Real Witches in History
Mother Shipton- aka Ursula Southeil- was a feared & highly regarded English prophetess of the 16th Century. Born to a mother who was also suspected of being a witch- locals called her “Hag Face” due to her ugliness and disfigurements, and suspected her father to be the Devil.
Despite her unfortunate appearance, she was said to have been England’s greatest clairvoyant. Often compared to the great Nostradamus himself, according to legend she predicted the Spanish Armada, the Great Fire of London and some even speculate the internet (“around the world thoughts shall fly in the twinkling of an eye”)
Thankfully for her sake, she dies a normal death (no executions for her!), and is said to have been buried on unholy ground in York in 1561.
Agnes Sampson was a Scottish Midwife & healer who got caught up in James VI of Scotland’s anti-Witch fervour in the 1590s. The confessions were brought on by torture, and the questioning often times came from the King himself, but legend has it that Agnes doggedly denied the charges against her- chief amongst them that she had attended a witches’ coven on Halloween night that created a huge storm that plagued a voyage undertaken by the King and Queen. (Unfortunately in the end the torture caused by the Witches’ Bridle was too much for her, and she confessed to being allies with satan & conspiring to kill her sovereign).
Merga Bien was a well to-do Heiress in the 17th Century who fell foul of the staunch Catholic reformer Prince-abbot Balthasar von Dernbach, who ordered a massive witch hunt in the Fulda area in Germany between 1602 and 1605 to purge all liberal, ungodly activities. Pregnant after having had no children for the 14 years she had been married to her third husband, naturally the townspeople believed it was because she had consorted with the Devil! Along with that lascivious supernatural act, Magda was forced to admit to having killed her second husband and children, one of the children of her husband’s current employers, and that she had attended a Black Sabbath. She was burned at the stake in 1603.
A witch being tortured (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
The Salem Witches
Of all the witch trials in history, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in Massachusetts are arguably the most famous. They occurred during a time of great insecurity in Puritan Colonial America: the trauma of a British-French war on American soil still lingered, there was fear of Native American retribution, and smallpox had spread throughout the colonies.
In January 1692, two young girls began suffering fits, uncontrollable screaming and body contortions. Although it later emerged that the girls had been poisoned by a specific type of fungus found in their food supply, a local doctor at the time diagnosed the girls’ condition as being the work of witches. As more young women began “catching” the symptoms, three women were accused of witchcraft: a Caribbean slaved named Tituba, a homeless beggar named Sarah Good, and an impoverished elderly woman named Sarah Osborn.
Seeing as her fate was already sealed, Tituba confessed to being a witch and began accusing others- leading to 150 men & women being accused and convicted.
Witches today on Halloween
Today we celebrate these remarkable women on Halloween with broomsticks, pointed hats, cauldrons, magic wands, and their trusty cats.
This is why…
The Witches Broom
The Witches Broom is a symbol brought down from ancient times stemming from a fertility dance done around the full moon. It involved an old corn broom & jumping over the broom during the dance. It is believed that this evolved into witches riding brooms in the full moon because as Christianity spread many of the old superstitions became associated with witchcraft and the legend that the witch would turn her magic into a broom to hide it.
Black Cats became associated with witches as a perfect disguise for their “familiars”, or the magical creatures such as imps they used to communicate with the Devil.
In ancient Greece the goddesss Hekate was strongly connected to witchcraft- and on many statues she is depicted with such a hat. In Germany, golden conical hats were found, decorated with suns and stars,
In Pharaonic Egypt, weapons, amulets, magic texts and magic wands were left in the tomb (the magic wand being what enabled the “Ba”, or soul, to activate the remaining magic).
Mentioned in texts from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to everything associated with witches’ lore, the cauldron is a key piece of kit in a witch’s arsenal. Allegedly used for everything from combining spell ingredients to boiling things alive, a witch’s spell would not be complete without one.