*Correct at time of publication!
In late Medieval Britain, folk magic was a popular practice. Many people would know the odd charm or be able to use plants for healing, but there were also individuals who made a living from such practices. They would sometimes tell fortunes and were said to be able to locate missing people or property (it is claimed the police forces still use psychic mediums to help solve crimes).
A woman accused of being one such witch was Elizabeth Southerns, known as Demdike, who in 1612 was in her eighties. In his account of her trial, Thomas Potts, clerk of the court, describes her:
She was a very old woman, about the age of four-score years, and had been a witch for fifty years.
She dwelt in the Forest of Pendle, a vast place, fit for her profession: What she committed in her time, no man knows.
Thus lived she securely for many years, brought up her own children, instructed her grand-children, and took great care and pains to bring them up to be witches.
She was a general agent for the Devil in all these parts: no man escaped her, or her furies, that ever gave them any occasion of offence, or denied them anything they stood need of: And certain it is, no man near them, was secure or free from danger.
Alizon’s confession played a major role in their conviction. She was convinced that her grandmother had initiated her into the practices of witchcraft, and often spoke of a ‘black dog’ which was said by her accusers to be a ‘familiar’, but could just as easily have been the family pet. A beggar by profession, Alizon was walking near the town of Colne when she met a peddler John Law, and asked him for some pins. Pins were often used by witches and cunning folk, for healing and divination, and it is possible that this is why Law refused to give them to Alizon.
Whatever his reason, the girl apparently cursed him or asked her familiar to lame the peddler as he walked away, and sure enough, before he had gone far, she saw him fall, half his body paralysed by what we recognise today was probably a stroke. Whether Alizon had meant it or not, perhaps the threat of a curse from a member of a known family of witches was enough to cause the stroke. This persuaded Alizon that she really did possess such powers, and she confessed to witchcraft.
This Anne Whittle, alias Chattox, was a very old withered spent and decrepit creature, her sight almost gone: A dangerous witch, of very long continuance; always opposite to old Demdike: For whom the one favoured, the other hated deadly: and how they envy and accuse one another, in their examinations, may appear.
In her witchcraft, always more ready to do mischief to mens goods, than themselves.
Her lips ever chattering and walking: but no man knew what.
She lived in the Forest of Pendle, amongst this wicked company of dangerous witches.
Chattox confessed to a number of crimes, including several counts of murder, and also implicated her daughter Anne Redferne, accusing her of making clay figures, and both were executed.
A spell said to have been used by Chattox:
Three biters hast thou bitten,
The heart, ill eye, ill tongue:
Three bitter shall be thy boote,
Father, son, and holy ghost a gods name.
Five avies and a creede,
In worship of five wounds of our lord.
Originally published in Black Magician's Almanac, Issue One (this version slightly adapted from the original).