I'm thrilled to have author Mary Sharratt stopping by to guest post today. I thoroughly enjoyed her new novel Daughters of the Witching Hill.
"Magic vs. Witchcraft in Early Modern Britain
by Mary Sharratt
Mother Demdike, the heroine of my novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, was a cunning woman of long standing reputation. When interrogated by the authorities, she made no attempt to deny her perceived powers. So who were these cunning folk?
Belief in magic and the spirit world was absolutely mainstream in Elizabethan and Jacobean Britain, indeed the whole of Europe in this era. Not only the poor and ignorant believed in spells and witchcraft—rich and educated people believed in magic just as strongly. Dr. John Dee, conjurer to Elizabeth I, was a brilliant mathematician and cartographer and also an alchemist and ceremonial magician. In Dee’s England, more people relied on cunning folk for healing than on physicians. As Owen Davies explains in his book, Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History, cunning men and women used charms to heal, foretell the future, and find the location of stolen property. What they did was technically illegal—sorcery was a hanging offence—but few were arrested for it as the demand for their services was so great. Doctors were so expensive that only the very rich could afford them and the “physick” of this era involved bleeding patients with lancets and using dangerous medicines such as mercury—your local village healer with her herbs and charms was far less likely to kill you.
In this period there were magical practitioners in every community. Those who used their magic for good were called cunning folk or charmers or blessers or wisemen and wisewomen. Those who were perceived by others as using their magic to curse and harm were called witches. But here it gets complicated. A cunning woman who performs a spell to discover the location of stolen goods would say that she is working for good. However, the person who claims to have been falsely accused of harbouring those stolen goods can turn around and accuse her of sorcery and slander. Ultimately the difference between cunning folk and witches lay in the eye of the beholder. If your neighbours turned against you and decided you were a witch, you were doomed.
Although King James I, author of the witch-hunting handbook Daemonologie, believed that witches had made a pact with the devil, there’s no actual evidence to suggest that witches or cunning folk took part in any diabolical cult. So what did cunning folk like Mother Demdike believe in?
Some of Mother Demdike’s family charms and spells were recorded in the trial transcripts and they reveal absolutely no evidence of devil worship, but instead use the ecclesiastical language of the Roman Catholic Church, the old religion driven underground by the English Reformation. Her charm to cure a bewitched person, cited by the prosecution as evidence of diabolical sorcery, is, in fact, a moving and poetic depiction of the passion of Christ, as witnessed by the Virgin Mary. The text, in places, is very similar to the White Pater Noster, an Elizabethan prayer charm which Eamon Duffy discusses in his landmark book, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580.
It appears that Mother Demdike was a practitioner of the kind of quasi-Catholic folk magic that would have been commonplace before the Reformation. The pre-Reformation Church embraced many practises that seemed magical and mystical. People used holy water and communion bread for healing. They went on pilgrimages, left offerings at holy wells, and prayed to the saints for intercession. Some practises, such as the blessing of the wells and fields, may indeed have Pagan origins. Indeed, looking at pre-Reformation folk magic, it is very hard to untangle the strands of Catholicism from the remnants of Pagan belief, which had become so tightly interwoven.
Unfortunately Mother Demdike had the misfortune to live in a place and time when Catholicism was conflated with witchcraft. Even Reginald Scot, one of the most enlightened men of his age, believed the act of transubstantiation, the point in the Catholic mass where it is believed that the host becomes the body and blood of Christ, was an act of sorcery. In a 1645 pamphlet by Edward Fleetwood entitled A Declaration of a Strange and Wonderfull Monster, describing how a royalist woman in Lancashire supposedly gave birth to a headless baby, Lancashire is described thusly: ‘No part of England hath so many witches, none fuller of Papists.’ Keith Thomas’s social history Religion and the Decline of Magic is an excellent study on how the Reformation literally took the magic out of Christianity."
Thank you so much for stopping by Mary! And one lucky reader will win a copy of Daughters of the Witching Hill for their bookshelf. Simply comment to be entered. Open to US and Canada, ends Saturday June 5th at 6 pm EST.
Thank you so much for stopping by Mary!
And one lucky reader will win a copy of Daughters of the Witching Hill for their bookshelf. Simply comment to be entered. Open to US and Canada, ends Saturday June 5th at 6 pm EST.
Can I enter if I have a friend's mailing address in the States? If so, please enter me for this wonderful book.
I would really like to win and read this novel.
cenya2 at hotmail dot com
Sounds like a scary time to me! No need to enter me.
I would love a chance to win this book!
joannelong74 AT gmail DOT com
Over the past few weeks I've read several reviews and author posts about this book. It sounds so fascinating. I would love to read it. Thanks for the giveaway.
I too have read lots of the reviews on this one! I really want to read it! thanks!
dcf_beth at verizon dot net
I have heard great things about this book.
Please enter me.
amandarwest at gmaildotcom
I've read a lot about the Salem witch trials, but I'm only just beginning to read about European "witches." It seems like this was such a confusing time period -- one minute you HAD to be Catholic and the next you were burned for it! I've been following this book tour, and would love to read Ms. Sharratt's book. Thanks so much for the chance to win a copy!
geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com
I have read some great reviews of this book and would love to win.
Thanks for the opportunity to enter. Pls count me in
misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com
This book looks fantastic! Thanks for hosting!
Sounds like a really good book. Thanks for the chance.
bacchus76 at myself dot com
It sounds like a great book, I would love to read it.
I would love a chance to win. email@example.com
I love the cover and the synopsis sounds so interesting!
Thanks for the chance to win.
krae991 at yahoo dot com
Okay, saying my usual "don't enter me" is darn hard here, babydoll. I really liked The Real Minerva. But... stupid TBR mountains...
I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book, of course.
I'd like to read this one. Thanks for the giveaway.
mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com
I'd love to read this!
janemaritz at yahoo dot com
This sounds very interesting!!
cytljjb @ gmail . com
This sounds great! I loved The Vanishing Point and this one sounds just as good if not better :)
wendyhines (at) hotmail (dot) com
This sounds like a good read!
Wow - this sounds like my kind of book!
Thank you for the giveaway :)
Sounds fascinating! I'd love to read it.
this looks just wonderful thanks for the giveaway minsthins at optonline dot net
I WOULD LOVE TO READ THIS book
This sounds like a great book to curl up in the tub with.cardshark42(at)hotmail(dot)com
Just the kind of read I like to get into late in the night when the house is quiet, and all the ghosties are in attendance.
This sounds like an interesting book that I'd like to read. Please enter me in the giveaway.
abfantom at yahoo dot com
I think the historical context of this book would make it interesting. Thanks for the chance!
Mary Sharrat's historic fiction is immersive and enchanting: detail, diction and tone all combine to bring you into her characters' worlds. Based on the excerpt I've read, Daughters of the Witching Hill is no exception and I look forward to reading it in full and giving it a place in my library.
(p.s. please don't enter me)
Sounds like a great book! Thanks for the chance!
fineinsanity at live dot com
please enter me, I would like to read this book!
Sounds like a great read. I'd love to be entered.
Looks good. Thanks for the giveaway.
s.mickelson at gmail dot com
I would really enjoy this book!
This looks intriguing!
rugerpuppies at hotmail dot com
sounds like something I'd enjoy
Looks like a great book
would love to read this, thanks
Thanks for the opportunity to enter
sign me up
Please enter me.
I am a folllower and I would love to win the Book Thief.
Love it-thank you!
Sounds like a great read ~ please enter me
I've heard such good things about this book and would love to be entered in the giveaway.
This sounds really good! I would love to read it! Thank you for the giveaway!
mittens0831 at aol dot com
Howdy, please enter me!
comethespring at gmail dot com
I'd love to read this
Thank you for entering me. =)
tiredwkids at live dot com
I'd love to read this :) *Thanks* for the giveaway!
I would love to be entered into this giveaway the book sounds great
I would really love to read this book. Please enter me in contest. Thank you. Tore923@aol.com
I know I would love this book!
I loved Mary Sharratt's "Vanishing Point" and I'm excited to know she now has another novel. I learn so much from her books. Would love to win this!
I visited the Salem Witch Museum years ago and found it fascinating. I'd love to read this.
I would love a chance to win. <3
Please enter me. Sounds like a great read.
debraldufek AT hotmail DOT com
This would make a great addition to my classroom library; my student's are currently fascinated by quality historical fiction.
I would love a chance to win. Thank you.
This sounds like it will be good. Please enter me.
I would really like to have this!Count me in!
I would love to read this.
I would love to read and review this!
Sounds good! Please count me in. Thank you!
nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com
Please enter me for this wonderful book.
I've got to read this!
I just finished a book about cunning women. Please, ente me in this giveaway. I would love to read this.
gcpeach17 at aol dot com
I am interested in this subject. Enter me please!
smchester at gmail dot com
It sounds like the author has done some good historical research. I would enjoy reading this.
Sounds like a great read. Count me in. :)
I want to win :)
ktgonyea at gmail.com
i'd need to win this one, because its a great contest 2 share with my family and friends
Looking forward to reading "Daughters of the Witching Hill" - thanks for the giveaway !
Please enter me in this giveaway!
saemmerson at yahoo dot com
Would love to read this. Thanks for the great giveaway.
This looks really good.
This sounds like a fascinating book - those times were certainly full of wonder and danger. I'd love to read it. Thanks.
I love books with a supernatural Twist. Thanks for the chance
Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the giveaway.
eswright18 at gmail dot com
I love to read. Thanks for the chance.
Sounds intriguing! I would love to read this. Thanks for letting us know about it!
sweepyhead at gmail dot com
I would definitely love this book!
sounds like my kind of book!
Thanks for a great review this book sounds very interesting!
I would love to read this book!
I would love to read this book. Thanks for the chance!
falongoesgreen @ gmail dot com
I love to read anything about witches.
I comment, therefore I am.
This is fascinating to me would love to read the book- thanks for the chance to win.
My kinda book,thanks for the chance :)
motherabagail531 at yahoo dot com
Thank you for the Great giveaway please count me in :)
I have always been interested in
the witches and their powers.I would love to read this book,it sound
Please enter me into the contest. Thanks!
sounds like a good book..would love to win this
Sounds like a good read
Love to read historical fiction! Thanks for the chance to win this!
I would love to win this book. It sounds very interesting. firstname.lastname@example.org
i would love to win, thanks for the giveaway
susansmoaks at gmail dot com
Sounds so good! I'd love to read it! :)
This book looks like fun summer reading!
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