A Biblical Puzzle: The Witch of Endor

Endor  (Painting: Benjamin West)

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Holy Bible, 1 Samuel: 28.

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

Gregory

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

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

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

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

A five-star read!

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Kirtles

kirtle

We are naturally fascinated by the glamorous dresses worn by medieval queens and their ladies at court.  But under those fancy gowns was the same staple garment for gentry and peasant women alike – the kirtle.

The kirtle was worn over a linen smock and acted as an early girdle, or corset, to shape and support the body in the time before modern bras.  Made from wool, linen, or silk it was usually sleeveless, often holding the under smock down to reveal much of the neck, shoulder, and chest of the wearer.

On top of their regular kirtles wealthy women wore an additional fancy frock called a cotehardie or surcoat.  This was made of fine cloth and decorated with fur, jewels, embroidery, lace, belts or buttons.  Their kirtles could lace up at the sides or back because they had maids to help them dress.

The kirtles of less-wealthy women fastened at the front.  This was a more practical choice because the laces could be easily opened to allow for pregnancy and breast feeding. Most women would roll up their smock sleeves for the everyday household chores, but  interchangeable dress sleeves could be pinned or tied to the kirtle for going out.  At a time when material was very expensive, such extravagancies were usually saved  for ‘best’ occasions such as visiting friends or attending church.  Therefore, if a lady was fortunate enough to have several sets of sleeves, she could change the look of her outfit without needing to change her kirtle!

(Painting: Orazio Gentileschi)

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Coifs

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

4x5 original

(Painting: Hans Holbein)

But what exactly was a coif?

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

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

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

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

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

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Olde English Yorkshire Pudding (Lancashire Style!)

 

 

 

Yorkshire_Pudding[1]

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

Ingredients:

4oz plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

1/2 pint cold water

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

 

Method:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hints for the perfect pudding!

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

* Use only plain flour.

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

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

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

* The oven must be piping hot.

* Do not open oven door at all while cooking.

* Fat must be smoking before the batter is added.

* Best served straight from the oven.

(Photo: Public Domain)

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

Winterson

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

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

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

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

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

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Spellcaster: Four

Shore

Only the roar prevailed

against timely erosions

which puckered

the skin at the edge

of the gnawing ebb,

discharging on the shoreline

its useless,

unwholesome, and dead.

(Kit Perriman)

(Photo: Public Dmain)

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Cher’s Dark Lady

DARK LADY – Cher

(John Robert Durrill)

      Marie_Laveau[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Public Domain)

(Video: YouTube)

 

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Olde English Sherry Trifle

Trifle

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

Ingredients

1 family-size raspberry jam Swiss-roll cake

1 sherry glass of sweet sherry

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

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

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

1 pint heavy or whipping cream

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

Method

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

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

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

4. Pour the sherry evenly over the sponge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to read more posts like this please visit Kit Perriman’s website at http://thehillwitchnovel.com/Blog

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