Four Thieves Vinegar
Paris, J. A. (1825) Pharmacologia, corrected and extended, in accordance with the London pharmacopoeia of 1824, and with the generally advanced state of chemical science, Volume Two. S. Wood, R. Lockwood, S.B. Collins, p.18.
The Pendle Witches This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Lancashire Witch Trials. Amongst those tried were the so-called Samlesbury Witches, alongside others from the surrounding areas, but the best known are the Pendle Witches. In late Medieval Britain, folk Pendle Hill magic was a popular practice. Many people would know the odd charm or be able to use plants for healing, but there were also individuals who made a living from such practices. They would sometimes tell fortunes and were said to be able to locate missing people or property (it is claimed police forces still use psychic mediums to help solve crimes). Today we generally refer to these people as “Cunning folk”, a term widely used at the time, but they were also referred to as “wise ones”, “pellars” or “conjurers”. They were sometimes called witches, but even then the term often had negative connotations, bringing to mind those who would use their powers to harm others, or for some personal gain. A woman accused of being one such witch was Elizabeth Southerns, known as Demdike, who in 1612 was in her eighties. In his account of her trial, Thomas Potts, clerk of the court, describes her: “She was a very old woman, about the age of four-score years, and had been a witch for fifty years. She dwelt in the Forest of Pendle, a vast place, fit for her profession: What she committed in her time, no man knows. Thus lived she securely for many years, brought up her own children, instructed her grand-children, and took great care and pains to bring them up to be witches. She was a general agent for the Devil in all these parts: no man escaped her, or her furies, that ever gave them any occasion of offence, or denied them anything they stood need of: And certain it is, no man near them, was secure or free from danger.” Demdike‟s daughter Elizabeth Device, and her grandchildren James and Alizon, were tried for witchcraft. All three were found guilty and hanged. Demdike herself died while Clitheroe Castle. The hole is said to have been made when the Devil threw a rock awaiting trial. from neighbouring Pendle Hill.
Alizon‟s confession played a major role in their conviction. She was convinced that her grandmother had initiated her into the practices of witchcraft, and often spoke of a „black dog‟ which was said by her accusers to be a „familiar‟, but could just as easily have been the family pet. A beggar by profession, Alizon was walking near the town of Colne when she met a peddler John Law, and asked him for some pins. Pins were often used by witches and cunning folk, for healing and divination, and it is possible that this is A “witch bottle”, used to remove evil why Law refused to give them to Alizon. spells, containing fingernail clippings, Whatever his reason, the girl apparently hair, urine and metal pins. cursed him or asked her familiar to lame the peddler as he walked away, and sure enough, before he had gone far, she saw him fall, half his body paralysed by what we recognise today was probably a stroke. Whether Alizon had meant it or not, perhaps the threat of a curse from a member of a known family of witches was enough to cause the stroke. This was enough to persuade Alizon that she really did possess such powers, and she confessed to witchcraft. During the trial, family members seemed happy to accuse each other, possibly in an attempt to remove blame from themselves, but they may also have taken the opportunity to get revenge on a rival family. Anne Whittle, known locally as Chattox, was around the same age as Demdike. She may also have been known as a witch or cunning woman, and it was possible there was bad blood between the two, accounting for her apparent opposition to Demdike at every opportunity. Thomas Potts describes her as such: “This Anne Whittle, alias Chattox, was a very old withered spent and decrepit creature, her sight almost gone: A dangerous witch, of very long continuance; always opposite to old Demdike: For whom the one favoured, the other hated deadly: and how they envy and accuse one another, in their examinations, may appear. In her witchcraft, always more ready to do mischief to mens goods, than themselves. Her lips ever chattering and walking: but no man knew what. She lived Front cover of Thomas Potts’ account of the trials. in the Forest of Pendle, amongst this wicked company of dangerous witches.” Chattox confessed to a number of crimes, including several counts of murder, and also implicated her daughter Anne Redferne, accusing her of making clay figures, and both were executed. Black Magician honour Mother Chattox in their song bearing her name.
Liverpool’s Secret Subterranean Realm... The Williamson Tunnels are a labyrinth of tunnels and underground caverns under the Edge Hill district of Liverpool in north-west England. They were built in the first few decades of the 1800s under the control of a retired tobacco merchant called Joseph Williamson. The purpose of their construction is not known with any certainty. Theories range from pure philanthropy, offering work to the unemployed of the district, to dark practices and religious extremism, the tunnels being an underground haven from a predicted Armageddon. Having visited the Joseph Williamson tunnels and the large “banquet hall” caverns numerous times, Black Magician believe the latter! Williamson also had his own private tunnel from his house in Edge Hill to his local pub, where he was said often to emerge from his secret entrance for a few ales… Williamson kept taking on more and more men. No doubt others left: through age, through finding a better job. Perhaps some were killed in the dangerous conditions: dark, dusty, noisy, cold in winter and hot in summer. The rock men worked with picks, shovels and barrows while the carpenters used axes and saws to build formers for the bricklayers to lay arches on. Under ground, the men worked by candlelight. Certainly some would have been injured, but they may have been kept on. There would always have been a need for store-men, counters, men to hand out the food and wages. During the construction of the nearby tunnel for Liverpool‟s Lime street station, Railway workers accidently dug down into one of Williamsons tunnels below. Fleeing in terror as they saw Williamsons men at work below, they believed that had dug into hell! Although some of the tunnels have been lost over the years, a lot of them still exist today, under what is now a residential area. One section of the tunnels has been cleared and renovated and is open to the public. The remaining parts of the labyrinth are closed, with many suspected tunnels and secrets yet to be rediscovered. Black Magician highly recommend visiting the tunnel on Halloween as the Friends of the Williamson tunnel society fill the tunnels with smoke and play music throughout the inky depths of the labyrinth into the early hours! Modern map showing the known sections of Williamson’s tunnels.
St. Bride’s Church
St. Bride’s Church, from a 19th Century illustration. In a leafy corner of Liverpool‟s Georgian Quarter sits St. Bride‟s Church. Built in the neo-classical style, it resembles many of the city‟s grander edifices including the Walker Art Gallery and World Museum, and passers-by could be forgiven for not realising this was a church at all. In fact there‟s something distinctly “un-churchy” about the place. St. Bride‟s serves as something of a community centre, hosting an art group, a book group and a homeless meals project. There are rehearsal rooms, performing arts and regular gigs. It‟s a far-cry from the common sight of the empty church with the odd customary poster advertising the latest Women‟s Institute event. The name “St. Bride” is the subject of some discussion. Stories can be found about various St. Brigits/Bridgets. Probably the best known is St. Brigit of Kildare, also known, particularly in Scotland, as St. Bride, but these tales have become so intertwined with earlier legends of the Celtic goddess Brigid that it‟s impossible to know exactly who St. Brigit really was. Of course it‟s a well-known fact that many pagan festivals and symbols were adopted by Christians in an attempt to make the conversion from paganism to Christianity go that little bit more smoothly, and today Candlemas is celebrated at the same time as the earlier Gaelic festival of Imbolc (also called Brigid‟s day). One symbol associated with Brigid is the holy well, and this takes us back to the modern St. Bride‟s church, which holds a meeting called “The Well” each month. During these meetings, participants consider “the ancient wisdom of Celtic Christianity but also find God at work in other faiths and secular poets and artists,” suggesting a willing admission that St. Bride‟s is very much rooted in something much earlier than Christianity. When so many ancient sites have been destroyed or built over in the name of Christian conversion, Black Magician welcome the idea that something of the pre-Christian has managed to find its way back.