When Halloween comes around, the popular imagination turns to ghosts and hauntings. And to witches.
Especially in my neck of the woods. I live in Pendle Witch Country, the rugged Pennine landscape surrounding Pendle Hill, once home to twelve individuals arrested for witchcraft in 1612.
Unfortunately Halloween seems to drag out all kinds of ghoulish speculation about historical witches and cunning folk in a way that is not only historically inaccurate but disrespectful to the dead. The Pendle Witches were not ghouls, but real people who were held for months in a lightless dungeon in Lancaster Castle, chained to a ring in the stone floor, before being tried without a barrister, condemned on the testimony of a nine-year-old girl, and then hanged. The historical truth is far more chilling than any fabricated horror story.
So let this All Hallows Tide be not an excuse for macabre speculation but let us light a candle in the memory of those men and women from Pendle Forest who died unjustly:
Elizabeth Southerns, Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redfearn, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, and Jennet Preston.
The artist Alanna Marohnic created this illustration for my article "Mother Demdike: Ancestor of My Heart" in the new "Grandmother Gaia" issue of SageWoman Magazine. However, the magazine felt the image was perhaps too disturbing. Alanna nonetheless wanted to share her artwork with me because she felt so moved by the Pendle Witches' story, she felt it in order for someone to witness what happened to them at the gallows. It is with her kind permission that I reprint the image here.
From my novel Daughters of the Witching Hill:
You’ll not find our graves anywhere. God-fearing folk do not bury witches on consecrated ground, or even in the unhallowed plot beyond the churchyard walls where the suicides and unchristened go. After I died in gaol, they burned my corpse, then buried my charred bones on the wild heath overlooking Lancaster Castle. Three months on, they did the same to Alizon, Liza, Jamie, and the rest of them hanged upon that dazzling August day. No crosses mark our resting place, just heather and nesting lapwing. Only our names lingered on and the lies they told about us.
Away in Pendle Forest, Nowell ordered his men to bring down Malkin Tower stone by stone till only the foundation remained. Yet he could never banish me and mine from these parts. This is our home. Ours. We will endure, woven into the land itself, its weft and warp, like the very stones and the streams that cut across the moors.
What is yonder that casts a light so far-shining?
My own dear children hanging from the gallows tree.
Hanging sore by twisted neck,
How they gasp and how they thrash.
Stay shut, hell door.
Let my children arise and come home to me.
Neither stick nor stake has the power to keep thee.
Open the gate wide. Step through the gate. Come, my children. Come home.
May justice be served. May ancestral memory be served. May we dream true and have a blessed All Hallows.