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Friday, 17 December 2010

The Lowestoft Witches

In 1662 Bury St. Edmunds became another backdrop to the Witch Trials that were sweeping Europe. However, this story does not start in Bury St. Edmunds, it starts in Lowestoft, a thriving fishing town on the east coast of England. It was also the home of Amy Denny and Rose Cullender, know today as ‘The Lowestoft Witches’.

Amy Denny was first accused by Samuel Pacy, who claimed she had cursed his daughters after a dispute about buying fish. It began with his daughter Deborah being seized by fits for a number of weeks. Samuel sought medical help from his neighbour, Dr Feavor, he said that he could find no natural causes for her illness. Not long after this Samuel’s other daughter Elizabeth also became similarly afflicted.

Upon the evidence being formally presented Amy Denny was thrown into stocks, but the Pacy sister's torment did not end there.

Rose Cullender had been the subject of local rumours for a while, with lots of locals believing she was a witch. She soon became implicated along with Amy. Both Deborah and Elizabeth claimed that they had been seen visions of the women whilst suffering fits, seizures and loss of senses. Samuel had the girls move to their aunt’s house, hoping the extra distance would weaken the affects. It did not. Whilst there the symptoms continued, including vomiting pins and on occasion nails. Elizabeth gave an account of how the specter of Amy Denny visited her and implored her to drown herself.

The Pacy’s neighbours soon started alleging that similar fates had befallen their children following a dispute with Rose, and the case against the two women grew. After days of witness accounts and experiments being conducted on both the women and their victims, a jury took half an hour to find them both guilty. They were hanged the next day.

This trial played and important role in the history of the persecution of witches for a couple of reasons. The first of which being the publication of ‘A Tryal of Witches, at the Assizes held at Bury St. Edmonds for the County of Suffolk; on the Tenth day of March 1664’. Despite it’s rather inaccurate title - (the trial took actually took place in 1662) - this makes this trial one of the best documented on record.

This leads to the second reason why this case was so important. ‘A Tryal of Witches, at the Assizes…’, was later used as a reference for specter manipulation during the famed Salem Witch Trials.

Full Nets

A powerful, successful senior business manager went on holiday to a beautiful island. It was off the tourist trail and had fantastic scenery. One evening he left his wife at the villa they were renting and went down to the beach. As he walked along he met a fisherman, he was pulling a huge haul of fish out of his small boat.

“Wow, that’s a lot of fish… do you always catch so many?”

The fisherman smiles and replies “Yes, everyday I go out in my boat for a couple of hours and return with my nets full”

The business man looks surprised. “2-3 hours, is that all” The fisherman looks puzzled. “I wake up and have a long morning in bed and then having breakfast with my loving wife. Then, I meet my friends, talk, catch-up. Then I come to my boat, spend a few hours catching fish. After I finish I hurry home to spend time with my beautiful children.”

“Yes” says the businessman, “but if you made the time for 2 trips on the boat everyday, you would double your earnings”

“Then what?” asks the fisherman

“Well then you could save for a few months and invest the money in a second boat. Even after you pay someone else to fish on it, you would see a big profit.” reply’s the businessman.

“Then what?” asks the fisherman.

“Well if you work hard, bring in management staff as well, you could reinvest the increased profits and in 10 years you could have a whole fleet of boats and dozens of staff.” said the businessman.

“And then what?” asks the fisherman.

“Then you make the company as commercial as possible. Build up a good industry reputation, sell the company, and retire a rich man.” said the businessman, smiling at his own advice.

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

The businessman thought for a few moments before answering “Well then you could wake up and have a long morning in bed and then having breakfast with your loving wife. Then, meet your friends, talk, catch-up. Spend a few hours fishing. Then, spend time with your beautiful children and grandchildren.”

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The St. Osyth Witches

During the late 16th and 17th century Essex felt the force of the witch trials that were sweeping Europe more than most places. In total the county saw well over 700 people accused of either being witches, or associates of witches. This was largely due to it being the main stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins, aka Witchfinder General. One of these trials was that of the St Osyth Witches.

In 1582 fourteen people were put on trial for witchcraft, the best documented of all the charges are the ones made against Ursula Kemp. Ursula was a local midwife and nursemaid. She was first accused of witchcraft by Grace Thurlow, who had once been a friend and neighbour of Ursula’s.

Grace claims that Ursula came to her aid when her son became seriously ill, casting spells to cure him. Grace also turned to Ursula a few months later when she became ill herself, following the untimely death of her baby daughter. Ursula agreed to cure Grace’s condition as long as she paid her. However, some time after Grace then refused to pay Ursula claiming she could not afford it. After this disagreement Grace’s condition worsened dramatically, leading to Ursula being accused of cursing her.

During Ursula’s trial, her own son was called as a witness against her. Thomas Kemp gave an account as how his mother kept four familiars, two cats, a lamb and a toad, that she fed on her own blood. Later in the trial Ursula herself pointed the finger of accusation at others. She named Elizabeth Bennet, Alice Hunt, Alice Newman and Margery Sammon as witches. Not only did these women confess to witchcraft but made accusations of their own. Agnes Glascock, Cicely Celles, Joan Turner, Joan Pechey, Elizabeth Ewstace, Anis Herd, Alice Manfield, Margaret Grevell and Anne Swallow were all subsequently named as witches. Most of the women were either fond not guilty, or found guilty of lesser charges and sent to prison, only Ursula Kemp and Elizabeth Bennet were sentenced to death and hanged.

This however is not the last we hear of these women, over 300 years later, in the mid 1900’s this tale takes a slightly grizzly turn. In St Osyth two female skeletons were discovered by accident, buried on unconsecrated ground with metal spikes through them. Pinning witches into their coffins was a technique employed during the witch trials to stop their corpses rising from the dead and seeking revenge. It was widely believed that these were the remains of Ursula and Elizabeth. The one believed to be Ursula went on to be displayed in an open coffin as a tourist attraction, before becoming part of the private collection of Robert Lenkiewicz.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Witch of Youghal

The 'Witch of Youghal', was a woman by the name of Florence Newton. She found herself on trial at Cork Assizes on the 11th September 1661, where she stood accused of bewitching a young servant girl, and later of using witchcraft to kill a man.
The case stands out as there were very few witch trials in Ireland. In fact, up until this trial there had not been one recorded in Ireland for 83 years, the previous one being in Kilkenny in 1578.

The first accusation came from Mary Longdon, who worked as a servant for John Pyne. Mary said that Florence had called at John's house near Christmas 1660 begging for food. When she was turned away she threw curses at him. Later on Mary met Florence on the street outside where she kissed her. From that moment on Mary was plagued by sickness and fits. Mary said that whilst she was having fits she would go into a trance and see Florence's face. She also claimed that she would vomit things such as wool, straw, pins and nails. Mary also claims to have been haunted by a poltergeist following that ill fated meeting with Florence. John Pyne was called as a witness at the trial. He confirmed that on numerous occasions he had seen small stones hurled at Mary, seemingly out of nowhere.

Florence was also accused of using witchcraft to cause the death of David Jones. His widow said that Florence had met David in prison and kissed his hand. After that David became incredibly ill, dying shortly after screaming Florence's name on his deathbed.

Florence's trial ended in dramatic fashion. According to accounts as recorded by Joseph Glanvill, and later quoted by John Seymour in 'Irish Witchcraft and Demonlogy'. Whilst Mary Longdon was there to testify Florence raised up her manacled hands, looked at Mary at shouted “Now she is down”. At this point Mary collapsed shrieking, shaking and began biting herself.

However, the tale of The Witch of Youghal ends as somewhat of a mystery. Due to missing court records, no one knows what verdict was recorded. After her courtroom attack on Mary Longdon, most people have drawn the conclusion that she was found guilty and subsequently executed. But maybe, just maybe, the court records suddenly cut off for a reason. Could Florence have used her powers to bewitch herself free and live to curse another day? That, I'm afraid, is a question you will have to answer for yourself.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Life Sucks... I think...

Ok it's been a while since I posted anything other than articles, that said not a huge amount has happened. Everything's still going really well. I work for myself, I live by myself - (well apart from the kids), I don't have any major outside factors affecting my life, I rent so I have no major financial ties, and I can run my business from pretty much anywhere. I appreciate I'm in a very privileged position, one a lot of people with 9-5's, and the normal ties would envy. But... there's just this one little sods-law element to it all. It's only now that I can do anything I want... I suddenly realise:

I have NO IDEA what I want!

But here's the thing. Now I get to thinking about it, I'm not sure I ever have. In fact I think there's very few people that actually know what they want. We all fall into the same trap, we all know what we don't want, so we focus on getting away from those things. I've never thought of myself as a negative person, but it occurs to me this is exactly what I've been doing:

I didn't want to stay in a crappy marriage, I got divorced.
I didn't want to live in the city, I moved to the country(ish).
I didn't want a 9-5, I started working for myself.

And so it went on... but I've ran out of stuff I don't like. This should be great, I should be having some sort of party... but I'm not.

This got me thinking, wondering if everyone else is doing the same thing. I mean when was the last time you looked in the mirror and actually asked yourself what you want out of live. How many people just go through time reacting to circumstances based on what they don't want, and assume that what's left must be what they do want.

A here's the really scary part, what if there's stuff that over the years, for the sake of self preservation you've never even contemplated wanting. Stuff that you haven't allowed yourself to see as a possibility. Stuff you've even actively distanced yourself from, as an act of preserving a sense of acceptance of the life you find yourself in. Stuff that actually when you come to having that conversation with yourself in the mirror it turns out you really do want.

Do you:
a) think "you know what I've cut all the crap out of my life already, a lot of people don't get that, and when they do it's often later in life. I should give myself a slap, be damn thankful for it and stop looking for problems where there are none."
b) Have that difficult conversation with yourself and contemplate having to face up to the fact you may have been subconsciously lying to yourself. Go looking for what will make you happy but face the distinct possibility of finding a whole load more crap you'll have to cut out all over again.

Answers on a postcard guys... (or just comment...)

Friday, 3 December 2010

Witchcraft in Wales

Wales has a historical reputation for being a land of magic, myth and folklore. It is steeped in Arthurian legend, and it is well known that the building blocks of Stonehenge originated here.
It is little wonder then that Wales does not share the same history as most of Europe when it comes to the persecution of witchcraft. However, that does not mean there is no trace of it at all.

One of the first cases on record was that of Tangwlyst ferch Glyn. The Bishop of St David made the mistake of crossing her when he accused her of “living in sin”. Tangwlyst promptly responded by making a poppet doll of him, in order to curse him. The Bishop was swiftly overcome by a sudden illness. The case against Tangwlyst fell apart due to lack of proof. She was fortunate that this took place before the 1563 statute making witchcraft a capital offence was passed, otherwise she may not have been so lucky.

One of the first, and most well known witch trials in Welsh history is that of Gwen ferch Ellis. She was a weaver, who was also very well known as a healer. People would travel quite a distance to come and seek her help. She was best known for healing animals, but also healed people and assisted them in other minor ways, such as casting spells to retrieve lost items. Had she continued in this practice she may have been spared, however things went very wrong for her when she met Jane Conway.

Jane Conway was known to have a grudge against Thomas Mostyn, a justice of the peace and a very powerful man. When one of Gwen's spells was found written backwards in the cellar of his home, it was seen as an attempted curse against him. Gwen was initially thrown in Flint Jail, she was then put through a formal investigation at Diserth Church at Llansanffraid Glan Conwy. Eventually there was a trial at Denbighshire Court of Sessions, Gwen was found guilty of murder and causing serious harm by the use of witchcraft. She was later hanged.

Although the the majority of formal witch trials took place in the 16th and 17th century, this did not prevent vigilante actions continuing to a much later date. There are stories of people being accosted as witches right up the 19th century. These accounts often include women being cut, as it was a popular belief that once you drew blood from a witch they could no longer cast a spell against you. There were however some very serious cases.

In Monmouthshire in the early 1800's an elderly woman was set upon by a constable, a farmer and two farm hands. They accused her of bewitching some livestock, and proceeded to cut her arm to prevent her causing further harm. As a crowd gathered around, they stripped her to the waist and cut off her hair. They decided to 'duck' the woman. 'Ducking' is a practice where by an accused witch would be thrown into water, if they floated, they were using magic to save themselves and were guilty. If they sank, they were innocent, but almost always died due to drowning. Luckily by this time the woman’s daughter had arrived and managed to dissuade them. When the men stood trial the judge said they were lucky not to be facing murder charges.

Today Wales proudly holds onto it's magical heritage and has many sites and attractions based on it's associations with myth, history and folklore.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The North Berwick Witches

The North Berwick Witches were a group of seventy or so people from southern Scotland prosecuted for witchcraft between 1590 and 1592.
At this time Scotland was ruled by King James IV, who had always been very relaxed with regards to implementing laws against witchcraft. However, this attitude changed when he sailed to Copenhagen to marry Princess Anne of Denmark. During the journeys both there and back they were met with horrific storms. The Admiral of the escorting fleet of Danish ships blamed the extreme weather on witchcraft, an opinion shared by many crew members. This experience drastically changed his views on witchcraft, and upon returning to Scotland set about eradicating any trace of it.

One of the first people accused was Gellie Duncan. She worked as a servant, but often provided healing cures to people. Her cures were deemed to be a little too successful, and quickly drew suspicion. Initially she resolutely pleaded her innocence, however after ongoing interrogation and the discovery of a 'Witches Mark' on her neck, she changed her plea. She confessed that her treatments were prepared with the help of the Devil. She also implicated several other people.

One of the most shocking things is that one of the people she named as an accomplice was King James's cousin, Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell. However, he was by no means the only member of high society accused. Others that Gellie accused included Barbara Napier, widow of Earl Archibald of Angus and Euphemia Maclean, daughter of the Lord Cliftonhall. Gellie was eventually burnt at the stake.

King James was heavily involved with the trials, presiding over many of them. One story tells of how he examined Agnes Sampson at Holyrood House. She was kept without sleep for days and fastened to a wall with a 'Witches Bridle'. A Witches Bridle is a metal contraption that places sharp metal prongs against the tongue and the inside of the cheeks. Eventually she confessed, and was subsequently burnt as a witch.

Most of the confessions obtained during these trials were done so under horrendous torture. The accounts given where often of coven meetings at Auld Kirk Green, which now forms part of the modern day North Berwick Harbour area. North Berwick churchyard also featured heavily. Many of the accused claiming they went there at night to meet with the Devil. There were numerous confessions that detailed an attempt to sink the kings ship. They detailed that on Halloween 1590, they had met with the Devil in North Berwick churchyard. In order to raise a storm they retrieve limbs from corpses, attached them to a dead cat and threw this into the sea.

King James went on to write a book, 'Daemonologie', instructing his followers on the prosecution of witchcraft. The North Berwick trials were the first major occurrence of many witch trials in Scotland, it is estimated that from the late 16th century to the early 18th century between 3000 and 4000 people were executed for witchcraft in Scotland.

Magick vs. Magic

"What is the difference between 'magick' and 'magic?" is a question a lot of people new to witchcraft will ask themselves at some point.
Anyone researching magic or witchcraft on the internet, in books or anywhere else, will come across the words 'magic' and 'magick'. This is something that often confuses people, as they seem to be referring to the same thing. And, for the most part the are.