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  • French Witch Burning, 1886 June 15, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    French Witch Burning, 1886

    Many moons ago, Beach began the long search to find the last witch killing in history. He quickly narrowed down to Western witch killing, because of course, there are many killings in Africa and Asia to this day. Every so often he thinks he has come close, but then another inconvenient and later murder falls […]

    The Earliest Broomstick Witch? May 27, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Earliest Broomstick Witch?

    Witches fly in many different cultures: the British anthropologist Needham argued that it was a way of expressing their power, their ability to bring maleficum to all who get in their way or on their nerves. But in the European tradition witches have been associated, above all, with broomsticks: though note that witches were also […]

    Vivid African Execution May 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern

      There follows a particularly vivid description of an African execution/sacrifice of a witch. The witness, Paul B. Du Chaillu (obit 1903) was describing his travels in West Africa in the 1850s: Du Chaillu has gone down in history as the first westerner to see gorillas (though there is Hanno…) Here he instead he learns […]

    Review: Physical Evidence, A Feeling for Magic May 2, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Review: Physical Evidence, A Feeling for Magic

    Ronald Hutton (ed), Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery and Witchcraft in Christian Britain: A Feeling for Magic (Palgrave Macmillan 2016) Academic essay collections fall into different categories including such old and tried favourites as: ‘new directions’; ‘pot pouri’; ‘the EU gave us some money so we had a conference’; and ‘x is wrong and […]

    The Hare that Got Away April 16, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Hare that Got Away

    Here is a short paragraph from the late nineteenth century about Pendle in Lancashire. He who visits Pendle will yet find that charms are generally resorted to amongst the lower classes; that there are hares, which in their persuasion, never can be caught, and which survive only to baffle and confound the huntsman; that each […]

    Perugian Witch, 1908 April 8, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Perugian Witch, 1908

    Perugia is a marvelous medieval city in Umbria, about half way between Rome and Florence. The following account of early twentieth-century witchcraft there was not, in itself, remarkable, but Perugia has a special place in Beach’s heart and so he hoped vainly perhaps, that someone could fill in the blanks. The great problem with Italian […]

    Witch Bone Breaking? March 27, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Witch Bone Breaking?

    This story needs to be linked with a veritable collection made on this blog of witch bleeding. Interesting here though that not just blood but allegedly a bone will do the trick. And the date? 14 June 1895. From Lincolnshire comes a story which in these days of compulsory education seems almost incredible. In a […]

    Penis Nests March 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Penis Nests

    We have previously visited a remarkable passage in Malleus Maleficarum (1485) where that work’s author, Heinrich Kramer, describes a penis theft: or rather a penis illusion, because Kramer claims the penis is still ‘there’ but hidden. That account was apparently based on a witness: this account sounds like folklore. Finally, what shall we think about […]

    Ergot Madness in Historians March 7, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Ergot Madness in Historians

    Ergot is a fungus that grows on some crops, particularly rye, and is most common in northern temporal climes. When ingested by humans or animals it can cause hallucinations, temporary neurological disorders and circulation difficulties including burning limbs and, in serious cases, gangrene: there are records of peasants who lost all four limbs to ergot poisoning […]

    Late Somerset Witch Caught as Rabbit March 6, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Late Somerset Witch Caught as Rabbit

    Beach has long tradition of posts of unusual nineteenth-century accounts of the survival of witchcraft in Britain and Ireland. Here is one from Bridgewater, Somerset (the south-west), which appeared in Notes and Queries in 1853. A cottager, who does not live five minutes’ walk from my house, found his pig seized with a strange and […]

    Witches and Paganists: In Search of a Term February 22, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Witches and Paganists: In Search of a Term

    A terminological problem that readers might be able to help with: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com. Historians of witchcraft break down into two categories. The vast majority believe that the witch craze was essentially all a horrible misunderstanding and that the men and women found guilty of crimes were innocents. A small minority, but not […]

    Letters from a Witch’s Clients January 25, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Letters from a Witch's Clients

    In 1859 a unique witchcraft source appeared in the British newspapers. Durham police had raided the house of one Mrs Leadpiper and had seized a number of letters from her supplicants. To our great good fortune the Durham Chronicle published several: and the article was then picked up by other papers from Cornwall to Luton. […]

    Pennsylvania Church Witch Tests a Member December 29, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Pennsylvania Church Witch Tests a Member

    Here is a cute witchcraft story from the wrong side of the Atlantic, where Salem is supposed to have put paid to any witch hunt shenanigans. What Beach loves about this account is that we are clearly dealing with very sincere people who are making it up as they go along on the basis of […]

    Witch Blood Scratching and Keeping? December 12, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Witch Blood Scratching and Keeping?

    Beach has over the years collected, particularly with the help of readers, a number of stories of blood spilling and witches. The idea is that by spilling blood, typically taken with a bramble, you can cure the witch’s overlooking. There are though some variations on this theme, including to judge by this report from 15 […]

    Witchcraft and European Penis Theft December 3, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Witchcraft and European Penis Theft

    The Malleus Maleficarum (1485) is the classic witch hunter’s book. It is the first ‘convincing’ attempt to place witches in a diabolical formula with magically affected victims at one end, the devil in the middle and large and roaring fires at the other. The author, though, Heinrich Kramer, very naturally sucked up a lot of […]

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