The Pendle Witches on Good-Fryday

 

“their Children and Friendes laboured a speciall meeting at Malking Tower in the Forrest of Pendle, upon Good-fryday, of all the most dangerous, wicked, and damnable Witches in the County farre and neere. Upon Good-fryday they met with great cheare, merry company, and much conference…” —  From The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in Lancashire County by Thomas Potts

On Good Friday, April 10, 1612, the men and women who came to be known as the “Pendle Witches” held a feast at Malkin Tower, the home of one Elizabeth (Lizzie) Device.  The group were later arrested by the local sheriff, Roger Nowell. According to Nowell, the witches at the Good Friday feast were planning and plotting — specifically —  to “kill M. Cowell, and blow up Lancashire Castle [using] all their Murders, Witchcraftes, Inchauntments, Charmes, & Sorceries…”

One week before, on April 2, 1612, Lizzie’s mother, Elizabeth (Bess) Southerns (aka “Old Demdike” ) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Alison had been arrested for witchcraft. Also arrested were their neighbors, Anne Whittle (aka “Old Chattox”) and her daughter Anne Redfearne.  The women were being held at the Well Tower  — which was actually a dungeon — in Lancaster Castle  — which was actually a medieval fortress. There they awaited trial, to be held at the August Assizes, which meant four months in prison.

According to Sheriff Roger Nowell, it was entirely plausible that Old Demdike’s daughter would carry out a plan to kill Thomas Cowell (the coroner appointed by King James to investigate the case) and blow up Lancaster Castle in order to free her loved ones.

The Pendle Witch trials are among the most famous in British history, and the only witch trials ever that had a court journalist– one Thomas Potts — who recorded the testimonies and then wrote a book, The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in Lancashire County published in 1613.

But who were the Pendle Witches, why were they so notorious, and did they even commit the crimes they were accused of?

Pendle Forest Cunning-Woman

At the time of her arrest, Bess Southerns was around eighty years old, and had been previously known as a healer and cunning-woman. Her folk magick practices had included midwifery and saving people from plagues and other ailments. She was arrested on charges of consorting with spirits and using charms to instill sickness and death.  Furthermore, years earlier she had supposedly encountered a faerie named Tibb and made a bargain with him:

“Elizabeth Sowtherns confesseth, and sayth; That about twentie yeares past, as she was comming homeward from begging, there met her neere unto a Stonepit in Gouldshey in the Forrest of Pendle, a Spirit or Devill in the shape of a Boy… who bade this Examinate that if she would giue him her Soule, she should have any thing that she would request. Whereupon she asked his name? and the Spirit answered, his name was Tibb: 

and so this Examinate in hope of such gaine as was promised by the sayd Devill or Tibb, was contented to give her Soule to the said Spirit: And next after, the sayd Spirit or Devill appeared at sundry times unto her alwayes bidding her stay, and asking her what she would have?”

During this time, a neighbor named Richard Baldwin had taken sick – after having had a verbal altercation with Bess in which she had  somewhat flippantly told him “I will pray for you.”  (It was largely believed that a witch’s prayers could bring harm…) Soon after, Baldwin’s young daughter became ill and died. Needless to say, the death was blamed on Bess and her pact with Tibb.

Anne Whittle had a similar story. Bess had allegedly been her mentor.

“Anne Whittle, alias Chattox, sayeth, that about foureteene yeares past she entered the wicked perswasions and counsell of Elizabeth Southerns, alias Demdike, and was seduced to condescend & agree to become subject unto that devilish abhominable profession of Witchcraft: Soone after which,  at around Midnight, the Devill appeared unto her in the likeness of a Man…

whereupon the said wicked Spirit mooved this Examinate, that she would become his Subject, and give her Soule unto him:”

Further deaths in the Pendle Forest were blamed on the two women and their so called pact with the devil.

“… many sundry Person haue been bewitched to death, and by whom they were so bewitched: Robert Nuter, late of the Greene-head in Pendle, was bewitched by Demdike, and Widdow Lomshawe, (late of Burneley) now deceased.

And she further sayeth, that she had bewitched to death, Richard Ashton, Sonne of Richard Ashton of Downeham Esquire.”

A Black Dog and Communion Wafers

Young Alison Device had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She had been walking upon a road in Colne when she saw a peddler – a man named John Law. (I am not kidding. His name was actually John Law. No offense to the Police Department 😊 )

In general, the people of Pendle Forest were poor. Many went barefoot with tattered clothes. Alison had the need for some pins to mend her crumbling kirtle. She asked John Law to “open his sack so she might purchase some.” He refused. Alison then shouted some choice words at him, upon which a black dog came running out of the forest. John Law fell to the ground (in modern times we would say he suffered a stroke.) Nonetheless, it was assumed that the black dog was Alison’s “familiar” – a spirit who arrived on the scene to do Alison’s evil bidding.

The significance of pins should be noted. Aside from holding a kirtle together, pins were seen as necessary for certain witchcraft practices (akin to voodoo) such as sticking them into dolls or “poppets” meant to represent people one wanted revenge on. John Law, perhaps knowing the reputation of Alison’s grandmother, may have hesitated to sell them to her.

James Device, the twenty-year-old grandson of Bess, confessed to stealing communion wafers for his grandmother, digging up skulls and bones, and consulting with a familiar he called “Dandy”.  James Device was believed to have what we would now consider a learning disability. After being starved in prison he became so weak he could barely stand up when brought to trial.

“Being brought forth to the Barre, to receive his Triall … James Device was so insensible, weak, and unable in all thinges, as he could neither speak, hear, or stand, but was holden up when hee was brought to the place of his Arraignement, to receive his triall.”

This further leads us to believe that the prisoners received terrible, inhumane treatment in the dungeon, not to mention coerced confessions.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

To make matters worse, in court Alison’s nine-year-old sister Jennet Device testified against her own family, accusing them all of murder.  The child’s stories were taken extremely seriously by the magistrate.

Little Jennet had been in the custody of Roger Nowell since her mother was hauled off to prison. He had most likely coached her to condemn her own family. Nonetheless, Jennet’s accusations became a precedent for children accusing adults of witchcraft. (This practice was later used at the Salem Witch Trials in the American colonies when a group of children accused over 200 people of witchcraft.)

To this day, the outrageous nature of the confessions is questioned by historians.  Some believe that Roger Nowell embellished them. Torture was “forbidden” in England, but other practices, such as starvation and sleep deprivation were often used to coax confessions out of those accused.

King James and the Occult

Roger Nowell had a lot of stakes in the trials. It was to his advantage to prove witchcraft under the reign of King James.  The King, a self-described “witch expert”, had an obsession with the occult and actually believed his throne was threatened by witches.

James himself had written a book about witchcraft titled Daemonologie. He also changed several witchcraft laws to make arrests and convictions easier. This lead to the deaths of many accused. Even Shakespeare’s play Macbeth was written in part as propaganda to appeal to King James, then head of the production company.

Interestingly, the spells recited by the witches in court do not seem devil-based at all, but rather adhere to teachings of the Catholic Church, with references to the angel Gabriel, the twelve apostles and the Mother Mary.  Catholic (Papal) practices had been forbidden under King James, a Protestant. However, the county of Lancashire had always been a Catholic stronghold, and it was known that folks practiced the “Old Faith” in secret.

One such “Good Friday” charm, recited in court by James and Jennet Device is as follows:

A Charme

Upon Good-Friday, I will fast while I may

Untill I heare them knell Our Lords owne Bell,

Lord in his messe With his twelve Apostles good

What hath he in his hand? Light in leath wand

 What hath he in his other hand? Heavens doore key

Open, open Heaven doore keyes, Stuck, stuck hell doore.

Let Crizum child Goe to its Mother mild,

What is yonder that casts a light?

 Mine owne deare Sonne that’s nailed to the Tree.

He is nailed sore by the heart and hand,

And holy harne Panne, Well is that man That Fryday spell can,

His Childe to learne; A Crosse of Blew, and another of Red…

 Sweete Jesus our Lord, Amen.

 

“To Be Hung By the Neck Until You Are Dead”

Various other deaths and sicknesses were blamed on the Pendle Witches. In the end, of the twelve originally arrested, ten were sentenced to death. These were:

Anne Whittle, known as Chattox
Anne Redfearne, daughter of Chattox
Elizabeth Device, daughter of Demdyke
James Device, son of Elizabeth Device
Alison Device, daughter of Elizabeth Device
Alice Nutter
Jane Bulcock
John Bulcock, son of Jane Bulcock
Katherine Hewitt, known as Mouldheels
Isabel Robey

Elizabeth Southerns died in Lancaster Gaol before the trial began. Some say she used her cunning powers to escape trial. Most likely, the hideous conditions of the prison contributed greatly to her demise. (It was quite common for accused women to die in prison of dysentery or malnutrition, especially the elderly.)

What do you think of the Pendle Witches? Let me know in the comments.

Have a blessed Good-Fryday!

 

Pendle Forest

 

 

 

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Halloween Countdown: Soul Cakes

 

costumes 2

“A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Mistress, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.”  — Soul Cake Song

 
Long before trick-or-treaters donned masks and Halloween became an international franchise, our Medieval ancestors had a different (and much more solemn) way of celebrating.  During these festivities, poor children went door to door, begging for cakes or bread in a tradition called ‘Souling’.

The basic idea was, you give the kid a cake and he or she says a prayer for one of your dead relatives. It was a win/win situation: a charitable donation for accumulated prayers.

Although Halloween/Samhain was originally a Pagan festival, when the Roman Church grew to power in the 4th century, it (like so many other Pagan celebrations) was hijacked and morphed to fit church traditions.

Hallowtide festivities in the Middle Ages took place over a period of three days, beginning on October 31 and ending on November 2. Three different holidays were  celebrated during this time.

All Hallows Eve (October 31st) was a day to honor deceased relatives.  It was customary to go to the graveyard, bring offerings of ‘soul cakes’ and wine, and commune with the dead, as veils to the otherworld were lifted. Visitors would light candles or bonfires and ring bells to help attract surreal  entities.

Joža Uprka

All Saints Day (November 1st) was a day to honor saints, while All Souls Day (November 2nd) paid tribute to ALL the souls of the departed.  On All Souls day, children would go door to door hoping to receive soul cakes.  Whenever you gave a child a cake, he or she then had an obligation to say a prayer or sing a song for one of your deceased relatives — who just might be doing time in Purgatory, waiting to enter heaven.

By giving out soul cakes, you could get extra prayers for your loved ones, thus keeping them from the clutches of Satan.

devil

First recorded in the 5th century, the tradition of giving soul cakes continued on in some parts of England as late as the 1890’s.

So, what exactly was a soul cake?

Soul cakes took many different shapes and sizes. In some areas, they were simple shortbread, and in others they were baked as fruit-filled tarts. Some were an early form of French toast, making use of stale or day old bread to be given to the poor.  Ingredients, of course, were used according to what was most available in the community.

If you’d like to try your own hand a whipping up some soul cakes for Halloween, here are a few recipes.

This one dates all the way back to 1350!

TRADITIONAL SOUL BREAD

6 large dinner rolls
2 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup currants
1 tsp. ground ginger and cinnamon combined
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of saffron

Grind saffron, mix with butter and set aside. Cut centers out of rolls to make a little bowl, reserving removed breadcrumbs. Mix eggs, currants, butter mixture, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Pour over breadcrumbs (which preferably has been dried out first) and stir carefully until all bread is evenly coated. Stuff rolls with mixture. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a large pan and bring it to boil. Then put in the rolls, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes with the pan tightly covered. Remove immediately from water with a slotted spoon and serve hot.

Source: Curye on Inglish. Middle English recipes
Oxford University Press.

medieval baker pd

If you’d like a more modern recipe, try these:

PIE CRUST SOUL CAKES

You’ll need:

  • A refrigerated roll-out pie crust
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 C mixed dried fruit
  • 2 Tbs honey

Roll out the pie crust and cut it into circles. Use the circles to line a tin of muffin cups. Mix the butter, fruit and honey together. Scoop the fruit mixture into the pastry shells, and then bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow to cool for about ten minutes before eating.

Source: Recipes for Halloween

Your trick or treaters will no doubt be delighted!

costumes

On the other hand, parents will be suspicious of anything hand made and not wrapped… so you may want to keep your soul treats all to yourself 🙂

And finally! For your listening pleasure, here is a lovely version of the Soul Cake Song, performed in Medieval ballad style by Kristen Lawrence. Hope you enjoy it!

Happy Souling!

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Mardi Gras!

 

mask-face-mask-mardi-gras-new-orleans-colorful

Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we fast 🙂

If you are lucky enough to be in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, or some other designated Mardi Gras  center today, more power to you!  As for the rest of us, we can still don a mask, eat jambalaya and jiggle  to some great music.

This video features one of my favorites, ‘Iko Iko’ by the Dixie Cups, with a montage of fabulous Mardi Gras Indians. Hope you like it!

 

In case you were wondering how this crazy celebration  got started, and what put the ‘fat’ in Fat Tuesday, here is a (very brief) history of Mardi Gras as it evolved through the Catholic Church.

 

And for those who can’t get enough of Dixieland, here are around two hours of it for your listening pleasure. Have a fantastic Fat Tuesday!