Being a Witch is never easy

Examination of a Witch by T. H. Matteson, insp...

Examination of a Witch by T. H. Matteson, inspired by the Salem witch trials (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my second novel, Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts, I’m using several real historical events as the starting point for my plot. One is the recent discovery of a “witch’s cottage” near Pendle in Lancashire, where in 1612 the infamous Pendle Witch Trials took place. Two men and eight women were hanged as witches after extensive trials.


The other main historical event I’m using as background for my latest vampire lore is the even more infamous series of witch trials that took place in the city of Würzburg in Germany between 1626 and 1631.


The Würzburg witch trials are regarded as one of the largest peace-time mass trials, which were followed by mass executions on an unprecedented scale.


Responsible for the persecution of innocent men, women and lots of children was Bishop Philip Adolf, on whose orders an estimated six to nine hundred people were burnt alive at the stake or hanged.


heks_in_maan witch flying against moonMy premise is that with such unjust killings there must be a lot of angry spirits about seeking revenge. As my previous posts have shown, ghosts have all manner of motives for clinging to the place where they lived or died. Revenge is always a good subject for a mystery or, in this case, a vampire story suitable for children aged 8 to 12 that discusses the subject of “evil” – what is evil, how do we stand up to it and who gets away with doing bad stuff?


This year marks the anniversary of two famous witch trials in the United Kingdom, by the way. Not just the Pendle trials but also the last conviction for sorcery, which took place in Hertfordshire in March 1712, is being commemorated this year. Fortunately, this trial had a kind of happy ending, when Queen Anne pardoned the accused sorceress Jane Wensham and thus saved her from the hangman’s noose.


"The witch no. 1" lithograph

“The witch no. 1” lithograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pretty much anyone could be accused of sorcery – if you were overhead talking to your cat or pet pig you could be accused of being in league with the devil – and the methods used for getting confessions out of alleged warlocks and witches were utterly horrendous…thanks to the oh so Christian torturers in charge of interrogations.


Over on I’m discussing my home town Lübeck’s walled fortifications, in particular the famous Holsten Gate, which was once part of the city’s fortifications. Until 2002, the Holsten Gate housed a gruesome torture chamber and “dungeon” exhibition in the museum, which I remember only too well from various school trips and visits with my grandparents.


If I recall correctly, it boasted a rack and thumb screws, branding irons and various other torture paraphernalia among its exhibits. It seems utterly impossible anyone should be so devoid of compassion and feeling that they should use such instruments on anyone, let alone small children, but this is what happened quite frequently under the Christian motto of “love thy neighbour”.


Persecution of witches

Persecution of witches (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Willow the Vampire, champion for defenceless children and animals which get a rough deal at the hands of those who should care for them and protect them from harm, is having rather a busy time of it, what with saving the world from Ragnarög, saving best friend Darren AND dealing with an army of vengeful ghosts.


Burning at the stake. An illustration from an ...

Burning at the stake. An illustration from an mid 19th century book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vampires, as a rule, like to mind their own business, so getting involved with human and supernatural beings that have their own agenda, is always going to contradict a bloodsucker’s inner beliefs. Vengeance, on the other hand, is a subject vampires can relate to whole-heartedly. Will our Willow be tempted to go over to the dark side?


English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter ...

One thing’s for sure, Willow the Vampire will remain a champion for children and this writer won’t ever make light of their plight at the hands of adults. Unlike perhaps the writer who brought us Harry Potter. Am I the only one who finds the announcement that J K Rowling’s adult novel The Casual Vacancy will become a BBC drama incredibly ill-timed and utterly distasteful?


As if the BBC wasn’t in enough trouble over the Savill enquiry into paedophilia and rape allegations, namely sex crimes against children and young adults that allegedly happened under the very noses of former BBC bosses over a period of some 40 years! Now our licence fee is being used for this, a book that has not received much critical acclaim and is only being shifted thanks to the J K Rowling name?


One day I may write a Willow the Vampire novel that will deal with the ultimate evil creature of the night, the Jimmy Savills and Gary Glitters of this world. Naturally, I shan’t use the subject of children or young adults being threatened by rape as a subject for satire and parody, which most of J K Rowling’s readers found distinctly unfunny, when I last looked on Amazon’s reviews.

Willow in black dressNo, I ‘m far more likely to use the subject of BBC bosses in terror and utter distress, as vampire Willow and her friends barbeque them over a moderate flame, while basting them with home-made marinade provided by grateful licence fee payers.


Creatures of the Night

Sorcery - animal transformation

Having just returned from a lovely walk in the rare Welsh sunshine, I’m reminded that my Willow the Vampire blog post is long overdue – and that, just like Willow, I’m more a child of the light than a creature of the night, when it comes to being at my best and most creative.

Our internal clock seems to have very much a mind of its own – some people thrive only during daytime hours and are at their best early in the morning, while others are strictly nocturnal and are at odds with the nine to five office routine. In bygone days, when people rose at dawn and went to bed when it got dark, being such a “nocturnal creature” must have given rise to suspicion among neighbours and friends.

Sorcery - Paramour with the devil

In an age, when anybody could be accused of witchcraft and sorcery for any number of idiotic reasons, the mere fact that somebody might be an insomniac could be seen as being in league with the devil. The Würzburg Witch Trials didn’t need sound reasons for accusing men, women and children of sorcery – and those accused had not even the right to defend themselves. Fire and brimstone where suspected everywhere – but particularly in the lives of women.

Typically, only 20 to 30 per cent of those burned for practicing sorcery were male. In Würzburg the percentage is surprisingly high with 40%. Of the 900 or so people who were executed, more than 300 victims were children. After 42 burnings at the stake the mass hysteria and murderous madness finally stopped on 30th August 1629. Even 48 members of the Church had been executed as sorcerers, no doubt denounced by other victims, who knew they stood no chance of survival and wanted a little revenge of their own.

Sleep – or the lack thereof – is a mysterious thing. We need our small death not as practice for the final long sleep but to stay alive and healthy. Doing without sleep for prolonged periods of time has serious implications for our wellbeing and sanity. Sleep deprivation is therefore often used as an interrogation method to wear suspects down and to torture them. It is likely that such methods were also used on those accused of witchcraft and would probably have admitted to whatever they were accused of – especially when being encouraged to denounce other people as being in league with the devil.

The Pendle Witch Trial in Lancaster, UK, in 1612, resulted in twenty people being under suspicion of sorcery, of which 16 were female and just 4 were male. Unlike the Würzburg Trials, the Pendle witches were at least allowed to defend themselves and some were acquitted without trial. There are quite a lot of details about the men and women accused and it seems that in those days just being a little eccentric and muttering to yourself could get you into serious trouble – in which case I’m most certainly a witch and will probably one day end up being tied to a stake.

When I read the description of Witch Demdike, an old woman from Pendle Forest, I think that just being an independent women could get you accused of using sorcery. The old lady might have been a cantankerous old thing, but seemed rather harmless – until some neighbour decided she had said something offensive and therefore had to be a witch.

Being an independent woman seems to have been the most grievous offence in an age, when the Church continuously told everyone that women were in league with the devil, no doubt because the Church wanted to appease male egos about their insecurities…and this is of course still going on today in many countries around the world, where male religious fanaticism always sees evil in women and children, never in themselves. In some countries being independently minded still gets women killed.

Old Mrs Demdike died worn out and aged before she could be brought to trial. Perhaps she was just an old woman who’d had trouble sleeping and liked to walk at night muttering to keep herself company and stop herself from feeling alone – she died in prison as her Christian neighbours could not tolerate anybody who was even slightly different from themselves.

Crossroads in the Happy Valley On the outskirt...

Crossroads in the Happy Valley On the outskirts of Roughlee on the edge of the Forest of Pendle. The grit bin is on Jinny Lane. The spoof pointer to Lancaster Castle is a reminder of the place of execution of the Pendle Witches. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I walk in the bright sunshine I often think of those night time ramblers, those independent women bringing up kids on their own, who might have aroused suspicion in their 17th century neighbourhood and might have been accused of sorcery simply because they were creatures of the night.