We have given you some background about witches and witch hunting, now let’s travel into the darker spaces.
Witches are people just like you and me. Thus, witches just like any other group of people have good people and bad people and people that might be good and do a bad thing or bad people that might do a good thing.
While most modern witches will tell you that all real witches are good witches, that is not, nor has it always been the truth. The kind of witch you are is completely self-determined.
Most witches do use their knowledge and craft for good and fully believe that they are only to do good and help those in need and to never bring harm. There are, however, others that use their skills to gain revenge or self-advantage or to acquire power or fame or just sell their skill for a price without any thought to its use.
So let’s take a look at some of the real witches that have given the Dark Side the limelight!
Let’s start with some that have certainly gone down in history as being mean, vengeful, vile or downright evil;
(Remembering that we do not have 100% proof of any of the accuracies of the stories)
1: Let’s begin with one of the most notorious evil figures of history, albeit it a modern one, that of Rasputin, The Mad Monk. Grigori Rasputin was a self-proclaimed Holy Man and close to the wife of the last Russian Czar, Nicholas Romanov II. Rasputin gained his status with Czarina Alexandra by ‘saving her son Alexi’. Due to his closeness to the royal family and what most saw as the tyrannical and backwardness of Czar Nicholas, Rasputin had many enemies and was accused of everything from Black Magic and witchcraft, to controlling the Czar through magic and witchcraft. Some of the stories supporting the claim that he was a witch and powerful in the ways of magic and evil, regard the tales of him surviving assassination attempts, the first in 1914 and then again in 1916, though eventually he did end up dead.
The second and final attempt to murder Rasputin was organized and probably carried out by conspirators that included the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Prince Felix Yusupov. Their original plan was to poison him with cyanide laced dink and food, supposedly enough to kill 5 grown men. When the poison failed to have any effect, the men repeatedly beat Rasputin, surviving the onslaught, he was finally shot in the back. The story then goes, that Rasputin jumped up or got up violently and was shot 3 more times including in the head. Thinking they had succeeded in their murder, Rasputin was wrapped in some sheet or rug or such and thrown into the Neva river. Ironically, when his body was pulled from the river a couple days later, it was determined that he had been still alive upon entry into the water and that he showed signs of trying to claw or break his way out of the icy water and his actual cause of death was either drowning or hypothermia.
It is believed that Rasputin told the Czar, “If I am killed by common men, you and your children will rule Russia for centuries to come; if I am killed by one of your stock, you and your family will be killed by the Russian people.”
2: Now let’s venture to the other side of Europe, all the way to Ireland, for our next lister! Scotland and Ireland both were less hysterical about witches than the rest of Europe, probably cause they took to Christianity in a little different way. However, in 1324 Dame Alice Kyteler, became Ireland’s first charged witch. Dame Alice was a wealthy moneylender whom had the unfortunate habit of outliving her husbands, all 4 of them. When her 4th husband began to fall ill, his children insisted that something was amiss.
The Church put Dame Alice Kyteler on trail for leading a secret society of heretical sorcerers. Not only was she the first witch to be accused in Ireland, she was also the first to be accused of relations with an incubus. Due to her allies in important positions or her black magic, she stayed ahead of her tormentors, even evading her death sentence by disappearing the night before. Never to be seen again.
3: In 1566, on July 29th, Agnus Waterhouse became the first woman executed for the crime of witchcraft, in England. Agnus was one of 3 women charged with witchcraft crimes, one of the others being her daughter Joan. It was Joan’s testimony in part that led to the conviction of the other 2 women. It is said that Agnus did confess her crimes and claimed her familiar a cat turned toad, named Satan as her means of doing harm to others.
One of the unusual aspects of Agnus’ case is that The Church was not involved in her case. The investigation and trail were a secular matter, brought on by the charge that she did through the use of Black Magic cause illness to a certain William Fynne, who died on 1 November 1565. In spite of seeming to willing and openly confess to all of her witching deeds, it is reported that she broke down upon arriving at the gallows and even begged God for forgiveness.
4: Cunning folk, was another term for wise men and women and healers and other helpers of life in the village that were outside the normal polite society tea invites. They provided potions and predictions and other help for those in need. There has been and will always be debate about whether cunning folk are helpers or cons and this is definitely arguable for our next lister. George Pickingill, whom was the self-declared ‘oldest man in England’ was rumored to have been a cunning man in Essex. He was remembered as providing healing assistance to some and coercing drinks and assistance from others under threat of cursing.
It is documented that he was not as old as his claims, and it is reported that he remarked once that it was easier for older people to get parish charity, something that we know he did receive. Some of the rumors claim that George in addition to being a cunning man, was also the leader of a coven of 9 witches of the Dark Arts. There has been no proof of this, that being said, it would be logical that if he coerced others into ‘helping’ him, he may have used the threat or implication that he had witches under his control. It was his “old man” claim that got him known across England, and only later through the research of an Eric Maple into the folk lore and magical/witch stories of Essex that George came to light as a sometimes respected and other times feared cunning man of note.
5: Across the pond we jump to find one of the most famous of the witches from America’s most famous Witch Trial. In Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began acting strangely. The doctor determined that it was the Devil’s work. Upon questioning, the girls accused 3 women that were considered lesser members of the community, an old lady, a beggar, and the first accused, tried and convicted, a slave named Tituba. Tituba was the slave of Rev. Samuel Parris, father of Elizabeth, and believed to have come from the island of Barbados.
Initially, Tituba denied all charges, then she claimed only to work protection spells, after breaking, however, she confessed to having dealings with the Devil and she named other witches in the town. Her confessions and testimony was bizarre and frightening to those who heard it, and thus began the hysteria that would lead to more than 200 accusations of witchcraft and the execution of at least 19 men and women, and the deaths during jailing of even more.
However, Tituba was fortunate, while she was indeed imprisoned for over a year, she escaped execution for her accused crimes. In 1693, an unknown person paid her jail fees, which the Rev. Parris had refused to pay, thus in essence purchasing her and upon her release she disappears from history.
6: Our last witch is La Voisin or Catherine Monvisin of France. She lived in France in the mid-1600’s with her husband, a jeweler, whose business went bankrupt. Possibly, through her husband’s customers, she gained some note for her premonitions. To make ends meet after her husband’s failure, she sold love potions, healing drugs, abortion drugs and even poisons. She also practised midwifery and arranged black masses where clients could confer with the Devil. In addition she was supposedly one of the leaders of the affaire des poisons, a cult that poisoned many members of the French aristocracy.
There were many nobles among her clients, the most famous one being Madame de Montespan, the King’s mistress.
In the 1670’s fear of witchcraft reached a fever pitch in Paris and La Voisin, along with her daughter and many others were accused and arrested. In 1680, she was burned at the stake at Place de Grieve. After her execution, it became known that her daughter revealed a series of secrets at the High Court, including the plot to poison the King. It was supposedly for Madame de Montespan that La Voisin attempted to poison the King for infidelity.
While this is the end of our list we do have some Honorable Mentions, more to give you something to ponder until the next article!
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII. As Queen of England, Anne became an educated, extremely intelligent woman of power. She was believed to employ magical advisers and engaged in mystical practises. In spite of accusations of treason, adultery, incest and witchcraft, resulting in her execution by beheading, she is known as one of the most influential queens in history.
Angele de la Barthe, was a wealthy, noble woman of Toulouse, France, who lived between 1230 and 1275. She was an adept of Catharism, and thus deemed a heretic by The Church. She was accused of being a witch after the supposed disappearance of several babies in the area. After severe torture by the Inquisition, Angele confessed to sexual intercourse with the Devil, and producing a half-man, wolf-snake son, who feed on babies. She is presumed to be the first witch executed during the Medieval Witch Hunt.
Leonardtown, Maryland has a tale that some say is more lore and legend than fact, but is it?
Moll Dyer lived in the area in the late 1600’s and for whatever reasons, maybe cause she lived alone, her fellow townspeople accused her of witchcraft. As such a group of men chased her out of her own home one winter night and her body was found days later frozen to a large stone.
Theirs are just a few of the tells of the witches among us and we will be sharing more during the rest of the month.