Fleur De Lis

The design, essentially a stylized flower, dates back as far as Mesopotamia. It is was a decorative element and became associated with royalty, especially in the High Middle Ages.

As a heraldic charge, it dates from the 12th c, being first adopted by the French king Philippe II (1180-1214) – although his father Louis VII (1137-80) may also have used it. The arms “azure, a semis of fleur-de-lis or” are associated with French kings from 1200.
As an emblem, the fleur-de-lys, appears on coins and seals from the 10th c. at least. It can be found forming the end of a sceptre, or decorating the rim of a crown, or may be held by the king with a scepter. Thus, by the 11th-12th c. there is a strong association with royal sovereignty. (Coins of the Emperor Frederic I show him holding such a sceptre).
There is disagreement as to whether the design derives from the lily, iris, broom, lotus or the furze. Alternatively the shape may also represent a trident, arrowhead, double axe, or even a dove.

Michel Pastoureau: Traité d’Héraldique, Paris, 1979 wrote that the fleur de lis is ‘common to all eras and all civilisations…an essentially graphic theme found on Mesopotamian cylinders, Egyptian bas-reliefs, Mycenean potteries, Sassanid textiles, Gaulish coins, Mameluk coins, Indonesian clothes, Japanese emblems and Dogon totems.’

The oldest known examples of fleur-de-lis similar to those used in the Medieval Western world and in modern times, exist on Assyrian bas-reliefs from the 3d millennium BC. Later ones, from Crete, India and Egypt probably share the royal symbolism. The fleur-de-lis appears on a few Greek coins and several Roman coins – from the Republic or the Empire, and on Gaulish coins (1st c. AD), a Mameluk coin (1390) and a coin of Louis VI of France (1110-30). On the Greek and Roman coins the fleuron varies in shape, but the Celtic fleur-de-lis reappears in the 13th century.

While retaining its association with royalty, in the high Middle Ages the fleur-de-lis acquired a strong Christian meaning, stemming from (among others) the famous verse of the Song of Solomon (2:1): “ego flos campi et lilium convallium” (quoted by Saint Jerome to Saint Bernard). Up until the end of the 12th c. Christ may have been represented amidst more or less stylised lilies or ‘fleurons’. With the development of the Cult of Mary, (relating to the Song of Solomon (2:2): “sicut lilium inter spinas, sic amica mea inter filias”) the lily became the symbol of purity, virginity and chastity. The lily becomes a favourite icon attributed to the Virgin Mary and remained so until the 16th c.

The fleur-de-lis adopted as heraldic emblem by the Kings of France was explained from the middle of the 14th c in several works (apparently to legitimize claims on the throne). The king of France bore “arms of three fleur-de-lis as sign of the blessed Trinity, sent by God through His angel to Clovis, first Christian king…” God told Clovis to erase the three crescents he bore on his arms and replace them with the fleur-de-lis. (When this legend reappears at the end of the 15th c, the pagan symbols needing to be replaced were toads!) Clovis I, was king of the Franks and ruled Gaul from 481 to 511.

Scevole de Sainte-Marthe asserts that the fleur-de-lys appeared on the shield only under Philippe Auguste (1180-1223) or Louis VIII (1223-26). This appears true, as there are no coats of arms before 1130-1140, and the king of France was not the first to adopt a coat.
The Fleur-de-lys is associated with Louis VIII of France on a stained glass window in Chartres of 1230; (Louis VIII did bear the coat before becoming king, on a seal of 1211). Several chroniclers contemporary of Philippe Auguste report that he used a banner with these arms, and his seal shows that as early as 1180 he used a fleur-de-lys as emblem. Before that, from 1050 at least, the seals of French kings show them sitting, holding a sceptre in their left hand and what looks like a fleur-de-lis in their right hand. The head of the sceptre is a lozenge, but often the fleurons on the crown (3 of them) look like fleur-de-lys.

Thus the kings of France adopted the fleur-de-lys as an emblem when all other European sovereigns chose animals, but they recognized that it symbolized sovereignty: already appearing for the royal Carolingian and Ottonian attributes, on the sceptre of Capetian kings since Robert (996-1031), on the reverse of Louis VI coins (early 12th c) and even on coins of Lothaire (954-986). Louis VII adopted this emblem to symbolize his royal dignity and lineage, and hisChristian piety.

A most probable explanation for the Kings of France use of the fleur de lys was merely that the names were similar. The kings named Louis signed themselves, Loi”s. Even after the name settled into its present form, the signature, ‘Loys’ was continued, up to Louis XIII (1610-43). Loys, or Louis VII received from his father the surname ‘Florus’. The coins of Louis VI and Louis VII are the earliest on which the fleur-de-lys appears. The research by M. Rey about the fleur-de-lys is worth checking for its Gaulish connection.

Medieval floor tiles were used extensively in churches, cathedrals and grand houses. Such tiling was a display of wealth, as they were expensive to make. Thus the earliest commissions were for paving royal palaces, the houses of rich laymen, and ecclesiastical and conventional buildings. Most decorated tiles date from the thirteenth century, when craft skills increased and production costs fell, before this, British-made floor tiles were fairly plain.
The tile makers were often journeymen who travelled around the country making tiles close to where they were required. It is likely that most parishes had a brick or tile kiln at some stage and some monastic buildings even had their own kilns.
How they were made

Initially the raw clay was cleaned of stones and organic matter. It was then soaked and ‘pugged’ before being weighed, then wedged into a square shape and placed into the mould to form the tile. The tile was then stamped to reproduce the pattern in relief, leaving an impression in the surface of the soft clay. Keyholes were also cut into the back at this stage to aid drying and help the tile to ‘key’ to the mortar, when finally installed.
The impressed pattern was filled with a white ‘slip’, a fluid clay mix, and left to dry. When ‘leather hard’, the excess slip was cut back, revealing the clear definitions of the pattern. The tiles were then left to completely dry out for three to four weeks. This was mainly suited for dry, warm, summer work. After drying, glaze was brushed onto the surface of the tiles which were then fired, using a wood fired kiln.

Decorated tiles were made this way until the sixteenth century when much patronage of the trade was lost with the dissolution of the monasteries. By this time also, the wealthier classes were starting to favour brighter coloured tin-glazed ceramics and tiles from Europe.

Winchester Cathedral has the largest area of 13th century inlaid tiles still in their original position in England. Fine examples of tiles can be found in the British Museum and the Ashmoleam Museum and other places around Britain.

References and links:

https:​/​/​www.​winchester-​cathedral.​org.​uk

The Griffin

A legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. In heraldry, the griffin’s amalgamation of lion and eagle means courage and boldness. It is used to denote strength and military courage and leadership.

The eagle was considered the ‘king of the birds’, and the lion the ‘king of the beasts’, thus the griffin is perceived as a powerful and majestic creature. During the times of the Persian Empire, the griffin was seen as a protector from evil, witchcraft, and slander. The griffin is often seen in medieval heraldry, but its origins stretch much further back, for instance, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote:
“…in the north of Europe there is by far the most gold…..it is said that one-eyed men called Arimaspians steal it from griffins” (Herodotus, The Histories , 3.116)

Thus griffins featured in the art and mythology of Ancient Greece, but there is evidence that they were represented in ancient Persia and ancient Egypt – dating to as early as the 4th millennium BC. On the island of Crete, frescoes of griffins were discovered in the ‘Throne Room’ of the Bronze Age Palace of Knossos which dates back to the 15th century BC.

There is a theory that the concept of the griffin was brought to Europe by traders travelling along the Silk Road. Hailing from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia the traders may have interpreted fossils of a dinosaur called the ‘Protoceratops’ as griffin remains, as the mythical animal was already known to them before the Silk Road was developed.

Because Herodotus and Pliny describe the griffin as a real, earthly animal, the medieval Christians did not regard the Greek “gryphes” as having pagan significance. The 7th-century encyclopedist, St. Isidore of Seville, lists the “gryphon,” along with a scientific description of the beast, in his compendium of known animals, and later Sir John Mandeville claims he saw griffins on his travels.

Medieval Christians, then, embraced the griffin as a creature made by God, and the Griffin became a rich symbol of the two natures of Christ – the eagle, lord of the sky, symbolizes the divine nature, while the lion, lord of the earth symbolizes human nature. Combined they represented to the medieval mind the concept that the ‘Lord is the true King of the heavens and the earth.’ Also, St. Isidore notes, “Christ is Lion because He reigns and has strength; Eagle, because after the Resurrection He rises into Heaven.”

Medieval floor tiles were used extensively in churches, cathedrals and grand houses. Such tiling was a display of wealth, as they were expensive to make. Thus the earliest commissions were for paving royal palaces, the houses of rich laymen, and ecclesiastical and conventional buildings. Most decorated tiles date from the thirteenth century, when craft skills increased and production costs fell, before this, British-made floor tiles were fairly plain.
The tile makers were often journeymen who travelled around the country making tiles close to where they were required. It is likely that most parishes had a brick or tile kiln at some stage and some monastic buildings even had their own kilns.
How they were made

Initially the raw clay was cleaned of stones and organic matter. It was then soaked and ‘pugged’ before being weighed, then wedged into a square shape and placed into the mould to form the tile. The tile was then stamped to reproduce the pattern in relief, leaving an impression in the surface of the soft clay. Keyholes were also cut into the back at this stage to aid drying and help the tile to ‘key’ to the mortar, when finally installed.
The impressed pattern was filled with a white ‘slip’, a fluid clay mix, and left to dry. When ‘leather hard’, the excess slip was cut back, revealing the clear definitions of the pattern. The tiles were then left to completely dry out for three to four weeks. This was mainly suited for dry, warm, summer work. After drying, glaze was brushed onto the surface of the tiles which were then fired, using a wood fired kiln.

Decorated tiles were made this way until the sixteenth century when much patronage of the trade was lost with the dissolution of the monasteries. By this time also, the wealthier classes were starting to favour brighter coloured tin-glazed ceramics and tiles from Europe.

Winchester Cathedral has the largest area of 13th century inlaid tiles still in their original position in England. Fine examples of tiles can be found in the British Museum and the Ashmoleam Museum and other places around Britain.

References and links:

https:​/​/​www.​winchester-​cathedral.​org.​uk

The White Horse of Uffington

The White Horse of Uffington is a chalk drawing, which sits on a steep escarpment on the Berkshire Downs, within the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire. A Late Bronze Age hillfort sits above it (dating from the 7th century BC) and below is the Ridgeway, a long distant track from Neolithic times. Not far away is Wayland Smithy, a Neolithic burial mound.
The earliest reference to the Horse dates from 1070AD when it was mentioned in a charter belonging to nearby Abingdon Abbey.

Celtic coins from the first century BC depict horses very much in this style, but recent dating using modern techniques, may indicate that the figure is older than first thought. In 1995 Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) testing was carried out on the soil which dated the horse to between 1400 and 600 BC – this puts the White Horse back to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, and suggests a relationship with the people who lived in the Hill Fort above.

The chalk figure is 110 meters long and 40 meters high and is best seen from the air. Why is a mystery, but there are suggestions that it is a Tribal emblem or a carving created to perform religious rituals, in which case perhaps it was made to be seen by sky deities. If tied to ancient religions, the first Goddess that comes to mind is Epona, a Celtic Mother Goddess, who protected horses and symbolized fertility. She was adopted by the Roman Cavalry and was the only Celtic Goddess recognized by the Romans. This is special enough until you realize that the latest dating for the White Horse at Uffington predates the Celts by six centuries!

The chalk figure is 110 meters long and 40 meters high and is best seen from the air.


However, it is known that horses were of great importance during the Bronze and Iron Ages, being depicted on jewellery and coins. Thus the horse at Uffington may represent the White Horse ridden by the goddess Rhiannon – a native British horse goddess, later described in Welsh mythology as Queen of the Otherwold. And, as with many survivors from the ancient world, there are other theories – even that the horse began life as a dragon!

The White Horse is an emblem of ancient landscapes, imbued with mystery and beauty. It gallops into our times from a world of mysterious rituals, where ancient springs and groves once created magical tales, and a dragon dwelt in the hill. The White Horse symbolizes journeys, made centuries ago along the Ridgeway, where a man could look up and know his way, to the present day when the journey is to the hill itself, so one can sit above the horses eye and survey the unique landscape and imagine the ritual processions from Dragon Hill around the Horses Manger.
The antiquity of this chalk figure and its purpose may never be fully understood, but this piece of ancient art owes its very survival to the local people who came together every Midsummer and ‘scoured the chalk’. Thus, in today’s world, it can also claim to symbolize co-operation and the value of community.

Some say that it is not a horse but a dragon!

It can only be seen properly from the air.

What a cool image from ancient Britain!

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The Power of the Oak

The Oak Tree is traditionally the King of the Forest and has always symbolized the idea that as a mighty tree can grow from just a small acorn, great things have the potential to grow from something small. The lesson of the oak is to never give up, endurance pays off, as does tenacity and patience. The Oak also symbolizes long life and wisdom – oak trees witness chunks of time much longer than we experience in our human lifetimes.

Sometimes associated with The Green Man – a masculine principle of vegetative energy, the oak is the Druids holiest tree. The Druids say that the Oak links us to the spirit of the land and they traditionally followed their nature religion in the open air, within an oak grove. Thus wood of the oak is regarded as strongly magical, the Scandinavians associated it with Thor, God of Thunder.

The Welsh once believed that if a person rubbed the oak with the palm of their left hand on Midsummer’s Day, they would be promised good health for the coming year. In England many oaks were planted to depict parish boundaries.

Cutting down an oak is still believed to be very bad luck, even today.

A design based on a medieval floor tile

Medieval floor tiles were used extensively in churches, cathedrals and grand houses. Such tiling was a display of wealth, as they were expensive to make. Thus the earliest commissions were for paving royal palaces, the houses of rich laymen, and ecclesiastical and conventional buildings. Most decorated tiles date from the thirteenth century, when craft skills increased and production costs fell, before this, British-made floor tiles were fairly plain.
The tile makers were often journeymen who travelled around the country making tiles close to where they were required. It is likely that most parishes had a brick or tile kiln at some stage and some monastic buildings even had their own kilns.

How they were made

Initially the raw clay was cleaned of stones and organic matter. It was then soaked and ‘pugged’ before being weighed, then wedged into a square shape and placed into the mould to form the tile. The tile was then stamped to reproduce the pattern in relief, leaving an impression in the surface of the soft clay. Keyholes were also cut into the back at this stage to aid drying and help the tile to ‘key’ to the mortar, when finally installed.
The impressed pattern was filled with a white ‘slip’, a fluid clay mix, and left to dry. When ‘leather hard’, the excess slip was cut back, revealing the clear definitions of the pattern. The tiles were then left to completely dry out for three to four weeks. This was mainly suited for dry, warm, summer work. After drying, glaze was brushed onto the surface of the tiles which were then fired, using a wood fired kiln.

Decorated tiles were made this way until the sixteenth century when much patronage of the trade was lost with the dissolution of the monasteries. By this time also, the wealthier classes were starting to favour brighter coloured tin-glazed ceramics and tiles from Europe.

Winchester Cathedral has the largest area of 13th century inlaid tiles still in their original position in England. Fine examples of tiles can be found in the British Museum and the Ashmoleam Museum and other places around Britain.

References and links:

https:​/​/​www.​winchester-​cathedral.​org.​uk

Just a quick word about our brand

Welcome to Reckless Relic : Ancient and iconic Art on High Quality T Shirts

The Sorcerer

Experts have placed the drawing to the end of the Ice Age within a period between 15,000 to 10,000 BC.
The Stag was clearly venerated by our ancestors, not just for its meat, but as a symbol suggesting masculine force, a powerful energy that exudes life energy, virility and fertility.
Thus the sorcerer’s dance portrays raw force and connection with humankind’s most ancient beliefs. Only a powerful shaman and elder would be entitled to wear such costume, using it as part of a ritual to enter the spiritual aspect of the natural world of the Stag and internalize aspects of this powerful animal’s character.

cave painting found in the cavern known as ‘The Sanctuary’ at the Cave of the Trois-Frères, Ariège, France, made around 13,000 BCE.

Thus the portrayal of this Shaman tells us that he aspired to, or was, the equivalent in his community: a proven, fertile father, a noble hunter, a defender of his herd – and in tune with the life and world of the forest. As the king of the forest the Stag also represents hierarchy, and a Shaman wearing this costume would be acting out leadership – his authority made the first laws.

Jon wears The Sorcerer


In Tarot this image corresponds with the Emperor.
This ancient drawing instantly connects us to Shamanism, spirituality, and the dance rituals of our ancient forefathers and gives us insight into their world. It reminds us that humans have always had a fascination for the spiritual, and a respect for nature.

EJ

Winchester Cathedral, Home of Medieval Tiles

Google search for images of Winchester Cathedral Tiles

Medieval floor tiles from the 13th century abound in Winchester Cathedral. They form the largest surviving spread of medieval decorated floor tiles inside any building in England. Find them in the Retrochoir at the far end of the Cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral

It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, having been dedicated in the deep past to Saint Swithun.

An ancient place indeed, Winchester was the capital of Anglo Saxon Wessex, now in Hampshire, and Winchester Cathedral is a grade 1 listed building.

Winchester Cathedral, home of medieval tiles

In 635 Cynegils, the king of the West Saxons, was baptised as part of Christianity coming to Saxon England. The original cathedral was founded in 642 and built just north, outside the current west door of the present day site, this first church became known as the Old Minster.

Saint Swithun, the first bishop of Winchester, was first buried near the Old Minster, as were the West Saxon kings, as in 899 Alfred the Great was buried there and King Eadwig and his wife Ælfgifu. The bones of Saint Swithun were famous and pilgrims flocked to his shrine.

By 971, the Old Minster formed part of a Benedictine monastic settlement.

In 1070 Stigand, the Saxon bishop, was replaced by Walkelin, the first Norman Bishop of Winchester and work began on the new, Norman Cathedral in 1079. Limestone was brought from the Isle of Wight, hauled along a Roman trackway to the sea, then taken by barge across the Solent and on to Winchester.

On 8 April 1093 the monks from the Old Minster moved into the new building we know as Winchester Cathedral.

The Annals of Winchester say, “in the presence of almost all the bishops and abbots of England, the monks came with the highest exultation and glory from the old minster to the new one”

Fleur de Lys, iconic symbol found on Medieval Tiles

The monk’s procession took place on the Feast of Saint Swithun and they carried the saint’s ornate reliquary with great ceremony to a new place of honour, behind the high altar in the cathedral. The following day work began to pull down the old minster.

The legend, that if it rains on St. Swithun’s day, it will continue for forty days, could be based on the day that the saint’s reliquary was moved from the Old Minster to the new High Alter. A violent storm is believed to have occurred, but for how long, is not known.

Pilgrims flocked to Winchester Cathedral in droves, enticed by the belief in the healing power of St Swithin’s bones. A tunnel beneath his shrine was named the ‘Holy Hole’, and pilgrims crawled in to be even closer to the holy relics. This continued until 1456, when an even more elaborate shrine of gold, silver and gems, was built at the opposite end of the church.

Griffin, iconic symbol found on Medieval Tiles

Walkelin’s site for his new cathedral was quite unsuitable. The marshy land meant that thousands of wooden piles had to be driven into the ground to sure up the new building. Even today, the cathedral’s crypt can easily flood. But much remains of Walkelin’s building : the crypt, transepts and nave. The original crossing tower, however, collapsed in 1107 and many thought it may be a sign of God’s disapproval for the burial of William Rufus (William II) which was right beneath it, for he was an unpopular king, murdered in the new forest in 1100.

Godfrey de Luci was bishop in 1189 and added a retrochoir in the Early English style. No other re-building occurred until the mid-14th century bishops Edington and Wykeham. Edingdon (1346–1366),William of Wykeham (1367–1404). Much was transformed, and the wooden ceilings were replaced with stone vaults.

It is believed that the Black Death halted the reconstruction of the west end of the cathedral in 1349. The level just above the three door arches was resumed about twenty five years later with less skill than previously. In the Middle Ages the cathedral was often used for royal court functions.

Henry of Beaufort (1405–1447), William of Waynflete (1447–1486), Peter Courtenay (Bishop 1486–1492) and Thomas Langton (1493–1500), all added to cathedral, with Richard Foxe (bishop between 1500–1528) being the last bishop to extend and add features in 1525.

Lion symbol, found on Medieval Tiles

Henry Beaufort was a half-brother of Henry IV and the richest man in England. On his death he left a fortune to the cathedral, which helped pay for the Great Screen, an ornately carved stone screen behind the high altar. Originally decorated with beautifully carved and painted statues, these were removed during the Reformation.

Henry VIII destroyed the cult of St Swithun in the Reformation. His commissioners entered the cathedral during the night on 21 September 1538. They destroyed the shrine, breaking it up and stealing the valuable pieces. The saint’s bones were lost and the Holy Hole was stopped up.

Despite the reformation, the cathedral maintains it’s medieval carvings, especially in the 14th century choir stalls. Some of these seats are called misericords, meaning ‘mercy seats’ for the monks to use during long services. It is said that the Winchester collection of misericords is one of the largest in England.

In modern times Historic England works to preserve the cathedral.

Oak Tree, iconic symbol from a Medieval Tile

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References and links:

https:​/​/​www.​winchester-​cathedral.​org.​uk

The Long Man of Wilmington, A Chalk Figure

The Long Man of Wilmington is a chalk picture that was made upon the Sussex Downs. Sometimes called the “Guardian of the Downs”, mystery surrounds his origin. Once believed to be drawn by William Burrell (from a record of 1766), this was disproved when an earlier drawing was discovered, made in 1710 by surveyor John Rowley.
The Long Man of Wilmington, guardian of the Sussex Downs

Thus debate continues, some are sure that he is prehistoric, others think he was made by a monk at the nearby priory some time between the 11th and 15th centuries. Yet others believe the Long Man is depicted in Roman coins from the fourth century.
He is certainly difficult to ignore, being 235 feet high on the steep slopes of Windover Hill.
Just like anything else from antiquity, he has been the subject of many theories. The latest idea from the experts is that he was originally just a shadow or indentaion in the grass rather than a solid line.

It is believed that he once had facial features, and that his head was once the shape of distinctive helmet. So the original figure may have represented a warrior, or a war god.

Over time steps were taken to preserve him, as by the 19th century he was only visible in certain conditions, such as when there was a light fall of snow. In 1874 his outline was marked by yellow bricks and it is said his feet were re- positioned!

Luckily he has survived and reminds us that in ancient times a chalk hill figure could indicate much to the traveller. Perhaps it denoted a territory, givign the message that there was a community or tribe in that area, and that there were fighting men, capable of defending their homeland! There may have been more to his story, but we must be content to admire his elegant pose and recognize that there was a purpose for his his presence on the Sussex Downs.

Is this a man holding two spears?

Or is this a man standing in a doorway?

Perhaps, beyond the threshold!

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A literary look at Witchcraft in the 17th Century

Surely the most notorious Reckless Relics must be witches? Shakespeare’s famous play, Macbeth, gives insight into how these characters (not always women) were viewed in the first decade of the 1600s and the subject continued to be popular throughout the whole of the 17th century, the Salem Witch Crisis occurring in America in 1692.

17th Century Woodcut – Dancing to the Devil’s music!

This article is about the literature that dealt with the subject of witchcraft, what academics of the day believed and how they influenced public opinion about witchcraft. The seventeenth century began with the Gunpowder Plot followed by the English Civil War, a particularly volatile time for the population of England. People genuinely feared witchcraft at the start of the seventeenth century, influenced by the religious beliefs of the Puritans, but opinions changed. Literature about witchcraft evolved, giving a fascinating glimpse into our ancestors psychology. As time moves on the subject has become mythologized. This article shines some light on how attitudes changed and why most of us love the idea of Halloween today.

What was the fascination with ‘OLD NICK’? How could anyone believe they were BEWITCHED? Common culture scapegoated many a poor unfortunate old woman years ago, and yet there were others who readily admitted to practising witchcraft, although they may have done this under torture. Let’s see what facts survive in the context of the times.

Charles 1st came to the throne in 1625 and triggered instability in England due to his relationship with parliament. In 1642 the King’s wife, Henrietta Maria, moved to the Netherlands with the crown jewels and the English Civil War was underway. Battles raged between Cavaliers and Roundheads for years, until, on 30th January 1649, Charles 1st was executed.

One may wonder if the growing interest in witches and witchcraft during the years of the English Civil war reflected the strain of living through such unstable times? Villager’s experiences were already precarious – life could be threatened by plague and other diseases and the possibility of famine. Soldiers were known to abuse communities as they passed through and families were forced to supply their menfolk for the armies. For those with battle injuries, treatment was little more than folk cures. Superstition seemed to be second nature and it is no wonder that people sought unfounded reasons for their problems. Unfortunately the most vulnerableusually took the blame for a community’s angst, and fearful people fed with silly ideas were easily persuaded.

Looking at the literature about witches in the 1600s

King James, wrote “Dæmonologie” which was re-published in London when he ascended the English throne in 1603 and there were others who wrote on the subject of witchcraft. William Perkins wrote, “Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft”, published in 1608. Perkins was a fellow of Christ’s College at Cambridge and an eminent preacher respected by the Puritans. His sermon on witchcraft, given sometime between 1584 and 1597, reflected a strong belief in the reality of witchcraft, probably prompted by Reginald Scot’s work, “Discoverie”.

Perkins used a biblical argument for the existence of witches, but repudiated the power of witches to transform human beings into other shapes. Neither did he believe in the scratching of witches or testing them by water. Perkins was unclear about bodily marks, which King James found significant. Perkins did believe in the death penalty, if based on good evidence and was cautious about accusations against “good witches”. He condoned torture in extreme instances.

Ring Dance

John Cotta from Northampton appears as a “Doctor in Physicke”. He studied at Cambridge and in 1612 he published “A Short Discoverie of the Unobserved Dangers”, with a chapter about the relationship between witchcraft and sickness which he elaborated upon in his “The Triall of Witchcraft” published in 1616. He, too, disapproved of trial by water and the search for evidence of marks on a witches body, but believed there could be contracts with the Devil, using Merlin and Joan of Arc as examples. He dismissed the idea of possession, probably due to the case of Mistress Belcher. She was believed to be bewitched, but after the two supposed witches were hanged at Northampton, their victim fell ill again.

Yet Cotta continued to believe that witches were real, being difficult to discover unless they confessed. Even then there may be, “meane, poore and uncertain proofe,” because the Devil could induce a false confession. Cotta believed that people could be over-imaginative in their observations and that coincidence could play a part in a witch’s predictions. Real cases of witch induced possessions, Cotta believed, could be detected by the “Physicion”, not the clergy.

In 1616 Alexander Roberts emerged as “minister of God’s word” at King’s Lynn in Norfolk. His literary contribution was called “A Treatise of Witchcraft” which gave an account of the trial of Mary Smith and a justification of her punishment.

1617 saw the publication of “The Mystery of Witchcraft”, by the Reverend Thomas Cooper, who believed he had discovered “the practise of Anti-Christ in that hellish Plot of the Gunpowder-treason“. Reminiscent of sensational journalism, he brought out the same work five years later under another title, “Sathan transformed into an Angell of Light, … [ex]emplified specially in the Doctrine of Witchcraft” .

When we reach the reign of Charles 1st, prior to the Civil Wars, only Richard Bernard of Batcombe was writing about witchcraft. Bernard preached in Nottinghamshire, then Somerset. Whilst in Nottinghamshire he witnessed exorcisms and at Taunton in 1626 he sought fair treatment for witches who were on trial. His book, “Guide to Grand-Jurymen … in cases of Witchcraft,” was published in 1627 which gave a “plaine countrey Minister’s testimony.”Like Cotta, he was skeptical of the water ordeal, but he accepted the use of a magical glass to discover “the suspected.” His warned courts to be careful in their methods of inquiry, reflecting caution in an age where witchcraft seemed real, but punishments were beginning to be viewed as over zealous.

Seventeen years later, John Gaule appeared more sceptical than Bernard, and challenged Hopkins the Witch Hunter in 1646, begging caution in the use of evidence. He wrote that suspicion was too lightly entertained against “every poore and peevish olde Creature.” Too many things were blamed on witchcraft, such “Tokens of Tryall” he deemed “altogether unwarrantable, as proceeding from ignorance, humor, superstition.” He was also sceptical about confession, arguing that the confessor may be diabolically deluded, or forced, or be confessing from the result of melancholy. Gaule had serious doubts about witch lore : metamorphoses, and narratives of “tedious journeys upon broomes”. Witches, he believed, could sometimes be detected, but only with exceeding caution and their discovery belonged to the province of the “Magistracy and Ministery.”

During the period of the Commonwealth Henry More and Meric Casaubon wrote against witches and Robert Filmer and Thomas Ady defended them.

More was educated at Cambridge and was an English philosopher. Grounded in Plato and Descartes, he studied Eastern Cabalistic philosophy and his ideas about witchcraft were influenced by the ‘mystic Oriental system’ . In 1653 More issued “An Antidote to Atheisme.” Saying that the phenomena of witchcraft gave evidence for the reality of the spirit world.

More heard a story about an old man of Cambridge, “Old Strangridge,” who was carried over Shelford Steeple “upon a black Hogge, and tore his breeches upon the weather-cock.” This, More believed, was absolute proof of the “nocturnal conventicles” of witches.

He was a dualist, believing that mind and matter were two separate entities, and questioned how the souls of witches could leave their bodies. He wrote, “I conceive the Divell gets into their body and by his subtile substance more operative and searching than any fire or putrefying liquor, melts the yielding Campages of the body to such a consistency … and makes it pliable to his imagination: and then it is as easy for him to work it into what shape he pleaseth.” He explained how this process differs from death by reasoning that death was the result of the unfitness of the body to contain the soul. He believed that when the Devil was operating the body it could be anointed in such fashion that the soul could leave and return!

Meric Casaubon was sceptical of More’s explanations, he wrote “Treatise concerning Enthusiasme”. Nathaniel Homes was a disciple of Perkins and believed that evil spirits performed many of their wonders by tricks of juggling, and the Devil was a presage of the last days. More, Casaubon, and Homes all offered personal explanations, and adhered to the main doctrines. The following men challenged those views:

Sir Robert Filmer was a Kentish knight and royalist who attended the Maidstone witch trials in 1652 where six women were convicted. The following year he published his “Advertisement to the Jurymen of England” where he interpreted passages in the Old Testament, declaring the Hebrew witch guilty of nothing more than “lying prophecies” and “hollow speaking”. He felt that some evidence was worthless.

Thomas Ady published “Candle in the Dark” three years later in 1655. Like Filmer, Ady was a disciple of Scot and dismissed all that came before, even refusing to believe that King James had been the author of his own work. Ady rejected the water ordeal and the evidence of marks and refused to accept that threats caused illness saying, “They that make this Objection must dwell very remote from Neighbours.” Yet Ady still believed in witches, but not in their power.

And so, over a hundred years, no author was willing to deny the existence of witches. Happily, by the end of the century, many people stopped believing in the water ordeal and the evidence of marks to prove that a person was a witch, but it was still widely believed that witches travelled through the air.

17th Century Woodcut A witch and her famiiars

Drama of the 17th Century

Shakespeare used a great deal of witch lore in Macbeth, written circa 1606, but did not necessarily believe it himself. Thomas Middleton, who wrote “Witch” is thought to have drawn on Shakespeare’s witches, as did Dekker who collaborated with Middleton when writing “The Witch of Edmonton”. It is unknown if they took the subject seriously.

Ben Jonson however, ridiculed all supernatural phenomena and Thomas Heywood, in his play, “The Lancashire Witches” had a character say, “It seemes then you are of opinion that there are witches. For mine own part I can hardly be induc’d to think there is any such kinde of people.” Heywood, though, it is said, actually believed in witchcraft .

Three eminent writers also dealt with the witchcraft question. Burton, in “Anatomy of Melancholy” said “many deny witches at all, or, if there be any, they can do no harm.” James Howell wrote, “…he who denies there are such busy Spirits and such poor passive Creatures upon whom they work, (witches) … shews that he himself hath a Spirit of Contradiction in him.” Francis Osborne, an essayist, enjoyed disagreeing with the conventional, and it is believed that his scepticism of witchcraft influenced a generation.

At some time in the reign of James I, Francis Bacon wrote his Sylva Sylvarum and touched upon witchcraft, warning judges against believing the confessions of witches and evidence against them. “For the witches themselves are imaginative and believe oft-times they do that which they do not; and people are credulous in that point, and ready to impute accidents and natural operations to witchcraft….”

John Selden was a jurist who wrote “Table Talk” which included a paragraph on witches. He declared, “The Law against Witches does not prove there be any; but it punishes the Malice of those people that use such means to take away mens Lives….”

This view was shared by the philosopher Hobbes who issued his great “Leviathan” in 1651. He wrote,“As for Witches, I think not that their witchcraft is any reall power; but yet that they are justly punished for the false beliefe they have that they can do such mischief, joined with their purpose to do it if they can.”

Pamphlet Literature.

In 1612, the narrator of the Northampton cases wrote “many that remaine yet in doubt whether there be any Witches or no.” Mr. Potts, who reported the Lancaster cases of 1612, writes that the kinsfolk and friends of Jennet Preston, who was prosecuted at York, believed her accusation to be an act of malice.

In 1622 a Yorkshire poet and gentleman, Edward Fairfax, was concerned that his daughters were bewitched and would have had six women hanged if he had not met with great local opposition to it. In James’s reign, pamphlet-writers could meet opposition, but those of the Civil Wars and Commonwealth often met with ridicule. “There are some,” says the narrator of a Yorkshire story, “who are of opinion that there are no Divells nor any witches…. Men in this Age are grown so wicked, that they are apt to believe there are no greater Divells than themselves.” Of the sceptical public, one writer wrote that it was “very chary and hard enough to believe passages of this nature.”

The Civil Wars developed a regular London press and in 1654 the Mercurius Democritus, (equivalent to Punch) ridiculed supernatural stories that were in circulation. In 1648 a brochure appeared entitled, “The Devil seen at St. Albans, Being a true Relation how the Devill was seen there in a Cellar, in the likeness of a Ram; and how a Butcher came and cut his throat, and sold some of it, and dressed the rest for himselfe, inviting many to supper, who did eat of it.” The story was a parody of the demon tracts that appeared during the wars.

Opinion was reflecting a growing force of doubt. But the woodcut pictures of witches and devils that survive are so enthralling that one wonders what impact they made on the mostly illiterate public. Today, as we steal ourselves to watch the horror movie to the bitter end, or laugh at the zombie comedy films, we betray the fact that we share a similar psychology with our ancestors: many of us enjoy a little fear. There are still those who believe in witches and magic, and supernatural stories conjure up such delicious, edgy emotions, it is no wonder that today people just love to dress up and enjoy Halloween with it’s witchy connotations.

This Article, Reference:
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31511/31511-h/31511-h.htm
# CHAPTER TEN: A HISTORY OF WITCHCRAFT IN ENGLAND FROM 1558 TO 1718 BY WALLACE NOTESTEIN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HISTORY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

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