in Paradise Lost.  Thereafter, the gullible Eve is portrayed as a calculating, evil, seductress, and the source of man’s carnal desire.

And because the first woman committed the primal sin, all females were forever to be held accountable.  For centuries they were considered subservient, lustful, untrustworthy, base, unintelligent, and sly.  Small wonder that so many of the witches executed in the Burning Times were female!

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes.  London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions.  Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1999.

Witcombe, Christopher:  “Eve and the Identity of Women” (7) http://witcombe.sbc.edu/eve-women/7evelilith.html

Lilith and Eve: Part One

 

Lilith Dante Gabriel Rossetti

According to the Jewish Midrash’s  explanation for the two separate accounts of the Creation Story, Adam’s first wife was a woman called Lilith.  She was made of the same soil as man and therefore was his equal.  But when Adam tried to dominate Lilith she rebelled, fled the Garden of Eden, and abandoned her mate to consort with more submissive demons instead.  So God created another mate for Adam and called her Eve.

From the Sixth Century BC, Lilith was portrayed as a female demon who killed infants and threatened women in childbirth, and perhaps because of this association the scriptures began partnering Lilith with Samael (Satan), making her the Queen of Evil.  Her Hebrew name translates into “night creature,” “night monster,” “night hag,” and “screech owl” – and only the three angels Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof can protect against her wicked powers.

In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church identified Lilith (and her daughters, the Lilim) with female succubae – demons who copulate with sleeping men, causing their erotic dreams.  Contrasting with the pure, submissive, Holy Mother, Lilith was a disobedient, lustful sinner who used her sexuality to seduce and ruin men.  Her evil stems from being willful – a dangerous threat to patriarchal order and stability.

Mirrors were the direct entrance into Lilith’s realm.  Vanity allowed Lilith and her daughters to enter an unsuspecting maiden through her eyes, then lure her into all manner of wild, promiscuous behavior.

In some cultures Lilith is the wind-witch.  She brings storms, sickness, and nighttime predators.  She is bird-like – often depicted with talons and wings – and the name Lil is also associated with the Sumerian word for “wind”‘ “air,” or “storm.”

Today, however, some wiccans and occultists worship Lilith as the “first mother.”

 

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes.  London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions.  Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1999.

Witcombe, Christopher:  “Eve and the Identity of Women” (7) http://witcombe.sbc.edu/eve-women/7evelilith.html

 

Kit’s Crit: The Daylight Gate (Jeanette Winterson)

Winterson

Starting from the assumption that Jacobean Lancashire was a rebel Catholic stronghold in a Protestant country, Jeanette Winterson’s version of the most famous English witch trials is quite unlike any other.  The Daylight Gate is a novella – not the hefty Victorian saga first told by Harrison Ainsworth – and it often strays away from the recorded historical facts.  Indeed, this book examines witchcraft and Catholicism as “matters treasonable and diabolical” in an impressionistic, modernist manner, which culminates in a broody tale where events appear blurred by the mists of time.

 Winterson takes a lot of poetic license with the facts as they are recorded in the trial documents, inventing new players, and placing famous people of that era in implausible situations.  Her Alice Nutter – the central character she admits is not true to the actual historical figure – is lured into witchcraft, knows William Shakespeare and the magician John Dee, appears younger than the matron who was actually executed, and is bisexual. Yet at the same time Justice Roger Nowell, who led the puritanical crusade against the local cunning folk, gets painted in an unexpectedly sympathetic light.

However, Winterson’s rough characters and brutal situations are credible for that time, area, and circumstance.  And she deftly strips away the romanticism found in some of the earlier novels based on these same events.  I particularly admire her intelligent justification for the motives and causes behind the three remaining puzzles: Why was a gentlewoman of Mistress Nutter’s rank convicted alongside the common poor?  Why did nine-year-old Jennet Device betray her entire family?  And why did some of the accused willingly confess to diabolical crimes?  Winterson has obviously considered these questions and reached her own conclusions about the excitement, hysteria, and sexual opportunities that open up during a witch hunt.  And while she does not dwell on the misogynist drive that fuelled men like Nowell, she does address the other power imbalances associated with gender, wealth, and rank.

I appreciate Winterson’s sparse, poetic technique that functions like a series of flashbacks to a dangerous, incomprehensible era that was ripe with suspicion and superstition – a place where poor women did what was necessary to survive.  Because they had no control over the real world they “must get what power they can in theirs,” though this is not a feel-good fairy tale where everyone lives happily ever after.

If you like intensity, and are open to magical realism, The Daylight Gate is an interesting introduction to the Pendle Witches.  But it is ultimately more of a literary horror story than a traditional historical fiction.

The Goddess Within

 goddess

When they thought us wicked, we were really wise

In the Burning Times of world despise,

They named us as tricksters, blamed things dark and worse,

Called cunning and wile a demon’s curse.

Heaven and the Underworld, summoned at will,

Crept on cat-paws to nurture or thrill,

Reading vain futures – balancing humors –

Attending births and healing tumors.

Folklore has always survived the Dark Ages . . .

They’ll never destroy the timeless Sages.

 

 

Olde English Sherry Trifle

Trifle

This traditional Sherry Trifle is intended for adults.  For a non-alcoholic version omit the sherry.  Another adaptation can be made by leaving out the jelly / Jello layer.  They all taste fabulous!

Ingredients

1 family-size raspberry jam Swiss-roll cake

1 sherry glass of sweet sherry

1 pint of raspberry jelly / Jello (made from blocks or powder)

1/2 Ib (one small punnet or tub) fresh raspberries

1 pint of homemade vanilla custard (or Bird’s instant custard powder mix)

1 pint heavy or whipping cream

Chopped nuts, candied fruit slices, chocolate flakes, or ice-cream sprinkles for decoration

Method

1. Mix up the jelly / Jello and leave to cool in a jug.

2. Make the custard and  cool in a pan away from the stove.

3. Line a large glass bowl with the halved slices of the Swiss-roll cake.

4. Pour the sherry evenly over the sponge.

5. Wash the fresh raspberries and add on the top of the cake.

6. Pour the cooled jelly /Jello over the fruit and sponge.  Place in the refrigerator to set.

7.  When the custard is cold carefully remove the skin from the top and discard.  Spoon the custard onto the chilled jelly mix and spread evenly over the top.  Chill in the refrigerator for about one hour.

8. Whip the cream into peaks.  Spoon onto the  cold custard layer.  Using a fork, spread the topping evenly in a pleasing design.

9. Decorate with the nuts, fruit slices, chocolate flakes, or ice-cream sprinkles.

10. Keep the in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Comfits: Before There Were Jellybeans . . .

In the time before Jellybeans and Fruit Pastilles there were Comfits, a delicious confectionary also known as Sugar Plums.  Comfits took several weeks of painstaking dedication to make, and were often a good cook’s most closely-guarded secret.  There are several modern recipes for Sugar Plums – but here is an original version for those with the perseverance.  Your patience will be sweetly rewarded!

Ingredients

Damson plums

Sugar

 Comfits George Flegel

Method

  1. Wash the plums and remove their stones.
  2. Sprinkle the base of a large cauldron or cooking pot with sugar. Arrange the fruit in layers, covering each layer with a good coating of sugar.
  3. Press down the fruit with a wooden spoon. Place on the lowest heat on a stovetop (or at the edge of the fireplace) until the sugar dissolves without burning. Remove from the heat.
  4. Cover with a lid to protect from insects. Leave undisturbed in the cool larder (not refrigerator) until the juice turns into syrup. This may take up to a week, depending on the outside air temperature.
  5. Bring the fruit to the boil for one minute, then immediately transfer it to an earthenware pot. Cover tightly. Place back inside a cool larder for an additional week.
  6. Roll each plum individually in sugar and place on a baking tray. Cover and leave overnight.
  7. Repeat the process with each damson daily, for one week, until the fruit has absorbed as much sugar as possible.
  8. On the eighth day cook for 30 minutes on the lowest oven setting possible, to dry out any remaining juice.
  9. Again coat each plum with sugar and leave overnight.
  10. Repeat the 30-minute baking and sugaring process above for three-to-five additional days, until all the plums are completely crisp.
  11. Store in a glass jar with an airtight lid.
  12. Enjoy a delicious taste of the past!

 

Nature’s Vampires: 25 Things You Need To Know About Leeches

Sucking_leech

I read recently that leeches are still being used in plastic and micro surgery.  Their first reported use appears in Sanskrit writings that date back 2,500 years.  Here are 25 facts that you probably didn’t (ever want to) know:

1.  The Ancient Greeks adopted the practice of leeching to balance the four humors in Galen’s theory of the human body.

2.  The majority of leeches live in fresh water, although there are a few marine varieties too.

3.  They have suckers on each end of their bodies.

4.  Leeches are hermaphrodites.

5.  Most species have a 3-bladed jaw that slices through the skin of the host.

6.  Hirudo Medicinalis – medical leeches – have three jaws with approximately 100 sharp teeth at the rim.

7.   They store blood up to 5 times their body mass.

8.  Medical leeches only need to feed twice a year because they have a super-slow digestive system.

9.  The European variety were so popular in the 19th Century that they actually became endangered.

10. Leeches attach themselves to feed, but fall off naturally to digest the host’s blood once they are bloated.

11.They feed between 20 minutes – 2 hours.

12. The safest way to remove these parasites is by using a blunt object to break the seal of their suckers.

13. If they are shocked from the host they regurgitate their stomach contents, which often causes infection in the bite.

14. Leech saliva makes wounds bleed more readily.

15. The anticoagulant in their spit is called hirudin.

16. Leech bites generally don’t hurt because they also release an anesthetic when they penetrate the skin.

17. Wounds itch as they heal.

18. Leeches come in brown, black, and dark green colors.

19. They vary from 1″ (2.5 cm) – 12″ (30cm) in length.

20. Leeches lay eggs in cocoons.

21. In cold or dry spells they hibernate by burying themselves in the mud until conditions improve.

22.  They have poor vision, but a highly-developed response to touch and vibration.

23 Many species are nocturnal.

24. Rainforest leeches are not aquatic.   They thrive in vegetation and feed of warm-bodied hosts.

25. The use of leeches in US medical procedures was FDA approved in 2004.

In leech-rich areas these tiny vampires will drop from their hiding places and inch towards you like something from a horror movie . . .

and the thought of plastic surgery drops even further down my to-do list!

The Wizard’s Wand

wood wand

The  Harry Potter book series made magic wands the must-have addition for any aspiring wizard.  But what exactly are they? Do they work?  And if so, how?

In J.K. Rowling’s world, wands are mystical tools made from a wide variety of wood.  At the core is a magical talisman from some mythical creature such as a phoenix feather, dragon heartstring, or unicorn hair.  And as Hermione tells Harry, you do not choose the wand – the wand chooses you.  Rowling’s sticks contain supernatural powers that assist the youngsters in casting various spells, and seem inspired by a few elements from European folklore and a good deal of literary license!

Traditionally, the wand was associated with wizard’s staff and the monarch’s scepter, and may have first originated as a phallic symbol.  It has also been suggested it derived from the shaman’s drumming sticks, which were widely used as pointers in magical ceremonies.  The first literary reference appeared in Homer, when Circe used a wand to turn Odysseus’ men into wild pigs.

But how do the facts differ from the fiction?

* Wands are usually made from wood, but they can also be made of stone or metal depending on the type of spell required.  For example, copper wands are used in healing.

* These rods are tools used to focus the power of the wizard but they do not work magic by themselves.  They guide and direct human energy to the proper, desired place.

* Wands are associated with the element of air (and sometimes fire).

* Spirals are sometimes incorporated into their design to represent the beginning and end of everything.  They also create a vortex that harnesses energy.

* Each wand is unique.  They are quasi-sentient – inanimate objects with animate characteristics.

* They can be used for protection, empowerment, healing, and love spells.

* Beginners should use flexible wands made from ash or willow.  Experts may graduate to hard woods like ebony and oak.

* Wands need to be cleansed on a regular basis to keep their energy strong and pure.

* They can be recharged in sunlight or full moonlight.

* Power builds up in the handle and is released through the tip.

* Whatever you send out to others comes back three times stronger – therefore a magician should always send out blessings instead of curses!

 But do they actually work?  You tell me . . .

Sources:

“Wand” – Wikipedia.  Accessed 4/2/2015.

http://www.magicwandsofwizardry.com.  Accessed 4/2/2015.

Kit’s Crit: Magic In Western Culture (Brian P. Copenhaver)

Copenhaver

Magic In Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015)

Brian Copenhaver’s Magic In Western Culture traces occult beliefs From Antiquity to the Enlightenment.  His study starts in Ancient Iran, Greece, and Rome, and moves through the early Christian Church to the influential thinkers of the Renaissance.  Magic is treated as a tradition that derives from classical philosophy, as Copenhaver examines why European intellectuals “repudiate magic in the Enlightenment, after having previously accepted it for more than two millennia” (xiii).

Copenhaver suggests that before the Enlightenment most educated Western people believed in magic – a tradition handed down from Herodotus.  But the early Catholic Church claimed any supernatural activity in The Bible was the result of divine miracles (not earthly magic), which created little problem until Thomas Aquinas insisted that if there were heavenly angels there must also be hell’s counterparts – demons.  Thereafter, devils were seen as tempting the faithful with magic powers and turning them into witches.   This belief persisted into the Middle Ages and beyond.

As further medical advances were made, traditional magic was superseded by new therapies – regimen, pharmacy, and surgery.  Doctors of Physic practiced a natural philosophy whereby physical treatment (not ritual or religious) aimed to produce the correct mix of humors in the body.

During the Renaissance, natural philosophy gradually gave way to mechanical science, particularly after the invention of the telescope and microscope.  Men like Descartes favored reason, method, and metaphysics over occultism, but this was not a clear-cut process.  Isaac Newton, for example, spent much of his scientific career as an alchemist searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, and was later called “the last of the magicians” (288).  But over the centuries, magic gradually succumbed to the dual pressures of religion and science until it fell out of fashion with the European intellectuals.

Magic In Western Culture is a dense, scholarly book, lightened in part by the rich illustrations.  Copenhaver has sifted through the murky realms of early belief to piece together a well-researched, cohesive analysis of the occult tradition.  His section on Newton is particularly fascinating.  I also enjoyed the references to Shakespeare’s plays that highlight the intersection between intellectual development and common folklore.

If you have an academic or historic interest in the rise and decline of magic you will find this book an impressive read.  Highly recommended!

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)