The Witch-finder General

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Mystica

untitled

The Mystica

In solitary non-compliant places

the Mystica rise

against the gravitational tug of nature

thwarting mortal will.

Gnarly limbs that grasp into consciousness

press the rub of time.

Their fingers grapple the swollen currents –

blasted and empty –

swimming away from treacherous  sandbanks,

unchecked by any tide.

A mysterious spell-binding graciousness

captivates the eye

and highlights the worn skeletal echoing

of constant pressure.

Their branches lie bare of verdant feathering

yet will bloom again

as they wrestle the constant drownings that

sap land-locked spirits.

Look! Out of even dead apparitions spring

promises of fresh life.

Ten Famous Witch Trials In England

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

by Owen Davies

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

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

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

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

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

1) 1441: magic in high places

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

3) 1590: James VI and the witches of Berwick

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

5) 1612: Pendle hangings cause a sensation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elvis Presley’s Devil In Disguise

(You’re the) Devil In Disguise

(Bernie Baum, Bill Giant, and Florence Kaye)

Devil Woman

You look like an angel,
Walk like an angel,
Talk like an angel,
But I got wise –

You’re the devil in disguise,
Oh, yes you are,
The devil in disguise!

You fooled me with your kisses,
You cheated and you schemed.
Heaven knows how you lied to me,
You’re not the way you seemed.

You look like an angel,
Walk like an angel,
Talk like an angel,
But I got wise –

You’re the devil in disguise,
Oh, yes you are,
The devil in disguise!

I thought that I was in heaven
But I was sure surprised.
Heaven help me, I didn’t see
The devil in your eyes.

You look like an angel,
Walk like an angel,
Talk like an angel,

But I got wise –
You’re the devil in disguise,

Oh yes you are,
The devil in disguise!

You’re the devil in disguise,
Oh, yes you are,
The devil in disguise!
Oh, yes you are,
The devil in disguise!

To hear the song click below:

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

Rushdie

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

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

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

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

SR 3

 (Photo: Kit Perriman)

Tituba the Witch

TitubaandtheChildren-Fredericks[1]

Tituba was the first person examined in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and was possibly the only true witch.  She learned the Craft from her mistress in Barbados and likely practiced some form of Voodoo.

Although Tituba was a woman of color there is some debate whether she was African West Indian, Native American, or of mixed heritage.  In the court documents she is listed as an “Indian Woman, Servant.”  She may have been an Arawak Indian from South America who was captured as a child, enslaved in Barbados, and sold to Samuel Parris as a teenager between the ages of 12-17 years old.  Parris brought her to Boston in 1680, along with another slave called John Indian whom she later married.  They had one child called Violet.  During the next few years Parris became a minister,started his own family, and moved his household to Salem in 1689.

What sparked the Salem witch hunts?  Many theories have been offered over the years, but the trigger appears to have been a group of Puritan girls who were bored and yearned for “sport.”  During a particularly harsh winter, when they were often confined to their small houses for long stretches of time, their curiosity was peaked by Tituba’s supernatural tales.  At that time in New England there was also a widespread interest in fortune-telling, which was forbidden.  Two of the girls read fortunes from an egg white in a glass of water, and when they started acting out and having fits  Elizabeth “Betty” Parris and Abigail Williams blamed Tituba as the cause.

The Reverend Parris beat Tituba until she confessed to making a witch cake with Mary Sibley.  And before long, her superstitious ramblings had convinced the people of Salem that Satan was among them. Tituba talked of riding on broomsticks and claimed she saw one of the villagers –  Sarah Osborne – with a winged female demon.  Her accusations led to an outbreak of mass hysteria that ended in the execution of 20 people.

Strangely enough, Tituba was one of the survivors.  Because she had already admitted to being a witch she never went to trail.  Instead, she was placed in jail.  No one knows where she went after her release but it seems likely she was sold to another owner.

Or perhaps the only true witch escaped because she knew a good protection spell!  What do you think?

Sources:

Barillari, Alyssa. “Tituba,” at http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/tituba.html

“Tituba,” at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/ASA_TIT.HTM

Wikipedia. “Tituba,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tituba_(Salem_witch_trials)

A Brush With Power

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

A brrroooommmm stick!

witch_on_broomstick_2[1]

 

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

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

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

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

Yet witches have several other uses for this tool:

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

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

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

* If placed under a bed it brushes nightmares away.

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

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

Well then she has to witch-hike!

Sources:

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

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

Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra

Abracadabra

(Daphne Vialletet and Jean Philippe Verdin)

Cute witch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on link to watch the live version:

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Abracadabra!

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

Ab Abr Abra Abrak Abraka

Abrakal Abrakala Abrakal

Abraka Abrak Abra Abr Ab

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

Abracadabra

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

Sources:

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

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

Olde English Treacle Toffee

Olde English Treacle Toffee

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

Treacle Toffee

Ingredients

4oz butter

Knob of butter for greasing pan

8oz brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

4oz dark treacle

4oz golden syrup

glass of cold water

Method

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

The Enigmatic Pentagram

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

pentagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Kit’s Crit: THE KING’S WITCH (Cecilia Holland)

Cecelia Holland’s The King’s Witch (New York: Berkley, 2011) is a historical novel set during the Third Crusade to take Jerusalem, around 1191.  Edythe – a young Jewish woman pretending to be Christian – is dispatched by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to inform on her children, Richard the Lionheart and his sister Johanna.  Edythe has inherited a little folk-healing skill from her physician father, and using her knowledge of herbs and potions she manages to save the king’s life when he contracts a dangerous fever, a feat than earns her the nickname of witch.  Fortunately, this is the era before the Burning Times swept across Europe.

King Richard embarks on his holy campaign to atone for the homosexuality he believes makes him a monster in the eyes of God.  On the same journey, Edythe begins her own religious pilgrimage to discover and reclaim her Jewish heritage.  She develops a bond with another outsider, the king’s bastard relative called Rouquin, who tells her that Richard’s crusade “isn’t about God” but rather “about power.”  This ironically proves true at the end – with the suggestion that the strongest power on earth is love.

Although a lot of political background informs the start of the novel, Holland’s crisp style cuts cleanly through to the center of this original, inventive tale.  It is well-researched and nicely executed, especially the early medicinal knowledge which includes a particularly harrowing head-trauma surgery.  The King’s Witch can be classified as both a romance and a fiction.  And while the relationship between Edythe and Rouquin is not entirely convincing, the action scenes and excellent details prove sufficient to make this a satisfying historical novel.

Ella Fitzgerald’s / Frank Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic”

That Old Black Magic

(Johnny Mercer, Dub Allbritten, Harold Arlen, and Ronnie Self)

witchy woman

That old black magic has me in its spell,
That old black magic that you weave so well,
Those icy fingers up and down my spine,
The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.

The same old tingle that I feel inside
And then that elevator starts its ride,
And down and down I go, round and round I go,
Like a leaf that’s caught in the tide.

I should stay away, but what can I do?
I hear your name and I’m aflame,
Aflame with such a burning desire
That only your kiss can put out the fire.

Because you are the lover I have waited for,
The mate that fate had me created for,
And every time your lips meet mine,

Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go,
In a spin, loving the spin that I’m in,
Under that old black magic called love.

Ella Fitzgerald version:

Frank Sinatra version:

Who sings it best?

Olde English Jam

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

jam

Ingredients:

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

3/4 pint water

1lb granulated sugar

Method:

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

Tips:

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

Kit’s Crit: Tell My Horse (Zora Neale Hurston)

Hurston

Do you believe in Zombies?  Having studied Voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston’s book Tell My Horse (1938) claims that the undead really do exist and she has seen proof with her own eyes!

As a member of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston was interested in recovering authentic black feminine power.  But she did not look for it in the guise of the New Woman, she wanted to reconnect with the wily, wild conjure woman from the African Ur-cultures, the pagan witches of antiquity.

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica is divided into three parts.  The first two are a little disorganized as she describes the history and politics of Jamaica and Haiti.  Legend has it that while Hurston was doing “under cover” research in Jamaica, the natives found out she was going to publish their secrets and she had to flee the island in fear of her life.

The third section about Voodoo is both disturbing and compelling.  Hurston respectfully introduces this practice as “a religion of creation and life,” but then describes at length the “people who have been called back from the dead,” in particular “this case of Felicia Felix-Mentor . . . So I know there are Zombies in Haiti.”  But these are not the flesh-eating TV characters that appear in The Walking Dead.  Haitian Zombies are generally called back for one of three reasons: to work as free manual labor toiling in the fields; as the revenge of an enemy who wants to deny them eternal rest and peace; or as a sacrifice to another spirit.  It is the Haitian version of giving-a-soul-to-the-devil.

ZombieThe dead person’s spirit is stolen by the Bocor  who turns the body into a mindless slave.  Bocors are the “bad witches” of Voodo, as opposed to the “good witch” leaders called the Houngan. 

Tell My Horse is a strange and fascinating attempt to explain the West Indian Obeah practices.  It is weird – and at times disgusting – and definitely an acquired taste.  Scholars will find it useful, but I do not think its antiquated style holds much appeal for the general reader.

Fortunately, it is a very different book from Hurston’s other stellar work!

Gris-Gris: A Voodoo Charm

Voodoo 12

A gris-gris is a voodoo fetish that was originally designed as a doll to protect the owner from evil or bad luck.  Over time, the doll was replaced by a cloth bag that could be worn on the person.  Gris-gris today are usually small pouches inscribed with verses from the Qur’an.  They contain either 1,3,5,7,9, or 13 ritual objects such as animal bones, herbs, stones, hair, nail, or pieces of clothing.

Gris-gris are made on an altar containing the four elements: fire (candle flame), earth (salt), air (incense), and water.  These charms are used to attract money or love, to prevent malicious gossip, to protect the home, and to bring good health and fortune.

Historians believe that the gris-gris tradition originated in Muslim Ghana.  The slaves who arrived in Louisiana carried these amulets with them.  They were quickly adapted to bring ill-fortune and bad-luck curses on their white masters.  As they became part of the New Orleans voodoo culture, gris-gris were amalgamated into black magic rites to conjure up death and disaster.  In this way they changed from being a protective charm into a vengeful curse.

Some African communities still use gris-gris as a form of contraception.

The Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau marketed a particularly nasty version she called wangas.  Made from the shroud of a person who had been dead for 9 days, they contained a witch-brew made from toad, lizard, bat, cat, owl, rooster – and a suicide’s little finger!

Sources

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.

Wikipedia, “Gris-gris,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gris-gris_(talisman).

“Voodoo Hoodoo Spell Book,” at http://voodoohoodoospellbook.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_19.html.

Dr. John’s Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau

(Dr. John)

Now there lived a conjure-lady, not long ago,
In New Orleans, Louisiana – named Marie Laveau.
Believe it or not, strange as it seem,
She made her fortune selling voodoo and interpreting dreams.

She was known throughout the nation as the Voodoo Queen.
Folks come to her from miles and miles around,
She sure know how to put that, that voodoo down.

To the voodoo lady they all would go,
The rich, the educated, the ignorant, and the poor.
She’d snap her fingers and shake her head,
She’d tell them about their lovers – living or dead.

Now an old, old lady named widow Brown,
Asked why her lover stopped coming around,
The voodoo gazed at her and squawked
I seen him kissing a young girl up at Shakespeare’s Park
Hanging on an oak tree in the dark.

Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – yaaaaa

Now old, old lady, she lost her speech,
Tears start to rolling down her checks,
Voodoo say, “Hush my darling, don’t you cry,”
I make him come back, by and by.
Just sprinkle this snake dust all over your floor,
I’ll make him come back Friday morning when the rooster crow.”

Now Marie Laveau she held them in her hand,
New Orleans, Louisiana was her promised land.
Quality folk, come from far and near,
This wonder woman for to hear.
They was afraid to be seen at her gate,
They’d creep through the dark just to hear their fate.
Holding dark veils over their head,
They would tremble to hear what Maria would say.

Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – yaaaaa

And she made gris-gris with an old ram horn,
Stuffed with feathers, shuck from a corn.
A big black candle and a catfish fin,
She make a man get religion and give up his sin.

Voodoo 9

Sad news got out one morning at the break of day,
Marie Laveau had done pass away.
St. Louis cemetery she lay in her tomb,
She was buried one night on the wake of the moon.

Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
The folks still believe in the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Marie, Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen.

 

Check out this version:

 

Doctor John Bayou: Voodoo Man

Voodoo 6

The “Last of the Voodoos” in New Orleans was the infamous tattooed Jean Montanet, commonly known as Doctor John, Voudoo John, and Bayou John.  Born a free member of the noble Bambaras Tribe from Senegal, John was kidnapped by Spanish slavers and shipped to Cuba.  After earning his freedom from a friendly master he worked as a ship’s cook, finally settling in Louisiana.

Doctor John seemed to possess mysterious Obi powers.   He began telling fortunes – and must have been skilled at reading people because he soon had enough money saved to buy a house.  Then he set up as a conjure man, and at the height of his fame was estimated to be worth $50,000.

John kept a harem of at least fifteen “wives” that he claimed to have married according to African tradition.  Most of these women were bought as slaves and they bore him many children.  At one time he teamed up with Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau to sell potions, charms, and spells.

Although Doctor John often looked after the poor in his neighborhood – and gave away food to the needy – he was tricked several times by unscrupulous business men who stole away his fortune.  He ended up broke, living with one of his daughters.

But how powerful was this Voodoo conjure man?  He seemed to have a charismatic personality and a sound understanding of herbal lore.  There are many first-hand accounts that his medicines actually worked.

However, he also liked to take advantage of the gullible white women who came to him out of curiosity.  One lady paid him $50 for a potion he later confessed was merely a few common herbs boiled in water.  His rationale was, “If folks want to give me fifty dollars, I take the fifty dollars every time!”

Sources:

“Haunted New Orleans” at http://www.nola.com/haunted/voodoo/?content/history.html

Hearn, Lafcadio.  “The Last of the Voudoos” at http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/hearn/lastvdu.htm

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

Dr. Hook’s Marie Laveau

Voodoo 8

Marie Laveau

(Shel Silverstein and Baxter Taylor)

 

Down in Louisiana where the black trees grow

lived a voodoo lady named Marie Laveau.

She’d got a black cat tooth and a mojo bone

and if anyone wouldn’t leave her alone

She’d go, “GREEEEEEEEEEEE another man done gone!”

 

She lived in a swamp in a hollow log

with a one eyed snake and a three legged dog.

She’d got a bent bony body and stringy hair

and if she ever saw you messing round there

She’d go, “GREEEEEEEEEEEE another man done gone!”

 

And then one night when the moon was black

into the swamp came Handsome Jack.

A no good man that you all know

and he was looking around for Marie Laveau.

 

He said, “Marie Laveau, you lovely witch,

why don’t you gimme a little charm gonna make me rich?”

He said, “Now gimme million dollars and I’ll tell you what I’ll do,

this very night I’m gonna marry you!”

It’ll be GREEEEEEEEEEEE another man done gone.

 

So Marie did some magic and she shook a little sand,

she made a million dollars and she put it in his hand.

Then she giggled and she wiggled and she said, “Hey, hey,

I’m getting ready for my wedding day.”

 

But old Handsome Jack, he said “Good-bye Marie,

you too damn ugly for a rich man like me.”

So Marie started crying, her fangs started shaking,

her body started turning, she started quaking.

She said, “GREEEEEEEEEEEE – another man done gone!”

 

So if you ever get down where the black trees grow

and meet a voodoo lady named Marie Laveau,

And if she ever asks you to make her your wife,

man, you’d better stay with her for the rest of your life

Or it’ll be GREEEEEEEEEEEE….

 

Check out the live version:

 

Marie Laveau: Voodoo Queen

Marie Laveau (1794-1881) was  a Louisiana Creole free person of color who developed a reputation as The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.

Marie_Laveau[1] Laveau was born in the French Quarter, the illegitimate child of a wealthy plantation owner.  She worked as a liquor importer, hairdresser, occultist, herbal healer, and also ran a brothel.   Much of her power was said to have come from her carefully-cultivated network of spies who gave her the information she used to impress her patrons.  One rumor claims that Laveau originated from a long line of voodoo priestesses in West Africa.  Cynics, however, suggest she learned her skills from fellow practitioner, Doctor John Bayou.

At the age of 18 Laveau married Jacques Paris.  He died in mysterious circumstances leaving her with two young children.  Later, she took a younger man as a common-law husband and bore him fifteen children.  Only one – a daughter also called Marie – reached adulthood.  Marie continued her mother’s legacy when she retired from the public in old age.

Laveau supposedly had a snake called Zombi, named after an African God.  She staged elaborate ceremonies where the dancers became possessed by voodoo spirits called loas; danced naked around bonfires; sold charms or gris-gris; saved several men from the gallows; told fortunes; and stayed eternally youthful.  She passed peacefully in her sleep, but her ghost has often been seen in the graveyard where she is buried.

Laveau’s tomb is in St. Louis Cemetery, Number One.  According to legend, if you draw an X on the tomb, turn around three times, knock on the tomb and shout your wish – it will be granted.  Once this is done you must return to the tomb, circle the X you made, and leave an offering of thanks.

If anyone has tried this – please let me know if it worked!

Sources:

CSI, “Secrets of the Voodoo Tomb” at http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/secrets_of_the_voodoo_tomb/

The Mystica, “Laveau, Marie” at http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/l/laveau_marie.html

Voodoo On the Bayou, “Marie Laveau” at http://www.voodooonthebayou.net/marie_laveau.html

Wikipedia, “Marie Laveau” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Laveau

Photo:

Angela Bassett playing the role of Marie Laveau in American Horror Story

Voodoo or Hoodoo?

Voodoo 1

What is the difference between Voodoo and Hoodoo?  I recently visited the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum to find out.  Here is a brief account of my discoveries:

Voodoo is a religion (led by initiated witch doctors) that has split into two branches – Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Vodoun.

Hoodoo, however, is a form of folk magic (that anyone can practice) which originated in West Africa and thrives predominantly in the southern USA.

They are complimentary aspects of a supernatural belief system from similar ancient roots.

Voodoo 2

Voodoo comes from West African Vodun – “spirit”- and was made popular in Haiti.  It has since spread to many other places, most notably Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria.  Voodoo is a way of life  built around the supreme being Bondye, a remote creator god.  But there are many spirits called loa that can be worshipped on a personal level.  To connect with the spirit world a believer can invite the loa to enter their body and possess them during religious ceremonies.

Voodoo 3

Hoodoo is also called conjure, witchcraft, working the root, and root doctoring.  It is closely aligned with the form of African spirituality known as Ggbo.  As part of the Obeah folk tradition it spread from Haiti and Jamaica to New Orleans and along the Mississippi Delta.  In many way it is an American form of Voodoo.

Voodoo 5

Constantly changing as it comes into contact with other cultures, Hoodoo has many Roman Catholic elements.  When African American slaves were forced to convert to Christianity by a law of 1685 they replaced the loas with saints from the Bible.  God became the archetypal Hoodoo doctor who controlled fate and destiny, while Moses was the first man who performed magic and miracles.  The Bible is the greatest conjure book in the world and many of the Psalms are used in spells.

Hoodoo also draws on Spiritualism.  People are able to harness supernatural forces to assist in their daily lives and they can connect with the other world in different ways, often involving rituals and sacrifices.

Bottle Trees are a popular garden feature.  These glass bottles are used to trap evil spirits until the morning sun destroys them.

If you are ever in New Orleans then pay a visit to the Voodoo Museum.  It is a fascinating experience!

Voodoo 6

Additional Sources:

Knowledge Nuts, “The Difference Between Voodoo and Hoodoo” at http://knowledgenuts.com/2013/12/26/the-difference-between-hoodoo-and-voodoo/

Wikipedia, “Hoodoo” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoodoo_(folk_magic)

Wikipedia, “African Vodun” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Vodun

 

Olde English Gingerbread

gingerbread This traditional recipe has been a great favorite since medieval times!

Ingredients

1lb honey

1lb fine white dried breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon finely ground pepper

pinch of salt

butter for greasing pan

Method

  1. Lightly grease a 1″ thick shallow baking pan.
  2. Boil the honey over a medium heat and skim off the scum.
  3. Lower the heat and add the spices.
  4. Slowly add the breadcrumbs and stir well until you have an evenly-coated thick mixture.
  5. Turn the gingerbread mix into the pan.  Spread evenly. Push well into the corners.  Leave to cool.
  6. Turn out onto parchment paper and tap the base to release from the pan.
  7. Turn the gingerbread face up and cut into squares.
  8. Place a small clove in each piece.
  9. Decorate the plate with clean, dry leaves – or candy shapes.
  10. The cooled mixture can be molded like marzipan for special events!

Kit’s Crit: The Witch of Eye (Mari Griffith)

The Witch of Eye

Mari Griffith

witch-of-eye

Set in the mid-Fifteenth Century, The Witch of Eye is a historical fiction based on the true story of Margery Jourdemayne, a wise woman from Eye Next Westminster who eventually burned at the stake.  The infamous Witch of Eye acts on behalf of the Duchess of Gloucester, Eleanor Cobham, who is desperate to give Duke Humphrey a son.  Into these known facts Mari Griffith skillfully weaves an invented love story between a dairymaid called Jenna Harding, and Margery Jourdemayne’s yeoman farmer husband, William.

Griffith draws a convincing scene of life in medieval England and her attention to detail is very impressive.  She portrays that ambiguous time when people of all ranks looked to supernatural forces to help them achieve their desires, sometimes even assisted by members of the clergy.  Jenna Harding is the most modern – and appealing – character who is drawn into dangerous circumstances over which she has little control.  Fortunately, things work out well for her in the end.

I enjoyed this well-paced book.  Highly recommended if you like a touch of romance in your historical fiction!

Chris De Burgh’s Spanish Train

Spanish Train

(Chris De Burgh)

There’s a Spanish train that runs between
Guadalquivir and old Saville,
And at dead of night the whistle blows,
and people hear she’s running still.

And then they hush their children back to sleep,
Lock the doors, upstairs they creep,
For it is said that the souls of the dead
Fill that train, ten thousand deep.

Well, a railwayman lay dying with his people by his side,
His family were crying, knelt in prayer before he died,
But above his bed just a-waiting for the dead,
Was the Devil with a twinkle in his eye,
“Well God’s not around and look what I’ve found,
this one’s mine!”

Just then the Lord himself appeared in a blinding flash of light,
And shouted at the Devil, “Get thee hence to endless night!”
But the Devil just grinned and said “I may have sinned,
But there’s no need to push me around,
I got him first so you can do your worst,
He’s going underground.

But I think I’ll give you one more chance”
said the Devil with a smile,
“So throw away that stupid lance,
It’s really not your style –
Joker is the name, Poker is the game,
we’ll play right here on this bed,
And then we’ll bet for the biggest stakes yet,
the souls of the dead!”

And I said “Look out, Lord! He’s going to win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in,
That train is dead on time, many souls are on the line,
Oh Lord, He’s going to win.”

Well, the railwayman he cut the cards
And he dealt them each a hand of five,
And for the Lord he was praying hard
Or that train he’d have to drive.
Well, the Devil he had three aces and a king,
And the Lord, he was running for a straight,
He had the queen and the knave, and nine and ten of spades,
All he needed was the eight.

And then the Lord he called for one more card,
But he drew the diamond eight,
And the Devil said to the Son of God,
“I believe you’ve got it straight,
So deal me one, for the time has come
To see who’ll be the king of this place.”
But as he spoke, from beneath his cloak,
He slipped another ace.

Ten thousand souls was the opening bid,
And it soon went up to fifty-nine,
But the Lord didn’t see what the Devil did,
And he said “That suits me fine.
“I’ll raise you high to a hundred and five,
And forever put an end to your sins”,
But the Devil let out a mighty shout, “My hand wins!”

And I said “Lord, oh Lord, you let him win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in,
That train is dead on time, many souls are on the line,
Oh Lord, don’t let him win.”

the-chess-players[1] (Moirts Retzch)

Well that Spanish train still runs between,
Guadalquivir and old Saville,
And at dead of night the whistle blows,
And people fear she’s running still.
And far away in some recess
The Lord and the Devil are now playing chess,
The Devil still cheats and wins more souls,
And as for the Lord, well, he’s just doing his best.

And I said “Lord, oh Lord, you’ve got to win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in,
That train is still on time, oh my soul is on the line,
Oh Lord, you’ve got to win!”

 

Check out this creative slideshow version below!

 

What’s Your Poison? Foxglove!

Did you know:

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

Foxglove

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

Sources:

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

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

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

 

 

What’s Your Poison? Oleander!

Did you know:

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

Sources:

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

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

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

What’s Your Poison? Opium!

poppy

Did you know:

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

Sources:

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

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

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

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

 

What’s Your Poison? Henbane!

Did you know:

Henbane

  • Hyoscyamus niger is also called Henbane, Black Henbane, Stinking Nightshade, and Devil’s Eye.
  • The name Hen likely derives from the Old English word for death, as this plant was known as hen bell (meaning death bell) as early as 1265.
  • Its veined yellow flowers grow wild in chalky soil, by roadsides, on waste ground, and near old buildings.  It likes sandy ground too, and flourishes by the sea.
  • Although part of the Mandrake and Belladonna family, Henbane is also associated with the potato, tomato, and tobacco plants.
  • All parts of the Henbane plant are poisonous – especially the leaves.  Neither boiling or drying destroys its toxicity.
  • Henbane is often associated with witch-brews and magic potions because it causes hallucinations and the sensation of flight.  Merely sniffing its offensive smell can make people giddy.  Other symptoms include restlessness, flushed skin, and manic behavior.
  • The Oracle of Delphi supposedly inhaled smoke from smoldering Henbane to induce mystical experiences.
  • In ancient times this herb was used as a pain medication, toothache cure, and sleep aid.  During the Nineteenth Century it was prescribed for epilepsy and other convulsive ailments.
  • Before the widespread use of hops, Henbane was used to flavor beer.
  • Perhaps because of its association with witchcraft, in German folklore Henbane was believed to attract rain, blight cattle, and destroy crops.
  • And Shakespeare may have used this plant as the “cursed hebenon in a vial” that killed Hamlet’s father.

Sources

Botanical.com.  “Henbane,” at https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/henban23.html

Rowan.  “Henbane – the insane seed that breedeth madness,” at http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/henbane.htm

Wikipedia.  “Hyoscyamus niger” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyoscyamus_niger

What’s Your Poison? Strychnine!

Did you know:

  • Strychnine comes from the seeds of the Strychnos nux-vomica tree found in India and elsewhere.
  • It also appears in the bark of some species of this toxic tree.
  • The fruit is the size of a large apple, orange in color, has  a hard rind, and contains five flat seeds.

Strychnine

  • Strychnine poisoning causes stiffness in the jaw, neck, and belly, and eventually leads to muscular convulsions and death from asphyxiation.
  • There is no antidote, but early hospitalization can save lives.  If a patient survives the first 24 hours then a full recovery is possible.
  • This poison is used to kill rodents and small predators in Europe.
  • Strychnine has been called the “least subtle” toxin.  At first the symptoms resemble a tetanus infection but most people who ingest it know they have taken poison!  It is said to cause a great deal of suffering because victims remain conscious until death.
  • In the 1904 Olympic Games the marathon was won by Thomas Hicks.  He had been given a stiff brandy and two shots of strychnine to enhance his performance.
  • In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries this substance was used as a recreational drug.  It is also occasionally mixed with street drugs such as LSD, heroine, and cocaine.

But according to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Tobacco, coffee, alcohol, hashish, prussic acid, strychnine, are weak dilutions. The surest poison is time.”

Sources:

Inglis-Arkell, Ester. “Strychnine: A Brief History of the World’s Least Subtle Poison,” at http://io9.com/strychnine-a-brief-history-of-the-worlds-least-subtle-1727903421

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

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

___.  “Strychnos nux-vomica at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strychnos_nux-vomica

 

What’s Your Poison? Arsenic!

Did you know:

Rice

  • The word arsenic comes from the Persian word for yellow, but it is better known as The King of All Poisons or The Poisoner of Kings.
  • Arsenic is highly toxic but nowadays it can be successfully treated in a hospital.
  • This poison occurs naturally in rice.
  • It is also found in leafy vegetables, apple juice, grape juice, and seafood.
  • One of the greatest natural threats is contaminated groundwater that has absorbed arsenic salts.
  • Long term exposure causes cancer of the bladder, kidneys, liver, prostate, skin, lung, and nose.
  • Symptoms of poisoning start with headaches, confusion, drowsiness and severe diarrhea.  Then comes vomiting, bloody urine, hair loss, stomach pain, convulsions, coma, and death.
  • Although this toxin used to be very difficult to detect it is now traceable in hair, blood, urine, and nail clippings.
  • For over 2,400 years arsenic was used in Chinese medicine, and in the West it was an early treatment for syphilis before penicillin became available.
  • For hundreds of years women mixed arsenic with vinegar and chalk to provide the desired white complexions of the ruling classes.
  • And because this poison has similar symptoms to cholera, many criminals throughout the ages have – quite literally – got away with murder!

Sources:

Authority Nutrition. “Arsenic In Rice” at  http://authoritynutrition.com/arsenic-in-rice/

GreenFacts, “Arsenic” at http://www.greenfacts.org/en/arsenic/

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

_. “Arsenic Poisoning” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenic_poisoning

What’s Your Poison? Cyanide!

Did you know:

  • Cyanide is found naturally in apple seeds.

apple

  • It also occurs in almonds, apricot kernels, lima beans, orange pips, cassava roots (tapioca), and bamboo shoots.
  • These seeds contain a toxic compound called amygdalin that degrades into hydrogen cyanide (HCN).
  • The form of cyanide found in cassava becomes harmless if the root is dried, smoked, or baked.
  • Cyanide is also found in cigarette smoke.  It can be chemically released from burning man-made products and  plastics in industrial fires.
  • It smells of bitter almonds, though not everyone can detect an odor.  Some people get bright-red faces.
  • Other signs of poisoning include dizziness, headaches, sickness, rapid body functioning, weakness, convulsions, unconsciousness, and lung failure.  Cyanide stops the body from absorbing oxygen.  Death comes from asphyxiation.
  • Long-tern exposure to small amounts leads to weakness, paralysis, miscarriages, liver, and kidney damage.
  • There is no natural antidote, but immediate hospitalization and medical intervention can prevent death in some cases.
  • Cyanide (Zyklon B) was used in the German gas chambers at Auschwitz, and for many judicial executions in USA gas chambers.
  • It is available in a quick-acting pill form for instant suicide.  Soldiers in high-risk-of-capture situations were sometimes issued with cyanide pills.
  • But don’t worry if you accidentally swallow some apple or orange pips.  They have a hard protective coat that passes through the human body intact so that any harmful chemicals are not absorbed!

Sources

CDC, “Facts About Cyanide” at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/cyanide/basics/facts.asp

Snopes.com, “Apple Seeds and Cyanide” at http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/apples.asp

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

Wikipedia, “Cyanide Poisoning” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanide_poisoning

Olde English Jam Roly-poly

A favorite pudding from childhood! Jam Roly-poly is a warm treat, best served with hot custard.

cake 1

Ingredients

8oz self-raising flour

4oz shredded vegetable suet

2oz caster sugar

Knob of butter

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg, mixed with 1 tablespoon of milk

6oz raspberry jam

 4 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon icing sugar

Method

  1. Heat the oven 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.  Grease a flat baking sheet with the knob of butter.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the suet, sugar, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir.
  3. Add most of the egg mix and stir (saving two teaspoons for brushing later).
  4. Gradually mix in the milk to form a soft dough.  Kneed lightly.  Leave to rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.
  5. Roll out the dough into a thin rectangle on a floured surface.  Spread with jam, leaving a 1″ border on all sides.  Wet the edges lightly with the egg mix.
  6. Roll up into a cartwheel shape from one long end to the other.  Place the seam on the underside, flat on the baking sheet.
  7. Brush on the remainder of the egg mix.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
  9. Dust with icing sugar.
  10. Serve piping hot.

What’s Your Poison? Mushrooms!

Did you know:

  • Mushroom poisoning is called mycetism.
  • About 100 types of fungi are toxic to humans.
  • Most deaths occur from eating the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides):

Death Cap Death Caps

  • Death Caps are a sticky pale yellow or olive green color, and their caps measure 3-6 inches.
  • They are easily peeled and often mistaken for edible varieties like the Button or Caesar mushrooms.
  • Found during the Fall, this fungus grows in woods near the bases of trees.  It likes hardwoods, preferably oaks and pines.
  • Death Caps are pretty and taste pleasant.  The effects of poisoning do not appear until 2-3 days after ingestion.  Death occurs 6 – 16 days later.
  • Toxicity is not reduced by cooking, baking, drying or freezing.
  • Poisoning produces diarrhea, vomiting, delirium, seizures, coma, and eventually results in fatal organ failure.
  • Victims of mushroom poisoning may have included Emperor Claudius (AD 54), Pope Clement VIII (1554) and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (1740).
  • The Death Cap is closely associated with The Destroying Angel.  This all-white mushroom is just as deadly as its cousin.

DCF 1.0 Destroying Angel

Sources:

Adams, Cat. “Most Dangerous Mushroom” at slate.com

Fischer, David. “The Death Cap Mushroom” at americanmushrooms.com

Wikipedia. “Amanita phalloides” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanita_phalloides

 

 

 

What’s Your Poison? Mandrake!

Did you know:

Mandrake

  • Mandrake – Mandragora officinarum –  was historically known as Satan’s Apple.
  • The roots and leaves are highly toxic.  They result in coma and asphyxiation.
  • If ingested in large doses, mandrake causes delirium, madness, and death.
  • Its thin tuberous roots look like parsnips.  Ancient Greek and Roman physicians offered patients pieces of root to chew on before surgery because it acted as an early anesthetic.
  • This plant grows best on poor, sandy soil in full sunlight.
  • The greenish-yellow (sometimes purple) flowers are followed by round, orange seed pods.
  • Because mandrake has a narcotic, hallucinogenic, hypnotic effect, it has been aligned with Black Magic and mystical rites since the Dark Ages.
  • Also, the roots often resemble human figures.
  • Anyone who digs up a mandrake root is supposedly condemned to Hell, so animals were usually used to harvest it instead.
  • Legend claims that the mandrake root screams when it is pulled from the soil, and that anyone hearing this cry will instantly die.  This explains Shakespeare’s reference in King Henry VI, Part 1: “Would curses kill, as doth the Mandrake’s groan.”

 

Sources:

Grieve, M.  “Mandrake” at https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mandra10.html

Medieval Bestiary, “Mandrake” at http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast1098.htm

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

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

 

 

 

 

What’s Your Poison? Aconite!

Did you know:

Aconitum_napellus_JPG1a[1]

  • Aconite – Aconitum napellus – was used by the Ancient Chinese to poison the tips of their arrows.
  • All parts of the plant are extremely toxic.  Death occurs in 2 – 6 hours and is caused by the paralysis of the heart.
  • Poisoning produces symptoms similar to rabies – frothy saliva, poor vision, disorientation, and coma.
  • The helmet-shaped flowers are usually a violet- blue color, but they can also be white, yellow, or pink.
  • This plant grows in moist mountain meadows and has glossy, dark green leaves.  The root looks like small turnips.
  • Aconite was historically used to kill wild predators – hence the nicknames Wolf’s Bane and Leopard’s Bane.
  • It is also commonly known as Monkshood, Devil’s Helmet, and The Queen of All Poisons.
  • Cleopatra used Aconite to kill her brother Ptolemy XIV, in order to place her own son on the throne.

 

Sources:

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

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

 

What’s Your Poison? Ergot!

Did you know:

Ergot

  • Ergot is a toxic fungus that grows mainly on rye plants.
  • Claviceps purpurea can also infect barley, oats, and wheat.
  • It reduces the crop yield and causes a disease called ergotism, commonly known as St. Anthony’s Fire because it affects the blood circulation and creates a terrible burning sensation.
  • There are two forms of ergot poisoning: one type causes gangrene, and the other form manifests in hallucinations, convulsions, and seizures.
  • Because it causes the symptoms of madness, ergot may have been responsible for the large-scale outbreaks of mass hysteria that swept across Medieval Europe in the Middle Ages.
  • This fungus often triggered the symptoms of demonic possession that led to accusations of witchcraft.
  • Ergot occurs in high humidity, especially at the edges of a crop field.
  • It emerges in autumn, usually after an extremely cold winter and rainy summer.
  • The fungus manifests on rye seeds as a dark violet or black stain.
  • Severe epidemics seem to follow a 5 -10 year cycle.
  • The fungus also creates contractions of the womb and was traditionally used to induce abortions, or to help stop post-natal maternal bleeding.
  • Ergot is the natural form of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).

 

Sources:

“Ergot of Rye” at http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/wong/BOT135/LECT12.HTM

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

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

 

 

Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down To Georgia

dancing_devil_2[1]                 The Devil Went Down To Georgia

                                                                                                                    (Charlie Daniels)

 

The Devil went down to Georgia. He was looking for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind because he was way behind. He was willing to make a deal
When he came across this young man sawing on a fiddle and playing it hot.
And the Devil jumped upon a hickory stump and said “Boy, let me tell you what.

I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player, too.
And if you’d care to take a dare I’ll make a bet with you.
Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the Devil his due.
I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul because I think I’m better than you.”

The boy said, “My name’s Johnny, and it might be a sin,
But I’ll take your bet; and you’re gonna regret because I’m the best there’s ever been.”

Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard.
Beause Hell’s broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals it hard.
And if you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold,
But if you lose the devil gets your soul.

The Devil opened up his case and he said, “I’ll start this show.”
And fire flew from his fingertips as he rosined up his bow.
And he pulled the bow across the strings and it made an evil hiss.
And a band of demons joined in and it sounded something like this.

When the Devil finished, Johnny said, “Well, you’re pretty good old son,
But sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it’s done.”

Fire on the Mountain. Run, boys, run!
The Devil’s in the house of the rising sun;
Chicken’s in the bread pan picking out dough.
Granny, does your dog bite? No, child, no.

The Devil bowed his head because he knew that he’d been beat.
And he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet.
Johnny said, “Devil, just come on back if you ever wanna try again,
I done told you once—you son of a bitch—I’m the best that’s ever been.”
And he played:

Fire on the Mountain. Run, boys, run!
The Devil’s in the house of the rising sun;
The chicken’s in the bread pan picking out dough.
Granny, will your dog bite? No, child, no.

 

What’s Your Poison? Hemlock!

Did you know:

Hemlock

  • Hemlock has several names including Conium maculatum, Poison Parsley, Devil’s Bread, and Poison Hemlock.
  • Conium comes from the Greek word konas – “to whirl” – because vertigo is one of the symptoms from eating this plant.
  • Hemlock is a highly poisonous member of the carrot family.  It also affects animals and can cause birth defects in pregnant mammals.
  • All parts of this invasive plant are toxic, especially the seeds, but it is thought to be less harmful when grown in colder climates or when dried out.
  • It grows small white flowers on a speckled stem that turns purple at the base.  All parts are hairless.
  • A flowering bush smells of mice, but the crushed leaves and roots are pungent like parsnip.
  • Hemlock prefers warm, moist soil so it often flourishes alongside streams, ditches, and the edges of fields.
  • The Ancient Greeks used hemlock to execute condemned prisoners, the most famous being the philosopher Socrates.
  • In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the three Weird Sisters add “Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark” to their magic cauldron – a sure sign they were up to no good!

Sources:

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. David Bevington (Fourth Ed.) (Worldwide: Longman, 1997) 

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

Wikipedia, “Conium maculatum” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conium_maculatum

 

What’s Your Poison? Belladonna!

Did you know:

  • Atropa belladonna is the strangest and deadliest member of the tomato family.
  • The name Atropa comes from the Greek goddess Atropa – one of the three fates who determine human life and death.
  • Belladonna is Italian for “beautiful lady.”  This poison has historically been used by women as a cosmetic eye drop to dilate the pupils, making the user appear more desirable.
  • Its common name is Deadly Nightshade.

Bella Donna

  • Belladonna has dull green leaves, purple bell-shaped flowers, and shiny black berries that are sweet to the taste.
  • All parts of the plant are highly toxic to people, though cattle and rabbits seem to have a natural immunity.
  • Deadly Nightshade grows in woods, hedgerows, and wastelands.
  • Before the Middle Ages it was used as an anesthetic in surgery.
  • Witches were said to mix Deadly Nightshade with other poisons to create a flying ointment (which may have triggered the hallucination of flight).
  • According to local folklore, the Lancashire Witches sometimes mixed belladonna berries into blackcurrant or blueberry pies as toxic “gifts” for their enemies!

 

Sources:

Stuart, Malcolm. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism (London: Black Cat, 1987)

WebMD: “Belladonna” at http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-531-belladonna.aspx?activeingredientid=531&activeingredientname=belladonna

Wikipedia: “Atropa belladonna” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna