United Kingdom Necromancy And Magic In Seventeenth-Century

United Kingdom Necromancy
 And
 Magic
 In
 Seventeenth­-Century
© Credit: Rusalka Design - Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Before
 proceeding 
to 
the
 discovery
 it
 is 
necessary
 to 
clarify 
the 
terminology 
used 
in
 popular 
discussions
 of
 the 
occult, 
as 
it 
is 
often 
used 
loosely 
and 
interchangeably
 in 
popular 
literature. 
The 
term 
”occult” 
is 
used
 here
 to
 encompass
 the
 various
 practices
 of
 “witches”
 and
 “witchcraft,”
 “cunning
 folk,”
 “Magic”
 and
 “Magicians,” 
”Sorcery” 
and 
”Spells.” 
The 
major 
distinction 
is 
between 
those 
who
 used 
their 
alleged 
powers
 and
 abilities 
for
 good, 
and 
those 
who
 devoted 
them 
to 
evil.
 The
 latter 
are 
referred to
 as 
”witches”
 or 
”black
 witches,”
 to
 distinguish
 them
 from
 the
 “cunning
 folk,”

 to
 whom
 the
 term
 “white
 witch”
 is 
sometimes 
applied,
 whose
 principle 
function 
was 
to
 do
 good, 
often 
by
 acting
 as
 the 
village
 healer or
 “blesser.”
 Witches
 were
 believed
 to
 derive
 their
 powers
 through
 a
 pact
 with
 the
 devil,
 and
 to
 be
 responsible
 for 
the 
ills, 
and 
even 
deaths,
 of
 those
 that
 crossed
 them.
 A 
feature
 of
 the witch, who
 could
 be
 male 
or 
female, 
was
 the
 satanic 
”familiar,” who 
came 
to 
them 
in 
animal 
form.



Typically
 witches
 and
 cunning
 folk
 had
 their
 roots
 in
 their
 local
 community who were
 poorly
 educated
 and
 often 
barely 
literate, 
and 
the 
distinction 
between
 the 
two
 was
 often
 unclear. 
These 
”wise” 
men 
and 
women
 were 
often 
viewed 
ambivalently, 
considered
 as
 capable 
of 
harming 
as 
of 
curing. 
As 
a 
consequence
 many
 of 
those 
who 
found 
themselves
 accused
 of 
witchcraft 
in 
the 
seventeenth‐century 
were 
cunning 
folk 
who 
had
 fallen
 foul
 of
 their
 community.
 Both
 witches
 and
 cunning
 folk
 practised
 their
 mysterious
 art
 through
 sorcery,
 by
 casting
 spells,
 which
 often
 involved
 complex
 rituals
 during
 which
 incantations
 based
 on
 formulaic 
recitals 
of 
special 
words
 were
 given. 
Rituals 
may
 also 
involve 
particular 
objects, 
or 
the 
sacrifice
 of
 animals;
 whilst
 incantations
 often
 invoked
 elements
 of
 a
 pseudo‐Christian
 liturgy,
 invoking
 the
 holy
 trinity
 through 
garbled 
Latin. 
For
 example,
 following
 the 
arrest 
of 
Peter 
Burbrush, 
a 
blacksmith
 from
 Ely, 
in 
1647, 
he 
described 
a
 spell 
he 
had
 been 
taught 
in
 order 
to 
become 
a 
witch,
 which 
draws 
heavily 
on
 deviant
 Christian 
symbolism.

In
 contrast
 Magicians 
came 
from
 a 
narrower
 segment 
of 
literate
 society, 
taking
 as
 their 
guide 
the 
occult
 stories
 from
 classical
 literature,
 and
 the
 various
 pseudo‐scientific
 grimoires; books
 of
 magic.
 Grimoires
 have existed
 in
 Europe
 since
 classical
 times,
 with
 further
 examples
 being
 produced
 during
 the
 medieval
 period,
 they 
had 
however 
remained 
expensive 
hand
written 
items 
confined 
to 
a 
select 
few. 
The 
advent 
of
 printing
 changed 
this,
 but 
as 
most 
were 
written 
in 
Latin 
their 
circulation continued 
to 
be 
restricted
 to
 the
 scholarly 
magicians.
 Within 
the
 pages
 of
 the 
occult 
texts 
were 
the 
alchemic
 formula 
for 
transforming 
one
 substance
 into 
another, 
and 
for 
practising
 necromancy, 
where by
 the 
dead, 
or 
at 
least 
their 
ghost,
 could 
be
 summoned
 from
 the
 afterlife.
 First
 appearing
 in
 the
 sixteenth-century,
 and
 developing
 throughout
 the
 seventeenth-century,
 were
 popular
 English
 translations
 of
 the
 grimoires
 including,
 Albertus
 Magnus’
 “Book
 of
 Secrets” 
(1604), 
James 
Freake’s
 translation 
of
 Cornelius
 Agrippa’s
 “Three
 Books 
of
 Occult 
Philosophy
” (1993),
 the
 English
 astrologer
 Robert
 Turner’s
 translation
 of
 the
 “Fourth
 Book
 of
 Occult
 Philosophy
” (1655),
 and
 most
 influential
 of
 all,
 Reginald
 Scot’s
 “Discoverie
 of
 Witchcraft”
 (1584).
 Although
 an
 essential
 tool
 of
 the
 magician
 some
 cunning
 folk
 began 
to
 obtain 
these 
books,
 perhaps
 as 
much 
to 
impress 
their 
clients
 as 
to
 study
 their
 spells.
 Indeed
 for
 some
 the
 primary
 reason
 for
 owning
 them
 may
 have
 been
 cosmetic,
 and
 they
 may
 by
 reason
 of
 illiteracy
 have
 been
 unable
 to
 make
 use
 of
 any
 of
 the
 magical
 ritual
 contained
 within.


For
 all
 these
 reasons
 the
 identification
 in
 the
 archaeological
 record
 of
 the
 various
 occult
 practices
 is
 fraught
 with
 difficulty,
 with
 each
 occult
 practitioner
 developing
 their
 own
 individual
 rituals,
 often
 spontaneously,
 albeit
 that
 they
 deployed established
 symbols
 such
 as
 the
 circle.
 As
 Ronald Hutton
 has
 pointed
 out, 
cunning
 folk
 and
 witches
’ appear
 as
 a 
remarkably heterogeneous 
collection 
of
 individuals,
 divided
 by
 at
 least
 as
 many
 characteristics
 as
 those
 they
 had
 in
 common.
 Archaeologically
 speaking
 the
 difficulty 
has 
parallels
 with 
that 
experienced
 in 
attempting
 to 
identify 
religious
 behaviour
 in
 the
material
 record.
 One
 approach
 would 
be 
to
 attempt 
to 
develop
 a 
checklist 
of 
features, 
the 
presence
 of
 which 
would 
point 
to 
a
 site 
being 
classed 
as 
occult
 in
 nature.

Although
 seductive,
 as
 with
 the
 identification
 of
 religion
,
 a
 tick‐box
 approach
 is
 ultimately
 self‐defeating,
 creating
 a 
set 
of 
rules 
to 
which 
there 
are 
as 
many
 exceptions 
as 
examples.
 The
 way
 forward
 is
 not
 to
 devise
 a
 checklist
 of
 features
 wherein the presence
 or
 absence
 of
 which
 might
 indicate
 the
 occult.
 Instead
 I
 suggest
 that
 a
 better
 approach
 is
 to
 triangulate
 archaeological
 evidence
 with
 that
 from
 historical
 sources 
and
 folklore 
in 
order
 to
 construct
 the
 case 
for
 the
 occult. 
Such 
an
 approach 
is 
essentially
 contextual,
 and
 sensitive
 to
 the heterogeneous
 nature
 of
 the
 data.

In
 the
 case
 of
 Meg
 Shelton,
 archaeological
 evidence
 takes
 the
 form
 of
 a
 large
 boulder
 placed
 over
 her
 alleged
 grave
 at 
Saint 
Anne’s 
Church, 
Woodplumpton 
in
 Lancashire
.
 That 
Meg 
Shelton
 was 
a
 real
 figure 
is 
confirmed
 by
 historical 
sources,
 which
 tell
 us 
she 
was 
crippled,
 and
 accused 
of 
the 
theft 
of 
basic
 staples 
from 
her 
neighbours, 
as 
a 
result 
of 
which 
she 
became 
an 
outcast 
known
 as
 the
 “Fylde
 Hag.” 
History
 records 
that 
she, 
like 
other 
men 
and 
women 
who 
failed 
to 
conform
 to
 society 
was
 accused 
of 
witchcraft,
 and
 branded
 variously
 as
 the
 Singleton
 or
 Woodplumpton
 witch.
 Folklore
 provides
 us
 with
 several instances
 of
 her
 alleged 
powers, 
which
 focus 
on 
an 
ability 
to 
shapeshift, 
taking 
the 
form 
of 
an 
animal
 in
 order
 to
 sneak
 into
 her
 neighbours
 farms
 to
 steal
 food
 in
 various
 fanciful
 ways.
 It
 further
 provides
 an
 unconvincing
 account
 of
 her
 death,
 crushed
 to
 death
 between
 a
 barrel
 and
 a
 wall,
 following
 which
 she
 was 
said 
to 
have 
twice 
dug 
herself 
out 
of 
her 
grave 
to 
haunt 
her 
neighbours,
 prompting 
them
 to
 finally
 bury 
her 
head 
first 
down
 a
 vertical 
shaft 
capped‐off
 by
 a
 large 
boulder 
to 
prevent 
her 
rising 
from
 the 
dead
 any
more.
 Whatever 
the 
truth
 of
 the 
various 
accounts, 
the 
material 
evidence 
in
 the 
form
 of 
her
 grave, 
marked
 by 
a
 large
 boulder 
attests
 to 
the
 historic
 accounts
 in
 which 
she 
is 
named 
as 
a 
witch.
 Unfortunately,
 we
 rarely
 have
 such
 rich
 accounts
 to
 work
 from,
 but
 as
 the
 excavation
 at
 Barway
 in
 Cambridgeshire demonstrates,
 we
 may
 still
 be
 able
 to
 identify
 occult
 sites
 in
 the
 archaeological
 record,
 and
 even 
unpack 
something
 of
 their 
meaning.

Sarah Genner
Editor & Proofreader
This article has been edited and proofread by Sarah Genner, a successful British Direct Response Marketing Copywriter, voice actor and artist.

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