Old Demdike: Forty Seven

Put To Question: The Thumbscrews

Torture isn’t allowed under English law –
but the thumbscrews or pilniewinks crush 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 . . .”

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!

 

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.

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 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!