Put To Question: The Thumbscrews

Put To Question: The Thumbscrews

Torture was not allowed under English law without permission from the king
but the thumbscrews or pilniewinks crushed even the strongest will.

“. . . in 1596, the son and daughter of Aleson Balfour, who was accused of witchcraft, were tortured to make her confess her crime in the manner following: Her son was put in the buits where he suffered fifty-seven strokes; and her daughter about seven years old, was put in the pilniewinks . . .”

Paws For Thought

Black cat         The phrase domestic cat is an oxymoron” (George F. Will)

Ever since hunting communities turned to farming, the advantages of keeping cats around was obvious – they kept down the rodents that ate the precious grain supplies.  As cats became more domesticated people grew fond of these playful balls of mischief and started making them pets.  Cats were revered by the Egyptians, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Romans, and Vikings for hundreds of years.  If a black cat crossed your path you would be lucky, and to dream of this creature was a good omen.  Mummified cats were buried in houses as a spiritual protection against rats and mice.  But something happened in the Middle Ages that changed public opinion so that cats suddenly became demonized and were actively persecuted.  Why did this happen?

Evil Dukie 2

The cat is an ambivalent creature, wild by nature and perhaps never fully tamed.  They are not easily befriended, roam about in the night, and are sexually promiscuous.  Cats are stealthy, sneaky, silent, clever, inquisitive, and almost invisible in the darkness – except for their scary eyes.  All felines are hunters and killers, and their eerie howls and cries can sound quite chilling.  They are said to have nine lives and be difficult to get rid of.  And some old wives’ tales claim cats kill babies – either by sitting on their faces or by sucking the breath from their noses.

The Celts believed cats were the souls of wicked people unfit to be reborn as humans who were changed into animals instead.  Perhaps this notion of evil lived on in the European psyche because when the early medieval witch hunts broke out, common animals became firmly associated with witches – particularly black cats.  Cats were said to be their familiar spirits.   Felines were seen as either shape-shifting witches or devils in disguise, or as the bad souls of former witches reborn.  In 1484, a Papal decree denounced all cats and their owners as devil-worshippers, opening the floodgates for The Burning Times to begin.

Evil Zig

This persecution lasted hundreds of years.  And just as the cunning folk were condemned to terrible deaths, so too were their pets.  Thousands of cats were hunted down during Lent and burned on huge public bonfires.  At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I (1558) live cats were stuffed inside a wicker effigy of the pope and set ablaze.  It is said that loud songs and music were used to drown out their pitiful howls, but no one spoke out against the atrocity because cats were the most feared and reviled of all common animals.

The Age of Enlightenment gave rise to a more logical and scientific way of thinking that eventually overcame these fears and superstitions.  And when people started questioning the existence of witchcraft they began seeing cats through different eyes too.  They were no longer the public enemy.

As a life-long cat owner I have grown to appreciate the independence and intriguing ambiguities of my kitties, but if yours ever lets you think they are truly domesticated – enjoy the illusion!

Put To Question: The Rack

Put To Question: The Rack

Torture was technically not allowed under English law unless royal consent had been given in advance.
Traitors and heretics often got 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)

Lancaster Castle

Since 1093, Lancaster Castle has protected the north of England from a Scottish invasion.  Built on the site of an old Roman fort, it was confiscated by the Crown following an unsuccessful rebellion against King Henry I.  Today it belongs to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Lancaster Castle has a long history of dealing with criminals.  The first Assizes (law courts for serious cases) began in 1166 and were held twice each year.  And although the castle is still used as a Crown Court today, it recently stopped serving as a prison in March, 2011.

CastleThe trials of the Lancashire Witches took place within these walls on two days of August, 1612.  According to local legend the prisoners endured horrific conditions while imprisoned in the dungeons of the Well Tower.  One of the matriarchs – Old Demdike – did not survive her incarceration.  It is also estimated that around 200 official executions took place here over the centuries.

Lancaster Castle is a fascinating tourist attraction for anyone interested in medieval history, crime and punishment, witch hunts, religious persecutions, and British heraldry.  Yet children growing up in the area were told, No one comes out of that place the same way they went in – most of the prisoners supposedly turned mad.

Today, the gray, daunting castle still dominates the quaint city of Lancaster from its perch on the top of the hill.

And within its chilly walls lie many dark, unspoken wonders.

 

Source Material:

Champness, John.  Lancaster Castle: A Brief History (Lancashire: Lancashire County Books, 1993)

Kit’s Crit: Waking the Witch (Pam Grossman)

Waking the Witch

 

Waking the Witch is a well-researched and entertaining history of witches, from ancient times to the present day. Author Pam Grossman hosts the podcast The Witch Wave, and in this mix of scholarship and memoir she examines the enduring connections between female power and patriarchal persecution.

Grossman also explores the myth and martyr, sister and scary monster, feminine and feminist, interpreting what it means to both practice magic, and to be accused of practicing magic in less tolerant societies. She also highlights how the word craft is used for “both making art and doing magic . . . . Artists use the power of imagination to create pieces that shift consciousness, thereby changing both the maker and the viewer,” as do potent spells [188]. She suggests that creative people have sprinkled their own individual magic in the world all throughout history.

This book is beautifully written and accessible to a wide audience on many different levels. Very informative, witty, and enjoyable!

Existential Ether (Aether)

Ether Magic

The Greeks believed Ether filled up the region of space above the Earth and was the pure essence breathed by the gods.

They also called this fifth element: Quintessence.

It appears to the human eye as a bluish-white miasma or fog.

Ether is the force or celestial energy behind all magic – the universal spirit.

It is often symbolized as a spiral.

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)

Dia de los Muertos

  • The Latin American Day of the Dead is a two-day celebration taking place on November 1st and 2nd.
  • This tradition originated in Mexico.
  • Several ancient Aztec death rituals were combined with new Catholic beliefs brought to the New World by the Spanish Conquistadores.
  • Instead of mourning the souls of the departed, Dia de los Muertos commemorates their lives with the food, activities, drink, and clothing that were most enjoyed during their time on earth.
  • During these two special days the dead are invited back to celebrate with their remaining loved ones.
  • The souls of children rejoin their families on November 1st.
  • Adult spirits return on November 2nd.
  • Feliz dia de los Muertos!

Photo: Eneas de Troya

Sources:

National Geographic Society, “Dia de los Muertos,” https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/dia-de-los-muertos/

History.com Editors, Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/day-of-the-dead

Visit to Mexico, 2011

Season of the Dead

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 used to celebrate on the nearest full moon before November, after the harvest was gathered, halfway between Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. This date represented the end of summer and the start of the spiritual New Year. Samhain came from the Celtic Fire Festival when the Druids remembered their dead. Bonfires were built to cleanse and protect, and sacrifices were offered to the gods. It was a night of divination, mummers, feasting, guising, and young lads following the Hobby Horse about the village.

The Church of Rome turned this feast into All Hallows’ Eve, the start of All Saints’ Day to honor the Christian saints and martyrs. Soul Cakes got eaten instead of meat. Candles were lit for the dear departed and there were vigils, feasts, and the ringing of church bells everywhere.

Youngsters, in particular, enjoyed celebrating Halloween, short for Hallowed or Holy Evening. They remembered the frailty of life with skeletons, ghouls, cobwebs, tombstones, and demons, hoping to chase evil and death away by honoring the darkness. Some carved turnips into Jack o’ Lanterns for those lost souls who’ve been denied both Heaven and Hell, while others partook in pranks to imitate mischievous spirits, costume feasts, processions, and mummers’ plays.

When the Puritans colonized America they introduced the concept of Halloween in the United States. Private costume parties were held to celebrate and protect the harvest. Over time, pumpkins replaced turnips; Irish immigrants introduced “trick-or-treating”; and candy, costume, and greeting card companies began actively promoting this festival as a national holiday to increase their sales. Halloween has now become one of the most popular celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic.

It’s a powerful time – so be careful and guard your own soul!

The Hill

There are few place in England older, or more shrouded in mystery, than Stonehenge.  The famous stones in Wiltshire have aroused much speculation throughout the centuries – that they were built by alien gods – conjured up by Merlin – designed by the Druids for ritual sacrifices – or were part of a mystical system of Ley Lines.  This magic circle still draws thousands of tourists every year from all parts of the globe.  It is a place of natural energy and stunning design.

Stonehenge  But there is another place of wonder in the North of Britain, far more ancient and equally fascinating, called Pendle Hill.  Almost the size of a mountain, it rises 1,829′ above sea level in the Pennine Range, separating the ancient seats of Lancaster (Lancashire) and York (Yorkshire).

Hill

The hill is a place of stark, feral beautiful, often mysteriously shrouded in mist.  A Bronze Age burial site has been discovered on the summit, and it is said that the Druids once lived close by.  For as long as men and women worshipped the rising sun there have been celebrations on this thirsty earth, a soil demanding human blood.  There are rumors of wicker-man sacrifices – fertility rites to bring in the spring – priestesses who could raise storms and conquer invading enemies.  Even the great Julius Caesar admitting to fearing these weird conjurers.

Although little of Pendle’s history is certain before the Norman Conquest, the land was then given to the De Laceys and they established two “royal” hunting grounds, one in the Forest of Pendle and the other in the Forest of Trawden.  Throughout the Middle Ages  this area was a center for sheep farming and wool production, and despite Henry VIII’s Reformation the people clung to their old beliefs – probably a little Celtic paganism mixed with Catholic ritual and a hefty dose of superstition.

It is still an awesome place today.  From the top of the cairn you can often see as far as the sea.  The air tingles with a hidden current, like the pulse of an ancient heartbeat.  This peculiar energy cannot be explained but it has been interpreted in two important, yet widely opposing ways.  In 1652 George Fox climbed to the top of Pendle Hill and had a vision of many souls coming to Christ. This compelled him to start the Quaker Movement and dedicate his life to the service of God.

A few years earlier, however, this same land was thought to be riddled with witches and demons, which triggered the Lancashire Witch Trials of 1612 and 1634.

If you are ever in Lancashire, it is well worth a visit!