Lecture Details and Reviews

The History & Folklore of Witches and attempts to control their influence

1st May, 2012 Dr. Gregory Stores
The notion of witchcraft since ancient times, European Witch Crazes, Hunts, Trials and Punishments mainly in the 17th century. Folklore about the supposed harmful influence of witches. The attempts to protect persons and property against witchcraft by various means such as ritual deposits, symbols/marks in old houses, and charms. Dr. Stores is a physician and academic (based in the University of Oxford) with a special interest in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. He has lectured widely in this country and abroad as well as conducting research and publishing extensively. His amateur interests include medieval medicine, early buildings and collecting mainly 17th century oak furniture. He has lived in Dorchester for nearly 30 years.


Reviewed by Valerie on 4th May, 2012

Dr Stores outlined the concept of witchcraft from ancient times, with examples of historical items which led to the introduction of folklore. The old English term “wicce” means “the wise one who casts spells” and this could be applied to bad witches or white witches. The common theme was blaming malicious witches for misfortunes suffered, and the blame was mostly directed at women!

The first English law against witchcraft was in l542 and this lasted until 1735. Trials reached a peak in the l5th centuryearly l6th century and again in the l7th century when witch hunts were encouraged personally by King James I. Throughout Europe the total executions may have reached l00,000 and the last one in England was l682 (1727 in Scotland). These were social occasions held in public with a big turnout which indicated social acceptance.

Dr Stores illustrated satanic practices with pictures showing so-called “familiars” associated with witches as well as cats and owls; such strange Creatures surrounding the witch on her broomstick (already illustrated in the l6th century. Herbalists were suspect, being seen as having a pact with the devil to provide a Cure. Tests on suspects were carried out by examination for devil marks, pricking the flesh, (unbalanced) scales of justice, reciting the Lord’s prayer without hesitation and also the ducking stools, which were used to highlight whether a woman sank (not guilty) or floated (the devil’s work, even though her petticoats were flouncing and buoyant). All this led to grotesque cruelty and torture.

On the other hand, magical practices were introduced to protect people and property from the devil. Dr Stores showed the marks of daisy wheels on the ceilings of houses to ward off evil spirits which may travel up chimneys. Some carpenter’s marks may also have been used in this way.

Ruth Gibson thanked the speaker for a fascinating insight into such terrible practices. It appears that Nature requires a scapegoat for misfortunes which could lead to the persecution of innocent people. Questions followed from the audience.

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