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.


Willow in the Twilight Zone

While over at I’ve been discussing how important location is to me as a writer, here at Willow the Vampire’s own blog I have so far been looking mainly at nocturnal characters and their traits.

Willow and her family are creatures of the night themselves and naturally, this influences the way they view the world.

Not so long ago the excellent writer and teacher William Stadler talked about incorporating all the senses in one’s writing on his own WP blog Stadler Style, such as using sound and temperature for example.

Doing so will not only help with characterization but also with setting a scene far more vividly. One draws the reader in more, when there are points of reference familiar to the reader, such as the sound of a school dinner bell or heavy rainfall or thunder and lightning or a car back firing.

At the time I commented how I like to use animals to set the scene and to give a “time” reference such as allowing a bumble bee to enter a room as a reference/metaphor for daylight, spring and new beginnings or, in contrast, use the flight of migratory birds to symbolise autumn, endings and melancholy.

After having shown you a whole host of creatures of the night Willow the Vampire might come across on her nocturnal rambles through the Stinkforthshire countryside, I felt it was about time to introduce the Twilight animals to you.

Vampires can come out to play after the sun has set and can remain outdoors until the sun rises again. Although this does not apply to Willow herself, it is nevertheless what she grew up with and what is most familiar to her – her vampire parents are forced to live that way.

At dawn and dusk a large variety of animals emerge that we don’t always notice during the daytime hours. Take a stroll to a local river, pond or lake and you’ll see what I mean. There are herons and egrets, dancing cranes and grebes, Common loon and cormorants, squirrels coming for a drink of fresh water and geese gathering to take off in formation.

In your garden or in the hedgerows there are hedgehogs and adders, snails and slugs, moths and mice, which suddenly awake to forage, to mate, and to communicate with the world.

In some ways Willow the Vampire has been stuck in her own twilight world – she is still exploring who she is and what she is…are all vampires evil…or are humans bad? A recent reviewer of Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove picked up on the underlying discussion of good versus evil and all the twilight shades in between. This theme will be explored further in Willow’s second novel, when she sets out to deal with the problem of the Würzburg Ghosts.

Waterfowl are an interesting bunch and come in a great variety. There are divers, stalkers, hunters and shy creatures which, when startled, will break out in an ear-splitting call. As a child I often stayed in my grandparent’s hut on their allotment by a riverbank and memories of this special time have remained with me life-long.

At dawn the world around me awoke with tweets and coughs, clucking and chattering, hooting and flapping of wings on water. These sounds symbolise for me a very special time of day as well as an important part of my upbringing. At dawn and dusk the world seems more vulnerable, being reborn and dying at the same time. During the day and at night, when we are alone, we may feel abandoned, forgotten, lonely and scared, but at dawn and dusk, when the world either wakes up with a yawn or rubs its sleepy eyes to got to bed, we feel differently.

The animals gathering by the water’s edge may even be enemies at night or when the sun is high in the clouds, but at this special t’wixt and b’tween time a temporary cease-fire reigns and everyone gets on…

Village Vampires

One of the reasons why Willow the Vampire is set in rural (fictional) Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon is that I grew up in a village and am very much aware of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a small community.

As a vampire Willow is an outsider – as a newcomer to the village she is also an outsider. Making friends under such circumstances isn’t easy and when you’re from a “dysfunctional” family background like Willow, it’s even more difficult to fit in.

As my lovely WP friend Michelle Barber (proud proprietor of the Loony Literature Laboratory, surrogate mother to Mildred the Cat) so astutely recognised, Willow’s first novel is a journey of self-discovery. Aged 11, the vampire child is trying to find her place in the world.

So what underlying theme will novel number two have? Well, my obsession lies with the dark underbelly of small communities and how the creatures of the night that stalk the village streets are not necessarily those fanged ones or ghostly apparitions the book title might suggest.

Although Würzburg, the setting for my second novel, was already a city during the witch trials that took place between 1626 to 1631, when hundreds of innocent men, women and children were tortured and murdered by an insane religious nutter-cum-prince-bishop regime, it was nevertheless a fairly small community by today’s standards and serves as a perfect example, how small, insular or remote communities can turn on each other for no apparent or sane reason.

"Würzburg Cathedral" is a Roman Cath...

“Würzburg Cathedral” is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, dedicated to Saint Kilian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I go to visit Würzburg next year, I hope to join a museum’s tour that deals with this issue of persecution. As part of the guided tour to the historical sights connected with the witch hunt, visitors are shown the Kiliansdom (Würzburg Cathedral) and the Neumünster (the New Minster) as well as the Town Hall, where the gruesome fate of nearly 1,000 people was decided. The guided tour, according to the blurb on their website, serves “to illustrate the religious and secular causes of the witch-hunts of the 17th century”.

Just because picturesque Stinkforthshire, a village with 5,000 souls (minus a few vampires, who are there in body but not in “soul”), is on the tourist trail, has pretty flower baskets hanging from porches and a historic fountain gracing the market place, the village is not an idyll, where no crimes are committed and no unhappy thoughts are coursing through the minds of neighbours.

Some crimes are never brought to justice – they are not even regarded as crimes in the eyes of the law. How’s this for an example?

While growing up in my very own affluent Stinkforthshire village in Northern Germany, we had a cleaning woman going round the houses of well-to-do citizens, whose hypocritical mentality saw no problem in spending her Sundays in church praying and lording it (morally speaking) over the rest of the community.

During the week, however, she would spend the time for which she got paid on snooping through her employers’ cupboards and drawers to see, what “scandals” she could rake up. Naturally, whatever she discovered, or in some cases thought she had unearthed, she would gossip about with the clear intention of causing harm.

She was the mother of a school chum of mine – which made it very awkward at times to stay friends with a girl, whose mother continuously caused a lot of grief to people. In today’s society libel is taken far more seriously than it was then and people are prepared to call in the lawyers, but back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when this village menace had her peak, this was not the case.

The twist at the end of this tale is, as you might have expected, that this gossiping banshee had an affair with somebody. When her family found out, they were devastated and for a very long time, my school chum did not speak to her mother or wanted to have anything to do with her. At long last, the evil spell was broken and from that time onwards, the gossiping menace had to hold her tongue about other people’s affairs.

Cathedral and city hall.

Cathedral and city hall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crimes like libel or slander often go unreported in small communities – as for making people’s life a misery by intrusive spying on one’s neighbours and criticising their every move or busy-bodies constantly turning up at their neighbours’ doorstep under some pretext to gain access into their home for the purpose of practically “running” the lives of widows/widowers or divorcees…those are in many ways also crimes, but they are not recognised by the law.

I know of one woman who was so terrorised by a couple of busy-body neighbours that she eventually fled to her son’s home at the other end of Germany, just to get some respite for a few weeks at a time.

The good end to that story was that this much-put-upon divorced, single lady discovered the joys of going abroad (on her own) and she broke free of the village-mafia trying to run her life the way they thought she should be living it. She gained in confidence on her own accord and experienced a very different life to the one her neighbours had mapped out for her.

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany.

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If anyone’s interested in visiting Würzburg in the near future (perhaps to hear guest speaker Dr Dimitra Fimi at the university explain all things Hobbit, Tolkien and Fantasy Fiction), here are the details for the museum’s tour:

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany.

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Duration: Approx. 2 hours, Reservations: Congress · Tourismus · Wirtschaft, Gästeführervermittlung Am Congress Centrum, Turmgasse 11, D – 97070 Würzburg, Phone +49 (0) 9 31 / 37 26 50, Fax +49(0) 9 31 / 37 36 52, E-Mail:,

As for Willow, in the course of the second novel she will discover that EVIL can lurk behind many different masks, often disguised as something quite “harmless” and “socially acceptable”.

(source of animation:, source of photographs Wikipedia)

Würzburg – A City worthy of being a Vampire’s Lair

Before I get to my latest choice for the “creatures of the night” page, I’d like to explain a little about the location I’ve chosen for my follow-up novel to Willow the Vampire’s first adventure (Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove).

In book number two, Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts, my multi-stranded story will move between rural Stinkforthshire in the UK (a fictional place, please don’t hassle your travel agent for details) and historic Würzburg in Germany.

Fortress Marienberg is a prominent landmark on...

The ancient city of Würzburg is entirely surrounded by beautiful forests and vineyards, virtually straddling the Main River. Officially, Germany’s famous “Romantic Road” starts here and the city is a favourite with tourists exploring Germany for the first time.

Although around 90% of the old city centre was destroyed during WWII, my intrepid countrymen have lovingly recreated, restored and rebuilt what was once one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. Würzburg was once a Franconian duchy, but things got complicated when three Irish missionary monsters arrived in 686.

With the usual hypocrisy of churchmen the three chaps, Totnan, Kolonat and Kilian, began to pester Duke Gosbert to convert to Christianity and naturally, all the inhabitants of the Duchy should follow suit.

In the process he was to get rid off his wife Gailana, who was his former sister-in-law, his brother’s widow. In pre-Christian medieval times it was still a natural thing for people to marry their widowed brother or sister-in-law, but with the typical perversity of a Church that is happily abusing children, the Catholic monk-boys objected to two consenting adults being married in a perfectly legal match.

The 168 Meter long Seite of the Würzburg Resid...

The 168 Meter long Seite of the Würzburg Residenz, built in Würzburg Prince-Bishops from 1719 to 1780. It is the most significant Residenzbau of late Baroque in Europe. She was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981. The Residence is visited annually by approximately 350.000 Visitors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A woman after my own heart, Gailana didn’t wait around until she got ditched – no, she hired a hit man or gang of thugs and had the three irritating hypocrites bumped off in 689.

The murders weren’t discovered until several decades later and naturally, Rome had the three divorce-advocating missionaries declared saints. Würzburg became a city of pilgrimage in the process – always very lucrative, those saints’ days coincide with market days, don’t you know – and finally, the city became a bishopric in 742.

Most infamous for the witch hunt and subsequent burnings of nearly 1,000 people a few centuries later, the city was ruled with an iron fist by the resident prince-bishops from their hill-top perch on the Marienberg, where they had built a fortress in the early 13th century, possibly as early as 1201. The prince-monk-monsters must have been pretty fit – I give them that – it takes around 20 minutes to walk up the steep hill, which is covered in vineyards. From there our princely monks enjoyed stunning views over the city and their duchy.

With so much duplicity and double standards displayed by the clergy, the city makes for a perfect vampire lair, as Willow’s ancestors – in line with Joss Whedon’s blood-sucking character Angel – liked to feast on nuns and monks. Moving with the times, Willow’s family are now targeting bankers, lawyers and estate agents as their preferred source of blood; partly because there are far fewer nunneries and monasteries around – and partly because swallowing so much hypocricy gives you wind, even when your stomach’s meant to be undead and eternal.

Deutsch: Panorama von Würzburg, am Abend des 3...

The Marienberg fortress eventually lost in importance and in 1720 a new palace was designed right in the heart of the city. The Residenz Palast is not only one of Germany’s finest examples of a Baroque pleasure dome, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with many other monuments and buildings along the Romantic Road.

The palace is built largely in a horseshoe design and stands gleaming in gold and white at the eastern edge of the city. It’s home to the world’s largest fresco, painted by none other than Master Tiepolo and the Hall of Mirrors as well as the Imperial Hall are rather spectacular.

Fortress Marienberg

Fortress Marienberg (Photo credit: only_point_five)

My choice for the next creature of the night is a mixed blessing – partly, because Stinkforthshire is nowhere near the sea, but close to a river (Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon) and partly, because the “mermaid” is a mythical beastie that, according to the US National Ocean Service has never existed anywhere other than in seafarers’ fevered imagination.

Even Christopher Columbus couldn’t resist the temptation of dreaming about mermaids and reported sightings while cruising the Caribbean – if there were any mermaids the infamous Hollywood pirate Captain Jack Sparrow would undoubtedly get entangled with them!

The closest we have to a nocturnal siren is the African manatee, which can live in coastal seas and rivers. It is partly nocturnal, but very poorly studied. The family it belongs to is called the Sirenia and consists of dugong and manatees.

Their family name harks back to ancient Greek mythology, which mentioned sirens or mermaids quite frequently.

English: Wellmich with Maus castle near Sankt ...

English: Wellmich with Maus castle near Sankt Goarshausen. UNESCO World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine, Germany. The passenger ship in foreground is the paddle steamer Goethe built in 1913, seen here after the replacement of the steam engine by a Diesel engine. Deutsch: Wellmich bei Sankt Goarshausen mit Burg Maus. UNESCO Welterbe Oberes Mittelrheintal, Deutschland. Das Passagierschiff im Vordergrund ist der 1913 gebaute Raddampfer Goethe nach seiner Umrüstung auf Diesel-Antrieb. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m determined to write a mermaid into Willow’s adventures in the future, albeit not in the WIP I’m currently sweating over. Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid was one of my favourite stories as a child; as a teenager I became fascinated by the story of Lorelei, the siren that reputedly sat on a rock overlooking the Rhine River, where she lured sailors and fishermen to their doom…more of that and manatees in my next post.

Meanwhile, the only nocturnal creatures Willow and her friends shall encounter in Würzburg will be ghosts and very real monsters of the human kind.

(source of animation:; source of photographs Wikipedia)

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.

For Sale: Toad, Cat and Cauldron, one careful previous Owner

Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos: ¡Linda maestra...

As some of you might have guessed, at some point Willow the Vampire’s second adventure will have to have some ghosts – after all, the book title is Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts!

We’ve met some of the creatures of the night Willow and her friends might encounter, but so far we’ve only scraped the surface when it comes to supernatural critters. The last blog post was about the European green toad and some time ago I wrote about nocturnal creatures like cats, dragons and  trolls, though I haven’t written about wicked fairies, yet.

What could therefore be more natural to bring witches into the equation? Not the large as life warts-an-all witches you’re thinking off – no, real people murdered by religious fanatics who suspected witches and warlocks behind every tree and wardrobe.

Marienkapelle auf dem Marktplatz in Würzburg.

The Würzburg ghosts are none other than people who were burned at the stake between 1626 and 1630. Many of them were small children and young adults of no more than 12 or 14 years of age. The aristocratic bishops Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn and his equally demented nephew Philipp Adolf von Ehrenberg were solely responsible for brutally torturing and then burning more than 900 people. Anyone who spoke up in defence of those accused of witchcraft were instantly tried for sorcery themselves and before long ended up being burned alongside the other victims. The infamous Würzburg Witch Trials mark one of southern Germany’s darkest chapters with regard to religion.

Black cat, brooms and toads as well as cauldrons have for some reason always been associated with witches. My next Willow the Vampire novel will put a rather different spin on witches, given that a substantial number of those accused of witchcraft and subsequently murdered were very small children. Although quite a lot of the Würzburg  trial details were recorded, the noble bishops couldn’t even be bothered to have the names of the children registered along the adults they murdered, thus denying the children an existence – even in death. So much for Christian charity.

In the 1970s, when an underground garage and parking lot was to be built under the old market square right next to St Mary’s Chapel (Marienkapelle) in Würzburg, workmen discovered the charcoal remains of four posts that had been lined up opposite the entire length of the chapel. Dendrochronology discovered the remains of the wooden posts were indeed from the 17th century. In other words, the murders took place right outside the church, day in…day out. Hallelujah!

Deutsch: Würzburg - Statue des Julius Echter v...

Just outside of the old walled fortifications of the town there was another place of execution. Here workmen found not just the remains of wooden stakes and human bones…animals had been burned alongside their accused owners. It seems that many of the victims were first executed by having their heads severed, after which they were burned. Please do not attribute this to Christian charity either – the majority of buildings were made from timber at that time and the local magistrates felt it safer to keep fires under control – dead people burn more quickly and need smaller fires, so it seems. Like with all monsterous Christianevil doers, Julius Echter was honoured by the Church and had a statue erected in the city centre – while the names of the children and young people remain a mystery.

Willow and her friends will need their own army to fight monsters that are trying to end the world – what better than an army of ghosts…murdered children with no more evil in them than the animals burned with them at that time?

Sell  my toad, black cat and cauldron, but leave me my broom so that I may paint a large picture of the Würzburg  children’s short lives and remember them through the magic of writing!

Ratty’s big Adventure

Sigmodon hispidus or another cotton rat close ...

Sigmodon hispidus or another cotton rat close to it is among the rodents recorded from the Bay Islands of Honduras. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s blog post is about an animal that has become indispensable in the genres of horror and vampires: the rat.

Rodents are part of the order Rodentia, which consists roughly of 29 different families and some 1,800 species. Rodents live in all sorts of habitats, with Antarctica being the only exception to their world-wide domination.

Rodents are rapid breeders and can have between 1 to 20 offspring in one litter. Their lifespan can be anything from a short 6 months to a surprisingly long 10 years.

Brown rats have become the staple “villain” of vampire lore – who could ever forget their cinematic antics in Werner Herzog’s version of Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) – or indeed the furore about the cruel treatment the rats allegedly received at the hands of Herzog and his film crew?

In history brown rats are largely blamed for the spread of the plague and their very existence caused ancient Egyptians to befriend cats in their temples to protect grain stores from being raided by our intrepid little ratty. In Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts rats will have their great entrance in my continuing saga – but you’ll have to wait a while longer, before you can read about that!

Brown rats walk on the soles of their feet and use their toes to grip on to things when they climb, making them fast and very agile. Their long, scaly tail balances out their elongated bodies. Rats have a pointy snout, large ears, big button eyes and twitching noses with sensitive whiskers.

Anyone who’s ever been to London will know that brown rats are totally unafraid of humans and these rodents can reach enormous sizes. The Pixar animated movie Ratatouille (2007) may have done something to change our attitude towards rats, but I doubt it will be enough to endear the little master-thieves to us for long.

Rats are very courageous and when cornered, will turn to fight their attackers. They are also resourceful and very clever. Years ago I lived in a railway cottage in Surrey and the embankment behind our garden was always teaming with rabbits. One day rats moved in and drove out the rabbits to take over their burrows. Some of the rats that came out at dusk were nearly as large as rabbits – no wonder the bunnies took to their heels and found themselves a new home!

Rats are adaptable and fast learners; as a result they have long been the victims of sadistic scientists who think anything goes in the name of scientific advancement – after all, under the guise of “for the greater good of mankind” scientists, who make breakthrough discoveries in the medical or pharmaceutical field can reap huge rewards…what do the lives of a few million animals matter when so much money is at stake?

Throughout my cancer treatment – which I didn’t want and would have been far happier to do without – I kept thinking how many of these animals had to die a terrible death just to keep one middle-aged and on the whole pretty useless woman alive. There is enough compelling evidence that animal testing is wasteful and not a great deal of use either, so why do such obscene practices continue? Because somebody is making a great deal of money out of ratty and his friends!

A brown hooded rat show sitting on the arm of ...

A brown hooded rat show sitting on the arm of a leather chair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We may be scared of rats, we may not like the look of their scaly tales and their twitching whiskers but where would we be without them? We owe them a debt of gratitude that goes way beyond what we could ever repay in rice, popcorn, half-eaten burgers or carelessly thrown away chips.

Next time you throw a drinks can at a rat or shoo it away, as you’re crossing the street when you come out of Waterloo Station, spare a thought for the Eastern wood rat, a cute little member of the rodent family, or the Hispid cotton rat or the Marsh rice rat, a semiaquatic omnivore, who lives a solitary nocturnal life in South Eastern USA, Northern Venezuela and Northern Peru.

Just remind yourself of the great adventure for the greater good of humanity that ratty is braving every day!