Posts Tagged ‘Witchcraft’

Duncan is best known for being the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act, 1735. She was born November 25th, 1897 and died December 6th, 1956. At school she was known to have alarmed fellow pupils with prophecies of doom and displaying hysterical behaviour.

She married Henry Duncan in 1916 who supported her talents and in 1926 she went from clairvoyant to medium, offering séances to summon recently deceased spirits via emitting ectoplasm. She worked part time in a bleach factory and was a mother of six, a pretty busy lady.

In 1928 photography showed her tricks via dolls and old sheets as drapes. In 1931 the ectoplasm was supposedly cheesecloth, paper mixed with egg-white and toilet paper. In 1933 a trick to summon ‘Peggy’ a spirit was investigated and she was fined £10 for fraud, Harry Price concluded it was all fake and so why am I reporting on her? Well… here goes.

November 1941, WWII, she held a seance in Portsmouth and laid down the claim that a sailor spirit told her the HMS Barham had been sunk. An official announcement for the sinking came months later in February 1942. Due to this the Navy took interest in her claims. There was scepticism about her claims of the spirit telling her this because close family members of the victims had been informed about it. It was summarised that she might has known as around 861 families at the time could have been discussing it with the links they had, and she may well have over heard the news.

Duncan’s claims were taken seriously enough that they arrested her on a minor other issue, but then found the clause of witchcraft. She had a mock-up of an old HMS Barham hat band but after 1939 they hadn’t been worn. There seemed to be concerns that she would leak more confidential information, whatever her source, and that she was exploiting the recently bereaved. Seances did not come cheap, incidentally they don’t these days either…

She was found guilty on one count, and she was imprisoned for nine months. Winston Churchill seemed unimpressed by what seemed to be a waste of time and resources on “obsolete tomfoolery”. In 1945 she was released and promised to stop, which clearly wasn’t the case as she was arrested again in 1956. There was no sign of anything odd about her death after though, she had been suffering ill-health from around 1944 and was an obese woman who would move slowly due to heart trouble.

All too often when the media talks about these events it is with a very sceptical approach. Replications of their so-called trickery has been given as the reason not to trust mediums etc. Helen Duncan was unfortunate in the media enough times I’d question why folks even continued to see her, but the grief of a lost one is hard and people may well have given her more benefit over doubt due to this.

In the case of HMS Barnham, she was in Portsmouth, a naval town in a time where it was already considered a badly kept secret. Sailors of the living variety may have been talking and she overheard it. Perhaps she truly was told by a spirit but I hate to admit full poo-poo on the situation however I would say the only S involved here was media speculation and sensation.

Helen-duncan-cheesecloth

The Bell Witch Cave is a cave located in Adams, Tennessee close to where Bell Farm once stood. It is around 490 feet and whilst it is privately owned there are tours that are organised to allow some entry to the place. The cave is more famously known thanks to a legend of a witch there. Betsy Bell and her friends had gone to explore the cave and whilst doing so once of the boys got themselves stuck. A voice cried out, “I’ll get him out” the boy felt hands grasp at his feet and was pulled from the hole. The witch (invisible) proceeded to lecture the adventurers.

The Bell Witch legend brought the inspiration for the Blair Witch Project, a cult movie from the 1990’s.  The film whilst many are likely to disagree with me, does have an appeal that’s fairly unique but sadly poorly copied over the years forcing into the hammy styles of any predecessor, like Lost Boys now being nothing more than a vampire comedy for some.

I was one of the fortunate people, no one ruined the fact it was a movie not based on the truth so I saw it with the fresh eyes that made it appealing I guess. I don’t count the second film when I talk about considering it to be a good one either, in the same way I consider Highlander 2 to be a bad dream. Either way the legend of the Blair Witch (closely linked to the Bell Witch) are that a hermit, named Rustin Parr, kidnapped seven children in the area in the 1940’s and brought them home to torture and murder them. He confesses and pleads insanity saying that the witch Elly Kedward was tormenting him and promised to leave him alone if he murdered the seven children.

When I think of spooky or truly authentic sounding places I have to admit New Orlean’s is one of them. I see regular pictures and video’s on the internet. It really needs to be on my list of places to aim for.

Manchac Swamp is near New Orleans and has another nickname, the Swamp of the Ghosts. The swamp was cursed by a an adept of the voodoo cult (not the nice side either) in the 20’s when locals imprisoned her on charges of witchcraft. Three small villages nearby were taken down by a hurricane that came shortly after, adding weight to the theory as far as they were concerned.

Another victim of the weather at the swamp was a cemetery, halfway between Frenier and Ruddock there was St. John the Baptist Parish which had roughly 100 souls buried there.

A pretty famous name but why? And really is he that interesting? Yes… however you see it, good or bad the man has proven to be very influential.

“So what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”

Born in 1875 on 12 October, Edward Alexander Crowley and died 1st December 1947.  For many his Magick comes to them as a form of modern urban high magic mixed with neo-paganism. The actual facts of the matter are far more complex and I think if you are interested it would be better to look into it on your own (it would be posts and posts long!)

One thing he did his life was to pretty much travel around the world in search of gnosis. He went from deep jungles to high mountains, and it’s a shame he didn’t share more of those experiences as I am sure his outdoor adventures would have been interesting reading.

In 1925 he took leadership of the Fraternitas Saturni on a walk up the garden and into the forest. He noticed a plant or tree that was remarkable to him and lifted his hat in greeting. When the novices asked what he was doing one of the other members explained he was greeting the elemental spirits of nature who had come to see their master.

Towards the end of his life he began to lose interest in the Ordo Templi Orientis and the other organisations he had fashioned for his vision of the Great Works. He met Gerald Gardner and it seems at this point the plan was made to transform the OTO into a more popular witchcraft cult.  Gardner brought a charter and rose rapidly through the grades, even travelling to America to meet other initiates.

Fred Lamond, one of Gardner’s first acolytes wrote about an American adept known as Jack Parsons who looked favourably on the idea of the new witch cult. Perhaps if Crowley had lived long enough to finish Gardner’s training modern paganism may have looked very difficult.

Today his influence is still notable. Crowley’s word was Thelema which meant Free Will, those who choose to follow the path of his magical teachings aim to de-condition themselves to  be independent and have their own sense of self. The popularity of this is the idea of not  following a priest or judge in order to be able to work out how to act for yourself.

Part of the process of developing this self knowledge is by Magick, which he highly advocated. “the science and art of causing change in conformity with will.” many things now known as cultural were part of the fundamental parts of Magick such as drama, music, art, dance, philosophy and poetry etc…

I learnt about the Pendle Witches when I was young, the trials took place in 1612 and because I am from Lancashire it was something we were told about. However it wasn’t until I got older I began to find more interest in it.

There were in total twelve accused who lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, they were charged with the murder of ten people by the use of witchcraft. Two were tried at Lancaster Assizes, one was tried at York and another died in prison. Of the eleven that went on trial tend of them were found guilty and executed by hanging.

The trials were particularly unusual at the time due to the number of those hung at once, and during the early 15th and 18th Centuries when trials of witchcraft were a feature fewer then 500 in total were executed.

Six of the witches came from the same two families, Elizabeth Southerns (Aka Demdike), her daughter Elizabeth Device, her grandchildren James and Alizon Devic; Anne Whittle (aka Chattox) and her daughter Anne Redferne. The others accused were Jane Bulcock and her son John, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Gray and Jennet Preston.

Pendle Hill makes for a beautiful backdrop of scenery, the accused lived around the area which at the time was well regarded as a pretty lawless land – “fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity, where the church was honoured without much understanding of its doctrines by the common people”.

Henry VIII had dissolved the local Abbey at Whalley leaving them with no church influence until the Roman Catholic rise in 1553 with Mary’s views leading the way, after this Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 and Catholic Priests were forced into hiding. In remote areas like Pendle they did continue to practise their Mass in secret.

In early 1612 every Justice of the Peace in Lancashire was ordered to compile a list of anyont that refused to attend English church, take communion or had committed a criminal offence at that time. Roger Nowell, Read Hall on the edge of Pendle Forest was the Justice of the Peace at that time. During this he investigated a case brought to him by the family of John Law, a pedlar who stated he had been injured by Witchcraft.

Demdike herself had been regarded as a witch for around 50 years and some of the deaths the witches were accused of had come to play before Nowell even took his interest but the event of the Pedlar, John Law, seems to have triggered the events that led up to the trial. Alizon Device had asked the pedlar for some pins, Law was reluctant perhaps as they were known to be useful in their magic. Not long adter Law’s son saw him fall, (probably a stroke given his age), he managed to stumble up and get ot an inn. Alizon seemingly convinced of her own powers then confessed and asked for his forgiveness.

Alizon, her mother and brother were summoned before Nowell and Alizon confessed to selling her soul to the Devil, she states she told him to lame Law and her brother also stated her sister had bewitched a local child. Elizabeth was not as forthcoming but revealerd her mother, Demdike, had a mark on her body where the devil had sucked on her blood.

When questioned about Chattox it seems that Alizon had a chance for revenge, there is a suggestion in the evidence that this bad blood may go back to sometime around 1601. A member of the Chattoz family broke into the Malkin Tower (stealing around a £100 worth of goods). Now having been questioned it meant that Alizon accused Chattox of murdering four men by witchcraft and that her father was so frightened of Chattox he had paid 8 pounds of oatmeal per year to prevent any attacks. The oatmeal had been handed over yearly until the one before John’s death and on his deathbed he had told them it was Chattox that caused it and why.

Nowell summoned the other family, Demdike and Chattox were both blind and in their eighties but still came to bring him many damaging confessions. Chattox said 20 years before the event she had given her soul to something to get revent and would lack for nothing. Anne did not confess but Demdike said she had made clay figures. Another witness blamed her brothers illness on Anne Redferne over a disagreement.

This would probably have been the end when half of them were dragged away to the assizes but then a meeting was arranged by Elizabeth Device at the Malkin Tower (home of the Demdikes) was held. James Device stole a neighbour’s sheep, word of the party reached Nowell. Nowell and another magistrate, Nicholas Bannister, wanted to determine what had happened. As a result of their inquiry eight more were accused of the crime. Elizabeth, James, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John and Jane Bulcock, Alice Gray and Jennet Preston. Jennet lived across the border and was sent to York for trial. The rest went to join the first four at Lancaster Goal.

Malkin Tower is believed to have been near Newchurch in Pendle and was demolished soon after the trials. In December 2011 Water Engineers unearthed a 17th Century cottage with a mummified cat in the walls that might well have been the Malkin Tower.

Some of the accused seem to have believed in their guilt, like Alizon but others protested their innocence to the end. Everyone but Elizabeth Southerns died by hanging but she died waiting for trial, Alice Grey however was found not guilty.

Jennet Preston herself was tried and pleaded not guilty but had appeared a year before Judge Bromley accused of murdering a child by witchcraft. The damning evidence then came in the form of her going to see Lister’s body who bled in front of them as she turned up. She was found guilty and hanged.

The prosecutor was Roger Nowell (I am sure you can see where this is going!) and the judges were Altham and Bromley. Nione year old Jennet Device was a witness which was not permitted in many trials, but Kind James has allowed it in the case of witchcraft. Everyone was once again brought forward to give their evidence. Chattox broke down in tears of confession about the murder of Robert Nutter and called on God to be merciful to her daughter Anne Redferne.

Elizabeth was charged with the murders of James and John Robinson, alongside this of working with Alice Nutter and Demdike in order to murder Henry Mitton. It also wasn’t like to help the case she had a deformity that meant her left eye was set lower than her right. Jennet accused her mother and shouted and yelled, she also said that her mother had a familiar called Ball who was a brown dog. Ball had been the one sent out to help with various murders. Elizabeth was also found guilty.

James Device tried to sell out his mother, and then protest his innocence against the crime of murdering both Anne Townley and John Duckworth. He however had made an earlier confession to Nowell that was read out, Jennet then said that her brother talked to a black dog, he was found guilty.

On the same day that Anne Redferne was tried so were the three Samlesbury Witches, the evidence of her involvement with the murder of Robert Nutter was insufficient and Anne was the one that got away. The second day however she was not so lucky, she refuted her guilt during the second trial about Robert Nutter but in the end she too was brought to the gallows.

Jane and her son, John Bulcock from Newchurch in Pendle were both accused of despatching Jennet Deane and denied being at the meeting at Malkin Tower. Yet again little Jennet came through and identified them saying John had roasted the stolen sheep for the Good Friday meeting. Guilty as charged.

Alice Nutter was a comparitively wealthy woman who made no statement before or during her trial, she merely submitted not guilty. Mitton’s death was supposedly caused by her, Demdike and Elizabeth Device. The only evidence given was by James Device saying that Demdike had told him about it. Alice may have been at the Malkin Tower on her way to an illegal Catholic meeting but if she wanted to use the meeting to say she wasn’t there she didnn’t to avoid incriminating the other’s at that meeting. Alice was found guilty.

Katherine Hewitt was charged and found guilty of the murder of Anne Foulds, she was the wife of a Clother from Colne, she had attended the meeting at the Tower with Alice Grey and according to James Device both Hewitt and Grey said they had killed a child from Colne. Jennet again (aren’t her and Hames so lovely?) confirmed her presence at the meeting. Alice Grey managed to escape the guilty plea.

Alizon Device, who started the whole thing via the John Law encounter was charged with causing harm by witchcraft. She was uniquely accused by her victim directly and seems to have believed in her own guilt. She broke down and confessed, another one for the guilty pile.

Should you like a very interesting (but quite heavy going) read about this in the form of a great novel, I would highly recommend Robert Neill’s book Mist Over Pendle which I read so many times I’ve now had to go and get a second copy. Oh what a shame a drive out towards my birth place!