Queen’s It’s A Kind Of Magic

It’s A Kind Of Magic

(Roger Taylor)

Trick

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

See Freddie’s performance:

It’s A Kind Of Magic

Old Demdike: Forty Six

Put To Question: The Rack

Torture isn’t allowed under English law –
but some folk get stretched on The Rack:

“We went to the torture room in a kind of procession, the attendants walking ahead with lighted candles.
The chamber was underground and dark, particularly near the entrance. It was a vast place and every device and instrument of human torture was there. They pointed out some of them to me and said I would try them all. Then he asked me again whether I would confess.
‘I cannot,’ I said.”
(Father John Gerard, 1597)

In The Beginning . . .

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

Devil

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

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

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

Fear

 

I slid through the gap and into a spiraling whirlpool,

landed inside the gray with a nauseous splash.

Trees stood stripped of dignity, shuddering in the twilight

of winter, naked but broiling with torturous stakes.

Eerie

As branches drowned in the wake of death their fingers pointed

through ripples pungent with sulfur and blue, bruised blood.

Shock took captive my slipping heart, which spluttered against the

ominous fog creeping in to steal my good eye.

 

Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze

Purple Haze

(Jimi Hendrix)

images[7]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out this version:

(Picture: Richard Riemerschmid)

Resurrection

Resurrection

Resurrection

On this page I recreate history

from the remnants of childhood –

This keyboard grows smooth with jabbering fingers

tapping the fear and wonder –

My screen glows white from the heat of knowledge

lighting the hidden shadows –

And free from the net that strangled my spirit

I resurrect Her wild past.

Contacting The Dead

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

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

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

ouija board

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

“I See Dead People!”

Spiritualism: Fact or Fraud?

spiritualism

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

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

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

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

What do you believe?

Sources:

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

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

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

Olde English Mince Pies

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

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

pie

Ingredients:

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

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

1/4lb suet, processed into fine granules

12oz raisins

12oz currants

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

4oz brown sugar

4 tablespoons black treacle

8oz cooking sherry

8oz cider

8oz brandy

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons mace

2 tablespoons allspice

2 tablespoons nutmeg

2 tablespoons ground cloves

4 tablespoons cinnamon

1lb pastry dough

flour to roll out pastry

1 tablespoon milk to glaze

nub of butter to grease pie dish

 

Method:

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Old Demdike: Forty Three

Samhain, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Souls Night

Call it what you will – but the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest on October 31st.

Samhain means Summer’s End. Wise Women celebrate on the nearest full moon before November, after the harvest is gathered, halfway between Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It represents the end of summer and the start of the spiritual New Year. Samhain comes from the Celtic Fire Festival when Druids remember their dead. Bonfires are built to cleanse and protect – and sacrifices offered to the gods. It’s a night of divination, mummers, feasting, guising, and young lads following the Hobby Horse about the village.

The Church of Rome made this feast into All Hallows’ Eve – the start of All Saints’ Day to honor the Christian saints and martyrs. There’ll be Soul Cakes eaten instead of meat – candles lit for the dear departed – vigils – feasts – and the ringing of church bells everywhere.

The youngsters celebrate Halloween, short for Hallowed or Holy Evening.  They remember the frailty of life with skeletons, ghouls, cobwebs, tombstones, and demons, hoping to chase evil and death away by honoring the darkness. Some carve turnips into Jack o’ Lanterns for those lost souls who’ve been denied both Heaven and Hell. They partake in pranks to imitate mischievous spirits, costume feasts, processions, and mummers’ plays.

Aye, it’s a powerful time – so be careful to guard your own soul!

Queens of the Stone Age’s Burn the Witch

Burning

Burn the Witch

(John Homme, Troy van Leeuwen)

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

Bite your tongue!
Swear to keep your mouth shut!

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

Bite your tongue!                                                                                                                                                             Swear to keep your mouth shut!

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

Olde English Scones

Olde English Scones

Cream_Tea[1]  Photo: Ibán Yarza

Ingredients

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

3 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

1oz sugar

2oz dried sultanas or raisins

2oz butter (save a little for greasing tray)

1/4 pint milk

1 beaten egg (save a little for glazing)

Method

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

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

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

 

 

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!

The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Demons

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

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

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

Dali 1 (Salvador Dali)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cerberus_Gluttony[1]

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

Sleep well!

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

Dante

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

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

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

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

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.

Bruce Springsteen’s Magic

MAGIC

(Bruce Springsteen)

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

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

 

magic

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

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

And here’s The Boss himself:

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

 

 

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)

Kit’s Crit: HEIR TO A PROPHECY (Mercedes Rochelle)

Any one fascinated by Shakespeare’s Macbeth will love the question behind Mercedes Rochelle’s debut book: How do the sons of Banquo come to rule Scotland?  The three weird sisters tell Macbeth’s companion that “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” – a promise that sets in motion the deadly events of the famous play.

Heir To A Prophecy (Hampshire: Top Hat Books, 2014) follows a fragmented trail through Scottish history –  tracing the line from Banquo’s son Fleance to King James Ist of England – with a similar mix of fact, fiction, and supernatural interference as found in the original tale.  We know that Banquo is murdered on Macbeth’s orders, but that his son Fleance escapes.  In Rochelle’s version he goes into exile in Wales at the court of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, where he woos and impregnates the king’s daughter, Nesta.
Nesta bears an illegitimate son called Walter, who enlists in Harold Goodwineson’s service and ends up fighting at Dunsinane and Hastings.  Along the way he befriends Prince Malcolm, King Duncan’s heir to the Scottish throne.  Years later, Walter settles in Malcolm’s court and is rewarded for his services, becoming the first Steward of Scotland.  This legitimizes his position, and prepares the way for future descendants of the royal house of Stuart.

Rochelle’s portrayal of the three witches is particularly interesting.  They appear at various points in her story to advance their original prophecy, but rather than being the weird old hags of Shakespeare’s era they are associated with the Norns of Scandinavian mythology – fates who control mankind’s destiny.  But aside from this nod to the bard, Rochell wisely does not attempt to imitate one of the great literary masterpieces with a sophisticated, high-brow response.  Instead she writes a plain, rollicking tale that should have broad appeal for those readers who like a fast-paced romp through history.

This novel is nicely edited and presented.  The setting, however, is too broad a time-period to examine and explore the various situations in any great depth.  Heir[s] To A Prophecy could well have been a whole series, with each book focusing on one central character – Fleance, Walter, and so on!

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.