Hi there, my name is Eleanor and I run an Instagram account called @witchyhistory. Here I look at all aspects of a dark time in history, when witches were thought to be very real and innocent people were convicted of the crime of witchcraft. I started looking at witches in history for my third year project at university. Magic has always been part of my childhood. Growing up in Lancashire, my dad would tell me the story of the Pendle Witches, some local women who were arrested and executed for using magic to commit murder. To a logical and curious child, this did not make any sense. Magic was not real so how could you be arrested for it? The question stuck with me as I pursued my history degree which is how I ended up writing my dissertation on Child Witnesses in English Witchcraft trials.
I noticed that the more you look at the history of magic and witchcraft, the more complicated it becomes! My aim with my Instagram account is to make the history of witchcraft more accessible for people and to debunk a few myths at the same time.
I am so excited to be working with The Historian Next Door this Halloween seasons and bring you some spooky facts about witchcraft in history.
If you like what I do and would like to support the account, I have an Etsy shop with a few witchy goodies that are available to purchase. All the money I make goes back into @witchyhistory to keep it going.
FIVE SPOOKY FACTS ABOUT WITCHCRAFT
1. People really believed witches existed.
From medieval times to the 18th century, people’s belief in witchcraft was so strong that it was a made into a criminal offence. In 1542 King Henry VIII passed a law called ‘The Witchcraft Act’. Under this law people were forbidden from using magic to commit murder, to make people to fall in love, and even to find buried treasure.
Witchcraft remained a crime in England for almost two hundred years but people eventually came to stop believing in witches and magic. In 1735 the Act was changed to say that anyone who claimed to be a witch and sold spells and charms was illegally tricking people into handing over their money. However the law was still called ‘The Witchcraft Act’ until it was finally repealed in 1951.
2. A king thought witches were trying to kill him
King James I of England came to the throne in 1603. He was terrified of witches and thought they were trying to kill him. While he was King of Scotland, he had travelled by boat to Denmark to marry Princess Anne. After the wedding they sailed back to Scotland, but there was a storm so violent and so fierce that James believed that it had been sent by witches. James and Anne had to wait in Norway for a few weeks until the storm ended. When they finally arrived back in Scotland, James immediately started an investigation into who was responsible for the storm. Seventy people were accused of being witches and causing the storm to try to kill the King.
3. King James I was so frightened of witches, he even wrote a book about them.
In 1597 King James wrote a book called ‘Daemonologie’ all about witches and how to find them. He claimed that witches were everywhere and that they needed to be discovered. The book included some signs that a person might be a witch if:
– They had a strange mark on their body (what we would call a birth mark or a mole).
– They were (usually) a woman.
– They did not bleed. Witch finders would prick a person’s skin and if they bled then they were not a witch. But if they did not bleed, then they were thought to be a witch.
4. Witchcraft ran in families
In 1612, near a place called Pendle Hill in Lancaster, a young girl named Alizon Device was accused of bewitching a neighbour and making him sick. She said that her mother, brother and grandmother were also witches and that they taught her the art of magic. All of her family were imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. At their trial the youngest member of the family, nine-year-old Jennet Device, told the court room and the judge that her entire family really were witches and that she had seen them perform magic and curse people. Jennet’s whole family were executed and so were neighbours from their village.
Jennet herself would also be accused of being a witch twenty years later but we do not know what happened to her.
5. Witches were thought to have pets that were actually demons or spirits.
We all know the story of a witch having a black cat. But did you know that in Tudor times, it was thought that witches kept a variety of demons and spirits which could take the shape of any animal. These were known as the witch’s ‘familiar’. These spirits would help the witch to do their magic and to curse people on their behalf. Dogs, cats, hares, ferrets and even toads were thought to be witch’s helpers and they would give them their own blood to drink!