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Witches - The Witchiest Witch

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Witches  -  The Witchiest Witch

‘The Lancashire Witches’

One voice for ten dragged this way once

by superstition, ignorance.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Witch: female, cunning, manless, old,

daughter of such, of evil faith;

in the murk of Pendle Hill, a crone.

Here, heavy storm-clouds, ill-will brewed,

over fields, fells, farms, blighted woods.

On the wind’s breath, curse of crow and rook.

From poverty, no poetry

but weird spells, half-prayer, half-threat;

sharp pins in the little dolls of death.

At daylight’s gate, the things we fear

darken and form. That tree, that rock,

a slattern’s shape with the devil’s dog.

Something upholds us in its palm-

landscape, history, place and time-

and, above, the same old witness moon

below which Demdike, Chattox, shrieked,

like hags, unloved, an underclass,

badly fed, unwell. Their eyes were red.

But that was then – when difference

made ghouls of neighbours; child beggars,

feral, filthy, threatened in their cowls.

Grim skies, the grey remorse of rain;

sunset’s crimson shame; four seasons,

centuries, turning, in Lancashire,

away from Castle, Jury, Judge,

huge crowd, rough rope, short drop, no grave;

only future tourists who might grieve.

Carol Ann Duffy

On a pleasant, summer afternoon in 2012, we went to Barrowford, Lancashire, to visit the Pendle Heritage Centre and find out more about the Lancashire Witches.It was the 400th anniversary of their trials that year. Having previously visited Lancaster Castle and the area where some of the witches were executed by hanging, we were starting our explorations at their end and going backwards into their beginnings. I found their story fascinating, disturbing and very sad. Witches? Really? Blind, struggling, penniless old ladies being picked on for how they lived and what they looked like upset me so much and it was too late to stick up for them. I saw them as two families who didn’t get on and tried to out-wit each other. They knew plants, good and bad. They knew the properties of each and how to use them for nourishment, medicine and poison. I don’t believe they murdered anyone. I believe that they were so terrified, that they made false confessions and were consequently found guilty at their trials and executed. That’s my opinion, based on what I felt was real and dismissing what I considered to be fantasy – familiars, in the sense, or rather nonsense of a person taking on the form of an animal or non-human creature.

The stories of the Pendle Witches are well documented, but here are a few snippets from a booklet we picked up on our visit,

“Early 1600s – Two rival peasant families live on the slopes of Pendle Hill. They are led by two old women called Demdike, a.k.a. Elizabeth Southerns and Old Chattox, a.k.a. Anne Whittle. The men of their families are dead, leaving them in poverty to beg and find work where they can. Many local people live in fear of them, believing them to have special powers.”

According to the booklet, things really kick off and reach a peak in the spring of 1612,

“March 18th, 1612 – Alizon Device, grand-daughter of Demdike, is begging on the road to Colne. A pedlar refuses her some pins and she curses him. Suddenly a black dog appears and she orders it to lame the pedlar who collapses, paralysed on the left side.

March 30th, 1612 – Alizon Device is hauled before the Justice Roger Nowell and confesses to witchcraft. Forced to give an account of her family’s activities she tells how Demdike had been asked to heal a sick cow which then died. She also told Nowell that Demdike had cursed Richard Baldwin after which his daughter fell sick and died a year later. Describing her family’s feud with the Chattox family she reports how Chattox turned the ale sour at an inn at Higham and bewitched the landlord’s son to death using a clay image.

April 3rd, 1612 – Nowell sends Demdike, Alizon Device, Chattox and her daughter Ann Redfearn to Lancaster Castle to await trial for witchcraft.  Demdike dies in prison before the trial.

August 17th 1612 – The trial opens at Lancaster Castle. The accused are not provided with a defence lawyer. Nowell produces nine year old Jennet Device as a witness and she gives evidence against her own family. Her mother, Elizabeth, is dragged from the court screaming at her daughter and cursing Nowell. Alizon Device faints when confronted with the pedlar she is said to have lamed and when she is revived, confesses her guilt. Chattox weeps as she hears the evidence against her and asks God for forgiveness. She pleads for mercy to be shown to her daughter, Ann. The judge finds them all guilty.

August 20th 1612 – Chattox, Ann Redfearn, Elizabeth, James and Alizon Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Jane Bulcock and her son John are hanged in Lancaster in front of huge crowds.

Were they malevolent people possessed by supernatural powers, or the innocent victims of a time obsessed with the pursuit and punishment of witchcraft?”

There is much more to learn about the Lancashire witches, that was just an outline of events.

 I’ve convinced my grandchildren that I have special powers and I’m not even a witch! Well, I am sometimes, usually at Hallowe’en when I transform into The Witchiest Witch and give chocolate to all the children who come to my door. These are children who know me and recognise me from school or the neighbourhood. They are often disguised beyond my best efforts to recognize them as monsters, vampires, ghosts and miniature witches.

My own poem,

The Love Potion

She visited after midnight

And I listened to what she said.

Her voice was quiet and distant

For she was seven decades dead.

Her threadbare clothes were shades of black,

Her knitted shawl, faded to gray.

Old eyes, soft in her wizened face

Still had a kind and gentle way.

I adored my great-great grandma,

Her ghostly presence brought no fear.

She always knew what I needed

And I loved to sense her so near.

She said, “I believe I can help.

I know of a very old spell.

Come sit a-while beside me

And write it all down as I tell.

“Get some milk thistle and nettle,

Buttercup, daisy and clover.

Leave it to rest in rose water

Until the petals turn over.

Slowly stir in bramble honey,

A splash of dandelion wine

And sprinkle the seeds of the poppy

While you sing ‘Oh Let Him Be Mine’.”

“You want him so much,” she whispered.

“This potion will bring him along.

He will love you as you love him

And together you will belong.

Follow instructions exactly.

Choose every item with great care

And take your time, do not hurry.

Be of glad mind as you prepare.”

Her cold, hard fingers touched my face

And I felt the warmth of her love.

The vision drifted out of sight

Carried floating somewhere above.

She’d died long before I was born,

Yet she was always there for me.

I am blessed to share the blood-line

Of a free spirit such as she.

Pamela M Winning  2012

Thanks for reading, Pam x

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